This month we have been looking at the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul. Paul was called by God to take the news of Jesus to the gentiles and it was Paul’s faithfulness to this mission that led to the establishment of churches across the Roman Empire which laid the foundation for the Christian faith to spread around the world. Paul’s letters to these churches fill the New Testament and continue to teach us today what it means to follow Jesus. We are looking at Paul’s life not just to learn about history but to learn from Paul how we can better hear and respond to God’s call in our own life.
God calls all of us to follow Jesus in ways that only we can. God calls us to be a witness to His love in the places only we go and God calls us to use the unique gifts He has given us to help and encourage others. While Paul was called to spread the news of Jesus around the world, he would not have been able to do this if others had not followed the call of God in their lives and helped Paul.
A man named Ananias was called by God to walk down the street and pray with Paul and it was that visit and prayer that healed Paul and opened his eyes to the power of Jesus. Last week we saw how Barnabas was called by God to be an encourager of Paul and it was Barnabas who called him into ministry. Because these people were faithful to the call of God in their lives Paul was able to follow God’s call in his life. Each of us has a unique call and being faithful that call is important not only to our lives but to the work of God in the world.
Last week we heard that after years of preparation, God called Paul and Barnabas to go on what was Paul’s first missionary journey. Paul travelled throughout Asia Minor teaching and preaching about Jesus and along the way they established small communities of believers in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe.
While Paul met opposition and persecution everywhere he went, he kept going and when the trip was over he went back to Antioch and shared with the people all that God had done. Acts 14:27-28.
Sometime later, Paul and Barnabas discussed going back to these churches to see how they were doing. Barnabas, wanted to take with them a man named John Mark, but Paul didn’t want him along because John Mark had deserted them on the first journey. Paul and Barnabas disagreed so strongly that they parted ways. Barnabas and John Mark sailed to Cyprus where they worked to strengthen the churches there and Paul took another leader, Silas, and went over land to the churches in the region of Galatia.
There are two things we learn from this disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. The first is that we often have disagreements on what God is calling us to do but these differences don’t have to derail or destroy the work of God. Barnabas and John Mark went in one direction and Paul and Silas went in another. They both continued the work of God, they both did what God was calling them to do and they both used their gifts the way God wanted them to. Their disagreement didn’t end God’s work – in some ways it expanded it.
The second thing we learn is that while they disagreed – they didn’t end their relationship. Both Barnabas and John Mark worked with Paul and supported him in the years to come. We can disagree on things in the life of the church and we can even go our separate ways but we need to support and respect each other in the process.
In the history of the church there have been many divisions and disagreements. The church has divided over theological issues, political issues, social issues, economic issues, racial issues and just about every other issue you can think of. There are great divides today in how we look at issues like human sexuality and social justice and what we learn from Paul and Barnabas is that if we do go our separate ways we need to remember two things:
#1 – the work of God continues.
#2 – we need to treat each other with grace and respect so that the door is always opened for working together in the future.
So Paul and Silas began a journey that took them over land to the churches in Derbe and Lystra and in Lystra they were joined by a man named Timothy. While Timothy was young, Paul saw great promise in him and became his mentor. Paul remembered how Barnabas had given him a chance and encouraged him when no one else would so now Paul was willing to take a chance on Timothy and encourage him. Remembering how others have encouraged us and helped us in the past can help us reach out and encourage others and this is all part of God’s call in our lives.
Paul, Silas and now Timothy traveled across the northern regions of Galatia but at every turn they encountered obstacles. Acts 16:6-8
I love this passage because it shows us what trying to discern the will of God often looks like. Paul knew God had called him to take the message of Jesus to the gentiles and he was looking north the entire time. Paul had his own idea of what God’s call looked like and he tried several different ways to make it happen but every time he was prevented from moving in that direction. We don’t know what these obstacles were, but they were firm which meant that Paul had no choice but to keep going west until they got to Troas.
What I like about this passage is that it shows us even Paul struggled to figure out God’s specific plan. He knew God called him to share the gospel with the gentiles but the details of this plan didn’t come all at once. Paul had to move forward step by step and evaluate his circumstances and surroundings and ask for clarity and direction. When we face obstacles in life it may seem like God is closing a door and when that happens it becomes easy to think that we heard God’s call wrong and just give up, but instead of giving up we need to remember the call and keep moving forward.
Paul knew he was called to preach and teach about Jesus. He knew he was called to take the news of Jesus to the gentiles and whether it was east or west, north or south didn’t really matter, Paul just had to keep going. We always need to remember the call in our lives and keep going. What has God called us to do? Who has God called us to be? Where has God called us to go? God’s call doesn’t always come with clear directions so we have to be open and responsive as the Spirit of God leads us.
Once Paul was in Troas God called out to him in a dream to go over to Macedonia. Acts 16:9-10. Sometimes God closes doors to direct us and sometimes God speaks clearly and opens doors. While it is always a step of faith when we make a decision, if we are trusting God to lead us than we can have confidence that the new step will help make the way clear. Paul simply trusted that what he had heard from God was the way he needed to go and he went. Acts 16:11-15.
Paul’s plan when he got to a new city was to first go to the Jewish synagogue and share with his fellow Jews the story of Jesus and invite them to accept Jesus as the Messiah but when Paul arrived in Philippi, it doesn’t say he went to the synagogue but to a river. Philippi had a mostly Roman population which means it didn’t have a large enough Jewish community to support a synagogue. You needed 10 married Jewish men to form a synagogue and if a community didn’t have that then the Jewish people would often gather along the banks of a river to pray. So on the Sabbath, Paul went to the river where he found a group of woman in worship and among them was a woman named Lydia.
Because there is no mention of Lydia’s husband, it is assumed that she is either divorced or a widow. Either way she is a single mom working hard to care for her family and while others may have looked down on her because of her position in life – Paul did not.
Like Jesus did on so many occasions, Paul saw the value and dignity of this woman. He saw the Holy Spirit moving in her heart and life and when she accepted Jesus as the Messiah Paul baptized her and her family. This is a significant moment because this is the first recorded convert and baptism on what we would consider today to be European soil and it wasn’t a man from Macedonia it was a single mom.
In this baptism we see that Paul is remembering that the message and work of Jesus was all about sharing the unconditional love of God with all people. It was about the grace of God which offers forgiveness, hope and new life to all people. Paul remembered how Jesus reached out to those who were often seen as the least likely to be loved and cared for and he cared for them. In this baptism we see that Paul remembering and continuing the work of Jesus.
This baptism is also a call for us to remember. It is a call for us to remember our baptism. For most of us, baptism may have taken place when we were infants so there is no remembering the actual event. I don’t remember being baptized, I had to ask my parents when and where I was baptized and to be honest, they couldn’t remember, so when I talk about remembering our baptism I am not talking about remembering an event, I am taking about remembering what being baptized is all about.
Baptism tells us five important things we are called to remember.
1. God loves us. Baptism tells us that God loves us and created us in love. Baptism tells us that all of life is valuable and precious because we have been created in the image of God. Baptism is an act of love – not our love toward God or even our love for our children or those being baptized but God’s love for us.
2. God claims us. In baptism God claims us as his own. God is saying, you are my child and I will be your God. I will walk with you and be with through life. One of the reasons that we don’t talk about re-baptizing people is because God is always faithful to his promise. While we fail and may need to recommit ourselves to God – God never fails. Once God claims us as his own – he keeps us close and always reaches out to us with grace and love.
3. God forgives us. Baptism also reminds us of being washed clean and forgiven. When Paul baptized Lydia and her family they went into the river and laid back and went under the water, they were washed clean. In baptism the stain of sin is washed away and we are forgiven. When we remember our baptism we remember that God forgives us. King David said, cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7). Baptism is not washing ourselves clean but God washing us clean with his grace and love.
4. God gives us life. Baptism is also about new life. When we come up from the water we are set free from sin and given the grace and power to live a new life. Baptism is a sign of our desire to live a new way and a reminder that by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we can live a new way and experience new life. When we remember our baptism we are reminded that new life is possible for all of us because of God.
5. God fills us with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus came up from the waters of baptism it says that the spirit of God came upon him in the form of a dove. While I have yet to see a dove appear at any baptism I have done, that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit has not been present. Baptism is a sacrament of the church because we believe the spirit of God is present in the life of the child and parents and church in a very specific way. God doesn’t just fill the person being baptized God fills and works in the community as well.
Behind every call of God is a call to remember – to remember our baptism. There is no call to mission and ministry without first a call to be baptized and remember that God loves us and claims us and forgives us and gives us a new life filled with the power of God’s spirit. The reason we can move forward and be faithful to God’s call in our lives is because God loves us and claims us and forgives us and gives us a new life filled with the power of His spirit.
In those moments when we may struggle to hear God’s call or wonder which direction we are supposed to go in order to be faithful, we need to remember our baptism and trust that the one who called us is the one who loves us and the one who will lead us.
Called To Remember
1. Read about Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts 15:36 – 18:23.
2. Paul remembered how Barnabas believed and encouraged him so he believed in and encouraged Timothy. Remember the ways you have been encouraged and use those examples as ways you can encourage others.
3. Paul didn’t see obstacles as a reason to give up but as means of God providing direction (See Acts 16:6-11)
• What obstacles are you facing today?
• How can these be signs pointing you in the direction God wants you to go?
4. God also called Paul forward in a dream.
• What dreams and visions has God given you?
• How can these dreams give you direction?
• What will it take for you to go?
5. When we “Remember our Baptism” we remember that:
• God _____loves__ ___ us.
• God _____claims_____us.
• God _____forgives____us.
• God gives us ____life___.
• God fills us with the __Holy_ __Spirit_.
6. How can remembering your baptism help you stay faithful to God’s call in your life?