By Pastor Glenn Pease
Paul is the most traveled man in the New Testament. He covered much of the known world of his day, and his ambition was to go to the end of the world. The furthest point West that man could then go was Spain. Spain is only mentioned twice in the New Testament, and both times by Paul in Romans 15. He says in verse 24, "..when I go to Spain, I hope to visit you while passing through." Then in verse 28 he writes, "I will go to Spain and visit you on the way."
Paul longed to bear the message of Christ to the frontier of civilization. There in Spain over 14 hundred years later a man with many things in common with Paul wanted to bear the message of Christ even further West. He became the greatest traveler of his day by going where man had never gone before. The interesting thing is that his first name means Christ-bearer. That is the literal meaning of Christopher.
Christopher Columbus had many things in common with Paul. They both had their share of shipwrecks and survival. They both traveled widely and longed to be used of God to fulfill His purpose in history. But where their biographies most resemble each other is in the rejection they had to endure and overcome to accomplish God's purpose. Columbus would have given up the dream and settled down had he not been a stubborn man who felt called of God to discover a new way around the world. He was as determined to sail West as Paul was to get to Jerusalem.
He proposed his plan to John II King of Portugal first. He turned it over to a royal commission of scholars, and after long deliberation they found his scheme utterly fantastic. He then appealed to Henry VIII of England where the repose was that he was a fool, and his ideas were madness. He then turned to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. They also turned it over to their own royal commission, and they studied it for 4 and one half years. Their conclusions were more kind, but the also rejected it as an unlikely scheme.
On top of all the official rejection by the so-called experts, he had to endure the ridicule of those who heard of his dream. They would greet him like this: "Ah, here come our vagabond again, with his pathetic prattling about spheres and parallels. Tell us Christofaro, does the world appear any rounder to you today?" For 8 long years he had to endure rejection and humiliation. Finally he was granted the chance to fulfill the dream God had given him. He had plenty of rejection after that also before the dream was realized. It seems like anyone who makes a major breakthrough in history has to face much rejection.
Paul was no exception as the Apostle called to break down the wall between Jews and Gentiles. This wall was like the Great Wall of China. It had been worked on for centuries, and nobody was about to let it be demolished by some fool dreamer who had the notion that God loved all people equally. It was even hard for many Jewish Christians to accept this radical idea, and the result was that Paul held the record for being the most rejected man in the New Testament.
Jesus was despised and rejected of men, but he was only rejected by the leaders of Israel, and the mob they got to support them. Paul had all this plus. He was rejected all over the world, and not just in Jerusalem and by Jews. Paul was opposed by Gentiles who hated him for ruining their racket in idolatry. Paul was also opposed by Christians who did not like some of his teachings. Some of his closest companions even forsook him. Demos forsook Paul for the world, and Barnabas split up with him over John Mark. Paul was rejected by more people in more places for more reasons than anybody in the Bible that I can think of. There can be question about it, for the evidence is overwhelming that Paul is the most rejected man of the New Testament. If we can't learn how to cope with rejection from him, we just as well forget it. We want to look at his life from the point of view of the reasons for his being rejected, and his responses which made him an over comer. First lets look at-
I. THE REASONS FOR HIS REJECTION.
Paul was rejected primarily for the same reason that any person is rejected, and that is because he was different. If you are different and do not conform to the majority, you are courting rejection. That is why people are such conformists. It is the easiest way to avoid rejection. Paul was not always rejected, for as a leader in Judaism he was a conformist just like all other good Jews. When he hated Gentiles and persecuted Christians he was going with the flow of his time and culture. But when he was converted and began to love the Gentiles he was considered a traitor. Now he was different and his old friends wanted to reject him.
Paul was a minority, for even the rest of the Apostles did not love Gentiles like he did. He had to rebuke Peter for backing off of granting them equality of fellowship. Paul had to deal with two different levels of rejection. He did not mind dealing with the racial rejection because it was a valid conflict to expect. He taught that we are to test all things and hold fast to what is good. He did not expect all Jews to change like he did in his view of Gentiles. After all, they were not confronted by the Lord and knocked to the ground blinded. They had a right to receive some reasonable evidence that this was God's plan all along to save the Gentiles and make them equal as His children. He welcomed debate and the searching of the Scriptures to prove these things. It was his calling to expound the way of God more clearly. That is why he is going along with this scheme to prove to the Jewish Christians that he is not such a Gentile lover that he now hates Jews, and that he has rejected their values and traditions.
He can understand racial rejection and recognize the need to build bridges. He was not going to magnify his difference at this point, but focus on similarities and common ground. The person who deliberately magnifies his differences in all settings is one who thrives on rejection. Show me the Christian who provokes hostility everywhere by calling attention to his being different from everybody else, and I will show you a Christian who is led by a different spirit than the Apostle Paul. He was the most rejected man of the New Testament, but it has to be kept in mind that next to Christ he is also the most respected man of the New Testament. He was a peacemaker, and he built relationships with people everywhere. He never sought for any of the rejection he received.
Garrison Keillor in Lake Wobegone tells of how he had to cope with being so different when he was growing up. He writes, "In a town where everyone was either a Lutheran or a Catholic we were neither. We were Sanctified Brethren, a sect so tiny that nobody but us and God knew about it. So when kids asked what I was, I said Protestant. It was too much to explain, like having six toes. You would rather keep your shoes on." So all of us try to minimize our differences from others to escape being rejected. Paul was doing this too, but unfortunately this was not the only type of rejection he had to cope with. He had the radical rejection that comes with deep-seated prejudices.
Paul was hated by the non-Christian Jews, and their language leaves no doubt. Even after Paul's defense in chapter 22 the crowd cries out in loud rejection, "Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!" In chapter 23 Paul stands before the Sanhedrin where many scholars are convinced that Paul once sat as a member. In verse 2 the high priest orders those near Paul to strike him on the mouth. He is radically rebuked and rejected by his former peers who once respected him. This hurts, and not just the slap in the face, for that sting will soon go away, but because the rejection by your own peers does not go away. Paul had to live with this scar the rest of his life. He had to appeal to Caesar because he knew if he ever came under the full authority of his own people he would be promptly executed. Paul had no illusions about his rejection. He knew it was total. He was now in the same category as his Lord before him, and of many of the heroes of God in history.
Joseph was rejected by his brothers. David was rejected by his peers in government. Moses was rejected by the people he led, and by his own sister. Noah was rejected by his contemporaries. The prophets were rejected by the very people they loved and sought to save. Rejection is a common experience for those who serve God. The reason is because people do not like that which is different, and especially when that difference makes them look bad. Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra has an episode where the ugliest man kills the beautiful god. When asked why he replied that he had to die. He had to because his beauty was intolerable to the ugly man. He could not become beautiful to be like the god, nor could he make the god ugly, and so there was no alternative but ultimate rejection-which meant murder.
This is why the Jews wanted to kill Paul. His love for the Gentiles made them look bad. They were the leaders of the spiritual world, and they represented the God of universe, but their prejudices made them ugly. But in a contest where all are ugly everybody looks just fine. But then comes along a non-conformist who really does represent God, and who really does love all people, and then ugliest stands out like a sore thumb. The great paradox of life is that that the more you love the more you risk being hated and rejected. Your love will make other people look bad in comparison. The cross is the greatest proof to support this statement.
Paul was rejected for the same reasons Jesus was. He cared more about people than he did tradition, and this made tradition lovers look bad. It was just like that no good Samaritan who made the priest and the Levite look bad by going to the rescue of one they rejected as worthless. He was no hero to them, but a real pain, for his care for a person they rejected made their care about tradition look cold and cruel. So Paul was a pain to the powers that be, for he was embarrassing them by his love for the Gentiles. Even the Jewish Christians had problems with Paul's radical love, and the result is we do not see any rally on Paul's behalf by the thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. There is no hint that any of the Apostles coming to plead for his release. He was really isolated, from that point on he only had a few close friends who stood by him.
It makes me think of the story of Tonto and the Lone Ranger surrounded by 200 blood thirsty Commanche warriors. The mask man said, "Tonto, we are in serious trouble." And Tonto replies, "What do you mean we white man?" Paul knew the feeling of isolation and loneliness that comes with rejection. He could understand what Jesus felt when His disciples slept as he fought the battle of His life. He knew the loneliness of being forsaken because nobody could understand his goal and his love. Paul felt the ultimate rejection that his Lord endured. It eventually led to his being beheaded by Nero in 64 A. D. He was buried by a major highway just outside Rome. He probably never got to Spain. He was just too different to be tolerated. He loved the wrong people, and so he had to be rejected.
Not everybody was like Paul, but everybody was something like Paul. Everybody tastes of rejection by some degree. It is recognized as one of the major problems of life. One of the causes for breakdown in marriage and family is rejection. It is the cause of so much abuse, drugs and even suicide. Few want to talk about their feelings of rejection less they get even further rejection. Susan Sandberg in an article on rejection in Eternity Magazine says our society has taught that if you are rejected it is your own fault. People feel that they are to blame for all of the bad things that happen to them. But the Scripture makes it clear that you can be in the center of God's will, as Paul was, and still experience a great deal of rejection. Next let's look at-
II. THE RESPONSE TO HIS REJECTION.
Paul, like his Lord before him, responded to rejection by rejecting it as the final word in relationships. Paul refused to accept rejection as final. Jesus said on the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Jesus got in the last word and refused to let rejection be the last word. He accepted those who rejected Him. This is the key to coping with rejection. Paul illustrates it for us here. He could have let the Romans carry him away to protective custody and forgot this mean rejecting crowd. But instead he pleaded for a chance to speak with them. They just tried to kill him, and yet he wants to share with them his testimony of what Christ did for him. He refused to accept their rejection as the final word.
We know from many studies what happens when you accept rejection instead of rejecting it. It becomes the determining factor in your life. People who accept rejection as the final word leave the church, leave the ministry, and even leave life. Accepting rejection is one of the major curses in life. Troubled children, who get into trouble with the law are often rejected by their parents. The parents feel disgrace and want nothing to do with them. If Paul's parents were alive, I'm sure they would be humiliated by his being almost killed in the temple, and then arrested. The shame leads to rejection.
Parents often say to a child in jail that they want nothing more to do with them. over 90% of the prisoners in America have been rejected by their parents. They have accepted that rejection as the final word, and so in order to bring reality into conformity with their feelings they do those things that get them rejected by all society. Rejection is what they got, and so rejection is what they give. It becomes the dominant force in their life because they have given it the place of the final word. Others do not end up in prison, but they carry it with them. They become so super sensitive to all disapproval that it enslaves them. the slightest negative remark plunges them into the dungeon of despair.
No matter who they meet and develop a relationship with, it is just a matter of time before the big rejection. They are never just disappointed when someone disagrees with them, or doubts their view of something. They are devastated, and the relationship is down the tube. They become attention junkies. They need a constant fix, and they feel high for a while in all new relationships where they are cheered up, because even strangers tend to be courteous and polite, and they do not rock the boat with negative remarks. But it cannot last in an imperfect world, and so they are soon back in the basement of despair because of some trivial word exalted to the level of gospel. These people live on the edge of rejection all the time, and they are just waiting for that word that pushes them over into the pits. They live under a perpetual cloud because they accept rejection as the final word.
Paul suffered the rest of his life because of the rejection he experienced in Jerusalem. His life was never the same, and he had to endure the limitations of prison. He could no longer travel. But do we see him become a bitter man because of his rejection? Not at all. He loved his people, and he loved the Gentiles, and so he went on for the rest of his life seeking to share the love of Christ by writing down his testimony. He refused to accept rejection as the final word. His example of following Jesus in this way has changed the course of history.
D. L. Moody was rejected because he made a lot of preachers look bad. They were educated and spoke perfect English, and then along comes this slang speaking shoe salesman and crowds are swept into the kingdom of God by his preaching. The whole thing was embarrassing. It was to different to be acceptable to the leaders of the day. The Calvinists in England said he degraded the sovereignty of God by giving too much attention to man's free will. His methods were anti-traditional and too emotional. He was just too different, and they could not stand it. They were doing it right and had dead churches. He was doing it all wrong and had revival. Moody said, "I like my way of doing it better than their way of not doing it." He went on in the face of rejection refusing to accept it as the voice of God.
The strong Calvinistic Baptist of England called Moody the Goliath of free will, and even the great Spurgeon was annoyed with Moody. The result was that few of the converts ended up in Baptist churches. Rejection hit Moody, but he pressed on to do the will of God, and God used him mightily. What if Jesus would have said that because the leaders have rejected me I am going to ascend to my Father and forget making atonement for man's sin? Had Jesus accepted rejection as the final word there would have been no plan of salvation. But He rejected rejection, and He made acceptance His goal. Many who formerly rejected Him did come around to accepting Him. Paul was the most famous, and then he went on to also reject his rejection, and to see many who rejected him come into the kingdom.
This is how we have to deal with rejection. Reject it and do not give it first place in your life. Put it way down on the list and press on to achieve those goals God has called you to. Love those who reject you. David Livingston had some gifts in winning the African people, and other missionaries became jealous of his growing reputation. He began to feel the rejection and realized that if he stayed the work of Christ would suffer. And so he had to move on from his lovely house and garden. The school he ran had to be left to start a new ministry. This is not rare, but it goes on all over the world. Those who accept rejection often leave the ministry, but those who reject rejection as the final word do what Livingston did. They press on to have an even greater ministry for Christ.
There is a lovely story that comes from the archives of the army. "An army chaplain has told of a burly sergeant who gave his life to Christ. He asked him, "What was it that prompted you to become a Christian?" The sergeant replied, "When we were in Malta, there was a private who was a Christian. We gave him an awful time, mocking him, laughing at him, but he continued to read the Bible. He continued to pray and live a wonderful life. We saw it, we knew it, and we hated it. It made us furious with him! The better he lived his life for Christ, the more furious I became," said the sergeant. One day when the private was on sentry duty, he returned to the barracks exhausted. He knelt by his bed, and began to pray. The sergeant, taking off his boots, hurled both of them at the private's head. He knocked the private off-balance, hurting him. But still the private got back on his knees and continued to pray. "I went to bed," said the sergeant, "and my heart was still filled with bitterness. But when I awoke the next morning, to my utter amazement, beside the bed, beautifully polished, were the boots that I had thrown at the private. My heart was melted and I asked the One who could put such love into a human heart to come into my heart and to live with me. That's why I'm a Christian today," he told the chaplain."
Paul rejected John Mark and said he was not fit for the ministry, but Mark did not accept Paul's rejection as final, and the result is that he went on with Barnabus to become an effective servant of Christ. So much so that Paul's final word became one that was positive, and he recommended Mark as a profitable servant of the Kingdom. Had he accepted the rejection of one so great as Paul we would have lost one of the greatest servants of Christ, and would not have the Gospel of Mark that gives us such a unique perspective of our Lord. Thank God that he rejected the rejection he experienced. It was probably even valid rejection, because Mark was not living up to the level that he could have been at the time, but he did not accept that as final. Instead, he went on to live on the level that was worthy of Paul's admiration.
Paul did not hate the Jews for rejecting him. He kept on accepting them regardless of how they rejected him. The greatest parallel of Paul's experience that I am aware of in our life time is that of Kagawa of Japan. He was hated and despised for leaving his wealth and culture to live among the poor, and to waste his life on worthless people. He made other Christians look bad by his sacrificial love, and so they rejected him. After the atom bomb blasted Japan into surrender he was the only one who cared for the down and defeated people. He wrote to General Macarthur and urged him to treat the fallen enemy with Christian love. Macarthur met with him to plan ways to do this, and it changed the course of history for his people. His efforts kept communism from taking over in Japan.
Kagawa started more agencies and organizations for caring than seems humanly possible. He was elected as President of the Japanese Teachers Union, and was offered a place in Parliament, but he refused. He wanted to continue to preach the Gospel and save people for both time and eternity. He was greatly honored by the Emperor for all he did to save his people. None of this would have happened had he accepted rejection as the final word. In his early days the leaders of his country did all they could to destroy him and his ministry. Propaganda was spread that he was a traitor to his people, and he was arrested and imprisoned. His terrible sin was that he loved Americans. He cried out against the folly of going to war and of bombing Pearl Harbor. He fought for the acceptance of Americans as Paul fought for the acceptance of Gentiles, and he was hated for it. He loved people that everyone else hated, and so he was too different to be accepted. They radically rejected him, but he refused to accept their rejection. He rejected rejection and in the end won his enemies to praise him.
Paul could have said, "get me out of here, for I never want to see these people again," but instead he said he wanted the chance to communicate with them. He shared his testimony of how he was saved by Christ and called to take the good news to the Gentiles. He would not accept rejection as the final word, and this is the reason God used him to reach out into all the future to touch the world for Christ. Success in God's kingdom calls for people to reject rejection and press on to do what they are called to do. Christopher Wren was the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral in London. He is buried there and his epitaph says, "If you would see his monument look around you." And if you see Paul's monument just look around and see a world filled with Gentile churches.
Rejection is a part of life. Every child is rejected to some degree, and some of it is rational and reasonable. Not everything they want and want to do is legitimate and they need to be refused. But they need to be taught that it is not final, and that someday they will be old enough to do what is now forbidden. One little guy wrote to God, "Dear God, Christmas should be earlier because kids can only be good for so long." It is hard to be good all year for anyone, and some rejection may be inevitable, but this is never the final word, for there is forgiveness and final acceptance in Christ, and all children need to know this, as do all believers whatever their age. Rejection is always just temporary, but acceptance is forever.
Dale Evans Rogers in God In The Hard Times tells of what life can be like without a strategy in coping with rejection. She represents the normal and natural man in dealing with rejection, and even the Christian who is not learning from Jesus and Paul. She wrote, "Believe me there have been times in my life when I felt desperately alone and rejected and discouraged. More than fifty years have passed, but I remember well the crushing loneliness and bitter feelings of rejection when my first husband walked out on me-a sixteen year old mother of a baby son. In my outrageous immaturity and crippling insecurity, I lashed out at anyone within striking distance and built up a high, protective wall around myself, vowing never to e hurt that way again."
The story goes on to tell of her rejection as a writer, and as a actress. She spent years feeling like a rejected failure. But then she found acceptance in Jesus Christ and her life was changed. She could now accept failure as not being final. God used her to encourage millions to refuse to accept rejection as final. You do not need to reject those who reject you. You can accept them and reject their rejection of you. This give you freedom to go on loving regardless of the response, and often it leads to receiving love in return. Love is the victory that overcomes the world. God did not accept man's rejection of Him as final, but went on loving him, and the end result is a vast host of people from all tribes and nations will praise Him forever. May God grant us the wisdom to see that the victory over all rejection is to be always rejecting rejection as the final word.