Category: “What should we learn from the life of Paul?”


The New Testament records Paul taking three missionary journeys that spread the  message of Christ to Asia Minor and Europe. The apostle Paul was a  well-educated, leading Jew named Saul. Living in Jerusalem just after Christ’s  death and resurrection, he did his best to destroy the Christian church. He even  participated in the execution of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:55–8:4).

On his way to Damascus to find and imprison more Christians, Paul met the Lord.  He repented, turning in faith to Jesus Christ. After this experience, he  attempted to persuade Jews and Christians about his life-changing conversion.  Many doubted and shunned him. Christians such as Barnabas, however, accepted and  spoke up for him. Paul and Barnabas became missionary partners.

On three  separate missionary journeys—each several years in length—Paul preached the news  of Jesus in many coastal cities and trade route towns. The following is a brief  chronicle of these missionary journeys:

1st Missionary Journey (Acts  13-14): Answering God’s call to proclaim Christ, Paul and Barnabas left the  church at Antioch in Syria. At first, their method of evangelism was to preach  in the town synagogues. But when many of the Jews rejected Christ, the  missionaries recognized God’s call of witnessing to the Gentiles.

Because of his bold testimony of Jesus, Saul the persecutor became Paul the  persecuted. Those who rejected his message of salvation through Jesus Christ  tried to stop and harm him. In one city, he was stoned and left for dead. But  God spared him. Through trials and beatings and imprisonments, he kept on  preaching Christ.

Paul’s ministry to Gentiles brought controversy over  who could be saved and how to be saved. Between his first and second missionary  journeys, he participated in a conference in Jerusalem discussing the way of  salvation. The final consensus was that the Gentiles could receive Jesus without  submitting to Jewish traditions.

2nd Missionary Journey (Acts  15:36-18:22): After another stay in Antioch, building up the church there,  Paul was ready to take a second missionary journey. He asked Barnabas to join  him, revisiting the churches of their first missionary journey. A disagreement,  however, caused them to split. God turned this dispute into a positive, for now  there were two missionary teams. Barnabas went to Cyprus with John Mark, and  Paul took Silas to Asia Minor.

God providentially redirected Paul and  Silas to Greece, bringing the gospel to Europe. At Philippi, the missionary team  was beaten and imprisoned. Rejoicing to suffer for Christ, they sang in jail.  Suddenly, God caused an earthquake to open the doors of the cell and free them  from their chains. The amazed jailer and his family believed in Christ, but the  government officials begged Paul and Silas to leave.

Traveling on to  Athens, Paul preached to an inquisitive audience on Mars Hill. He proclaimed the  only true God whom they could know and worship without man-made idols. Again,  some sneered and some believed.

Paul taught those who believed in  Christ and established them in churches. During this 2nd missionary journey,  Paul made many disciples from all backgrounds: a young man named Timothy, a  businesswoman named Lydia, and the married couple Aquila and Priscilla.

3rd Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-20:38): During Paul’s third  journey, he fervently preached in Asia Minor. God confirmed his message with  miracles. Acts  20:7-12 tells of Paul at Troas preaching an exceptionally long sermon. A  young man, sitting in an upstairs window sill, went to sleep and fell out the  window. He was thought to be dead, but Paul revived him.

Once involved  in the occult, the new believers at Ephesus burned their magic books.  Idol-makers, on the other hand, were not pleased with their loss of business on  account of this one true God and His Son. One silversmith named Demetrius  started a city-wide riot, praising their goddess Diana. Trials always followed  Paul. The persecution and opposition ultimately strengthened true Christians and  spread the gospel.

At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, he  knew he would soon be imprisoned and probably killed. His final words to the  church at Ephesus display his devotion to Christ: “You yourselves know, from the  first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving  the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me  through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you  anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith  in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way  to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy  Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions  await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so  that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord  Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:18-24).

Some Bible scholars see a fourth missionary journey as well, and early  Christian history does seem to attest to the idea. At the same time, there is no  explicit evidence for a fourth journey in the Bible, as it would have occurred  after the close of the book of Acts.

The purpose of all of Paul’s  missionary journeys was the same: proclaiming God’s grace in forgiving sin  through Christ. God used Paul’s ministry to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and  establish the church. Paul’s letters to the churches, recorded in the New  Testament, still support church life and doctrine. Although Paul’s missionary  journeys caused him to sacrifice everything, they were worth the cost (Philippians  3:7-11).

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In 2 Timothy  4:7, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I  have kept the faith.” This well-known and oft-quoted passage is quite  significant in that this epistle was Paul’s last before his martyrdom in A.D.  67. It is a deeply moving affirmation of his unwavering faith and unyielding  love for the gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians  1:4; Galatians  2:20; Philippians  1:21).

“I have fought the good fight” is also significant for  believers today because it serves as a stark reminder that the Christian life is  a struggle against evil—within ourselves and in the world (John 15:9; Romans 8:7James 4:4). Earlier in this  same epistle, Paul reminded Timothy to “endure hardship as a good soldier of  Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy  2:3).

The Greek word agonizomai, translated “fought,” means  literally “to engage in conflict.” The word was used in the context of competing  in athletic games or engaging in military conflict. Considering that Paul was  chained to a Roman soldier when he wrote this epistle, it would have been easy  for him to make such an analogy. In fact, he had known many Roman soldiers and  during his imprisonment had won a number of them to Christ, some of them members  of the Praetorian Guard (Philippians  1:13).

Our battle is not with flesh and blood “but against  principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,  against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The  Christian life is a fight in that Christians face a never-ending struggle  against evil—not an earthly military campaign, but a spiritual battle against  Satan. This is why we must “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able  to withstand in the evil day” (see Ephesians  6:13-18).

Without question, the apostle Paul was the consummate  warrior, never quitting, never flagging in his zeal for the Lord (Philippians  3:14-15). He knew where lay the source of his strength (Philippians 4:13; 2  Corinthians 12:9). His campaign to spread the gospel of Christ began on the  Damascus Road (Acts 9:3) and  eventually took him across the ancient world on four missionary journeys. He had  witnessed of Christ before Felix and Agrippa, the legates and officials of Rome  (Acts 23:26; Acts 26:1). He contended with false teachers and false  brethren within the church (2  Corinthians 11:13; Galatians  1:7; Galatians  2:4).

Paul’s “good fight” included an astonishing series of dangers  and indignities (2  Corinthians 11:23-33). Even in these he proclaimed his victory in Christ:  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”  (Romans 8:37).

Paul’s  life and ministry provide for us a powerful example for modeling Christ today.  Not only did he “fight the good fight,” but he also “finished the race” and  “kept the faith” (2 Timothy  4:7). Paul knew that his death was near (verse 6) but had no regrets. After  Jesus took control of his life (Acts  9:15-16), Paul had lived life to the fullest, fulfilling all that Jesus had  charged and empowered him to do (Ephesians  3:6; 2 Timothy  4:17). He had a remarkable sense of fulfillment and contentment with his  life (Philippians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy  6:6-8).

As believers today, we can have no greater sense of  fulfillment than to know, as Paul did, that we have fully accomplished all that  the Lord has called us to do (Matthew  25:21). May we “fight the good fight” and “be watchful in all things, endure  afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill [our] ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5).

The New Testament records Paul taking three missionary journeys that  spread the message of Christ to Asia Minor and Europe. The apostle Paul was a  well-educated, leading Jew named Saul. Living in Jerusalem just after Christ’s  death and resurrection, he did his best to destroy the Christian church. He even  participated in the execution of the first Christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:55–8:4).

On his way to Damascus to find and imprison more Christians, Paul met the Lord.  He repented, turning in faith to Jesus Christ. After this experience, he  attempted to persuade Jews and Christians about his life-changing conversion.  Many doubted and shunned him. Christians such as Barnabas, however, accepted and  spoke up for him. Paul and Barnabas became missionary partners.

On three  separate missionary journeys—each several years in length—Paul preached the news  of Jesus in many coastal cities and trade route towns. The following is a brief  chronicle of these missionary journeys:

1st Missionary Journey (Acts  13-14): Answering God’s call to proclaim Christ, Paul and Barnabas left the  church at Antioch in Syria. At first, their method of evangelism was to preach  in the town synagogues. But when many of the Jews rejected Christ, the  missionaries recognized God’s call of witnessing to the Gentiles.

Because of his bold testimony of Jesus, Saul the persecutor became Paul the  persecuted. Those who rejected his message of salvation through Jesus Christ  tried to stop and harm him. In one city, he was stoned and left for dead. But  God spared him. Through trials and beatings and imprisonments, he kept on  preaching Christ.

Paul’s ministry to Gentiles brought controversy over  who could be saved and how to be saved. Between his first and second missionary  journeys, he participated in a conference in Jerusalem discussing the way of  salvation. The final consensus was that the Gentiles could receive Jesus without  submitting to Jewish traditions.

2nd Missionary Journey (Acts  15:36-18:22): After another stay in Antioch, building up the church there,  Paul was ready to take a second missionary journey. He asked Barnabas to join  him, revisiting the churches of their first missionary journey. A disagreement,  however, caused them to split. God turned this dispute into a positive, for now  there were two missionary teams. Barnabas went to Cyprus with John Mark, and  Paul took Silas to Asia Minor.

God providentially redirected Paul and  Silas to Greece, bringing the gospel to Europe. At Philippi, the missionary team  was beaten and imprisoned. Rejoicing to suffer for Christ, they sang in jail.  Suddenly, God caused an earthquake to open the doors of the cell and free them  from their chains. The amazed jailer and his family believed in Christ, but the  government officials begged Paul and Silas to leave.

Traveling on to  Athens, Paul preached to an inquisitive audience on Mars Hill. He proclaimed the  only true God whom they could know and worship without man-made idols. Again,  some sneered and some believed.

Paul taught those who believed in  Christ and established them in churches. During this 2nd missionary journey,  Paul made many disciples from all backgrounds: a young man named Timothy, a  businesswoman named Lydia, and the married couple Aquila and Priscilla.

3rd Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-20:38): During Paul’s third  journey, he fervently preached in Asia Minor. God confirmed his message with  miracles. Acts  20:7-12 tells of Paul at Troas preaching an exceptionally long sermon. A  young man, sitting in an upstairs window sill, went to sleep and fell out the  window. He was thought to be dead, but Paul revived him.

Once involved  in the occult, the new believers at Ephesus burned their magic books.  Idol-makers, on the other hand, were not pleased with their loss of business on  account of this one true God and His Son. One silversmith named Demetrius  started a city-wide riot, praising their goddess Diana. Trials always followed  Paul. The persecution and opposition ultimately strengthened true Christians and  spread the gospel.

At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, he  knew he would soon be imprisoned and probably killed. His final words to the  church at Ephesus display his devotion to Christ: “You yourselves know, from the  first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving  the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me  through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you  anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith  in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way  to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy  Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions  await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so  that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord  Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:18-24).

Some Bible scholars see a fourth missionary journey as well, and early  Christian history does seem to attest to the idea. At the same time, there is no  explicit evidence for a fourth journey in the Bible, as it would have occurred  after the close of the book of Acts.

The purpose of all of Paul’s  missionary journeys was the same: proclaiming God’s grace in forgiving sin  through Christ. God used Paul’s ministry to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and  establish the church. Paul’s letters to the churches, recorded in the New  Testament, still support church life and doctrine. Although Paul’s missionary  journeys caused him to sacrifice everything, they were worth the cost (Philippians  3:7-11).

The theory that the apostle Paul was a false prophet and not a true  follower of Christ is usually put forth by those of the Hebrew  roots movement persuasion, among others. They believe Christians should  submit to the Old Testament Law, but Paul clearly disagrees with them,  proclaiming that Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law (Romans 10:4; Galatians  3:23-25; Ephesians  2:15), but the Law of Christ (Galatians  6:2), which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all  your soul and with all your mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew  22:37-39). Rather than submitting to God’s Word, the Hebrew roots movement  simply dismisses Paul altogether and claims that Paul was a false apostle and  that his writings should not be in the Bible.

But Paul’s apostolic  authority has been well documented in Scripture, beginning with his dramatic Damascus Road experience which changed him from a  Christ-hating persecutor of Christians to the foremost spokesman for the faith.  His astonishing change of heart is one of the clearest indications of his  anointing by the Lord Jesus Himself.

Tom Tarrants, once labeled “the  most dangerous man in Mississippi,” was one of the top men on the FBI’s most  wanted list. Tarrants was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and despised  African-Americans and Jews, a people he fully believed were God’s enemies and  involved in a communist plot against America. Tarrants was responsible for  bombing some 30 synagogues, churches and homes. He was so dangerous that the FBI  director, J. Edgar Hoover, sent a special team of FBI agents that were used to  infiltrate the Russian KGB down into the American South to locate and apprehend  Tarrants. They were successful and took Tarrants into custody after a violent  shootout. Tarrants received a 30-year sentence in the Mississippi State  Penitentiary.

While in prison, Tarrants one day asked for a Bible and  began reading it. He got as far as Matthew 16 and was confronted with Jesus’  words: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits  his soul?” He couldn’t escape the impact of Christ’s statement and got down on  his knees in his cell and asked God to deliver him from his sinful life.

Word of Tarrant’s conversion soon began to spread throughout the prison  and ultimately made it all the way back to Hoover, who strongly doubted the  story. How could such a true change in such a hardened, evil person be  validated?

About 2,000 years ago, another man had nearly the identical  problem. When the apostle Paul first came to Jerusalem after his conversion to  Christianity, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid  of him and didn’t believe he was a true convert (Acts 9:26)  because of his past persecution of Christians. Today, some people feel the same  way about Paul. Occasionally, a charge is made that Paul was a Pharisee who  tried to corrupt the teachings of Christ and that his writings should have no  place in the Bible. This accusation can be put to rest by examining his  conversion experience and his adherence to Christ and His  teachings.

Paul’s Persecution of Christianity
Paul  first appears in Scripture as a witness to the martyrdom of Stephen: “When they  had driven him [Stephen] out of the city, they began stoning him; and the  witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58). “Saul was in  hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1). The  words “hearty agreement” indicate active approval, not just passive consent. Why  would Paul agree with the murder of Stephen?

Paul the Pharisee would  have immediately recognized the statement Stephen made right before his death:  “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right  hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  Stephen’s words repeat the claim Christ made at His trial before the high priest  (Mark 14:62). Just as Jesus’  claim resulted in Him being accused of blasphemy, so also these words would  bring a murderous response from Saul the Pharisee toward Stephen.

In  addition, the term “Son of Man” is filled with significance. It is the last time  the term is used in the New Testament and it is the only time in the Gospels and  Acts when it is not spoken by Jesus. It shows that Jesus is the Messiah, and it  speaks of Christ’s position in the end times as the coming King. It also  combines two great Messianic passages: Daniel  7:13-14 and Psalm 110:1Daniel  7:13-14 emphasizes the universal aspect of Jesus’ rule; that He is not  simply a Jewish ruler, but also the Savior of the world. Psalm 110:1 presents the Messiah as being at God’s right  hand. Besides stressing power and position, it also shows acceptance.

All these things would have infuriated Saul the Pharisee, who at the time did  not possess the true knowledge of Christ. But it would not be long before Saul  the Pharisee would become Paul the evangelist for Christ.

The  Conversion of Paul
In the three versions of Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9, 22:6-11, 26:9-20), there are  repeated elements which appear to be central to his mission and commissioning.  First, it marked his conversion to Christianity; second, it constituted his call  to be a prophet; and third, it served as his commission to be an apostle. These  three points may be broken down into the following, more intimate  considerations: (1) Paul was specifically chosen, set aside, and prepared by the  Lord for the work that he would do; (2) Paul was sent as a witness to not just  the Jews, but the Gentiles as well; (3) Paul’s evangelistic mission would  encounter rejection and require suffering; (4) Paul would bring light to people  who were born into and currently lived in darkness; (5) Paul would preach  repentance was required prior to a person’s acceptance into the Christian faith;  (6) Paul’s witness would be grounded in space-time history and be based on his  Damascus Road experience—what he had personally seen and heard in a real  location that would be known to all who lived in Damascus.

Before  Gamaliel’s pupil came to a proper assessment of the ministry entrusted to him by  God and the death of Jesus, a revolution had to take place in his life and  thought. Paul would later say that he was “apprehended” by Jesus (Philippians 3:12) on  the road to Damascus, a term that means to make something one’s own or gain  control of someone through pursuit. In Acts 9, we clearly see miracles on  display in Paul’s conversion, the point of which were to make clear that God is  in control and directing all the events, so that Paul will undertake certain  tasks God has in mind, something the former Saul would never have had any  intention of doing.

Although there are many observations that can be  made about Paul’s Damascus Road conversion, there are two key items of interest.  First is the fact that Paul’s life would become centered on Christ after his  experience. After his encounter with Jesus, Paul’s understanding of the Messiah  had been revolutionized, and it was not long before he is proclaiming, “He  [Jesus] is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

Second, we note that in Paul’s conversion there are no positive  antecedents or precursory events that led him from being a zealous opponent to a  fervent proponent of Christ. One minute Paul had been an enemy of Jesus, and the  next he had become a captive to the Christ he had once persecuted. Paul says,  “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1  Corinthians 15:10), indicating he was transformed by God, became truly  spiritual, and he was one whom Christ possessed and was now a Christ-bearer  himself.

After the Damascus experience, Paul first went to Arabia, but  whether he actually began his missionary work there is unknown. What is more  likely is that he earnestly desired a time of quiet recollection. Then after a  short stay in Jerusalem, he worked as a missionary in Syria and Cilicia (that is  for the most part in Antioch on the Orontes and in his native city of Tarsus)  and after that in company with Barnabas in Cyprus, in Pamphylia, Pisidia, and  Lycaonia.

The Love of Paul
Paul, the former cold  aggressor and legalist, had now become a person who could write of the key  attribute that witnessed above everything else in 1 Corinthians 13 – love for  God and those around him. The one who was supremely educated in knowledge had  come to the point of saying that knowledge devoid of love only makes one  arrogant, but love edifies (1  Corinthians 8:1).

The book of Acts and Paul’s letters testify to a  tenderness that had come over the apostle for both the unbelieving world and  those inside the Church. As to the latter, in his farewell address to the  Ephesian believers in Acts 20, he tells them that “night and day for a period of  three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:31). He tells the Galatian believers they are his  “little children” (Galatians  4:19). He reminds the Corinthians that whenever they experience pain, he is  wounded as well (2  Corinthians 11:29). He speaks of believers in Philippi as “having them in  his heart” (Philippians  1:7). He tells the Thessalonian church that he “abounds” in love for them  (1  Thessalonians 3:12) and demonstrated that fact by living among them and  helping build up a Christian community (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1–2). Repeatedly  throughout his writings, Paul reminds his believing readers of his care and love  for them.

Paul’s attitude toward unbelievers is one of caring and deep  concern as well, with perhaps the clearest example of this being his  articulation in the letter to the Romans of the sorrow he felt for his fellow  Israelites who had not come to faith in Christ: “I am telling the truth in  Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that  I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I  myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my  kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans  9:1-3).

This type of angst exhibited by Paul for unbelievers was  also not restricted to his own nationality, but extended to non-Jews as well. As  just one example, when he entered Athens, the text in Acts 17:16 makes clear that Paul was both repulsed and  “greatly distressed” over the idolatrous situation the city was in. Yet he  deeply cared about God’s rightful place as well as the people who were involved  in false worship, and he immediately went about trying to engage the pagan  unbelievers in discourse about the gospel which had been entrusted to him (Acts 17:17-34). And at the  heart of his message was Jesus.

Paul on Jesus
Some  try to argue that the picture Paul paints of Jesus in his Epistles does not  match the Christ portrayed in the Gospels. Such a position could not be further  from the truth. From Paul’s letters, we learn the following of Jesus:

•  He had Jewish ancestry
• He was of Davidic descent
• He was born of a  virgin
• He lived under the law
• He had brothers
• He had 12  disciples
• He had a brother named James
• He lived in poverty
• He  was humble and meek
• He was abused by the Romans
• He was deity
• He  taught on the subject of marriage
• He said to love one’s neighbor
• He  spoke of His second coming
• He instituted the Lord’s Supper
• He lived a  sinless life
• He died on the cross
• The Jews put Him to death
• He  was buried
• He was resurrected
• He is now seated at right hand of  God

Beyond these facts is Paul’s testimony that he left everything to  follow Christ (the true test of a disciple as outlined by Jesus in Luke 14:26-33). Paul  writes, “But whatever things [his Jewish background and benefits that he had  just listed] were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake  of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the  surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the  loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and  may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law,  but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from  God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection  and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order  that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7–11).

Paul’s Enemies
Paul’s teachings and proclamation of  Jesus were not popular. If the success of an evangelistic mission were to be  measured by the amount of opposition, his mission would be regarded as a  catastrophic failure. This would be in keeping with Christ’s statement made to  Ananias: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). The book of Acts  alone chronicles more than 20 different episodes of rejection and opposition to  Paul’s message of salvation. We should also take seriously the litany of  opposition and rejection that Paul lays out in 2  Corinthians 11:23-27. In truth, such hostility and dismissal is to be  expected, given his audience. A crucified deliverer was to the Greeks an absurd  contradiction in terms, just as to Jews a crucified Messiah was a piece of  scandalous blasphemy.

Paul’s enemies comprised a trinity. First, there  were the spiritual enemies indicated in his writings that he was acutely aware  of (e.g. 1  Thessalonians 2:18). Next, there were his already mentioned initial target  audience of both Jews and Gentiles, many of whom would mistreat and dismiss him.  Lastly came the one that, it could be argued, perhaps caused him the most  grief—the early Church itself.

The fact that Paul was seen as strange  and questionable, not merely by fellow Jews but also by a number of fellow  Jewish Christians, was no doubt hurtful to him. It would be one thing for Paul’s  authority and authenticity to be challenged outside the Body of Christ, but  inside was a different foe with which he had to wrestle. First Corinthians  9:1-3 is an example: Paul insists to the Church that he was commissioned by  Christ (others include Romans 1:51  Corinthians 1:1-2; 2  Corinthians 1:1; Galatians  1:1). Some even believe that 2  Corinthians 11:26 suggests that there was a plot to murder Paul; a plot  formed by other Christians.

Such combined opposition—lost humanity,  spiritual adversaries, and distrusting brethren—certainly must have caused the  apostle to despair at times, with evidence in his writings that he carried out  his missionary work with the prospect of martyrdom before his eyes (Philippians 2:17),  which ultimately turned out to be true. Paul was beheaded, tradition asserts,  under the persecution of Nero near the third milestone on the Ostian Way.  Constantine built a small basilica in Paul’s honor by AD 324, which was  discovered in 1835 during excavations preceding the erection of the present  basilica. On one of the floors was found the inscription PAVLO APOSTOLO  MART – “To Paul, apostle and martyr”.

Concluding Thoughts  About Paul
So was Paul for real? The evidence from history and from  his own writings declares that he was. Paul’s 180 degree turnaround from his  Pharisaic life is not disputed by any learned scholar of history, both secular  and Christian. The only question is: what caused his about-face? What would  cause a very learned Jewish Pharisee to suddenly embrace the very movement he  violently opposed and be so committed to it that he would die a martyr’s  death?

The answer is contained within Paul’s writings and the book of  Acts. In Galatians Paul summarizes his story in this way:

“For you have  heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church  of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism  beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely  zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even  from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His  Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately  consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were  apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to  Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted  with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of  the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now in what I am writing to you,  I assure you before God that I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of  Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which  were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, ‘He who once persecuted us is now  preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.’ And they were glorifying  God because of me” (Galatians  1:13–24).

Paul’s very life testifies to the truthfulness of what  happened to him. In that respect, he was very much like Tom Tarrants. A  dramatically changed life is hard to argue with. And what finally happened to  Tom Tarrants? J. Edgar Hoover wouldn’t believe that Tarrants had actually become  a Christian so he sent an FBI agent into the prison disguised as an inmate whose  job it was to befriend Tarrants and find out the truth. About a week later, that  FBI agent became a Christian and reported back to Hoover that Tarrants indeed  was no longer the man he used to be.

A number of people petitioned that  Tarrants be released, and eight years into his sentence, Tarrants was paroled  and left prison. He went to seminary, earned a doctorate of ministry degree, and  went on to serve as president of the C. S. Lewis Institute for 12 years.  Currently, he serves as the Institute’s director of ministry.

“You will  know them by their fruits” (Matthew  7:16) and the fruits of the apostle Paul leave no doubt that he was very  real indeed.

  There is much we can learn from the  life of the Apostle Paul. Far from ordinary, Paul was given the opportunity to  do extraordinary things for the kingdom of God. The story of Paul is a story of  redemption in Jesus Christ and a testimony that no one is beyond the saving  grace of the Lord. However, to gain the full measure of the man, we must examine  his dark side and what he symbolized before becoming “the Apostle of Grace.”  Paul’s early life was marked by religious zeal, brutal violence, and the  relentless persecution of the early church. Fortunately, the later years of  Paul’s life show a marked difference as he lived his life for Christ and the  advancement of His kingdom.

Paul was actually born as Saul. He was born  in Tarsus in Cilicia around A.D. 1–5 in a province in the southeastern corner of  modern day Tersous, Turkey. He was of Benjamite lineage and Hebrew ancestry. His  parents were Pharisees—fervent Jewish nationalists who adhered strictly to the  Law of Moses—who sought to protect their children from “contamination” from the  Gentiles. Anything Greek was despised in Saul’s household, yet he could speak  Greek and passable Latin. His household spoke Aramaic, a derivative of Hebrew,  which was the official language of Judea. Saul’s family were Roman citizens but  viewed Jerusalem as a truly sacred and holy city.

At age thirteen Saul  was sent to Palestine to learn from a rabbi named Gamaliel, under whom Saul  mastered Jewish history, the Psalms and the works of the prophets. His education  would continue for five or six years as Saul learned such things as dissecting  Scripture. It was during this time that he developed a question-and-answer style  known in ancient times as “diatribe.” This method of articulation helped rabbis  debate the finer points of Jewish law to either defend or prosecute those who  broke the law. Saul went on to become a lawyer, and all signs pointed to his  becoming a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Supreme Court of 71 men who ruled  over Jewish life and religion. Saul was zealous for his faith, and this faith  did not allow for compromise. It is this zeal that led Saul down the path of  religious extremism.

Because of his extremism Saul might have been  present at the trial of Stephen. He was present for his stoning and death and he  held the garments of those who did the stoning (Acts 7:58). In  Acts 5:27-42, Peter  delivered his defense of the gospel and of Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin,  which Saul heard. Gamaliel was also present and delivered a message to calm the  council and prevent them from stoning Peter. From that moment on, Saul became  even more determined to eradicate Christians as he watched the Sanhedrin flog  Peter and the others. Saul became more ruthless in his pursuit of Christians as  he believed he was doing it in the name of God. Arguably, there is no one more  frightening or more vicious than a religious terrorist, especially when he  believes that he is doing the will of the Lord by killing innocent people. This  is exactly what Saul of Tarsus was: a religious terrorist. Acts 8:3 states, “He began ravaging the church, entering  house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”

The pivotal passage in Paul’s story is Acts 9:1-22,  which recounts Paul’s meeting with Jesus Christ on the road from Jerusalem to  Damascus, a journey of about 150 miles. Saul was angered by what he had seen and  filled with murderous rage against the Christians. Before departing on his  journey, he had asked the high priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus,  asking for permission to bring any Christians (followers of “the Way,” as they  were known) back to Jerusalem to imprison them. On the road Saul was caught up  in a bright light from heaven which caused him to fall face down on the ground.  He hears the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He says, “Who are  you Lord?” Jesus answers directly and clearly, “I am Jesus, whom you are  persecuting” (vv. 4-5). As an aside, this might not have been Saul’s first  encounter with Jesus, as some scholars suggest that young Saul might have known  of Jesus and that he might have actually witnessed His death.

From this  moment on, Saul’s life was turned upside down. The light of the Lord blinded  him, and as he traveled on he had to rely on his companions. As instructed by  Jesus, Saul continued to Damascus to make contact with a man named Ananias who  was hesitant at first to meet Saul because he knew Saul’s reputation as an evil  man. But the Lord told Ananias that Saul was a “chosen instrument” to carry His  name before the Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel (v.15) and would  suffer for doing so (v.16). Ananias followed the Lord’s instructions and found  Saul, on whom he laid hands, and told him of his vision of Jesus Christ. Through  prayer, Saul received the Holy Spirit (v.17), regained his sight and was  baptized (v.18). Saul immediately went into the synagogues proclaiming Jesus and  saying He is the Son of God (v.20). The people were amazed and skeptical, as  Saul’s reputation was well known. The Jews thought he had come to take away the  Christians (v.21). Saul’s boldness increased as the Jews living in Damascus were  confounded by Saul’s arguments proving that Jesus was the Christ (v.22).

As a result of this miraculous transformation, Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9). Paul spent time in  Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and his native Cilicia, and Barnabas enlisted  his help to teach those in the church in Antioch (Acts 11:25).  Interestingly, the Christians driven out of Palestine by Saul of Tarsus founded  this multiracial church (Acts  11:19-21). Paul took his first of three missionary journeys in the late 40s  A.D. Paul wrote many of the New Testament books. Most theologians are in  agreement that he wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1  and 2 Thessalonians, Philemon, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.  These 13 “letters” (books) make up the “Pauline Authorship” and are the primary  source of his theology. As previously noted, the book of Acts gives us a  historical look at Paul’s life and times. The Apostle Paul spent his life  proclaiming the risen Christ Jesus throughout the Roman world, often at great  personal peril (2  Corinthians 11:24-27). It is assumed that Paul died a martyr’s death in the  mid-to-late 60s A.D. in Rome.

So, what can we learn from the life of  the Apostle Paul? First, we learn that God can save anyone. The remarkable story  of Paul repeats itself every day as sinful, broken people all over the world are  transformed by God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. Some of these people have  done despicable things to other human beings, while some just try to live a  moral life thinking that God will smile upon them on the day of judgment. When  we read the story of Paul and know what he had done, it is difficult for us to  believe that God would allow into heaven religious extremists who murder  innocent women and children. Today, we might see people on death row as unworthy  of redemption because their crimes against humanity are just too great. Yet we  live our lives in a sinful manner, expecting that God will be impressed by the  fact that we haven’t killed anyone. The story of Paul is a story that can be  told today—he isn’t worthy in our eyes of a second chance, yet to God he is  worthy. The truth is that every person matters to God, from the “good, decent,”  average person to the “wicked, evil” degenerate. Only God can save a soul from  hell.

Second, we learn from the life of Paul that anyone can be a  humble, powerful witness for Jesus Christ. Arguably, no other human figure in  the Bible demonstrated more humility while sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ as  Paul. Acts 20:19 tells us that he “served the Lord with all humility and with tears and with  trials that happened to [him] through the plots of the Jews.” In Acts 28:31, Paul shares the good news of Jesus Christ:  “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about  the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul was not afraid to tell others what the Lord had  done for him. This verse is the very definition of Paul’s newfound life in  Christ. He would spend the rest of his days working tirelessly for the kingdom  of God.

Finally, we learn that anyone can surrender completely to God.  Paul was fully “sold-out” for God. “I want you to know, brothers, that what has  happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become  known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my  imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in  the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear”  (Philippians 1:12-14). Paul was in prison when he wrote  these words, yet he was still praising God and sharing the good news. Through  his hardships and suffering, Paul knew the outcome of a life well lived for  Christ. He had surrendered his life fully, trusting God for everything. “For to  me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians  1:21). Can we make the same claim?