Who was apostle Paul?
Paul of Tarsus (c. 10 – c. 67), originally named Saul, was one of the most notable of early Christian missionaries, his prolific writings forming a major portion of the New Testament. His influence on Christian thinking has, arguably, been more significant than any other New Testament author, though he himself very likely never knew Jesus in life, but was converted to his faith by a vision which appeared to him in his efforts to suppress Christianity.
For Paul, killing Christians was committed as an act honoring God. Though he was out to bring an end to the early Christian movement, it was motivated by reverence for the law. We can become so immersed in religious traditions that we miss the actual spiritual move of God when He causes a shift. If we are disconnected in the spirit we’ll act out of former understanding and not the “right now” word of God.
The apostle Paul never seemed to exhaust the topic of grace – what makes us think we can? He just kept coming at it and coming at it from another angle. That’s the thing about grace. It’s like springtime. You can’t put it in a single sentence definition, and you can’t exhaust it. When Paul was in prison, he never siezed a day without praying and asking for the grace of God. “Lord your grace is so sufficient”. If he can be saved from all the killings and persecution of Christians, surely it’s just by the grace of God.
So why should we take the time to learn from a previously known murderer? Especially someone who tried to kill off the very thing he later promoted?
Here are lessons to learn from Paul;
1. God can use ANYONE
Of all the people that God could have used to bring so many people to Him, he ironically used the man who had been killing Christians. God changed Paul’s heart and used him for His glory. It’s almost difficult for us to understand why God picked Paul of all people, but honestly that’s what makes Paul so relatable to us. Even though we aren’t murdering other people, we still don’t deserve the second, third, fourth, etc. chances that God willingly and gracefully gives us when we mess up. The fact of the matter is that God cares about everyone . If God can use someone like Paul to do that much good, then that should be encouragement to know that He can use anyone, including you!
2. No one is beyond the saving grace of God.
God was more than willing to forgive Paul for the countless lives that he took and for all the bad things that he had done. God gave Paul grace and transformed him into a completely different person. Like Paul, God can do the same for us. We are broken people that can be transformed by God’s saving grace that He so lovingly gives to us, even though we don’t deserve it.
3. It’s okay if you mess up.
I know that as Christians, we can be really hard on ourselves for our mistakes. It can be tempting to think that if we mess up, that God won’t love us anymore. Paul killed tons of people in his past. He tried to stop Christianity. Even still, God forgave him, had a purpose for him, and loved him. Know that if you make a mistake, it’s okay. We are not perfect people because we live in a sin fallen world. It’s impossible for us to be completely perfect, and that’s why we need God in our lives. Don’t get discouraged by your mistakes, but allow God to use them to transform and strengthen you so that you can be an encouragement those around you.
4. How to get your priorities
Paul talks about how “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
In Philippians 3:7-9, Paul talks about how everything else of this world is garbage compared to his relationship with Jesus Christ. He knew that nothing else in this world even mattered. God was number one in Paul’s life. I don’t know about you, but that can be a pretty difficult thing to do. It’s so easy to put other things in that number one place in our lives: school, work, family, friends, relationships, anything that we find important. But Paul shows us that when it’s all said and done, the only thing that matters is our relationship with God and that He is number one in our lives.
5. What it takes to be with God forever
Building off of point #4, we know that Paul recognized the importance of a relationship with Jesus. He also recognized that’s what’s going to get us into Heaven. He shows us that there is a difference between knowing something about Christ and actually knowing Him on a personal level. In Philippians 3:9-10 Paul writes, “..that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ- the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” In other words, Paul realized what is so hard for us to understand: We can’t do it on our own . Our own good works and merit isn’t enough to get us into Heaven because we’re not perfect, nor did Jesus die for us to be perfect. Good works is the product of faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation is about a relationship with God. Knowing Him is the goal.
6. Our past doesn’t define us.
I’ve heard it said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.”
It’s pretty clear that Paul had a very dark and wicked past, but he didn’t let that define him. Instead, he grew and learned from it and was transformed into an incredible man of God. In Philippians 3:13, Paul writes, “…Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.” One thing I have recently learned is that Satan is not God, he just wanted to be God. So since he isn’t God, he cannot see what is in front of us, so that only leaves one weapon for him to use: our past. He’s gotten good at it too; putting the thoughts of “I’m too far gone for God to use me” or “I’ve made too many mistakes for God to love me” into our heads. However, our past mistakes do not define us. They only provide opportunities for us to grow. God knows we are imperfect people, so He will love us regardless, and nothing that we can do will ever change that.
7. The importance of quiet time.
Paul wanted to know more and more of Jesus. He spent quality time with Him as often as he could. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul writes, I want to know Christ- yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul knew that the only way that he would get to know God on the level that he wanted to was by spending time with Him in His Word and through prayer. Paul shows us the importance of quality time and that it results in knowing Christ intimately and personally.
8. How to care for others.
Paul’s life and his works make it evident to us that he cared for others.
Acts 17:16 says, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Because Paul had a heart for the Lord, he also had a heart for His people. In Paul’s engagement with others, he didn’t act as though he was better than them, but instead fueled his conversation with compassion. This is an important thing to learn from Paul, especially in our interactions with others about faith. Nothing about it should be condemning, but instead out of genuine love and compassion for God and His people.
One thing that really sticks out to me about Paul is written in Philippians 3:12. Pauls says, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Now if there was anyone that could brag about how on fire they are for God, of all the good things that they have done for Him, or all that they have surrendered for Him and accomplished through Him, it could be Paul. But Paul recognizes that he still has room for growth and doesn’t let pride consume him. Paul’s humility amazes me and it is something that we can definitely learn from and aspire to.
10. How to be content in any situation.
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul writes, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in an and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” The secret of Paul’s contentment was that he drew his strength from the Lord. He learned to rely on God’s promises and strength to help him be content in any situation. He knew that God would supply him with everything that he would need and that God ultimately knew what was best for him. I tend to be the type of person who stresses and worries, so I know that this is a very difficult thing to accomplish. However, I know that with God’s strength, it is possible for me to accomplish this.
11. How to stand firm in Christ.
In Philippians 3:20-21, Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” The way to stand firm is to keep our eyes on Him. It can become so easy for us to be distracted by everything going on around us, but we need to remember that this world is not our home. Standing firm means to resist the ways of this world. Don’t get discouraged or lose heart when you mess up, but instead continue to press into the Lord. He promises strength, so with Him, you can stay true to the Lord.
These are just a few points that we can take away from Paul, but there is so much more that we can learn from him. All in all God used a man who was wicked and transformed him into an evangelistic dynamite. In all of these points that we can take away from Paul, know that you are not too far gone for God to use, that He has a purpose for you, and that in His strength, He can use you to do great things for His kingdom and glory.