The apostle Paul was about as zealous as any person has ever been in spreading the message of Jesus, but when he faced stubborn resistance, he did what Jesus did: he walked away.
He didn’t run away at the first sign of resistance. He reasoned and pled with many inquirers. He even seems to put up with toxic people for a while. But usually, when the situation became abusive or clearly pointless, he got out of there.
Let’s just follow Paul’s travelogue, shall we?
In Damascus, Paul’s opponents were so vigilant to kill him that the church had to get creative in order to save his life: “His followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.” Paul’s opponents were determined and clever in their murderous plans. Paul and his followers were more determined and cleverer in finding ways to keep Paul alive.
Paul’s very next stop was Jerusalem, this time working primarily among Grecian Jews. The Grecian Jews couldn’t win the debate so “they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”
Noticing a pattern yet?
In Pisidian Antioch, Paul demonstrates his passion to find the reliable people he later told Timothy to focus on. From his writings to the Romans, it’s clear that Paul yearned earnestly for his fellow Jews to embrace the Way of Jesus. In fact, he went so far as to say that he’d damn himself if his damnation could result in their salvation.[i] From perhaps the only man who had a front row seat to what life after life is truly like (when he was caught up into the “third heaven”[ii]), this is a remarkable statement. Yet even while bearing a passion that burned white hot for his Jewish brothers, when they resisted the message of Jesus Paul was willing to walk away in his pursuit of reliable men: “Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.’”
Paul didn’t allow personal affinity—who he naturally liked or didn’t like, who he naturally cared for more or less—to impact the focus and extent of his ministry.
At Iconium, Paul and Barnabas were fierce in their preaching and God confirmed their words with “miraculous signs and wonders.” Yet, ultimately, this “miracle working team” still had to flee: “There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe…”
Supernatural anointing didn’t excuse them from exercising natural wisdom and walking away from trouble.
Unfortunately, similar trouble followed them into Thessalonica, including angry mobs. Once again, Paul walked away. “As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.” Some of the Thessalonians followed Paul to Berea, “agitating the crowds and stirring them up.”
Guess what happened?
“The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast.”
We know that decades later Paul would willingly die in Rome, but notice that he chose not to offer himself up to death in Thessalonica, Berea, Iconium, Damascus or Jerusalem. In fact Paul, like Jesus, spent a good bit of his life walking away from violent opposition. If you think “anointed” ministry results only in people being changed and not in many people being violently agitated in opposition, you’re placing yourself above both Jesus and Paul.