Apostle Paul is one of the most fascinating people I have read about in the Bible. A little research into his life tells us a lot of how he was raised, what he believed, and how his life changed after an encounter with Jesus. His life also teaches us some basic lessons about our life with God and shows us how someone, who would today be considered a religious terrorist, became an apostle who wrote many of the New Testament books in the Bible.
Saul of Tarsus was born in Cilicia in what is now modern-day Turkey about AD 1-5. His parents were considered nationalists who strictly followed the Law of Moses, and felt they had to protect their children from contact with any Gentiles. They were Roman citizens who, considering Jerusalem a sacred and holy city, moved and raised their children there. Although they attempted to avoid contact with Gentiles, Saul was able to speak Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew that was the language of his parents, as well as Greek and some Latin. He described himself in Phil. 3:5-6 as, “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is the law, blameless.”
At the age of thirteen, Saul was sent to Palestine to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, where he studied for 5-6 years, learning and mastering Jewish history, the works of the prophets, and the Psalms. He became a lawyer and was well on his way to becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court of 71 men which ruled over Jewish life and religion. In Acts 5:27-42, when Peter defended the gospel in front of the Sanhedrin, it was Gamaliel who prevented them from stoning him, and Saul was believed to have been a witness to this, as well as to the stoning of Stephen.
In Acts 7:58, we learn that those who stoned Stephen laid their clothes at the feet of a young Saul while they committed the murder. Acts 8:1,3 tells us, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” And, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women committed them to prison.” Saul believed that he was serving God and became determined to wipe out the young church. It was this belief that led him to go before the high priest and request letters he could use to imprison any Christians he found in Damascus. (Acts 9:1-2) It was on his trip from Jerusalem to Damascus that Jesus appeared to Saul, as we learn in Acts 9:3-5 (NKJV), “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’” (Goads were a common tool used by farmers to prod their animals to move in the right direction. This pointed piece of iron would be used when the animal rebelled; the more the animal resisted, the more forcefully it would be pricked with the goad, increasing in intensity until the animal obeyed.)
The light of Christ that fell on the road to Damascus blinded Saul for three days, and he was led by those traveling with him to the place Jesus instructed him to go, which was the house of one named Judas in Damascus, where a disciple named Ananias was instructed to meet with Saul. Ananias was obedient when Christ called upon him, and was told by the Lord regarding Saul, in Acts 9:15-16, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” When Ananias met Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17) Scripture goes on in the next verse to say, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received his sight forthwith, and he arose and was baptized.”
Saul remained with Jesus’ disciples for many days, then he went into the synagogues and began preaching that Jesus was the Son of God. Acts 9:21-22 (NKJV) tells us, “Then all who heard him were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for that purpose so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul increased the all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.”
Saul continued to preach Jesus the Son of God, and both the Jews and later the Grecians attempted to have him killed. Saul continued to teach and preach, avoiding the traps laid for him, and spent time in Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria, and his native Cilicia before being enlisted by Barnabas to teach at the church in Antioch. In Acts 11:25-26, we learn, “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught many people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (This was a multicultural church formed by Christians who had been forced out of Judea by the persecution after Stephen’s death.)
It is believed that Saul took the first of three missionary trips in the late 40’s A.D. As he spent more time in Gentile areas, he began using his ‘Roman name’ Paul. He went on to write letters that became the following New Testament books: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus. These 13 letters, or books of the Bible, make up what is known as the “Pauline Authorship”.
Paul spent the remainder of his life proclaiming the risen Christ as the only begotten Son of God throughout the Roman world, facing great persecution and threats to his life and well-being. He taught the message of Christ’s life, sacrificial death, and resurrection to kings, soldiers, priests, philosophers, and to both Jews and Gentiles. He shared the gospel with anyone who would listen. The New Testament is filled with accounts of his work in sharing the truth of Christ. It is assumed that he died a martyr’s death in the mid to late A.D. ’60s in Rome.
When we look at all that Saul aka Paul accomplished in his life, both good and bad, we can learn several things. First, we learn that God can save anyone. Although Paul had been a great persecutor of Christians, including being an accomplice to the murder of Stephen, he became a new man in Christ, and overwhelmingly benefited the Christian community with his actions as well as his writings.
Secondly, we learn that God can use anyone He chooses to fulfill His work. Although Saul spent his days persecuting Christians and sending them, both male and female, to prison, God was able to change him, and Paul became a leader in the Christian church, preaching and teaching the truth throughout the rest of his life. Paul teaches us in Philippians 1:12-14 that no matter what we go through in our lives, God can use it to share His Word, and encourage others to step out in faith as well. He stated, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confidence by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Next, we learn that we can all be a humble but powerful witness for Christ. Paul said, in Acts 20:19, “Serving the LORD with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations…” Just as he worked fervently to persecute Christians, he worked tirelessly to spread the gospel throughout the Roman empire, never gloating over the massive contribution he made to the Christian faith. In 1 Cor. 2:2, Paul says, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” After his meeting with the Lord on the road to Damascus, this was his consistent message to others.
We learn through the life of Paul that anyone can surrender completely to God and be changed into a new creature in Christ. We also learn from Paul that no matter what we go through in life, when we trust in God, He will provide all that we need to accomplish that which He asks us to do. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
We also learn from Paul that everything we go through for Christ is nothing compared to what we gain in exchange. Paul says in Philippians 1:21-22, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be in life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In everything, his aim was increasing knowledge of the gospel and pointing to Christ. His primary focus was to bring glory to Jesus. The saying, “To live is Christ” means we need to be about the Father’s business, proclaiming the name of Jesus and sharing the gospel with everyone everywhere. Paul also said, in Phil. 3:7-9, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
So, with all that we have learned from the life of Paul, we know that salvation is available to all who believe; that God can use each of us to accomplish His will; to remain humble in our service to the Lord; and to regret nothing we leave behind in our new life in Christ. Let us also remember one other thing that Paul said, and do our best to follow it in our Christian walk. In 1 Cor. 11:1, he tells us, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
Grace and blessings on your path,