Notwithstanding his strict Jewish upbringing and the rigors required to reach the status of Pharisee, it was his dramatic conversion to Christ on the road to Damascus and God’s call to minister to the Gentiles that set Paul apart as an apostle, an evangelist, and a senior pastor over many New Testament churches.
On his first missionary trip, when Paul travelled to Cyprus with Barnabas and John Mark and then on to Asia Minor, he preached where the name of Jesus had never been known. Souls were converted to Christ and churches were born. On his second missionary trip he went back into Asia Minor, confirming the churches in the faith of the gospel before receiving the Macedonian call, which took him into Europe. Paul believed that each local church was a divine institution ordained by the Lord. He lived day and night to forward the work of each church. Time and time again he laid his life on the line for their advance in the world. He suffered cruel hostilities, especially from Jews, who on a number of occasions stoned him and at other times plotted to kill him. Paul endured these things for the advance of the Lord’s church, and he never lost hope in her special ministry in the world as God’s way to declare the gospel and give pastoral support to Christians.
Through his letters to the churches Paul instructed converts in the doctrines of the gospel. He prayed for each church and for many church people by name. By hand-delivered letters and by firsthand reports he rejoiced in the triumphs of the gospel in each church and in many individual believers. He took every opportunity to comfort and sustain them through the highs and lows of their newfound faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.
In Ephesians chapter one we read Paul’s prayer that the Lord would enlighten believers to grasp more and more of the hope of God’s calling. Paul knew that their knowledge of this sure and certain hope was not only the anchor of their salvation, but also the driving force of their future service.
From Paul’s prayer we know that he did not consider the believer’s hope to be a mere wish. He prayed that God would cause His people to grow in their understanding of the glorious hope of God’s calling unto salvation. That hope is based on a sure inheritance with Christ and the “exceeding greatness” of God’s power toward His people. When Paul declared that the church is united to Christ just as a body is united to the head, he penned these doxology-like words: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:22–23). Paul declared that the Lord is on the throne, that the church reigns with Him, and that she gains each victory through His power. Truly the Lord is ruling the world to build His church.
Paul wanted this high view of the church to thrill the hearts of God’s people. He knew that when this hope got a hold of their hearts it would move them to serve the Lord with a deeper consecration. Later in the letter to the Ephesians Paul calls these saints to battle for the truth of the gospel against all the powers of hell (6:10–17). With this hope Paul called believers to prayer (6:18–20). Prayer takes on a whole new meaning when the Lord is on the throne invested with might and power to personally rule over all things to build His church. With this hope Paul called believers to a humble walk and faithful discipleship (chapter 4).
No one has more hope than a born-again Christian for biblical hope is always a sure thing. It is never the mere roll of the dice. It is the perfect and personal fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes in the life of each professing Christian. Hope, then, is also our watchword in the Christian life. Waiting with expectation to see what the Lord will do through our service in the gospel stirs our souls to do all the more for Him. Let this hope be multiplied in any congregation of God’s people and that church can become the Lord’s vessel to change the world.
It is my prayer that your heart will be filled with this gospel hope and that as you read the reports and stories of God at work in our denomination your sense of hope for the Lord’s church will be increased. The God of hope is with us today. He is still sending forth laborers into the fields that are white unto harvest. He is still leading sinners to repentance and bringing them into His church to enjoy more and more of the hope of His calling.