Paul is to be an inspirational example for all who are believers (1Tim.1:16). He tells us that Christ made him a pattern for Christians, and he frequently challenges leaders and churches to follow his example. Paul was a man like us…and what Christ has done for him, HE can, does and will do with us. Paul is a trophy of grace, revealing God’s great mercy and patience. His life and faith serve as a pattern that we can learn from and follow (2Tim.1:13-14, 3:10-17). Although Paul’s experiences in Bible stories are unique, the life principles found in them are not. In Paul, we find a tangible model for conversion, calling, Christian Life, missions, life development, visionary leadership, writing, mentoring, suffering, apostleship, etc. Paul was a blueprint! His life is a pattern showing the value of providence, personal encounters, preparation and serving God’s purposes. Let’s take a closer look at the pattern life of the Apostle Paul:
“TARSUS” was “no ordinary (insignificant) city” (Acts 21:39, 22:3). It was the birthplace of the apostle Paul, formerly known as “Saul of Tarsus” (Acts 9:11). Tarsus was the chief city of Cilicia, a maritime province of southeast Asia Minor (modern Turkey). This important city was situated on the banks of the Cydnus River 10 miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. Because of its strategic location, protected on the north by the Taurus Mountains and open to navigation from the Mediterranean, the city of Tarsus was a prize location for the Hittites, Mycenean Greeks, Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, and Romans. During the Seleucid period, Tarsus became a free city (about 170 B.C.), and was open to Greek culture and education. By the time of the Romans, Tarsus competed with Athens and Alexandria as the learning center of the world.
Paul was also born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), as was his father. PAUL was part of his Roman name; but he was also given a Jewish name, SAUL, perhaps in memory of Israel’s first king, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, to which Paul’s family belonged. His Jewish heritage meant much more to Paul than Roman citizenship. Unlike many Jews who had been scattered throughout the world, he and his family did not become assimilated into the Gentile way of life which surrounded them. SAUL’S parents wanted their son to be well-grounded in the best traditions of Jewish orthodoxy. Because it was the custom among the Jews that all boys learn a trade, SAUL learned tent-making from haircloth supplied by the goats of his native province.
In all this we can see the providence of God. Providence is God’s foresight and timely care in acting to provide or prepare for future use. It’s the superintendence God exercises in our lives and history. Here, we see God’s sovereign plans unfolding ahead of our understanding of them. Even before Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, the Lord was preparing him for a great ministry work and missionary task—particularly to the Gentile world.
Paul’s preparation for Christian ministry actually began the day he was born. He grew up in Tarsus, a multi-cultural city. His early religious education was intensely Jewish because of his family, but he was later educated in Greek culture and philosophy. In fact, Tarsus was noted in the Roman Empire as a great center for secular and pagan learning. Consequently, Paul had unique insights into a non-Jewish worldview.
Paul’s education for ministry continued in Jerusalem, again before he was converted. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers who ever lived.
At the proper age (around 13) Paul went to Jerusalem to pursue his studies in the learning of the Jews. Here he became a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Phil. 3:5), brought up in Jerusalem “at the feet of Gamaliel,” the most illustrious rabbi of his day (Acts 5:34; 22:3). In Jewish faith, a man was a Jew who traced his descent from Jacob and conformed to the religion of his fathers; but he was not a Hebrew also unless he spoke the Hebrew tongue and retained Hebrew customs.
Gamaliel was a Pharisee and celebrated doctor of the law, who gave prudent worldly advice in the Sanhedrin respecting the treatment of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 5:34-40). This very celebrated Jewish leader was the mentor of Paul and the grandson of Hillel. Candor and wisdom seem to have been the features of his character, for we read of him in Acts 5:34, where he was “had in reputation (honored, esteemed, beloved, respected) among all the people.” His method of teaching in these divinity schools was Scriptural exegesis, the power of the verse-by-verse exposition of the scriptures. Because of this, Saul knew the scriptures inside and out!
Saul’s zeal for Jewish Law found a ready outlet in his assault on the infant church of Jerusalem. The church presented a threat to all that SAUL held most dear. He is first introduced to us in connection with the martyrdom of Stephen and the persecution that followed (Acts 7:58; 8:1-4). He was approving and active in these persecutions.
Though he became steeped in pharisaical legalism, his knowledge of the Old Testament laid the foundation for instant insight into who Jesus Christ really was once Paul was born again.
II. Personal Spiritual Encounters
The story of Paul’s personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus is told 3 times in Acts (9, 22, 26). “Only an event of the greatest importance would merit such repetition by an author whose hallmark is brevity.”-Willimon
Then “suddenly” there was a great light shining from Heaven as bright as the sun. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?!?” Saul asks, “Who are you Lord?…and the voice says, “I AM JESUS!!!” (Acts 9:3-5)
Jesus was not dead, but alive; and not disgraced but in Heavenly Glory. Jesus spoke in Hebrew, and brought the 2-fold revelation that was to mark Paul’s life and ministry: Jesus is Lord and HE is one with the Christians…the Church. In that moment, the long battle was over…Saul became Paul, and surrendered to Christ.
With astonishing “suddenness” the persecutor of the church became the apostle of Jesus Christ. Saul the religious zealot became Paul the Christian. This dramatic conversion has become a standard for radical life changes, which are often referred to as “Damascus road experiences.” It’s also a witness of the necessity, power and profound influence of personal spiritual encounters.
Paul’s real-life, spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ and conversion experience was a gift from God that enabled him to look at life in a new way. A revelation of who Jesus is, the risen Lord of Heaven and earth, is the key element of a true conversion and fruitful Kingdom living. Lordship produces a changed heart and different perspective of everything in life.
“Christianity is not just an add-on to our lives or a self-help plan; it is a total transformation of who we are, how we see the world and where we are going. When we (like Paul) see God for who HE really is, when we reinterpret our lives and world in light of that revelation, our response can be nothing less than whole-hearted, entire life devotion to God.”
Here we look at the most powerful and profound season of Paul’s life. This 10 years spent in Arabia and Tarsus is not even mentioned in Acts (between 9:30-11:25). However, Paul writes about this time of intense preparation, mind renewal, Biblical revelation and spiritual formation in the Epistles (Gal.1:17-2:1).
In Arabia: “Wilderness Revelation”
“We all need to go to Arabia to learn lessons like these. The Lord Himself was led up into the wilderness. And in some way, every soul who has done a great work has passed through similar periods of obscurity, suffering, disappointment or solitude.”-F.B.Meyer
Following conversion, Paul evidently spent three years in relative isolation in Arabia, overcoming his feelings of prejudice and dealing with his incredible indoctrination into Judaism. After all, he was proud of his heritage, which he certainly alludes to in his letter to the Philippians. “If anyone else thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh, “ he wrote, “I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:4-6).
Even though Paul evidently overcame his prejudice more quickly than Peter (see chapter 1), he still had to go through a process of renewing his mind and his conscience—the very thing he years later taught the Roman Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). Furthermore, and most importantly, it was during this time that Paul received more direct revelations from Jesus Christ regarding his mind and his conscience—the very thing he years later taught the Roman Christians (Rom. 12:1-2). Furthermore, and most importantly, it was during this time that Paul received more direct revelations from Jesus Christ regarding the gospel of God’s grace (Gal. 1:15-17). However, it would be another seven or eight years before he was ready to actually carry out the task God had chosen him to fulfill: to become the great apostle to the Gentiles.
“Through men the worldly count as fools, chosen of God and not of man; reared in Thy secret training-schools, moves forward Thine eternal plan. And now, though hidden from our ken, in Midian deserts or Sinai hills; Spirit of God, Thou hast Thy men…waiting Thy time to do Thy will.” –Bishop F. Houghton
In Tarsus: “Waiting on God”
The apostle Paul spent his early years at Tarsus (Acts 9:11; 21:39; 22:3), but returned after his conversion to Christianity (Acts 9:30; 11:25). Here, Paul was waiting and working for a long time. *Excerpt from Charles Swindoll:
“If you go back fourteen years, from the time Paul wrote the second letter to the believers at Corinth (2Cor.12:2-6), that places him at the time he was waiting in Tarsus.
He refused to boast in his giftedness. Instead, he confessed, “I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2Corinthians 12:9-10). That’s true humility…incredible perspective. He learned to boast in nothing but his own weakness. And, remember, he learned that in the shadows . But nobody knew about it. His transformation never made the headlines.
Your time of God-ordained waiting will never be all that significant in other people’s minds. All they may know is that you dropped out of sight. You’re gone from the scene. It may begin with a bankruptcy. It may start with a horrible experience you go through, such as a tragic accident or a devastating illness. You may endure the pain of a torn reputation caused by someone who didn’t tell the truth. All that devastation has a way of breaking you. The Lord uses the disappointment to lead you to your own Tarsus—otherwise known as His waiting room. There He begins to work deep within your soul until you, like Saul, gain such a renewed perspective, you can honestly confess, “When I am week, He is strong.” When that happens, as it did with Saul, you will be ready to come out of the shadows. Saul was now ready. Not surprisingly, God moved.
In Antioch: “A Dynamic Internship”
Paul’s final stage of preparation involved one year of intensive ministry experience working with a veteran leader who had already proven himself as a man of God (Acts 11:24). Barnabas became Paul’s mentor as together they established the Gentile church that was planted in Antioch (11:25-26). Ironically, this church was born shortly after Stephen’s death, a murder that Paul had condoned. At that time, a number of men “who had been scattered by the persecution” traveled to Antioch in Syria and preached the gospel to Gentiles. This also means this church was born approximately the same time that Paul was miraculously converted. Little did he realize then that ten years later he would work alongside Barnabas, helping to establish this church and at the same time continuing his preparation to become a great missionary to the Gentile world.
The Time Had Come (Acts 13:1-3)
The Lord had designed a unique ministry for Paul. However, to carry out this plan in a very specific way, he had to go through a lengthy period of preparation. But then the day came—obviously unexpectedly. He and Barnabas and several other spiritually gifted men were worshiping the Lord together. As the Holy Spirit often did in those days, He spoke directly and made it clear that they were to commission Barnabas and Paul and send them off for an expanded ministry among the Gentiles. John Mark, a young disciple who lived with his mother in Jerusalem, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on this special mission trip.
God has a plan and purpose for your life!!!
Before encountering Jesus Christ, Paul had been doing what he liked or thought was best. Now he was being shown, led, told his assignment and taught what to do. The Christian disciple is someone who knows and follows the Lord. We obey HIS command and commission, and have ceased doing what we want to seek God’s will and ways. The disciple is committed to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. To learn of and live for the Presence, pleasure and purposes of God.
We are all on a search for significance. We struggle with questions of identity, meaning and direction like, “Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do with my life? Where am I going?” We want to make a difference and “leave the world a better place.” Deep within our hearts, we desire to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. The call of God gives you the answer to those questions and both the inspiration and aims for your life. The answer is in knowing Christ and serving the purposes of God in our generation!”
*We will study, look into and discover more about finding and fulfilling God’s “purposes” in later lessons when Paul testifies on trial in Acts 26.
V. Discussion Questions
- As you look back on your life, can you see how God prepared you for a special spiritual task—even before you became a Christian? How?
2. Have you had a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus? List 3-4 times/ways you’ve had “Spirit” encounters that brought comfort, changed your life or gave you new direction:
3. Have you ever been in an extended season of waiting on God? Share some reflections about that time, reasons why-when-where? What was the fruit of patiently waiting on God?
4. Can U remember a time when U sensed U were ready for a new spiritual opportunity & challenge in your life? How did God confirm this to U, & who was involved in encouraging your transition?
5. Can U see/sense that God is still preparing you for future ministry & opportunities that it is not time for or you are not ready to participate in yet? What do you believe are some of your possibilities or God’s promises for your future?