Whatever else we might see when we look in the mirror in the morning, we don’t see the Apostle Paul staring back at us. That’s because whatever self-illusions we might have, we don’t confuse ourselves with him. Neither did people in the first century.
When you think about it, Paul was a very singular individual. Not only was he an apostle (a pretty exclusive group to begin with), but he was different from the rest of apostles. Unlike them, he wasn’t a follower of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He received a vision while on the road to Damascus. Furthermore, God used him to plant churches all over the world and then to write letters to them. There’s no one else that we know of who was used in the way that Paul was. Everyone is unique in some way, but Paul was unique in many ways.
And yet for all of this, Paul tells disciples to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). He didn’t expect them to drop whatever they were doing and hit the road with him on his next missionary trip, but he did expect them to understand the way their lives intersected with his as followers of Jesus.
Whenever we see a road sign indicating an intersection, we slow down because vehicles might be crossing the road, coming on to the road, or turning off the road. We have to be alert so we can be aware of what’s happening and respond accordingly. In the same way, as we read through Scripture we need to be on the lookout for places where the biblical witness intersects with our lives. This can be a challenge if we’re reading something like second half of the book of Acts. If we’re not careful, we will read it like an action adventure movie with Paul as the star. To be sure, that is an element of the narrative and we’re not to ignore it, but neither are we to make it the only lens through which we read. We must stay on the lookout for intersections!
For example, when Paul is being held by the Romans in Jerusalem and about half the city wants him dead, God appears to him. He tells his to be courageous—that just as Paul has testified for Him in Jerusalem, he will do the same in Rome (23:11). This has to be reassuring to Paul on at least a couple of levels. First, since he had been warned repeatedly about the bad things that would happen to him at Jerusalem (20:22ff, 21:4,11)—he was ready (and perhaps expecting) to die there (v. 13). When God tells him he is going to Rome, he now knows that he will survive Jerusalem. Also, Paul had long desired to go to Rome (Romans 15:23ff), so that is being fulfilled as well. Armed with this assurance, Paul plugs along and continues to glorify God under difficult circumstances.
This is an intersection for us because like Paul, God has assured us of where we’re going. When this life is over, we’ll be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). And like Paul, that should bring assurance to us. Question: are we living like people who are on our way home?
But there’s more. Paul’s life was a lot like ours in the sense that things often did not go according to plan. For instance, he had wanted to go to Rome as a preacher but instead was going to go as a prisoner. What did he do? Rather than seeking to be released from these circumstances, he sought to be responsive to them. Again, this is a powerful example for us.
In all of this we see Paul continue to push ahead for Christ. He approached life with great passion because he saw it as a grand adventure for the Lord. I think there’s something to that, don’t you?