It was an exciting day for the Christians in Antioch. The whole church had gathered together to pray for Paul and to send him off on his second missionary journey.
Everybody was curious to see who would be on his team this time. You see, just a few days before, there had been quite a heated dispute between Paul and Barnabas, who had accompanied Paul on his first trip. Barnabas wanted John Mark to join them again so the young man could have a second chance as a missionary candidate. On the last trip, he had deserted them when things got rough, but Barnabas believed that John Mark had now changed and would do better.
But Paul’s list of qualifications to serve on his elite team didn’t include such generosity! In fact, if Paul had lived in our days, the advertisement he might have published in Christian magazines would read something like the following:
TEAM MEMBERS WANTED
for Mission Work in Asia Minor and Europe
Job description: Serving, praying, preaching, teaching and church planting.
Qualification: Love Jesus more than life itself.
Terms and conditions: Hard work; 24-hour shifts; difficult travel; storms; shipwrecks; nakedness; poverty; hunger; constant danger from Gentiles, false brothers, robbers and wild animals; misunderstanding; loneliness; desertion by coworkers; persecution; beatings; stonings; imprisonment and possible martyrdom.
Job does not include the following benefits: Salary, position, title, promotion, securities, health or life insurance, secure future, good health, long life or retirement fund.
Send your application to: Paul of Tarsus, apostle to the Gentiles.
I am certain that very few of us would have dared to venture out and join Paul’s “death squad” missionary team! However, when we read the Gospels, we are surprised to discover that Jesus made the same offer to His disciples when He asked them to follow Him. He even told them, “You must love Me more than your own life.” We read the results in the book of Acts and in Church history: Nearly all of His disciples lost their lives for the sake of the Gospel they preached.
On that day when Paul headed out for his second missionary journey, “a few good men” had actually made his team! Everyone in the church knew that these men had to be the cream of the crop, the best of Christianity: men full of faith and the Holy Spirit, mavericks, steadfast, fearless and invincible.
Paul and his team were incredibly successful. Everywhere they went, they drew people’s attention with the message they preached and the miracles God performed through them. People were saved, churches were established and together, this team actually turned the known world upside-down (see Acts 17:6).
Years later, however, Paul wrote an interesting paragraph in his letter to the Philippian church: “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father” (Philippians 2:19–22, NASB).
And with sorrow, Paul wrote to Timothy at the end of his life: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:10).
What strange things is Paul writing about in these letters? He’s actually talking about his own coworkers! How is that possible? What happened to his elite team, the ones he handpicked and personally trained?
In the beginning, it was fantastic how everyone worked hard and gladly sacrificed and suffered together. No one asked for a title or claimed a position. Each one was eager to serve Paul and the other team members. But as time went by, something shifted in their hearts. They became secretly concerned about their own career as Gospel workers. One after another, each man said to himself: “I love the Lord, the ministry and Paul, but if I go on working for Paul, I’ll miss my chance to build my own ministry and make a name for myself.”
Many left Paul and his team for various reasons. Paul was sad and hurt, not because he didn’t want his coworkers to be used by God elsewhere but because he recognized that the motivation of their hearts had changed. The driving factor in their ministry decision was no longer love for Jesus but rather their own interests, dreams and ambitions.
Paul, on the other hand, ran the race and kept his faith and motivation intact until the end of his life. Time did not seem to affect him. What did he do to live victoriously until the end? I am very sure he applied Proverbs 4:23 literally to his life: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”
Paul watched over his heart with the eyes of an eagle, alert and ready to detect any early warning signs that he was losing his pure motivation. If this started to happen, he immediately corrected his course.
Above all, Paul never considered himself more than a bondservant or slave of Jesus Christ. As such, he had laid down every right to his own life along with every ambition he ever had. His only remaining desire was to please His Lord and live for Him. He entertained no dreams beyond that.
In the light of all this, seeking recognition, titles, position, a pat on the back, salary or benefits in the Lord’s work, whether secretly or openly, must be an alarming warning sign for us. If we choose to pursue these things, it will be only a matter of time before we have lost a pure motivation of the heart. Our enemy is our own self-centeredness.