Following A Gospel Example

The example of the apostle Paul is a prime example of evangelistic gospel living. In fact, the Holy Spirit made a general statement concerning Paul’s behavior that should be the nature of our own evangelistic living. For example, on one occasion Paul left the city of Philippi and went over to the city of Thessalonica, “where there was a synagogue of the Jews” (At 17:1). And then Paul, “as his custom was, went in to them” (At 17:2).

Disputing brethren today would probably complain that Paul should not have gone into an assembly of those who were not of their particular fellowship. But he did because his purpose of life was evangelistic. At the time he went in among these unbelievers, the whole assembly was composed of religionists who followed the “Jews’ religion” (See Gl 1:13). They were an assembly of people of faith, though misguided in reference to the Messiah.

We must note also that Paul did not just go to this assembly for a single visit. He went back every Saturday for three weeks (At 17:2). As long as leaders would allow him to talk to the assembly, he went back. When in Corinth “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath” (At 18:4). He continued preaching the gospel to the Corinthian Jews until some “resisted and blasphemed” (At 18:6). The example is that we must always ask to preach in the assembly of any who have some faith, especially if they believe in Jesus. We must not forget that the gospel not only delivers us from sin, but also from the bondage of religion (Gl 5:1).

One thing that we have discovered is that all who believe in Jesus as the Son of God have a common belief in this matter of faith. If we preach the incarnate and crucified, resurrected, ascended and reigning King Jesus, then we have a common foundation for building unity upon this gospel message. There is so much to preach about the gospel that we have discovered that other groups will keep inviting us back in order to hear more about the gospel. On the other hand, if we preach a legal definition of our church heritage, then we set ourselves up to be in competition with the religious heritage of others. Competing heritages never arrive at unity. We must not confuse gospel with heritage, other than the fact that it is our heritage to preach only the gospel.

If it were Paul’s custom to enter only into the assemblies of the disciples, then he would never have stepped inside the assembly of those of another faith. The result of his preaching in the synagogue of Thessalonica was that “some of them were persuaded and joined with Paul and Silas, a great multitude of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women” (At 17:4). Now suppose that Paul and Silas never had enough courage to step outside their “church cocoon” in order to step inside the “Jews’ cocoon” on the Sabbath? How many thousands in the years afterward would have been lost as those first converts in Thessalonica would never have had the opportunity to hear, and then teach the gospel to their families? Cocooned disputers need to understand that they are working against the gospel when they criticize those as Paul and Silas who are willing to step outside the cocoon of their fellowship in order to go with the gospel into other cocoons of faith where people are searching for a better understanding of the gospel.

It was Paul’s custom to live according to the nature of the gospel. Since the gospel is good news that offers those in the bondage of religion the opportunity to live in the freedom of Christ, then it is inherent in the nature of the gospel that it be preached to all people of faith, regardless of who they are, or where they assembled. At least this was the common practice of the apostle Paul and other evangelists as they scattered throughout the first century (See At 8:4).

On another occasion during his ministry, Paul came into the city of Ephesus. Again, he went into the synagogue of Jewish religionists. He “spoke boldly for three months” (At 19:8). This was not a once-off effort for one Sabbath. He continued teaching in this assembly of unbelievers for a period of twelve weeks. He was there every Saturday “reasoning and persuading” concerning the gospel of the Messiahship and kingdom reign of Jesus (At 19:8). It sometimes takes time for those who are in the bondage of religion to understand the freedom that they can enjoy in Christ. We wonder where the disputing brethren were during this time when Paul showed up on the Sabbath in the synagogue of the Jews, and then on Sunday with the saints?

Would we dispute with Paul if he showed up in the assembly of another religious group on Sunday morning to preach the gospel, but did not assemble with those who already knew and had obeyed the gospel? Do the disputers have the right to restrain the evangelist from preaching the gospel to those who meet at the same time on Sunday morning as those who know and have obeyed the gospel? Would we ignore the pleas from another religious group to preach the gospel to their assemblies though they also met at 10:00 Sunday morning?

We have discovered that there are some disputing brethren who are so legal oriented in their doctrine that they would judge Paul to be “forsaking the assembly” if he were to honor an invitation to preach the gospel on Sunday morning to another religious group. They would bar him from preaching the gospel to those who are searching in order that he stay with them for the “Sunday assembly.” We might thing that such a situation would be an anomaly among us. But consider the fact that almost all the gospel preachers of the brotherhood throughout the world are preaching to their own brethren on Sunday morning while there are other people of faith among the religions of the world who are asking for someone to come and preach the gospel to them.

When Peter was at a love feast with Gentiles in Antioch, the false brethren who came up from Jerusalem, intimidated him from eating the love feast with the Gentiles on Sunday (See At 20:7). He stood condemned when he submitted to the intimidation of these false brethren. He and Barnabas subsequently turned away from the Gentiles, even though these Gentiles were brethren (Gl 2:11-13). Intimidation by false brethren to remain with a particular cocoon within the church is practiced among us even to this day.

Those false brethren who would accuse Paul and Peter of “forsaking the assembly” when they reached out to others must remember that they are false because they have threatened the freedom of both Paul and Peter (Gl 5:1). They, as Diotrephes who threatened gospel evangelists from coming to his group, have hindered the preaching of the gospel (See 3 Jn 9,10). They have added to the truth of the gospel their own self-righteous codes of legalized assemblies by which they would judge others. They have thus barred others from entering into their realm of supposed authority. Since Paul, Peter and John would enter into the assemblies of other religious groups in order to preach the gospel, these false brethren tag them to be liberal teachers, and thus bar them from entering into their own sectarian assemblies.

We must also consider the two disciples, Aquila and Priscilla, who met for about a year in the Jewish synagogue in Ephesus before Paul returned to Ephesus after he had previously left the couple in the city (At 18:18,19). It was in this same synagogue that the two disciples had previously encountered Apollos (At 18:24-28). But what if Aguila and Priscilla had not followed the custom of Paul, and the other Jewish Christians of the time, to meet in the Jewish synagogues? If they had not taken this opportunity to meet with unbelievers in their religious assemblies, then we would certainly never have in the Scriptures the marvelous story of Apollos.

While in Ephesus, Paul “reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus” (At 19:9). We would correctly assume that this school existed before Paul arrived in Ephesus. We would also correctly assume that this was not a brotherhood “school of preaching” or “Christian college.” It was possibly some “vocational school” to which everyone was invited to come from throughout Asia in order to study. Upon graduation, students returned to their homes in all Asia. At least Paul’s teaching in this “secular” school resulted in all Asia hearing the word of the gospel (At 19:10).

We can only imagine that if there were some brotherhood disputers in the church in Ephesus who argued that Paul should be preaching only in the “church cocoon,” thousands throughout Asia would never have heard the gospel. The fact that Paul was able to preach the gospel in the synagogues, and in the school of Tyrannus, is evidence that the church in Ephesus understood that the nature of the gospel was that it must be broadcast to all Asia.

And still while in Ephesus, Paul again lived the gospel by seeking to go into the house of worship of a particular religious group. At the time he was in the city, “there arose a great disturbance concerning the Way” (At 19:24). A certain businessman, Demetrius, rose up in order to bring accusations against the Christians who were influencing not only the Jewish community, but also the Greek community who worshiped other gods (At 19:24-28). As a result, all the worshipers of Artemis “were full of wrath. And they cried out, saying, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (At 19:28).

The religionists of the temple of Artemis (Gr. Diana) were zealous about their faith. But as Paul’s custom was with any religious assembly, he “wanted to go into the assembly” (At 19:30). At first the disciples of Ephesus “did not allow him” (At 19:30). They were fearful for his life. However, Paul may have been somewhat persistent in the matter. Therefore, “some of the officials of Asia who were his friends sent to him, pleading with him that he not venture into the theater” (At 19:30).

Our point is that Paul was not afraid to enter the assembly of any religious people, for each assembly was an opportunity to preach the gospel. Even if he would endure possible bodily harm, he was still persistent to preach the gospel in hostile environments. His commitment to preach the gospel to religious people in any religious center came in the form of a rebuke to the disciples in Caesarea who tried to dissuade him from making a final visit to the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem. He said to the brethren, “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (At 21:13). If he were to die for preaching the gospel, then it would be as a result of preaching the gospel to people of faith.

Our encouragement to those who want to go into temples, synagogues, cathedrals, or the church houses of any religious group, is to go. We must not allow false brethren to dissuade us from preaching the gospel to anyone who would invite us to come. But before one would go, he must first be able to separate the gospel from doctrine, especially the unique religious rites, rituals and ceremonies that identify his own religiosity. We have found that few religious people will object to the preaching of the simple gospel.

[Next in series: April 12]

Leave a Reply