Paul’s Missionary Journeys –
A Heart on Fire for God
Up Close and Personal with Paul Series
Galatians 1:15-17 (KJB) But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, 16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: 17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Paul made it clear in this verse taken from the book of Galatians he was inspired to pen, his authentic calling to minister to the brethren, for it came directly or divinely from God. Preaching or embarking on a missionary journey was not Paul’s idea, or perhaps even his initial desire, it was God’s calling upon his life. However, Paul knew that serving God by traveling to areas God opened was not going to be like a leisurely vacation. Nor would it be an opportunity to spread his own opinion regarding truths of God.
No, the plain truth is that this was the calling of God upon his life.
In fact, it is important to note that Paul recorded when called of God to preach he did not discuss this with other men to receive a public opinion. Nor did he ask the other apostles of whom he was likely personally close about this newly received direction of God. Nor did he ask for donations and supplies from others. Instead, Paul communed with God alone in prayer concerning His will. Paul went right to the source of his calling to receive further divine direction, and God always provided for his will and way.
God first directed Paul to go to Arabia, then to Damascus, as Paul reported for us in the book of Galatians. This initial journey was to prepare his heart and life for serving God as a traveling Missionary. Yes, God sent him into the Arabian desert to receive doctrinal messages from God (Acts 9:22-23). The receiving of this truth spiritually empowered Paul, authorizing him to preach Truth to others, specifically Paul was sent to the Gentiles.
It is important to realize that Paul did not just take a giant leap of faith and jump into ministry on his own accord. Some people make the mistake of overlooking the importance of Paul’s first trip to learn of God and they begin an accounting of his missionary journeys with the first stop being the pulpit when Paul was directed to preach to a crowd. However, without following the will of God in spending time in Arabia, Paul would not have been made ready or perhaps directed by God to embark on any preaching mission.
The same is true today, a person cannot just enter the mission field without having been prepared both in his heart and life for such an arduous task ahead of him. Especially if it is a man being sent to a faraway pulpit of this world. Sadly, many prepare for their journey overseas by raising funds for provision but fail in preparing their mind and heart to serve God.
An accounting of Paul’s first missionary journey can be found in the book of Galatians which God inspired Paul to record. This expedition is also detailed in the book of Acts penned by the Apostle Luke also inspired by God. These accounts combined give us a geographical, historical, and personal perspective of Paul’s initial three-year journey. Though the Bible does not break down each person who accompanied Paul or that he befriended along the way. It is safe to say that both Barnabas and Luke were by his side in this debut expedition and that Paul met many colleagues and friends in the course of this and every journey he was to take.
Paul went on this initial missionary trip to an area known as Galatia, comprised of places called Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, other towns. This included a visit to the Galatian Church. Paul then ended up sailing to Antioch where he and his traveling companions spent three years in this particular field in service for the Lord.
At the end of these three years, a meeting was called among men, including some of the Apostles (Acts 15:1-4) to take place in Jerusalem. This meeting was filled with concerns about circumcision and differing opinions regarding its role in the salvation of souls. Some believed it was necessary to circumcise, while others did not. Undoubtedly, you know opposing sides of an argument cannot both be right.
Today we have God’s Word we can open and read for ourselves that truths of God can be rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15). Anotherwards, there is a right and a wrong interpretation of scripture.
Paul, Barnabas, and Titus went to Jerusalem to attend this meeting regarding such disputes concerning teaching that circumcision was a necessary component of salvation in the early church (Acts 15:1). Much debating took place, and finally, the Apostle Peter stood up and said as was recorded in the book of Acts:
Acts 15:7-11 (KJB), “Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they…”
Yes, salvation has always been by grace through faith. It will always be about grace not about sacrifice as the Pharisees erroneously taught. Don’t believe me, look back to the beginning in Genesis, Noah was saved by faith (Genesis 6:8).
Circumcision plays no part in the spiritual condition of the heart, and the Apostle Peter had listened to the arguments long enough and interrupted this drama to present God’s truth easing troubled hearts and removing the pull of such troublesome quarrels bringing silence to the matter. Peter spoke the truth, to the disdain of the Pharisees, who taught it was important to circumcise in keeping the Law rather than finding liberty by placing faith in God’s grace. And yes, as you are aware, there is still teaching and hearts trying to keep the law today rather than resting in the unconditional love, mercy, and grace of God. This truth is made even more evident for us today through the finished work of Calvary and the recording of God’s Word.
Paul was present among the crowd as Peter pointed hearts to the Truth. Paul also likely used this opportunity to communicate the gospel message to this crowd who had open hearts and minds hungry for digesting the truth. Paul likely also spoke to this crowd in reiterating this truth and for giving a report of his first missionary journey for giving glory and honor to God.
Paul was directed of God to move on in a second journey leaving here to (Acts 15:36) revisit souls reached in the first missionary journey the unfettered Truth of God, in bringing encouragement and in gauging the day to day temperature of the people’s faith in their personal spiritual journey. Paul deeply cared for the brethren; whether they be Gentile or Jew, Paul desired to give them Truth and to inspire them to be the best servants they could be, not only in giving them a better life, but ultimately an eternal life one bringing honor and glory to God.
Paul and Barnabas had an argument over John Mark accompanying them on this second journey. Barnabas, who was his relative, wanted John Mark to come along on this adventure (Colossians 4:10), however, Paul did not desire his company (Acts 15:36-41) and they separated away from John Mark. Something caused a rift between Paul and him, though it is not clearly elaborated in scripture. Paul certainly would not refuse to have a person accompany him regarding a light matter of disagreement. We do not know if this trouble stemmed from a personal difference or a doctrinal issue, however, whatever the cause, Paul would not give room to compromise or to negotiate his presence. In (Acts 13:13) John Mark departed from them and went back to Jerusalem. It is important to note that later in time in (2nd Timothy 4:11) that Paul summoned for John Mark and he was noted as valuable to the ministry by Paul.
Paul takes Silas on his second missionary journey to Tarsus. It is then that Paul meets Timothy in Lystra, one of his most valuable young companions and to become a fellow minister along with his other close associates, including Barnabas throughout the scope of his journeys (1 Timothy 1:2, 4:14).
This newly formed association between Timothy and Paul reminds me of the closeness of the friendship between King David and Jonathan in the Old Testament, kindred spirits through thick and thin! Though Timothy was just a young man when they met, Paul served as his mentor and guide. Paul was a mature male figure in young Timothy’s life, perhaps in place of a father, though the Bible is not specific. It does mention that Timothy’s early teaching came from Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s mom and grandma, but never discusses any direction from his father. It was apparent Paul served as a notable person to Timothy. One he could look up to and learn from. Thus, Timothy was also used in reaching others with Truth.
Paul also had a close associate name Titus mentioned in this verse:
Galatians 2:1-2 (KJB) Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
Some companions, including Judas, Barsabas, Silas personally accompanied Paul in giving a report about this meeting in Jerusalem on this second missionary journey. Paul revealed the Apostle Peter’s swift conclusion of the matter with Truth of God to Gentile believers in Antioch (Acts 15:30-32). Letters were written in exposing this lie about adhering to the Law. Good men of God were sent in person to put this matter about circumcision and other personal liberties to rest.
However, yes, even today there are still people preaching strict adherence to God’s Law rather than accessing the liberty available to any person through faith in God’s mercy and grace. (Romans 3:20) Tells us that the law brings us the knowledge of sin, and that in (Romans 6:14) that God’s grace can bring sincere freedom from the law to believers having hearts softened by God and now controlled by the presence and power of God rather than the darkness and evil of the god of this world. It is essential to understand that freedom in Christ cannot be used a license to continue in sin, as some lost and wayward hearts choose. Or be used as a roadblock (Romans 14:13) making another immature spiritual heart stumble at hearing truths of God. The Apostle Paul had his work cut out for him in his journeys in preaching about the bondage of sin and the liberty found in Christ.
Certainly, as you can see, these matters continue to be a doctrinally delicate spiritual area. In the context of these ancient times, circumcision was a controversy between the Jews and the Gentiles within the church. The truth is that no person can meet or exceed the Law of God. Sincere liberty is found only inside a personal relationship with God and never hinging on a person’s own ability or accord for he could never be good enough. God offers whosoever an opportunity to receive His gift of grace. However, each person must rely on faith placed in the power and presence of God for his or her salvation and in successfully eternally separating from sin a shed blood as sacrifice is no longer required because of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on Calvary.
This truth is often misunderstood and falsely taught both in Paul’s time and today.
Ultimately, within a congregation, the love of God at work in softened hearts should drive any humbled person to encourage other believers in their walk with God rather than be a critical menacing hammer and in finger pointing, judging, and dividing against another in petty (not doctrinal) differences that arise and fester in the presence of sin.
This means a child of God accepts differences in personal preferences within the church without folding, or compromising, and tolerating, except in matters of dealing with sin. Though sin is expected among lost hearts outside the church, it should not be expected, tolerated or allowed to continue within the purity of God’s church.
In the end, Paul was driving home this point in his preaching (Romans 14:7-9) that all hearts will give an answer to God and this truth alone should bring fear and reverence of God to a saved soul and bring foreboding to every lost and wayward heart making a choice to continue in sin both in the church and in this world.
Paul, and his group visit areas in Galatia in continuing in this second missionary journey. Paul’s heart desired to journey to Asia, but this was denied by God to go there in (Acts 16:6). For reasons we are not told. Sometimes, like Paul, we receive a “no” answer from God and must trust explicitly in His divine direction, regardless of our own desires attempt to lead us contrary to the direction given of God. Paul chose not to venture into these areas which God forbade him.
This group went to Neapolis, Philippi, (where a woman, a seller of purple, named Lydia hears Paul’s preaching) and she and her entire household is baptized (Acts 16:12-15). While in Philippi Paul casts a demon out of a female slave (Acts 16:16 – 18). Her masters, however, livid that they have lost this demonic divination, stir up contention in the city against them. The two, Paul and Silas, are arrested, beaten and put in prison (Acts 16:19 – 24). Soon a miraculous earthquake causes all the locked cell doors to open and the bonds of all prisoners to be loosed (don’t miss this picture of the freeing power of God possible through the finished work of Jesus Christ). This supernatural event event leads to the heart conversion of the prison guard.
Now again free, Paul and Silas, along with traveling companions Timothy and Luke, travel through the cities of Amphipolis and Apollonia arriving in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). In Thessalonica Paul visits a Jewish synagogue to teach why Jesus is the Old Testament prophesied Savior of Mankind (Acts 17:2 – 4). Though many believe with their heart what is presented for their learning, certain Jews, envious of the Gospel’s success, form an angry mob and start a riot (Acts 17:4 – 5).
Paul and Silas preach in a synagogue in Berea. The Bereans are not only willing to listen to what they have to say they also verify what is preached against the Old Testament scriptures (Acts 17:11 – 12). Many Bereans come to believe the Gospel. Unfortunately, Jews from Thessalonica arrive in the city seeking to create trouble for him (Acts 17:13). Paul immediately leaves for the coast and sets sail for Athens while the rest of his party stay in Berea (Acts 17:14). In Athens Paul requests Timothy and Silas come to the city (Acts 17:15).
Paul dealt with surging persecution from angry crowds, faced jail time, and felt both the acceptance and rejection of men. Perhaps it can be stated that his daily dealing of such adverse circumstances potentially gave birth to him being inspired by God to pen the “spiritual weighty” or doctrinally heavy writings where great emphasis is placed on the Lord, doctrine, the gospel message, and unity among brethren recorded for our study and learning in Romans, Philippians, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians. In the coming weeks, we will take some time to delve into these books for greater learning and maturing opportunities.
Not only did the Apostle Paul preach the gospel throughout many ancient cities on his journeys but it was evident he had been given a gift of the Spirit for healing diseases and even raising the dead. This gift was given to all the apostles in the interim time before the New Testament was available. The presence of this gift, albeit temporary in nature, lent authenticity to Paul’s claim of being a faithful church leader, mentor, missionary, a man with a changed heart and an all-around influential servant of God.
None of the things Paul accomplished in the name of Jesus could have been done without His divine intervention. These supernatural events along with the teaching of the gospel message served as a giant spiritual billboard in pointing to the power and presence of God at work in his life. It served to poke and prod many hearts and change lives as Paul and his companions traveled throughout various areas as he was led of God. This rendition capping Paul’s missionary journeys is only a small slice and does not reveal all of the places Paul was sent to in this world. This devotion only skims the surface in presenting a handful of his miraculous healings and his work in freeing souls from evil found in this world in his passion for serving Christ. These verses below best delivers such a raw rendition by Paul of great trials and troubles he and his men faced in the culmination of their missionary journeys:
2 Corinthians 11:25-27 (KJB) Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
Yes, Paul served God relentlessly. He wavered not boldly stepping out in faith standing spiritually tall and stout with a heart for serving and savoring God despite the circumstances at work about him. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, betrayed and left for dead in his journeys. Certainly, you will agree that God gave Paul much more than he could ever handle on his own (2nd Corinthians 1:8-11).
Like Paul, God does choose often to overwhelm us as we sojourn in this world. It is in these times, just as the Apostle Paul learned to be content, that we too can find the necessary strength and power to sustain us through any situation.
Paul learned early on not to brag in himself but to point to the power and presence of God at work in his life. This fact is evident in the often-treacherous life of Paul and these lessons remain for our learning and application today. In fact, we are to expect trials and troubles (John 16:33). This is so we learn to trust in the power and presence of God rather than in our own limitations and weakness.
Yes, God will send each of us on a difficult journey in this world but He will divinely direct us and give us exactly what we need in every moment.
**In the next devotion in this series Up Close and Personal with the Apostle Paul we are going to peer inside the book of Romans in a devotion titled A Passion for Doctrine. This book penned by Paul is filled with vital principles found here and supported throughout the canon of scripture.
Please read the five other devotions in this series: