There is much to be learned from the life of the Apostle Paul. He started out his life as Saul of Tarsus and was a citizen of Rome. His family were Pharisees – Jewish nationals who believed in strictly following the law of Moses. As such, he learned to despise Gentiles, as it was believed that Gentiles contaminated those whom they were around. He trained under the Jewish Rabbi Gamaliel for approximately five to six years. Thus, Saul became a seasoned defender of his Jewish faith, and he was extremely zealous to protect and preserve it. Saul’s extreme viewpoint lead him to become fanatically opposed to the new Christian faith (originally called the Way), and as such he had great desire to persecute Jesus’ followers. It is believed that Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen and held the coats of those doing the stoning (Acts 7:54-60). Saul requested letters from the high priest so that he could capture followers of the Way and bring them back to Jerusalem. It was on the road to Damascus that Saul was met by a blinding light and received instructions from Jesus.
All because of Jesus, what began as a rather murderous rampage by an extremely zealous Pharisee, turned into a most remarkable transformation of a man. The man who was taught to have nothing to do with Gentiles, turned into the Apostle who brought the Good News to the Gentiles. He turned from a murderous person to a person of grace. He turned from being extremely intolerant to exhibiting great kindness and acceptance. He turned from insistent zealot into a humble man of God. All because of Jesus, Saul turned into Paul.
And because of this transformation, Paul was persecuted, as intently as he sought to persecute others before his transformation. His life story rivals that of a sensational motion picture where the hero constantly escapes death at the hands of treacherous rivals. He escaped captors in a basket, he was whipped five times, three times beaten with rods, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked three times, and lived in constant danger, experienced sickness and hunger. Yet through it all the grace of God was with Paul allowing him to continue on promoting the Gospel of Christ. But, our hero Paul soon faced being beheaded when he wrote his second letter to Timothy. What Paul left behind is a treasure trove of truth and learnings that guide us Christians still.
Paul was human, just like you and I. Yet, Paul persevered through all these situations because God was with him. Paul taught us well. I doubt that you or I will ever face the types of persecutions that Paul faced. Paul’s story inspires and encourages me. His story shows me that the enemy will try all sorts of tactics to stop my witness. Yet, God will give each of us guidance through our times of trials.
If God can turn a murderous religious zealot into one of the greatest Apostles ever, just what can Jesus do with you?
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV)
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27, ESV)