Post is an interesting word. It connotes a long piece of timber or metal staked into the ground. In athletics, a goal post may come to mind and perhaps a football player doing a dance in the end zone after a one-handed catch. In social media, post becomes a verb, such as when a YouTuber posts a video. But if we move to the era of the great wars of the past, then a post is the place where a soldier is stationed. In war, a faithful soldier keeps his posts at all costs.
Socrates makes this point in Plato’s Apology. Socrates answers an imaginary interlocutor who asks him whether he would be ashamed at an untimely death at the hands of his city. Socrates says that the question misunderstands a fundamental point. A good man does not calculate his chances of living or dying or make decisions based on the likelihood of a reward. He asks only one question, whether he is doing right or wrong. If he is doing what is right, then he should continue down that path whatever may befall him.
Socrates applies this logic to his past and present to explain his actions. In the past, he kept his post (Gk. tasso) when his generals commanded him to do so at military engagements: Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium. Socrates remained faithful then, and he resolves to be faithful now. A general has not posted him this time, but a god, Apollo. Socrates’s mission in life is to pursue wisdom, challenge others who claim to know, and give the gift of seeking wisdom to his city, Athens. He is determined to remain faithful even if it means death.
In the same speech, Socrates introduces another imaginary interlocutor, this time, the collective men of Athens. Even if the Athenians should propose to let him go free on the condition that he no longer stir the city with his questions and pursuit of wisdom, he could not accept their generous offer. He says:
Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all (Apology, 29d.1-6)?
Socrates continues, introducing the imagery of a gadfly. He is the gadfly chosen by the gods to provoke Athens, a great and noble steed that is slow to move on account of its size. At times, he fastens on them when they are slumbering, but his sting is for their good so that they would live a life of virtue. He will continue even if it leads to his death. To use his language, he will not desert his post.
The Greek word, tasso, to post, is not used in the same way in the New Testament. However, the concept is very much present. God calls people to tasks, places, people, and he desires faithfulness. We see this dynamic converge in the life of Paul.
God calls Paul to be a witness. After Paul’s blinding conversion, God sends Ananias to minister to him. Ananias fears because Paul’s reputation for persecuting the church is grounded in the death of Stephen. Paul has teeth, and Ananias knows it. Yet God reveals to Ananias that Paul will be his chosen instrument to proclaim his name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. God also communicates this call to Paul directly. From there Paul grows in the knowledge of God and begins to internalize his calling.
By Philippians 3, Paul speaks of his aim in life: to lay hold of God’s calling upon him. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Paul’s grammar captures a complex point. Paul’s aim is to pursue the goal for which God called him. In Paul’s mind, God reached out to him, and he wants to reach out to God by being faithful to his calling. There is a meeting of parties and actions: a caller, a called, and faithful obedience. Paul is so committed to his calling that he says that all things are considered rubbish compared to knowing Christ and making him known. This is Paul’s post, and he will not leave it.
Paul’s commitment to his post explains his later actions. In Acts 20-21, on no less than three occasions, Paul’s companions deliver dire words of prophecy to him about the impending danger that awaits him in Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-24, 21:4, 21:10-16). Paul himself receives warnings from the Holy Spirit of imprisonment and hardships.
In dramatic fashion, Agabus, a prophet, takes Paul’s belt, ties it around his hands and feet and says: “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:1). When Paul’s companions see and hear this prophetic act and message, they try to convince Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
Was God telling Paul not to go? Did Paul’s stubbornness drive him to Jerusalem? Did Paul make a mistake?
Paul had every reason to halt his journey. Not only had he received plenty of warning from God’s people, but many people in Asia Minor relied on him. His time in Ephesus was one of the high points of his missionary career. A revival hit this provincial center like a tsunami. Acts states: “…all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). Paul could have stayed and deepened Christianity in that region. He could have made Ephesus a base of operations for a greater mission elsewhere. He could have penned theological treatises, discipled the next two or three generations, and counseled people with endless questions.
No one would have second guessed Paul if he stayed, but he was determined to march into Jerusalem. He did so because all the words that he heard from his friends and the Holy Spirit fit perfectly into the calling he received through the words of Ananias: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
At Jerusalem he would suffer – check; he would also preach to his kindred – check; he would also likely cause a riot, which would get the Romans involved, Gentiles – check; and finally, he would be able to appeal to Caesar, the king of earthly kings – check.
When we move to Acts 21, Paul speaks to a throng of Jews in Jerusalem, he addresses the Sanhedrin, preaches before Felix and Festus (two Roman procurators) and King Agrippa before appealing to Caesar himself. On his way, he is shipwrecked and preaches to Publius, the chief official of the island of Malta, and heals his father. Paul set his face toward Jerusalem because he wanted to be faithful to his calling.
God came through. Every step of the way, Paul’s faith was matched by God’s preordained good works. By the end of the book of Acts, Paul has preached to kings and higher officials, to both Jews and Gentiles. These appointments were out of his control, but not out of God’s. God set the stage, placed the actors, provided the time and setting, and Paul entered stage left.
Keeping Our Posts
God has not changed. The God of Paul is our God today. Paul had a call, and we have a call. Paul resolved to be faithful; that should be our passion as well. This point will help us particularly in times of trials and tribulations.
As I write, I hear sirens in the background. They have not let up for quite some time. Ambulances are barreling through the narrow corridors uptown to reach Mount Sinai Hospital. Police cars weave in and out of traffic to quell some danger. A helicopter flies overhead, cutting the air with its metal blades as the city prepares for lockdown. The atmosphere has changed in the past three days as the face of COVID-19 casts darkness over a once carefree city. What should Christians do?
No one answer fits all situations, but this snapshot gives one clear directive. We should keep our posts, our callings, our duties. Fathers and mothers should continue being fathers and mothers. In fact, they should be the best fathers and mothers possible. Teachers should discharge their duties as teachers in person or online with all faithfulness. Police officers, doctors, and other civil servants should continue to serve the public. Ministers should continue to shepherd their flock even if they carry Purell in their pockets and purses.
Times change, circumstances change, but our callings do not. The true test of faith is whether we will remain at our posts. Of course, God may give supernatural strategy to the church during this time such as he did for China during the time of SARS. If he does, we should faithfully follow through. Until then, we know what to do.
A crown awaits those who shepherd and serve well (1 Peter 5:1-4), and we have great comfort knowing that the great shepherd has never left his post. May we be found faithful in this season.