This series of articles in "Meet Saint Paul" is written from the perspective of an individual who was or might have been a witness to the activities of Saul/Paul.
MEET ST. PAUL -- PART 1
I was in Antioch on business recently and on the Sabbath I went to the meeting place of the new group who called themselves Christians. After the reading of the Scriptures, God’s Law and the Prophets, the leader asked the group, “Brethren, do you have anything to say? A word of encouragement?”
Well, guess who stood up to address the crowd --- none other than Saul of Tarsus. You remember him …. he was the major persecutor of followers of Jesus, the Jew who was crucified for claiming to be the Son of God. If you remember, three days later followers of Jesus said He had risen from the dead and no one has found even a trace of His body. Over five hundred of His followers said Jesus appeared to them, and they claim He ascended into Heaven to sit on the right hand side of God and one day He is coming back to judge the people who reject Him.
Further, if you will recall, “as he (Saul) journeyed through the area, he came near Damascus and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven. And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?’ And he (Saul) said, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutes.’” Acts 9:3-5 (KJV)
“And he (Saul) trembling and astonished said, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’ And the Lord said unto him, ‘Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.’” Acts 9:6 (KJV)
“And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no man.” Acts 9:7 (KJV)
“And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was there three days without sight, and neither did he eat nor drink.” Acts 9:8 -9 (KJV)
“And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision….’arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, and hath seen in a vision, a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him (Saul), that he might receive his sight.’” “…he (Saul) is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” Acts 9:10a-12, 15a (KJV)
I don’t have to tell you Ananias was not happy with this assignment. Everyone knew how vicious Saul was to followers of Jesus. Ananias was shaking in his sandals. But, he went and did as the Master requested.
Ananias “putting his hands on him (Saul) said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.’ And immediately there fell from his (Saul’s) eyes as it had been scales: and he received his sight forthwith, and arose and was baptized. And when he had received meat he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.” Acts 9:17b-19 (KJV)
A follower of Jesus, Barnabas, introduced Saul to the other followers and he was accepted. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.” Acts 9:31 (KJV)
Saul’s Hebrew name has been changed to Paul, his Greek name, and he is such a fervent minister of Jesus, it wouldn’t be a surprise if in time to come he is called Saint Paul.
Paul is very personable, and will walk up to someone on a road, or ship, or meeting place and began talking to the person.
The words Paul says to the crowds he just as likely might whispered into your ear, such as,”…the Lord commanded us saying, ‘I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, hat thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.’” Acts13:47 (KJV)
Perhaps you are concerned about an act you have committed which is displeasing to God and you have just heard Paul speak to a group on the subject of grace. Wouldn’t you like to have him pull you aside and say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he (God) removed our transgressions (sins) from us.” Psalm 103:12 (KJV)
Traveling on the Great Mediterranean Sea from Antioch to Ephesus, I was confined to my cabin during a prolonged period of bad weather. During my confinement I had time to ponder Paul’s explanation of Christianity. The steady thumping of the drum as the oarsmen answer the beat with the clacking of the oars while the ship was being pulled through the deep, turbulent water lulled me into a pensive mood. I puzzle what it all means; where do I fit into the scheme of things? Some of Paul’s statements ring in my ears and disturb my sleep.
I am intrigued with this man, Paul. He is more passionate in spreading the news about Jesus than he had been in persecuting the followers of Jesus; he was a fearsome and feared enemy of the brethren. I try to coincide my business travels with Paul’s schedule to the various cities in which he plans to speak. However while in Ephesus I content myself with hearing the Ephesus church read Paul’s letters written from Rome where he is being held in prison awaiting trial.
I will write more later.
MEET ST. PAUL -- PART 2
In visiting the Ephesus church I receive the impression Paul’s demeanor to the Believers in this church is more genial. Why? Perhaps he is tired, perhaps he is feeling his age and the mistreatment he has endured at the hands of his enemies; or perhaps the Ephesus church is more grounded in their faith and Paul doesn’t have a lot of issues with the members of the church with which he must deal. Paul spends more time reminding these young Christians, as they are called, that Jesus is the source of their salvation and the heart of Christianity’s good news. The opening comment of the letter to his fellow Believers in Ephesus is written with a joyous voice as Paul states, “Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:2, 3 (KJV)
“….I (Paul), after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (Jesus).” Ephesians 1:15-17 (KJV)
Paul, speaking with love and kindness in his voice but with holy authority, continued and outlined three things he was praying for the church at Ephesus. He prayed that with “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of Jesus’ calling, and what the riches of the glory of Jesus’ inheritance is in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of Jesus’ power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which God wrought in Christ when God raised Jesus from the dead, and set him at God’s own right hand in heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under Jesus’ feet, and gave Jesus to be the head over all things to the church, which is Jesus’ body, and fullness of Jesus, that fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:18-23 (KJV)
Paul continued, saying “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:1-8 (KJV)
I wish I were a fly in Paul’s living quarters and could hear more of what he says about this Jesus. I recently heard two Christians from the Ephesus church repeating an excerpt from one of Paul’s letters. “…now in Christ Jesus we who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13) (KJV)
They sound so sure of their future; I feel an overwhelming emptiness when I try to imagine my own future. I don’t want to hear more, yet, I know I will take every opportunity to soak up what Paul is sharing with everyone. I know in my heart of hearts I want the freedom – the peace and joy these Christians have; will I ever realize it?
The Eastern sun is beating down on a few of us stragglers as we make our way through the seaside market kiosks towards the meeting location where Paul’s latest letter is going to be read. It is easy for me to casually join the group, I had often attended the meetings.
A group of inquisitive Gentiles are walking in tandem and talking regarding one of the letters. I hasten my pace until I blend in with the group, not actually an integral part but squeezing in tightly enough so I can easily hear their conversation. “Paul wrote us saying, ‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by, the faith of him.’” Ephesians 3: 1-12 (KJV)
I am amazed. God speaks to Paul through the Holy Ghost. I am without words.
A group of noisy tourists brake through the group and I hasten to reposition myself so I can continue listening, but the group is disbursing and going separate ways in the market. I am left standing in the shadows of the kiosks pondering this new information I have heard.
A short time later when I sat in the meeting place, one of the Believers was reading the last of another of Paul’s letters.
As Paul neared the end of his letter to the Ephesus church, he cautioned them about the days ahead, saying: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
“Stand therefore having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel.” Ephesians 6:12-19 (KJV)
“Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.” Ephesians 6: 23, 24 (KJV)
Hearing the closing of Paul’s letter, I know I have to continue seeking to know Jesus personally.
MEET ST. PAUL -- PART 3
I was in a caravan on my way to Corinth. By coincidence several of my fellow travelers and tradesmen were also familiar with the letters and activities of Paul. One evening when we were dining leisurely by the campfire, one of the men inquired of the others, “Have you read or heard about Paul’s latest letters to the Corinthian church?” They laughed and remarked Paul was certainly direct and minced no words. Immediately my curiosity was peaked, and I drew nearer to the group.
Corinth has always been a favorite city for me to visit. It is located on the Peloponnesian peninsula in the midst of wonderful natural beauty; a great commercial city, which is important for my business; a city of great architectural beauty; and, a city of stimulating discourse and philosophical debate. The Temple of Aphrodite is also located in Corinth and has become the center of lascivious worship. From my limited knowledge of Paul, I didn’t doubt for a moment he had written to the church and pointed out their short-comings.
I directed my comments to the traveler who had inquired of the others if they had read or heard about Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, “What exactly was Paul focusing on when he wrote the church?”
Reminding me of a clucking hen, my fellow traveler delved into the discussion of the letter with obvious delight. “The theme of Paul’s letter was ‘Christian Conduct.’ He had a lot to write about. First, Paul introduced ‘grace’ and said the Christian’s position in grace is the result of Christ’s work. Paul wrote that (he) thanked God always on (their) behalf for the grace of God given (to them) by Jesus Christ. That in everything (they) are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in (them). So that (they) come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of (the) Lord Jesus Christ; who shall also confirm the (Christians) unto the end, that (they) may be blameless in the day of (the) Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom, (they) were called unto the fellowship of his son, Jesus Christ (our) Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:4-9, KJV)
The traveler continued, “The second issue Paul addressed was the division within the Church. Paul had a lot to say about that. Paul was chiding the church members for creating a division in the church by some claiming to be of Paul, others to be of Apollo, or Cephas, or of Christ. So, Paul wrote, ‘Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or, were you baptized in the name of Paul?’ Listen, ‘Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, less the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.’ (Isaiah 29:14, KJV)…Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach of Christ crucified; unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.’ (I Corinthians 1:10-25, KJV) The traveler continued, “Paul implored the people listening to him to see that not many wise men after the flesh, or mighty men or nobles are called; for God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.
God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty so that no one should glory in his own intellect or abilities. God has chosen the weaker vessels to bring those who trust in Him into the way of salvation. Paul wrote, ‘But of (God) are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.’”
The others in the group were getting restless with the conversation and wanted to proceed through the market. The traveler with whom I was speaking, gathered his belongings, bid me a safe journey, and went with his group.
I was eager to get to my dwelling for the evening and think about what I had been told by the traveler. Paul’s words and his beliefs in Jesus Christ were becoming more and more compelling. Paul’s remarks concerning God choosing the weak of the world to lead others to the Christian’s belief of salvation would be a conversation I would ponder for a long time to come. The desire to know Jesus Christ for myself was becoming stronger each day. I realized I was at a cross road and would have to decide to walk away from the searching, or to look with an increased conviction to meet Jesus Christ with an open mind and heart.
If only I could meet with Paul and talk to him myself.
MEET ST. PAUL -- PART 4
Once the thought had been planted in my mind to talk with Paul himself, it was a distant goal at first, but with the passing of time, it became more and more compelling. “If I could sit at Paul’s feet and ask just a few well thought out questions, I would know who this Jesus is to me,” I thought. However, having to depend on the recounting of Paul’s letters by fellow journeymen, I have had difficulty defining the timeline of the letters. Paul had been beaten, imprisoned, including two imprisonments in Rome, and still he continued to write letters to the congregations of the churches he had founded in the provinces of Asia. Always he pleaded with them to practice the teachings of the Lord Jesus and to follow the leading by the Holy Spirit.
While Paul stayed in Corinth, he wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome concerning the “Gospel of God.” He began his letter, Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: by whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name; among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-7) (KJV)
As I heard the new Christian read Paul’s letter, I realized the sequence of Paul’s letters was not of paramount importance. Rather, Paul wrote humbly and passionately about Jesus. As I gradually grasped what Paul was writing in his letters, I continued to battle my old nature and did not make a commitment to cast my burdens upon Jesus nor did I commit to choose to follow Him. However, neither could I dismiss as untrue all that I have heard Paul write about Jesus. The conundrum persists, “is Jesus who he claims to be, the Son of God who came to earth to offer mankind a way out of eternal death, or was he just a great teacher, albeit a liar?”
The reading of Paul’s letter continued, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (but was [hindered] hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Gentile).
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:8-20) (KJV)
I pondered Paul’s statement that sinners have no excuse for denying Jesus is God’s Son because the evidence is all around them: “…for ever since the world was created people have seen the earth and sky.” “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The invisible things of him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."