Paul: A Conquering Plodder 10/3/99

II Corinthians 11:23-28

JESUS CHRIST said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).

As tea permeates all the water in which it is placed so the word “daily” pervades this statement. It calls for continuation, it demands devotion, and requires regimentation. There are no “off days.”

The modern American lifestyle does little to encourage longevity in anything. “Channels” magazine notes the average adult male (who wins the gender and age battle over possession of the TV remote in most American households) changes stations every 19 minutes.

The short interest span of the public has changed the nature of TV. In the 1950’s a typical camera shot lasted 35 – 50 seconds. Today it last 5 seconds. Commercials are even more frantic. Therein images are often changed every second. Sound bites formerly lasted 25 seconds. Now three words are preferred.

It is projected that persons entering the work force today will have an average of 17 major employments in their life time.

Those who head volunteer organizations say it is increasingly difficult to get people to make long term commitments.

Enter stage left: the plodder.

Longevity is the price tag on many worthwhile things. I heard it said of an older person consistency is the talisman of your life.

Persons with an elementary knowledge of the era of Queen Victoria know it to have been a period of vitality and virtue in England. One of the primary reasons was the stable of stable ministers in Great Britain, plodders all.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was the dynamic herald at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London.

F. B. Meyer was a flame of faith to all who heard him.

C.H. Liddon was the powerful pulpiteer who faithfully shared at St. Paul’s.

Alexander MacLaren, a peerless expositor, fed his flock faithfully.

Joseph Parker devotedly declared the good news at the City Temple.

Seldom has an era been so dynamically impacted by loyalist who by their longevity and legendary preaching influenced a culture. They all were plodders who would not be deterred from their task.

Athletes often set admirable examples as overcomers who achieve. The 1999 World Cup is a tournament few who viewed it will ever forget. Michelle Akers, considered the best female soccer player in the world, helped propel the U.S. team to the championship. Her life’s pilgrimage to the center field of celebration was a bumpy one.

She grew up as a tomboy wearing jersey number 75 as worn by her hero “Mean” Joe Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers. She was a fierce competitor who even became furious if she lost at Monopoly.

When her mom signed her up for soccer at age eight she was on a losing team and begged to quit. Besides, she said the uniforms were pink and yellow.

Her parents divorce caused her confusion resulting in her rebellion: skipping school, dating older guys, experimenting with drugs, and lying.

Her high school soccer coach, Mr. Kovats, was a consistent Christian. Michelle says she hated what she was becoming. She was a bewildered sad, confused, and angry young girl. Having little understanding of what she was asking she asked the right question. She asked Mr. Kovats how she could have what he had. When he explained how to have a personal relationship with God she hesitated thinking this is a lot to risk. Nevertheless her desperate condition resulted in her praying to receive Christ. Her life was immediately impacted.

She received a scholarship to college and was four-times a soccer All-American. She got married, traveled the world and became the first female athlete to have paid endorsements.

Then her health began to fail. She experienced extreme fatigue to the point she couldn’t even get out of bed or brush her teeth. Migraine headaches and fever racked her body. She was diagnosed as having Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS). Her husband left her when she was at rock bottom. Alone and disillusioned she realized she had gradually left God out of her life and failed to give Him her all. At this point she was willing to give Him anything He wanted and prayed, “You can have this stuff. You can have this body. You can have this life. You can have me. Because I have made a mess of everything.”

In retrospect she said she came to realize God was tapping her on the shoulder and calling her back to Himself. When everything caved in on her she realized it wasn’t punishment but God giving her a wake-up call by hitting her with a sledgehammer.

Michelle said things changed. Things were then missing in her life: fear, loneliness, and frustration.

In the World Cup finals Michelle exhausted herself and had to be helped from the field. When Brandi Chastain scored the winning goal she demanded the IV’s be taken from her arms and she staggered on the field to be with her team mates.

She humbly says “I hold steady to what is most important and crucial in my life: my relationship with God and the privilege of being His kid.”

Michelle Akers, the best female soccer player in the world plodded to a world championship.

A plodder with a challenging path was Thomas Bramwell Welch (1825-1903). He changed his residence 15 times in his first 35 years and careers almost as often. Born in Glastonbury, England, his family moved to North America when he was age 6. The Welches landed in Montreal but moved an indirect route to Watertown, New York.

At age 19 he became a Wesleyan Methodist minister who fought for the abolition of slavery and helped smuggle slaves through the Underground Railroad to Canada. After three years of preaching he developed an incapacitating vocal problem that forced him from the ministry.

This plodder turned to the practice of medicine. Lucy, his wife, supported their seven children while he went to medical school. After a brief practice, Dr. Tom, as he was called became restless and turned to dentistry.

In 1868 he moved to Vineland, New Jersey, a fruit growing community. His dental patients often paid him in grapes.

He advertised “painless extractions…. under gas.” Another line: “Good chews or no pay.”

He developed and marketed various alloys during his 22 years as a dentist. This business boomed and he became independently wealthy and retired from dentistry to enjoy growing a variety of fruit.

Vineland had laws restricting the sale of alcoholic beverages which were largely ignored. He helped organize a temperance league in Vineland and also became Communion steward in his Wesleyan Methodist Church. As a tee-totaler he did not allow alcohol in his home and the idea of using it in the communion service bothered him. He began experimenting using only scientific methods common in the Biblical era. His desire was to produce a grape juice that would stay fresh for a long time.

In 1869 he employed the technique of Louis Pasteur called pasteurizing.

Using grapes he picked from his own vineyard he boiled them a few minutes, strained the juice through a cloth, poured the near boiling juice into serialized jars, sealed them with a cork and wax and boiled the bottles a few minutes longer. It worked. He produced Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine. The product created for use in the Lord’s Supper had its name changed in 1890 to Welch’s Grape Juice, as it is known today.

Churches that use unfermented wine for the Lord’s Supper owe this plodder a debt of gratitude. His beliefs resulted in a commitment with consequences of dedication.

Now note an admirable conquering plodder: Paul.

Paul is a dramatic example that the will of a plodder on the wrong course remains just as strong when directed on the right path. There are good and bad plodders. Prisons are full of plodders who were misdirected. Zeal can be for a good or bad thing.

Of Paul’s background his education is well known. Plodding requires more than routine regimentation and perpetual preparation. Paul had been schooled with the best. One of his instructors was the great philosopher Gamaliel. One part of his mentoring was to instruct his students in Greek poetry. Memorizing poetry is a marvelous mental exercise as well as a refreshing way to absorb truth. It later became a most meaningful part of his education.

The first time we meet Paul he is standing by holding the cloaks of those stoning Stephen. What a moment that must have been. “And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59,60).

There was no escaping the impact of such fidelity. In the spirit of Christ who prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing,” the first persons to be martyred for the cause of Christ dies with a similar spirit.

Paul’s initial reaction to the deaths of these two was outrage. His ultimate reaction is yet to be observed.

“Saul consented to his death …. he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison” (Acts 8: 1 & 3).

“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1, 2).

It was in that process the ruthless plodder became the redeemed plodder. His dramatic encounter with Christ on the Damascus road resulting with Ananias sharing with him in Damascus changed his life. Christ changed his life but did not rob him of his personality, assuage his intellect, or diminish his zeal. These and all other personal assets were merely converted, changed for a new and higher use.

Plodders pay the price for preparation. He spent ten years in Arabia, Damascus, Syria, Cilicia, and Jerusalem preparing for his new life-time commitment. The academician had much to learn about the Lord. There is no need of the orchestra playing unless it first tunes up. Paul is a template of tenacity in the process of preparation. Little did he know the Lord had begun his preparation long before his conversion. God is constantly working in our lives to prepare us at times we are unsuspecting.

The single minded Paul was now set on a new course. His travels resulted in three missionary journeys to take the good news to Europe.

His knowledge of Scripture was vital in preaching in Jerusalem in that his audience was familiar with Scripture. He could speak of what the prophets had said of the coming Messiah and they knew the references. All that regiment of preparation equipped him for this moment.

Then however he went to Athens where the people had no knowledge of Scripture. They were a prophecy desert. Remember Gamaliel? He insisted that his students read Greek poetry. At the Acropolis Paul saw the statues to many gods and one to an “unknown god.” Such a statue had been erected just in case they omitted one unintentionally.

To reach the Greek mind Paul reached back in his memory and quoted from one of their poets: “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring'” (Acts 17:28).

Paul had learned well and from the files of his brilliant mind he pulls quotes the Greeks knew. He first quoted the Cretian poet Epimenides from his poem “Cretica” in which the character Minos speaks. Then he quoted from the Cilician poets Aratus and Cleanthes. He knew how to relate. He was willing to begin where they were in order to get them to where they needed to be. Using that same technique Michelle Akers and Dr. Thomas Welch have been sited.

Paul knew that in Christ we “live and move and have our being,” just as we know the crew of a submarine lives within their vessel dependent upon it for life.

Paul became the herald of the distilled truth that has changed individuals and societies.

Years lapsed and the church in Europe lapsed into error. A young monk named Martin Luther read Paul’s writing as recorded in Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.” This was so contrary to what the church was advocating it became revolutionary and the Reformation was given birth in Europe. The word “revealed” means “to take off the veil.” This was a grand unveiling.

In the Convent Library at Erfurt is a renown painting depicting Martin Luther as a young monk. At the age of 24 he is shown reading a portion of Scripture in the early morning light. On the page from which he is reading can be seen the words, “The just shall live by faith.”

Centuries before the prophet Habakkuk had penned these words and the Apostle Paul had set them like a jewel in his writings to the church at Rome.

In the library of Rudolstadt is a handwritten letter penned by Paul Luther, the son of Martin. In it he shares this insight from his family.

“In the year 1544, my late dearest father journeyed to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that, in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting Gospel.”

That coming to the knowledge occurred in the Cathedral Church of St. John of Lateran in Rome. Therein are three parallel staircases. People walk up the stairs to the left and right but those in the middle are considered special. On some of the steps of the center stair case are coverings of plate glass through which stains can be seen. A late tradition says these were the stairs in Pilate’s Hall in Jerusalem and the stains are the blood of Jesus Christ.

As a devoted young monk Luther like many before and since climbed these steps on his knees seeking to gain God’s favor. There the text he is depicted as having read by the dawns early light comes to mind. At a moment in which he was by his own virtue and effort seeking to earn God’s favor it dawned on him, “The just shall live by faith.” That excluded works as a means of appropriating God’s forgiveness and grace. His mind illumined, he jumped to his feet and went on his way rejoicing.

Now back to the Library at Rudolstadt and the hand written letter by the son of Martin Luther: “Thereupon, he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as the chief foundation of his doctrine.”


“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

That is the foundation of Christianity.

Summarily Paul wrote of the path he had plod for Christ:
“Are they ministers of Christ?; I speak as a fool; I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness; besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (II Cor 11: 23-28).

As Paul plodded on he paused near the end of his life in Caesarea. A prophet named Agabus came to meet him there.

“When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’ Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus’” (Acts 21: 11 – 13).

All of Paul’s plodding had prepared him for what was to come. He who wrote of living by faith not only lived by faith he died with faith.

If legend is true his adversaries led him out of Rome on the Appian Way where they severed his head from his frail body. He like Stephen died for his Lord. In that flash of time he experienced the second part of his depiction of the Christian experience of which he wrote: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul, justified by grace not works, gained eternity.