Not long ago, I was reading in Acts 17 and noticed that, in rapid succession, Paul was shipped off by the respective believers of both Thessalonica and Berea for his own protection. I remember thinking, Wow, Paul sure got shipped off a lot. So I decided to go back through the book of Acts and see just how often Paul got shipped off for his own protection. A trend developed.
In Damascus (Acts 9:25), Jerusalem (Acts 9:30), Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:13-14), Paul was shipped off before he could be harmed. Paul left the city of Lystra after being stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20) only to go back to that city in Acts 16. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were both beaten publicly and then imprisoned, then asked very politely to leave by the city's rulers (hoping he wouldn't report them for beating a Roman citizen without a trial). At Ephesus Paul survived a rioting mob that was scared of Paul's effect on the idol-industry and was probably saved from death when the disciples refused to let him speak in front of the rioting crowds (Acts 19). At Psidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were kicked out of the city (Acts 13:50). In Acts 20:2-3, Paul (for once) changed travel plans because he had learned of a plot against his life. In Jerusalem, Paul was arrested for his own protection because of a rioting mob that wrongly accused him of defiling the temple (Acts 22). There are still more instances of both escapes and plots and that doesn't even count the shipwrecks!
At times, looking at Paul's journeys, how long he stayed in hostile territory, how often he was shipped off by the other believers for his own protection, how willing he was to jump in front of the mob that was trying to kill him, it almost looks like Paul had a death wish. How could Paul constantly get himself into this much trouble? Was Paul crazy? Was he a trouble-maker? What was Paul thinking and why did the disciples always have to send him away (sometimes after he had been stoned)?
In Acts 20, Paul was on his way to Jerusalem for what would become his final visit, in which he would be arrested and eventually be taken to Rome to stand before the Emperor. Along the way Paul stopped to see the elders of the church in Ephesus. Wisely, they met in another town. Paul told them that he would never see them again and said good-bye. What are his words?
"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:22-24, NIV).
Paul had no death wish, but neither was Paul overly concerned with the thought of dying. Death was something Paul was willing to endure if it meant accomplishing the task of preaching the Gospel. Paul's life was not important to him, the message of the Gospel was. In Philippians 1:20-24, Paul expressed a desire to depart from this life and be with the Lord but was content to stay because he knew that continued life would mean an advancement of the Gospel.
How sold out are we for the sake of the Gospel? Are we willing to suffer and die in order to share the Gospel with people? Are we willing to put off things we long for because the work of the Gospel is so important? Are we willing to stand in front of hostile crowds, knowing it could cost us dearly, just so that those crowds will have a chance to know Christ? What are we willing to endure for the cause of Christ? Are we willing to miss out on ambitions and perks? Are we willing to endure discomfort and poverty for the chance to share the Gospel? Are we willing to be abused, persecuted and maligned?
Compared to the chance to share the Gospel, Paul thought his life was worthless. How much is your life worth?