6 Things St. Paul Can Teach Us About Engaging Others in Community

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1. Have the Courage and Humility to Recognize the Truth when it Speaks to You – and Act on It!

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“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

Recognize the voice of Christ when you hear it and “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). Sometimes, Christ’s voice comes to us through the voices of others. Sometimes, it comes directly from Christ. It gives us the courage to do what we’re afraid of doing (such as confronting one of our persecutors), or it gives us the humility to accept the truth of the message and act on it (and with some of us it requires we be knocked off our horse, made to go blind, have Christ’s voice broadcast to us via loudspeaker and accept in humility the assistance of someone we were planning to persecute). The call to do what Christ tells us to do and to proclaim Christ’s name is the very missionary mandate Christ gave to the disciples and to us: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

2. Seek an Actual Relationship with New Communities

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I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while” (Romans 15: 23-24).

When you want to be involved in someone else’s ministry, seek an actual relationship. St. Paul sent letters ahead of himself to communities he hadn’t yet met (such as the Romans) when he wanted to provide an introduction of himself and his ministerial plans (such as his request to be sent by the Roman Christians to Spain). He didn’t just say “Hi, I’m Paul, can you send me to Spain?” – he wrote the Book of Romans and sent it to them as a gift. He sought a real and meaningful relationship with a Christian community that had already been formed.

3. Maintain your Relationships with Communities to whom you Reach Out

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“For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan blocked our way” (1 Thes.2:18)

Come hell or high water, stay in touch. It is one thing to bring a group of people together to share the Gospel message, but it’s quite another to enter into and form a community of those persons. Once the community is entered into and formed, the people within it are going to have ongoing questions, and they are going to need ongoing counsel. With as much travel as St. Paul did, he was not always able to physically go back to the communities he had formed when crises sprung up in them. So, what did he do? He used the state of the art communicative media of his day – and wrote to them.

4. Do the Work with Others that You’re Asking Others to Do

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“I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thes. 3:17)

Engage in your ministry or apostolate. Go up to the Areopagus, which in our world are secular forums that see the unknown God as one option among many, and be within them a witness to Christ. It is one thing to stay in our comfortable communities that we have formed and in which we are being formed and say, “I’m doing enough here.” It’s quite another to pursue the missionary mandate into those places where we will suffer for Christ because of our presence there.

5. Publically Stick up for those Communities when they are Threatened from Without or from Within

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“When [Peter] first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

We will encounter criticism about our ministry or apostolate from within and from without – we cannot stop that from happening, but we can appropriately frame our response when it does, and take our stand for Christ. Just as St. Paul stuck up for the Gospel against all the gentiles who persecuted him, he stuck up for the Galatian Christians when St. Peter would not eat with them. He was ready with his response, and we should be, too, either with the Gentiles who persecute us for preaching the Gospel or with our fellow Christians who act contrary to the Gospel message.

6. Don’t be afraid to lose your head

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“Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1: 9-14).

Remember that our relationship with Christ isn’t an ephemeral one. We have eternal destinies, and we were created for joyful communion with God.

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