Going the Distance

March 26, 2012 — 4 Comments

By just about any measure, the Apostle Paul’s commitment to go to whatever lengths were necessary to bring the gospel to those who had not heard was remarkable.

Roland Allen, Anglican missionary to North Africa and China, explains: “In little more than ten years St Paul established the Church in four provinces of the [Roman] Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD 57 St Paul could speak as if his work there was done.”[1]

Paul’s primary calling and burden was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to win as many Jews or Gentiles as possible (1 Cor. 9:19-22), and to press on to locations where Christ had not yet been named (Rom. 15:20-21). His ultimate goal was to plant churches by laying a foundation as a skilled master builder, thus leaving behind a healthy growing community of new believers in each location who were grounded in theology and the ethics of the law-free gospel (1 Cor. 3:6, 10; 9:10).

The vast distances and long periods of time required for Paul and his co-laborers to travel as the Spirit led them are impressive. Barry Beitzel beautifully captures the distance leadership challenge they surmounted:

The distances traveled by the apostle Paul are nothing short of staggering. In point of fact, the New Testament registers the equivalent of about 13,400 airline miles that the great apostle journeyed; and if one takes into account the circuitous roads he necessarily had to employ at times, the total distance traveled would exceed that figure by a sizable margin. Moreover it appears that the New Testament does not document all of Paul’s excursions. For example, there seems to have been an unchronicled visit to Corinth (2 Corinthians 12:14; 13:1); he refers to shipwrecks of which we have no record (2 Corinthians 11:25); and there was his desire to tour Spain (Romans 15:24, 28), though it is still debated whether or not he ever succeeded in that mission. Considering the means of transportation available in the Roman world, the average distance traveled in a day, the primitive paths, and rugged sometimes mountainous terrain over which he had to venture, the sheer expenditure of the apostle’s physical energy becomes unfathomable for us. Many of those miles carried Paul through unsafe and hostile environs largely controlled by bandits who eagerly awaited a prey (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26). Accordingly, Paul’s commitment to the Lord entailed a spiritual vitality that was inextricably joined to a superlative level of physical stamina and fearless courage.[2]

The table below details the extent of Paul’s travels to many of the places he visited.

Destination By land (25 km/day) By sea (100 km/day) Journey total
Arabia 300 km (12 days) 300 km (12 days)
Syria/Cilicia 1,800 km (70 days) 1,800 km (70 days)
Jerusalem (AD 44) 1,080 km (45 days) 1,080 km (45 days)
Galatia 1,440 km (60 days) 980 km (10 days) 2,420 (70 days)
Jerusalem (AD 48) 1,080 km (45 days) 1,080 km (45 days)
Macedonia/
Achaia
3,110 km (125 days) 2,060 km (20 days) 5,170 km (145 days)
Asia 2,900 km (115 days) 3,210 km (35 days) 6,110 km (150 days)
Spain 1,000 km (40 days) 1,800 km (15 days) 2,800 km (55 days)
Crete 120 km (5 days) 1,300 km (14 days) 1,420 km (19 days)
Last journeys 900 km (35 days) 1,700 km (17 days) 2,570 km (52 days)
Totals (approximate) 14,000 km (8,700 miles) by land 11,000 km (6,800 miles) by sea 25,000 km (15,500 miles) in 663 days

Table Source: Adapted from Eckhard J. Schnabel, Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 122.

Paul was able to cover extraordinary distances given the limitations in transportation at the time.  His willingness to endure the hardships of travel to influence as many as possible for the gospel allowed him to make an incredible impact for the kingdom in his time on earth. That is some serious self-leadership.

What motivates you to go the distance?

 


[1] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1962), 3.

[2] Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985), 176-177. Quoted in Charles R. Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing Group, 2002), 142.

4 responses to Going the Distance

  1. Your last question really hit me. In a different way that I’ve looked at your post, one word that we’ve been discussing in France has been perseverance. I have to work on perseverance. When results don’t come as I might like right away, I have a tendency to want to move on and try something new. My friend and French pastor said that it takes trust and perseverance over a longer time than we might think. Especially as a foreigner. Despite the many challenges and obstacles. Thanks for writing this, Ken.

  2. Whoa-that’s a marathon a day for 10 years!

  3. BrentTrickett (@BrentTrickett) April 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Understanding my call helps me go the distance. When I feel like I’m hitting the wall I remember a couple moments in my life where God clearly called me to work for Him. Then I read Matt 28:18-20 and I think to myself “how could I do anything else”.

  4. Thanks, @Joe, @Jon, and @Brent for your comments. @Joe – I resonate with your emphasis on perseverance. That’s one of our family’s four core values.

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