Apostle Aren’t Super Heroes…

When I was a baby Christian, I was deeply impressed by the book of Acts. Peter, John, James and Paul were like these super heroes to me. They faced off their enemies without even flinching, even challenging nose to nose the Jewish Supreme Court that had ordered the execution of their beloved Lord and Savior, praising God when beaten, getting back up and brushing the dirt off their robes after being stoned and left for dead, and enduring beheading for the faith! (Acts 4:8-12, 5:40-42, 14:19-21, 12:1-2)
I saw them as invincible, tough-minded, hard-driving Kingdom of God builders. I figured you would have to be pretty thick-skinned to do this missional work. But then I started reading more carefully the interactions in the letters and realized that there was an incredible tender-heartedness in the Apostle Paul, my main hero. I also saw that he had feet of clay, especially when he and Barnabas had their throw down over Mark, a young deserter from their first mission trip. The Bible makes it clear that it was a “sharp disagreement” that was so severe that the only solution was to part ways. It dawned on me, they were people just like me.
I was reminded of this falling out when I was teaching recently through Colossians for Sunday school. Mark shows up again in Colossians 4:10. I got to thinking about the whole Barnabas and Saul/Paul situation.
In ministry, good friends and partners are hard to come by. You never know whom you can trust. You have to be careful that you don’t look like you are playing favorites. And, people don’t often stick in the ministry with you. But Paul and Barnabas had one of those rare relationships, a relationship that is refreshing, encouraging and solid. Barnabas was one of the first to believe in Saul in Jerusalem, despite suspicions to the contrary.  (Acts 9:26-27) But Saul was on fire and became too hot to handle with death threats coming his way. He was shipped off to his home town of Tarsus.
A short time later however, Barnabas needed a church planting partner and he remembered the young firebrand Saul and recruited him to work in the church at Antioch, a work that lasted years including God calling them to mission work among Gentile cities in Cyprus and Asia Minor. They became invincible partners until Mark drove them apart. The loss of Barnabas’ friendship and partnership must have been very painful for Paul. It seems that he never had that strong a relationship again with any other co-worker in gospel ministry.
As I revisited all of this during my study, I realized that the Apostle Paul needed the principles he taught in this great little book to keep bitterness at bay and prosper in the Christian walk. His teaching to set your mind on things above not on earthly things, to set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God was not just fine-sounding theology. This was life-saving for him. When he said to get rid of anger, malice and slander, this was real life not theory. The commands to put on compassion, humility and patience and to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us were the bedrock for Paul to move forward after this conflict.
The Apostles were not super heroes. They felt the disappointments and betrayals just as deeply as we do. They walked in the same trenches that we slog through and their advice is borne out of their firsthand trials and heart aches.  This is very encouraging to me. God’s Word and His Spirit are just as available as a resource for us as they were for them. They deeply depended on the same grace as we need daily.
As we struggle through each day’s challenges, may we be encouraged by their words, “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1

God’s best, Christopher

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