A Burning Message
The Apostle Paul is a fascinating guy - I mean, imagine you were a Christian 2,000 years ago. Your uncle was in prison because of Saul, your friend got stoned and killed because of him - and then one Sabbath he shows up at your fellowship in Jerusalem and says, “Hey, guess what? I’m a disciple of Jesus, and we’re brothers!” It would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall and see some of the reactions!
Thankfully the early church overcame their early hesitations and embraced the man who would be known as Paul. He was a man on a mission from God, encountering the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and becoming the greatest missionary of the early church by bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. We know from the Bible he encountered ferocious opposition and persecution; of his trials he said this in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin,and I do not inwardly burn?
Earlier in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 he made this stunning confession:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
The pressures Paul faced as God’s ambassador were at one point so intense that he wanted to die! Yet, he “pressed on towards the goal,” following Jesus and sharing the good news of the gospel until the day he finally died in Rome. Why? What provided the sparks that lit the fire in his soul?
Leroy Eims of the Navigators sheds some light on this in his devotional “A Burning Message.” He says the first chapter of Romans provides three “I am” statements that explain the dynamic quality of Paul’s life.
In Romans 1:14, Paul says, “I am obligated both to Greeks and nonGreeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” Paul felt he had a debt to the world, not just to a select few, to tell them about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
In verse 15, the apostle says, “I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” The Greek word translated here as eager has the idea of “burning up.” Paul was filled with passion for his calling and mission!
The third “I am” is in verse 16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” Paul had a burning desire to share the gospel, because he was not trusting in his natural abilities nor was he deterred by the lack of them. His confidence was in God and in the message of the gospel.
How can we be like Paul? How can we have the same fire he did to serve the Lord and share the gospel? Eims says this:
If you can say from your heart, like Paul, “I am a debtor; I am eager; I am not ashamed,” the Lord will use you in a remarkable way.