Paul: Hero or Homewrecker?

“Home” was never an easy concept for Paul. Visits to his birthplace, Tarsus, are barely mentioned; he studied in Jerusalem but conversion made it dangerous; he spent a good while in Corinth but this was tainted by the argy-bargy that left him so depleted; friends in Macedonia were vitally restorative after a mid-ministry crisis, but he ended in Rome restricted by house arrest and the prospect of execution.

That leaves Antioch. He arrived circa AD37, head-hunted by Barnabas. Generous and fatherly, Barnabas supported Paul when he first tried to join the apostles. His hot-headed disputes, however, didn’t curry favour with them and he was more or less sent packing “home” to Tarsus, (Acts 9:27-30).

It was an ignominious rebuff, alluded to only once in Paul’s letters. But when Barnabas went to Antioch, he recalled this agitated preacher and they were based there fourteen years – missionaries abroad and delegates in Jerusalem. Paul’s fervent idealism was tempered and skilfully channelled by his mentor and guide.

Yet Antioch was also the scene of another bitter furore. Men from Jerusalem threatened to undermine the work among Gentiles. Paul was livid – and doubly so when Barnabas took a conciliatory line. He would have no more of this compromise. Adopting a new co-worker, Paul stormed off to pastures new. There was no prayerful commissioning by the church, as there had been previously, and his brief return occasioned no great welcome.

Paul’s fiery temperament propelled him to fantastic missionary work but wrecked another potential home. Antioch found more settled leadership, partly under Matthew. Later, desperate for comfort in mid-ministry crisis, Paul’s only hope of “home” was to be with the Lord, (2 Cor. 5). The very energy that produced his greatest work consistently isolated him from forming stable, lasting human relationships. World-changers: beware of your passion!

This article first appeared in Live The Word, Redemptorist Publications

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