Research has revealed that one of the most critical elements to preventing new converts from leaving the church is relationships. According to one study, “Each new person should be able to identify at least seven friends in the church within the first six months.”1 In other words, developing faith-based friendships is critical to faith development.
Maybe that is why relationships played such a vital part in Paul’s ministry. Paul was a man who thrived on relationships. Rarely do you find Paul by himself in the New Testament. One author identified approximately one hundred different individuals associated with Paul in some fashion between the Book of Acts and the Pauline epistles.2 So, while we tend to remember Paul as an author of deep theology or advancer of missional philosophy, we need not overlook the fact that he was a practitioner of broad community. Thus, pursuing a Paul means pursuing spiritually beneficial relationships. But what type of relationships does that entail?
First, pursuing a Paul may mean pursuing an accountable friend. Peter was a pillar of the first century church as an apostle and an elder, but that did not mean that Peter was infallible. On one occasion, which is recorded in Galatians 2:11-14, he was assembling with the predominately Gentile church in Antioch when some Jewish Christians from the Jerusalem congregation arrived. Prior to their arrival, Peter willingly ate with the Gentile Christians, but, after their arrival, he stopped eating with the Gentile Christians because he was “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12). Paul confronted Peter regarding his hypocritical behavior because he saw that Peter’s “conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). Confronting the church leader who delivered the first gospel sermon (Acts 2:14-41) and shared the gospel with the first Gentile audience (Acts 10:34-48) would have been unthinkable for some because there are certain people we do not feel authorized to correct. But Paul did not think that way. In fact, Paul wrote in Galatians 6:1, “if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” So, when Paul noticed Peter’s sin, he did not hesitate to confront him about it because Peter’s status did not matter to Paul nearly as much as his salvation did.
All of us need a Paul in our life. All of us need someone who is willing to hold us accountable, someone who is willing to be honest with us, and someone who is willing to lovingly correct us when we are wrong. So, who is going to be your Paul?
Second, pursuing a Paul may mean pursuing a ministry partner. Paul rarely worked in isolation. On his first missionary journey, Paul was accompanied by Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 13:2, 5). When the time came for a second missionary journey, he was joined by Silas (Acts 15:40) and recruited Timothy (Acts 16:1-3). Later, Luke would join them (Acts 16:10-16; 2 Timothy 4:11) as would Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-3), Erastus (Acts 19:22), Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29), Sopater, Secundus, Tychicus, and Trophimus (Acts 20:4). From Paul’s epistles, we learn that he considered several individuals to be his “fellow workers.” In addition to some mentioned above, he identified Urbanus (Romans 16:9), Titus (Galatians 2:1-3), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30), Euodia, Syntyche, Clement (Philippians 4:2-3), Onesimus (Colossians 4:9), Justus (Colossians 4:11), Philemon (Philemon 1), and, for a time, Demas (Philemon 24) as such. Andronicus and Junia were called “fellow prisoners” (Romans 16:7) as was Epaphras (Philemon 23), who also received the designation “fellow servant” (Colossians 1:7). Needless to say, Paul was not a loner when it came to ministry. He worked alongside several different individuals in service to the kingdom of God, but why? For fellowship? For companionship? For encouragement? For effectiveness? We may not know all the reasons why Paul used ministry partners, but it seems apparent that he preferred teamwork over independence.
All of us can benefit from a Paul in our life. All of us can benefit from someone who will work alongside us to help us be fruitful in the kingdom, someone who can complement our talents and skills with their own, and someone who will embolden us as servants of God. So, who is going to be your Paul?
Finally, pursuing a Paul may mean pursuing a spiritual mentor. One of the unique opportunities created by Paul’s intimate relationships was the opportunity to mentor younger Christians. He especially fulfilled this role with Timothy and Titus, both of whom he identified as his spiritual sons (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). Through his relationship with these “sons,” Paul provided future generations the example of an older Christian training a younger Christian. In fact, Paul would establish the expectation of this type of relationship when he instructed older women to “train the young women” (Titus 2:3-5) and older men to model self-control for the younger men (Titus 2:2, 6-7). Thus, the goal of pursuing a Paul is to develop a relationship with a more mature Christian who can mentor you in some capacity.
All of us need a Paul in our life. All of us, at some point in our life, need someone who can help us mature in the faith, someone who can equip us with wisdom and skills that we previously lacked, and someone who can be held up as an example to follow. So, who is going to be your Paul?
So, the point is that each of us should pursue a Paul to hold us accountable, to assist us in our kingdom efforts, and to mentor us in the faith. Being a disciple was never intended to be done in isolation, and Paul modeled this truth well. Maybe that is why he is the biblical author who wrote, “we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:3-5).