To switch things up a bit in this series, I’d like to take a look at one of the Apostles. Today, Let’s take a look at the Calling, Apprenticeship, & Ministry of the Apostle Paul.You might be thinking, “woah, that’s a huge jump from Gideon to Paul”. It is, but I believe that once we’ve finished going through this study, you’ll realize that ultimately, it doesn’t matter whose life we study, what we see is God at work in and through these men of faith. I’m so excited to get into this, because the Apostle Paul went to great lengths to provide us with what we need to know about God’s redemptive work first in Paul and then through him, but all of the work was done by Him.
Paul (formerly Saul)
Our first introduction to Saul comes in Acts 7. But I don’t want to dive right in without some context first. In the first 5 chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, we see the Apostles launch in the Ministry of the Gospel, the Great Commission. We will study this time in the near future, but for now let me just say that these sermons are powerful. The Spirit of God works mightily in His Church. The Church grew so large that the Apostles could no longer see to every detail of the needs of the brethren while also devoting sufficient time to prayer and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, in Acts 6, the Apostles promote seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, to be promoted as deacons, so that the Apostles could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. We will also take a closer look at the New Testament model for Church structure. So many projects in the queue, Praise the Lord! But I digress, one of the chosen men was Stephen. Men of various synagogues tried to trip Stephen up but couldn’t, due to the work of the Holy Spirit, so they got false witnesses to testify against him in front of the Sanhedrin. When it is finally Stephen’s turn to respond to the accusations against him… he launches into an astounding sermon beginning in Acts 7:2. How he ends the speech, and what happens next always brings a tear to my eye…
Acts 7:51-60 (ESV) 51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” 54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Acts 8:1-3 (ESV) 1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Now take a second look at what is happening to the church in Jerusalem. Had the church done something wrong? No. Is this punishment from God? No. This punishment is from men. The church scattered, the apostles remained. Emotionally, this is a devastating blow to go from the victory, boldness, and blessing that seemed to be the norm in the first 6 chapters of Acts. For they made great lamentations over him [Stephen]. Make no mistake, God is still in control. We would do well to remember these times in Jerusalem when our ears are being tickled with prosperity doctrine that ignores the reality of the Gospel, or when we are encouraged to anchor our faith to our emotions. Our faith needs but One Anchor, and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us continue…
Acts 9:1-9 (ESV) 1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
We are pausing here, to note that as yet we do not have the Call of God upon Saul’s life. Only that Jesus saw fit to stop Saul from sinning against Him. Jesus stepped in. Jesus intervened. He made Himself known to Saul, in a powerful, and divine way. Saul needed to repent, as do all who are born in sin. I think it is worth noting that Saul’s response realizing he was woefully in the wrong and persecuting the Son of God. He neither ate nor drank for 3 days (and I think he’d have gone longer had God not sent someone to him). Let’s continue reading…
Acts 9:10-20 (ESV) 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
So many things going on in this passage. Very clearly, we see the Calling that God has placed on Saul in v15… and just as quickly we see that this would be an extremely heavy burden to bear, where it not for the fact that God is the one who completes the works He has started. Now, remember at the start of this series that I said that these “phases” I’m using to break down the Call, Apprenticeship, and Ministry might not always be distinct phases. Paul wasn’t without training. It’s not like he was all zeal and no substance. His zeal was anchored in his understanding of the scriptures. He was dead wrong because he was dead in sin. Let’s look at how he describes himself later:
Philippians 3:3-6 (ESV) 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Galatians 1:11-24 (ESV) 11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His Grace, 16 was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.
Paul makes it abundantly clear, time and time again, that he was dead in his sin and it was but by the Grace of God that He chose to reveal His Son Jesus to Paul. Paul needed no further teaching because he had already studied and memorized the Law and the Prophets (as to the Law, a Pharisee) and everything he was doing while dead in his sin he did in accordance with the Law (as to righteousness under the law, blameless) to punish the blasphemy. For you see, there is no middle ground with respect to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Either He is the Son of God, being equal to God, and having been with God since the beginning, or He is a liar and a blasphemer. There is NO OTHER OPTION. What Paul (then Saul) lacked, was the revelation that Jesus was not a man making empty claims of deity, Jesus is in-fact the Son of God. Once that revelation was given to him by the Grace of God, Paul was then able to accept who Jesus really is. As Jesus spoke identifying Himself as the Bread of Life there is a comment He makes that I feel is reflected in the story of Paul’s conversion, John 6:43-44 (ESV) Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…”
Paul was immediately ready to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And all who heard of Paul’s conversion, glorified God. God uses Paul mightily as His Apostle to the Gentiles. God inspires Paul to write 15 epistles to the churches, two of which contain such marvelous examples of seeing the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the Old Testament (Hebrews and Romans). He was not alone in this, for when we look at Stephen’s final sermon, and look at Peter’s sermons, we’ll see that truly all of the Apostles had their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ grounded in the Law and the Prophets. In closing, I’d like to share a wonderful quote from Graeme Goldsworthy… that I put into a graphic for a different purpose, but I think it works well here, too.
May the Lord bless and keep you always,