I was thinking about the Apostle Paul and his life before he became a follower of Jesus Christ. He was a very religious man, a zealous man and was well-trained in the Jewish law and scriptures. He had been taught by some of the greatest Jewish scholars of his time and was well thought of within the Jewish communities. How do I know this? From Paul’s own description of himself found in many of the letters he wrote. He is the author of Romans, First and Second Corinthians, First and Second Thessalonians, First and Second Timothy, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and Titus. Some believe he also wrote Hebrews, but I am unsure about that. It is true, however, that he wrote a large portion of the New Testament and we are blessed by his writings.
For instance, in the Bible, in the book of Acts we begin to get a picture of who the Apostle Paul was before his conversion to Christianity.
Acts 8:1-3: Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison,” (New American Standard Bible or NASB).
Let’s look at another verse that describes Saul.
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, Acts 9:1, (NASB).
Hmmmm! Still breathing threats!!! So who exactly is Saul? Read the rest of the chapter and find out!
Awww! Acts 13:9 says, But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit… (NASB), so Saul had to change his name in order for him to be accepted into the Christian churches. Why? Could it possibly be that his reputation as a fighter was so strong that the Christian people were afraid of him? This is most likely the reason but honestly I don’t know for sure. We are not really told why he changed his name from Saul to Paul. However, the chapters in Acts between his conversion in Chapter 9 and where we read his name change in chapter 13 certainly show that people were afraid of him and thought he was trying to trick them in some way. Why were they so afraid of Saul now known as Paul? Because he was such a fighter, he was a zealot and pursued Christians and persecuted them fiercely. He was not a lover at this point in his life, but a fighter.
I believe that many of us can relate to this part of Paul’s life. We also have been fighters in our lives. Maybe we didn’t murder someone because of their religious beliefs but we may have been unkind or even intolerant toward them. There is a fighter in all of us if we are honest about it. We fight against God and we fight against Jesus Christ, and we fight against becoming a Christian or living our life as we know we ought to live. Most of us can relate to Saul described here. Right?
But can we relate to Paul, that is Saul after his conversion? Granted, most of us did not have such a powerful personal moment of conversion as Saul/Paul did. I certainly don’t remember having Christ ask me why I was persecuting Him while one the road of my life. I do, however, remember hearing a sermon about Hell and knew it was not where I wanted to spend eternity and so at eight years old I committed my life to the Lord and was baptized and became a new creature in Christ. While my experience may not have been dramatic, I still remember my decision and how important it was to me. Perhaps you remember yours too! Or perhaps you are not yet a follower of Christ and are just thinking about whether you could or should be. Rest assured; Christ is calling you if you are wondering.
Back to Saul who is now known as Paul. So what happened to him? Did he build a small empire and collect donations for a new yacht so that he could cruise around in luxury and preach the gospel with his faithful servants keeping the heat and flies off of him? I mean, that is what some who claim to be Christians do today. They seem to believe that being a Christian is their key to stardom, fame and fortune! Let’s see what the Bible tells us, what Paul tells us in his own words as to what his life as a follower of Christ was like. Second Corinthians 11: 22-33 is where we pick up the story.
But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands,(NASB).
I think that Paul led a very interesting life but I would not call it prosperous. I mean, think of how you would feel if the Attorney General or Lieutenant Governor of your state was looking for you to put you in prison and possible execute you! The word “ethnarch” means someone in leadership of a political nature for a small kingdom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethnarch).Yes, I had to look it up and now you can look it up as well! Paul was beaten and hounded and hungry and thirsty….on and on it goes and for what? He went through all of this so that the good news of Jesus Christ could be passed down to you and to me. Wow! That is awesome! Thank you Paul, for your service to the Kingdom!
So do you suppose this is how Saul now known as Paul became a lover rather than a fighter? How do we know he wasn’t still a fighter? Obviously he had a fighting spirit to endure all the hardships that he encountered. Did this make him hardened? I don’t think so. Let’s keep searching his writings to see what his teachings were.
Colossians 3:12-14 says: So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity, (NSAB).
Paul practiced what he preached and many of his writings prove that. Be sure to check out 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter! I believe that Saul loved God and was a fighter and probably thrived on the conflict but Paul was a lover Jesus Christ and of people.
Saul and Paul were the same man but led two different lives. It reminds me of many of us today. We may have been raised in church as Saul was raised in the Jewish faith but we don’t live for Christ. We don’t until we have a true conversion from a fighter into a lover as Paul experienced. He was a fighter until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus where Saul had his eyes opened to the truth of Jesus and his heart was changed from a fighter to a lover of Christ and a huge love for people. Oh that we can be like Paul rather than Saul.