“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Acts 9:1-6, NIV
Who is the greatest missionary of the first century Christian church? The apostle Paul gets the unanimous vote. Here is a man who made a name for himself by persecuting and arresting Christians. His birth name was Saul of Tarsus and he had learned Jewish theology from Gamaliel, the most noted Hebrew scholar of the day. Paul was present and supportive of the Jewish religious rulers who killed Stephen, an early Christian leader.
One day Saul headed to Damascus to arrest a group of Christians there. On the road, Jesus spoke directly to him from a blinding cloud of light, calling him to make a 180-degree life-change. Saul fell cowering before the glory of the Lord. In that encounter God gave Saul a new name: Paul; and a new identity: apostle. The apostle Paul spent the remainder of his life making Christ known to the people groups of his world. The one who had avidly persecuted Christians now endured persecution for his own faith in Christ. As the first Christian missionary, Paul carried the gospel across the known world of his day. His do-or-die aim in life became to make disciples who make disciples.
Paul modeled the circle of missional living that should define our lives. Paul’s missional calling began with personal worship that fueled discipleship that led to his zeal for the mission of Christ. Let’s see how this circle is reflected in Paul’s New Testament writings. In this passage a high moment of worship was followed immediately by a direct call to discipleship. We often miss this progression, however, because the passages occur across chapter divisions in our modern Bible. The progression is lost as we stop at the chapter breaks. Paul’s original writing was a continuous letter with no break in thought. Let’s look at these passages as originally intended, as one flowing thought.
Worship: Romans 11:33-36, HCSB
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Discipleship: Romans 12:1-6, HCSB
Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.
Paul’s personal expression of worship is a beautiful lyric proclaiming God’s all-encompassing power. We see here that Paul was first a true worshiper. He understood that worship is only for God and his glory. Paul demonstrated a purity of focus on God that truly defines worship. Then Paul’s worship flowed into a compelling call to discipleship that ignited his heart for missions. His missional heart then empowered his personal worship, starting the circle in motion again. This cycle of worship-discipleship-mission was as natural as breathing to Paul.
Read these verses again and let them speak directly to you. Can you hear God’s call to worship him? Can you hear God’s call to discipleship? Can you hear God’s call to become a worshiping disciple on mission? – Mark Powers