Nevertheless, Paul was not the kind of person who was afraid to correct error, gossip or other problems within the church. Whether it was false teaching, immorality or some other problem relating to Christian belief and practice, Paul did not hesitate to deal with these problems wherever he found them. To illustrate this, check out these comments that Paul addressed to those in the church who thought that he was all talk and no action:
“…some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’ Such people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present” (2 Corinthians 10:10 NIV).
Or how about this comment in 1Corinthians 4:18-21…
“I know that some of you will have become proud, thinking that I am afraid to come and deal with you. But I will come, and soon, if the Lord will let me, and then I’ll find out if these proud men are just big talkers or whether they really have God’s power. The Kingdom of God is not just talking; it is living by God’s power. Which do you choose? Shall I come with punishment and scolding, or shall I come with quiet love and gentleness?”
Even when it came to matters involving the other Apostles, Paul didn’t pull any punches, for we read in Galatians 2:11, “…when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing for it was very wrong.”
Now it’s true that people will sometimes hold back from reprimanding someone who is doing wrong because they want to maintain their popularity or are unwilling to risk hurting their relationship with that person. But Paul was different- he knew that there was a difference between love and popularity. Paul preferred to lovingly correct error and run the risk of offending some people and he was clearly unwilling to sacrifice what was right to build up his image.
You can also get a good feel for Paul’s life and ministry by looking at the great range of emotion that he displayed in his letters. Because of his Damascus road experience, you might think that Paul would be aloof and “super-spiritual.” But despite his great learning and authority, Paul had no difficulty expressing his emotions.
For instance, Paul could be openly appreciative, as we see in his letter to the Philippian church where he said, “…you have done well that you shared in my distress”(4:14 NIV). Paul also expressed a deep level of affection in his letters to Titus and Timothy, telling Timothy, “…you are like a son to me in the things of the Lord” (1 Timothy 1:2) and speaking of Titus as someone “who is truly my son in the affairs of the Lord” (Titus 1:4).
This kind of attitude is characteristic of Paul’s life for he appears to have made a large number of friends throughout his travels. In fact, at the end of the book of Romans alone, Paul greets 26 people by name, and extends greetings from himself and eight others. But that’s not to say that Paul was always well received. He did have certain enemies for we read in 2 Timothy 4:14, “Alexander the coppersmith has done me much harm. The Lord will punish him, but be careful of him, for he fought against everything we said.”
Yet even with this kind of opposition, Paul was still able to say, “But the Lord stood with me and gave me the opportunity to boldly preach a whole sermon for all the world to hear. And he saved me from being thrown to the lions. Yes, and the Lord will always deliver me from all evil and will bring me into His heavenly kingdom. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen”(2 Timothy 4:16-18).
This strong, unshakable faith would serve Paul well, especially in the difficult years that were to come for him.
According to Galatians 1, Paul first talked about his new found faith in Jesus in the region of Arabia, the large peninsula between the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. After preaching there, Paul traveled at least 300 miles (483k) north going back to Damascus. After three years in Damascus, he traveled 125 miles (201k) south to Jerusalem. From there, Paul found his way back to his hometown of Tarsus and later helped his friend Barnabas in attending to the needs of the growing church in the town of Antioch.
After a trip back to Jerusalem to help in a famine relief effort, Paul was called to start traveling from place to place to preach the gospel. From approximately AD 46 to AD 62, Paul was almost continually on the road, traveling by boat and by foot, preaching the gospel and establishing churches. It was during this time that Paul made four major missionary trips which you can read about in the book of Acts.
Now all this travel and activity might sound very exciting to us today. After all, traveling from place to place, visiting far away ports of call, preaching the gospel, establishing churches and experiencing the power of God sounds really exciting, doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, the reality was far less glamorous than it might appear at first glance.