“I was personally unknown to the
churches of Judea that are in Christ.”
Paul had no intention of making a name for himself at the time. He might have had the
ambition to become great in men’s eyes before he was converted, but that was a
thing of the past. He was relatively unknown to the churches in Judea, and he
had absolutely no problem with that.
He would become well-known later, but that was after many years of laboring in the
field. The reputation Paul earned through his faithfulness to Christ didn’t
instantly transfer into fame, which is mostly the case in our time, as well.
When people become well-known by doing something spectacular, they often
quickly cash their fame in by writing books or shopping for endorsement deals.
Such wasn’t the case with Paul, however. In fact, had he had a choice at all, he would have
preferred remaining anonymous so that he could preach the gospel without
hindrances. Indeed, “great trees attract all the headwind (樹大招風,)”
as a Chinese saying goes, and Paul seemed to get all the unwanted attention
from the Jewish authorities, which made his evangelistic efforts difficult.
People often get promoted when
they become famous. Celebrities are on demand these days and they get to charge
large appearance or speaking fees. I don’t think all these things ever entered
into Paul’s mind.
It’s far better to remain
unknown unto men and known only unto God. Without a doubt this would have been
”I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.” This should
not be taken as a complaint; Paul was merely stating a fact. Being a recent
convert who wasn’t a part of the inner circle of the Lord Jesus, Paul’s
prospects of becoming a leader of the early church were indeed very minute.
Very few Christians knew who Paul was at the time and, even after years of struggling
on the mission field, he seemed to have become well-known for all the wrong
reasons. He was known in Jerusalem for being a man who degraded the law in his
teaching and propagated the idea that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised
to be saved. No wonder Paul found the Christians in Jerusalem somewhat hostile
toward him the few times he visited the city.
Many changes would have had to
been made had Paul had the slightest idea of becoming famous. Politicians get
elected into office if they watch the polls diligently. “Turning the sail with
the wind (見風轉舵)” is something they must do in order
to please the majority. Indeed Paul desired to become “all things to all men,”
but that does not mean that he would sacrifice all his principles to do so. He
could do his best not to be offensive to people, but he could do nothing about
the offensiveness of the gospel. There is something seriously wrong if someone
becomes rich and famous preaching the gospel.