By Nathan D Maki | @NathanDMaki
What does success look like?
What if you’re a Christian, does the definition change? What if you’re a Christian writer?
I left Rome even more determined to bring that ancient world to life for modern-day readers and believers. To raise the fallen pillars in their mind’s eye, smooth the cracked and heaved pavement, restore the mosaics to vivid color, and bring those long-dead saints and tyrants to life again so their stories will never die.
Paul walked those stones. Those pillars once cast their shade over him. There, just across the Forum was the dungeon where he spent his last days before Nero dragged him from that hole and marched him out to be beheaded.
The Keeper’s Crown began as a quest to answer questions about Paul’s later life.
Why did Luke end the book of Acts so abruptly, simply saying that Paul spent two whole years under house arrest with a soldier that kept him? What would it be like to be that soldier, chained to the Apostle for two years? What happened after those two years were up? Was Paul executed then? Or was he released for a time? What sudden emergency caused him to leave his precious books and parchments behind at Troas, leaving so quickly that he didn’t even have time to grab his cloak? What was his thorn in the flesh?
Yet even as I delved into the pages of the Pauline Epistles, records of early church historians, and the histories written by experts on the Apostle Paul to answer these questions, a deeper question imposed itself on the novel.
What does godly success look like?
Paul began his life as the son of a prosperous Jewish businessman, a Pharisee living in the intellectual and influential city of Tarsus. He was both a Jew and a Roman citizen. He was sent to Jerusalem to be schooled by Gamaliel, one of the foremost leaders and thinkers in Jewish society and one of the 70 elders who made up the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest governing body.
By the time the Early Church began, Paul had risen to prominence in Jewish society. Evidence suggests that he could even have been a member of the Sanhedrin himself. Paul wrote to the Galatians that he “profited in the Jews religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
Fast forward to the time of his execution. Paul was penniless, relying on church charity to sustain him during his imprisonment. He was all but friendless, writing to Timothy that only Luke was with him and all others had forsaken him. He was broken physically, the result of his thorn in the flesh and innumerable punishments and hardships. And ultimately he was beheaded by the Emperor Nero outside the walls of Rome.
Yet Paul wrote to Timothy just before his death and said this:
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only but unto all them also that love His appearing.”
Paul obviously viewed himself as a success despite all outward evidence to the contrary. He turned his world upside down. He founded churches across the Roman Empire, preached to the foremost thinkers of his day, and testified before governors, kings, and even Emperor Nero himself. And now, almost 2000 years later, we still read the words God inspired him to write. His epistles have shaped the direction and theology of the church perhaps more than any other writer.
No Christian, and few others, would ever argue that Paul was anything less than a world-changing success.
So what was his secret?
At the end of the day, it’s very simple. Paul did what God called him to do, no matter the cost. No matter the result, that qualifies as success.
God has called me to write, and so I offer The Keeper’s Crown, the story of the great Apostle’s final sprint to the finish line, as seen through the eyes of the young soldier chained to him for those final days. In Quintus I see myself, struggling for success by the world’s standards only to come to the challenging realization that true success, lasting success, is something quite different entirely.
I hope you will too.
About Nathan D Maki
His latest book, The Keeper's Crown, a stand-alone novel about the Apostle Paul will be released later this month. Nathan likes to say he pastors to touch souls, writes to touch hearts, and landscapes to keep food on the table.
You can find Nathan online at