"Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." - 1 Corinthians 11:1 (KJV)

If possible, please first read Acts 16:8-40. In this passage, the Apostle and his associates, including the doctor, Luke (notice the "we" in verses 10-13, 16-17), encounter three key individuals in the course of their time in Philippi. They were a merchant woman (Lydia), a demon-possessed slave girl and the city's Jailer. Lydia and the Jailer were certainly converted to Christ but what about the slave girl? The Bible simply says that she was set free from a spirit of divination. But I think we are warranted to suppose that her conversion to Christ followed upon her deliverance from demonic possession. While her possession by a spirit of divination brought much gain to her owners it would have been highly oppressive to her. So here are three individuals brought to wholeness and salvation through the power of Christ because Paul faithfully proclaimed the gospel to all who would listen.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians that they should be followers of him as he followed Christ. The Greek word for "followers" is mimetai from which we get the English nouns, "imitator", "mime" and "mimic". Paul simply means that we should do as he does because he does as Christ did. And what did Christ do? There are many things which Paul and we should do because Christ did them. Christ sought the good of all. He helped the poor, the needy, the friendless, those who were oppressed by demons and men; and so should we. But He pointed out the ultimate reason He came into this world, namely, "to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)

Jesus healed the sick, fed the multitudes and taught them the wonderful truths of His kingdom, but all of this would have been as nothing if He had not devoted Himself to our salvation. The Bible says "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him [the Messiah, Jesus]." (Isaiah 53:6) Christ came into the world to provide a sacrifice of sufficient value to cover and wipe out the debt we owe to Divine justice for our many and grievous violations of both the spirit and the letter of God's Law. Based on His very costly sacrifice, God can safely extend mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation to those who repent of their sins and trust in Christ to save them. Without that sacrifice, any extension of God's mercy to us would be cheap and would merely encourage us to continue in our hardened hearts to sin. This is why, after providing atonement for our sins and rising from the dead to show that our salvation was secured, Jesus sent forth His disciples to spread the good news to everyone.

Even before He died on the cross, Jesus manifested and demonstrated God's absolute rejection of sin and yet also His love for the sinner so that many people who had lost all hope of God's mercy were wonderfully converted and saved. The tax collector, Zaccheus, the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and the Samaritan woman are three great examples of this. So, while the ultimate expression of God's costly love was provided by Christ's suffering, death and resurrection, even the beginnings of that revelation were working wonders of redemption in the lives of lost sinners. All Jesus' miracles of healing, deeds of compassion and words of wisdom served to attain that ultimate end. He came to "seek and to save that which was lost."

Paul followed Christ in every respect, including his passion to bring people into a redemptive relationship with God. So if we are followers of Paul as He was of Christ we will likewise have as our chief aim to seek and save those who are lost. We may not preach before multitudes or go to other nations as missionaries but God has given us a circle of influence in our families, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and friends. While we may not hold the public offices of evangelist, pastor or teacher we are certainly called to exercise an evangelistic and pastoral ministry in our private sphere. We need not be eloquent or specially trained, just contagious of faith so that those we come near tend to catch what we've got.

So as we are following Paul as He followed Christ, what can we learn from his encounters with these three people: the merchant woman, the slave girl and the jailer? Again, we may not be called to travel around, speaking to strangers but we can certainly have an impact such as Paul did if we are seeking to be used of God in bringing souls to salvation. Paul was looking and praying for opportunities to reach people - and he found them, and so shall we. Lydia represents the people that are in the obvious places. She was already a believer in God and Paul went to "a place of prayer" to find such people. It was easy to reach her. We too will find such people. They may already be attending your church! They are close to the kingdom but have not yet crossed the threshold into it through faith in Jesus as their Savior.

But God is not just interested in such people; He also has designs on people who are far from the kingdom. The slave girl was an annoyance to Paul. Under the control of a spirit of divination she kept following Paul and crying out, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation!" Why wouldn't Paul like that? Paul didn't want to associate His message with the work of a spiritist medium! Just as Jesus had silenced such endorsements by evil spirits, so Paul was moved to cast out the spirit from the slave girl. This teaches us to see opportunities not just with nice people who are close to the kingdom but also with annoying people who pose as obstacles to God's purposes. So when you are being annoyed by people, think "What opportunity for the gospel does this annoyance provide?"

Finally, Paul and Silas encountered not just annoyance but suffering. Publicly humiliated, beaten with rods, thrown into prison, with their feet fastened in the stocks, instead of moaning and complaining they prayed and sang hymns of praise to God! Through their triumphant spirit of rejoicing in suffering, the jailer and his whole family were saved. This teaches us that we should see our times of suffering as opportunities to win others to Christ. Even those who are causing our suffering may be the very ones who will, in time, be converted.

So, whether in pleasant, easy places to reach people for Christ or under annoying and even excruciatingly painful circumstances, God will open doors for ministry - if we have the eyes to see them and the eagerness to use them. Let us therefore be followers of Paul as he was of Christ by praying for opportunities and using them to bring lost souls to God! The angels in heaven rejoice over one sinner who repents; how much more shall we who play an instrumental part in their repentance! (Luke 15:10) And remember, it is only in this life that we shall have the opportunity of leading a lost soul to their loving Savior. Let us make the most of this brief life.