Amongst the many sterling qualities which marked Paul as one of the best, if not the best, of Christ’s servants, was that of promptitude in his blessed Master’s interests.
He was prompt, ready for any call or service that lay before him. He echoed, in effect, the answer of Isaiah to his call, “Here am I; send me.”
He presented a fair contrast to Jonah when sent to cry against Nineveh. Jonah was reluctant. He shrank from his mission; he was unready. Moses, too, honoured servant though he certainly was, desired that someone more eloquent than himself should go in his stead. He, too, on that memorable occasion, showed himself unprepared.
Alas! who of all the servants of God has not failed in promptitude, who but one? The Master—our blessed Lord—has set the perfect example of the most complete service. He alone could truly say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4).
He never failed.
Yet, turning from Him to those of like passions as ourselves, it is both refreshing and encouraging to find in Paul a spirit of whole-hearted devotedness to his work.
Thus, in Romans 1:15, he says, “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.”
Here we have the warm-hearted evangelist ready for the spreading of the gospel in Rome.
He had many gifts; he used them all. He loved the Church, and he loved equally the gospel. If the former tells of God’s counsels, the latter proclaims His nature; and if we dwell in love, we cannot but have and show our fellowship with the gospel. He rejoiced if Christ were preached even out of contention.
Sinners need the gospel for their salvation, and saints need it, oftentimes, for their establishment. Paul knew how to meet the need of souls as well, surely, as he did to confirm believers in the very highest lines of truth. He was as practical as he was wise. He stood by the Church, and he ministered in the gospel. The one was just as important to him as the other; in fact, we find the “Church” and the “gospel” mentioned almost the same number of times in his epistles. Hence, if Paul, the most gifted of teachers, could throw himself so fully into the testimony of the gospel, how happy, how profitable, how calculated to encourage, if every servant of Christ, whatever his gift or his age, expressed in like manner his hearty fellowship with every sincere and godly effort made for the extension of the gospel too! Thus Timothy, who was not an evangelist, was enjoined to do the work of one. What an honour! Disparagement of true gospel work is not of God. It is of Satan.
It is a fine sight, and most encouraging, to see the teacher uphold his fellow-labourer, the evangelist, and so vice versa. They are members of the same body and mutually dependent.
So much for Paul’s happy co-operation in the gospel. But let us look at other sympathies. Let us see him in his pastoral service: “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you … And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so” (2 Cor. 12:14-16). Here he was just as ready to come to Corinth, in pastoral service and affection, as he had been ready to go to Rome in the work of the gospel.
He had planted the Church in Corinth, but his work had been well-nigh ruined by Satan. There had been grievous sin and fatal error. Enemies had arisen to overturn Paul’s authority, and even to question his Christianity. He had purposely deferred his promised visit, hoping, and not without ground, that repentance would be given. Nor was he disappointed. God had wrought restoration in them. He was now ready to come. He yearned over them. He sought them—not theirs. He loved them, and yet—strange contradiction!—the more he loved, the less he was loved! Very strange, if “love begets love”! But his was a holy love, and wrought, at all cost, for the purity of its objects. Such is ever Christian love; and, though slighted, it loves on! Yes, though crucified, it loves on and ever! How divine! “The less I be loved”! Sad indeed. “But be it so.” How magnanimous! “Be it so.” Could three small monosyllables contain a fuller volume of determined and exhaustless love? They tell of a heart that was independent of the objects of its service. Be their return what it might—repulse, coldness, suspicion, indifference—the river should flow unchecked. What a pastor! How we are reminded of the Good Shepherd of John 10!
Paul sought not their money, and that was commendable—he still would serve them. He got not their love, but be would love on. Ah! such a man can do anything. Love is omnipotent. It pursues its object though never met by a smile. And for such a course Paul was ready.
Once more, in Acts 21:13, we find him saying, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” He was ready for the path of suffering and of death. This covers all the others.
To have learned the cross of Christ is the preparation. There He, the blessed Saviour, died for us and bore our judgment; there, too, we died with Him. Faith accepts and feeds on this. Now “death is ours.” Having acknowledged this we are fit for the path of testimony to our rejected Lord. “I am ready to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
As Saul, the persecutor, he had hated that holy name, and had striven right earnestly to expunge it from the earth. Now, oh, wonderful change, he loved it and was ready to die for it!
And he did! Look, finally, at 2 Timothy 4:5. There he says, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
Martyrdom—swift, cruel, pitiless—was imminent. He had passed through its shadow a thousand times in his long, bright, Christian career; now he had to face it. But he was ready. His course was ended; he had kept the faith. A lovely sunset indeed, though its sky was stormy!
He was as prompt for suffering and for martyrdom as he was for serving the saints or the gospel. An apostle, no doubt, but withal a servant who was affected in all perils by the spirit and love of Christ—a beautiful example. It is true that the word “ready” is not the same in each case in the original, but the fact of Paul’s promptitude and readiness for his Master’s call remains clear and certain, and that whether to serve or suffer.