Paul, who was both a Roman citizen and a Jew played a great role in establishing what Jesus Christ had left. He wrote thirteen of the twenty seven books in the New Testament. He founded several churches and mentored Timothy among others who served along with him. Paul became instrumental in winning souls for Christ among the Jews and the Gentiles. He was later on martyred for his faith in Christ by the Romans. This chapter tries to expound Paul’s life highlighting God’s work in preparing him.
Dennis Pollock in his article ‘The Preparation of Paul’ writes Paul’s amazing ministry and phenomenal influence upon Christianity did not spring out of the air, nor did the great apostle fall from heaven. Like every man and woman of God used to touch his own and following generations, Paul was carefully prepared and crafted by that great sculptor of men, the Holy Spirit. As with all God’s chosen vessels Saul’s particular training program was unique, and yet it contained the common elements that make up the curriculum for all who would serve as representatives of the most high God.
Paul’s early life.
The Apostle Paul is one of the greatest missionaries who travelled the world taking the gospel from Asia Minor to Macedonia, Greece and Rome among other places. There are certain influences that were very instrumental in the making of this great Apostle. Among them was his great knowledge of the scriptures, Paul’s understanding of his world and lastly His encounter with Jesus Christ.
- Paul’s knowledge of scriptures.
Acts 22:3 “I am a Jew born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just zealous for God as any of you are today…”
Gamaliel was recognized as a Pharisee doctor of the Jewish Law. While Paul was still young, he spent time with Gamaliel, learning from him. Paul’s great knowledge in literature, philosophy and ethics is attributed to him. Paul was eloquent in Hebrew among other languages. He knew the scriptures quite well even before his conversion to Christianity.
One commentator writes: “His preliminary education having been completed, Paul was sent, when about thirteen years of age probably, to the great Jewish school of sacred learning at Jerusalem as a student of the law. Here he became a pupil of the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel, and here he spent many years in an elaborate study of the Scriptures and of the many questions concerning them with which the rabbis exercised themselves. During these years of diligent study he lived ‘in all good conscience,’ unstained by the vices of that great city.”
The kind of training he received from Gamaliel can be traced from how his letters are written. His quotations from the Old Testament clearly show his understanding of the Greek language.
- Paul’s understanding of his world.
Paul grew up in Tarsus and made several journeys to Jerusalem where he received his education (Acts 22:3). The great understanding of his world gave him an upper hand especially when he communicated with the Greeks. In Acts 17, Paul debates with educated men in Athens. He is able to reason with them, convincing them that there is only one true God. Only someone who had a great understanding of Greek could reason so well.
In Paul’s letters, one is able to clearly see masterly of different cultures. Paul had understood many ideas of his world; the many travels had extraordinarily exposed him to people of different tribes and races, the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, the religious and the pagans.
- Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ
This encounter was transformative and instrumental in ushering him into his ministry. Many times Paul writes about his former life. He mentions about his encounter with Jesus Christ which is best displayed in his autobiographical confession in Philippians 3:4b-11. Here he writes about his great accomplishments from him being of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee and blameless under the law.
Alongside Paul’s transformation is his encounter on the Damascus road which changed his mission. In the past, his main occupation had been persecuting the church but Jesus Christ turned things around. His calling now focused on being an apostle and a servant of Jesus Christ. Afterwards, Paul went through a lot of suffering and hardships which instead of working against him gave him a platform to share God’s message.
Paul’s years of preparation
Clearly, one could see the hand of God in preparing a man for himself. Though God sovereignly calls people to ministry, it is for Him to allow them to be tested before he puts them into ministry. Paul was no exception; he was put to test for a period of about ten years from the time of his conversion. One would ask, what was happening to Paul for those years? God was watching Paul, teaching and training him in preparation for the great ministry ahead of him.
- Paul’s spends time alone
Galatians 1:15-18 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days.
God was guiding Paul into everything he did. God had commissioned him to go preach to the gentiles but this did not start immediately. After his conversion he travelled to the country of Arabia. Warren Wiersbe writes, ‘Paul gave himself to study, prayer and meditation and met with the Lord alone.’ Others would believe that in the same way the apostles spent three years with their master Jesus Christ, this was now Paul’s time with the Lord Jesus Christ.
It was during this time that the Lord revealed to Paul great secrets and insights concerning His Kingdom and the ministry he was entrusting him with. One thing is clear, that these were not wasted years but significant years used for His preparation. His legacy to date is evidence of the time spent with the Lord.
Ellen G. White in his book Sketches from the Life of Paul says, “Paul’s life was in peril, and he received a commission from God to leave Damascus for a time. He went into Arabia; and there, in comparative solitude, he had ample opportunity for communion with God, and for contemplation. He wished to be alone with God, to search his own heart, to deepen his repentance, and to prepare himself by prayer and study to engage in a work which appeared to him too great and too important.”