Saul of Tarsus, better known as Paul the Apostle, has always intrigued me. Author of 8-13 New Testament books, prisoner of Christ, and mentor to many, Paul’s far-reaching influence is indisputable. He always struck me as this almost perfect example of how a Christian should live. Of course, we know that the only truly perfect example is Christ himself. But I think it’s worthwhile to take a step back and do some digging into Paul’s background before we form our opinions on him.
Before Paul officially became “Paul”, his name was Saul. And do you know what Saul did for a living? He martyred Christians. Acts 8:1 and 9:1-2 give an account of Saul’s role in Stephen’s death as well as his general mission to slaughter anyone who followed Christ. That’s what grips me the most about him – he was a legit persecutor of the saints. Yet he did such amazing work in God’s kingdom. It just goes to show that God can use anyone, regardless of their past. All it took was just one encounter with the King of kings for Saul’s life to be completely turned around. Now thanks to Paul’s choice to surrender, believers can benefit from the Holy Spirit-inspired letters he wrote centuries ago and God once again gets glorified.
As I read through the epistles, I’m amazed at Paul’s character. I believe there are several lessons that we can all take from his life. Here are five of them that really resonate with me.
- He didn’t live to please man. (Galatians 1:10) When I first came across this verse, I chuckled at how sassy Paul sounded. Beneath the apparent sass is a certain boldness. Since it’s crucial to make a habit of reading singular bible verses in context with the passage in which they reside, let’s look at the verses that come before and after verse 10. Verses 8-9 read, “Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.” Verses 11-12 read, “Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.” From these verses, we can see that Paul did not mess around when it came to the Gospel. He (very bluntly) made it clear that he couldn’t care less what people thought of him. He never once sugar-coated the truth that God instructed him to preach. After I read Galatians 1:10, I wondered why I spent so much of my life worrying about what others thought about me.
- He was humble. (1st Corinthians 9:27) Despite his many missionary trips and letters to various churches, Paul did not think of himself as immune to sin. He admitted that he did the things he hated and couldn’t bring himself to do the things he actually wanted to do (Romans 7:15). He wasn’t some high and mighty man above correction. And 1st Corinthians chapter 9 in its entirety is evidence that he didn’t think so highly of himself that he couldn’t make sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel. It’s not as if Paul didn’t have good reason to boast. In fact, he had absolutely no lack when it came to qualifications; he was Roman citizen who was brought up Jewish, studying under one of the most notable rabbis, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Whether his audience was Jew, Gentile, saved, or un-saved, he literally had the ability to be all things to all people, wherever he went. Even still, he maintained a lowly and humble attitude.
- He was selfless. (Romans 9:3) I’m becoming convinced that humility and selflessness go hand in hand. Paul cared so much about his Jewish brothers that if it was possible, he was willing to give up his own salvation if it meant they could have the opportunity to be saved. That is another level of selflessness! I don’t know if I would say the same thing if I were in his position. Paul truly made John 15:13 come to life as he endured imprisonment, shipwreck, and beatings all for those who have not heard the Gospel.
- He was focused on God’s calling in his life. (Philippians 1:20-22) Paul lived for the propagation of the Gospel. He ate, slept, and breathed evangelism. He knew what he was placed on this earth to do and he went after it with full force. Nothing could distract him from the assignment that God gave him. Whenever he wrote to a church, he usually mentioned how he desired to come and visit them again in the future – even if he was writing from prison (1st Thessalonians 2:17-18)! One doesn’t need to read too many of his letters before realizing that Paul was a man who was completely and utterly yielded to God and His purpose.
- He lived with eternity in mind. (Philippians 3:14) Eternity is a concept that many of us either shy away from or forget altogether. But Paul knew better than to believe that this earth is our home. He eagerly awaited Christ’s return and so should we. As he said to the church at Corinth, “whether we are in this body or away from it, our goal is to please him…we must all stand before Christ to be judged” (2nd Corinthians 5:9-10) .
Paul’s life is a true testament to God’s transformative power. By God’s grace, someone who was bitterly against Christians has left us with a practical guide to Christian living. As you reflect on these five lessons, I also invite you to consider this question: Is your life so transformed by God that people notice a 180° turn-around?