Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who is Paul?

Birth and Training

Paul was born as Saul in Tarsus. He was a pure bred Israelite of the Tribe of Benjamin. Gamaliel was a very famous teacher under which he studied. Rising quickly ahead of his peers, he became a Pharisee of Pharisees.

He must have been an independent thinker as well because he differed with Gamaliel on how to deal with the members of “The Way.” He felt justified in zealously persecuting the members of “The Way” by stoning them to death because of the account of Phinehas in Num 25:6-11.

6 And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. 9 And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

10 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 11 "Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them.

Gamaliel took a different approach.

Acts 5:33-39

34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: "Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God."


Indeed, that is exactly what Paul found himself doing on the road to Damascus. Blinded by a light and hearing the voice of the risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Paul becomes a believer. His eyes are opened by Ananias and then Paul goes into a period of study that lasted 3 years. I think that he went by himself, guided by the power of the Holy Spirit, and reread the scriptures he had so adamantly been studying all his life. This time he read them with new eyes. This time he was able to understand that the scriptures prove that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. When Paul finally met up with the Apostles, they had nothing to add to his message.


Paul wrote 14 books of the New Testement from Romans to Philemon. Paul’s message is spelled out in the theme verses of Romans. Rom 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — Jews first and also Gentiles. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, "It is through faith that a righteous person has life."

This salvation by faith is a great deviation from what the Pharisees believed. They felt that they were assured salvation because “Abraham was their father.” Matt 3:9.

Paul’s message is sometimes thought to be contradicted by James’ message.

Rom 3:28

8 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

James 2:19-20

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe — and tremble! 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

Sounds contradictory doesn’t it. James is not putting forth a faith plus works theology. James is defining what kind of faith one must have. There is a faith that has head knowledge of a truth and then there is a faith that causes one to change his ways.

Name Change

When Paul first began to teach, he would go to the synagogues and talk with the Jews. But after being rejected so much, he felt it was his place to take the message to the gentiles. This is when the name change came about. It is not the same kind of change like Abram to Abraham or Jacob to Israel. Those names were actually changes from one to the other. Saul to Paul was more of a cultural name change. Like someone named Jacque coming to live in the states and now going by the name James. It is the same name in two different cultures. It is not like Saul has a Jesus experience and Jesus changes his name, like what happened to Abram and Jacob.

Discourse on Israel

Romans 9-11 gives a full discourse on the fate of Israel, but the highlights are: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And so all Israel will be saved.

Servant Leadership

We as Christians are called to be servants. We are also called to be leaders. The two come together in the concept of servant leadership. My definition of a servant leader is a leader whose purpose is to serve those who follow him/her. Two stories in the bible strike me with their example of servant leadership. Then I have an experience to share with you about application of servant leadership.

Example 1. In Genesis chapter 13 we have the story of Abram and Lot living together. Abram is the leader of the clan, but when both Abram and Lot became too numerous for the land to support, quarrelling broke out between the two clans. (This is now my paraphrase of the story; I will add stuff for the sake of emphasis. It did not actually happen quite this way.) Abram being the leader summons Lot to his office. He explains the situation to Lot and informs Lot of Abram’s decision that the two must separate. Since Abram is the leader then Abram gets to choose, who goes where. Abram’s choice is to let Lot decide.

You will notice, Lot does not reciprocate on the generosity of Abram. Lot looks at the options and takes the best land. Abram does not get upset and renig on his generous offer. He does not take away Lot’s right to decide. He allows Lot to take the best land. God does, in this case, settle the score Himself. He blesses Abram’s clan and sattles Lot with Sodom and Gomorrah.

Example 2. John chapter 13 tells us, Jesus knew He had come from the Father and was going back to the Father so He wrapped a towel around His waist and washed the disciples’ feet. Imagine that. Jesus knowing that He is God and knowing that He was headed to the cross for the redemption of mankind: does an incredible act of servitude for the diciples. Not, hey give me glory for who I am and what I am about to do. No. Just another selfless and humble act of service. Servant Leadership demonstrated to the maximum, in my humble opinion.

Experience. The Evangelism Committee decided to do a random act of kindness in the name of Jesus. We went to a local park on a Saturday morning and handed out water bottles for free to the walkers, joggers, and runners. We did so in the name of Jesus not in the name of our church. Those who stopped to talk with us usually asked us what church we were from, so we did get to advertise our church as well.

One gentleman came by and said he was not interested in buying water. We told him it was our free gift to him with no obligations. He lit up like a Christmas tree. He went on and on about how great it was for us to give up our Saturday morning and hand out water to strangers. He was very thirsty and greatly appreciated the drink. He went on his way around the park path. While he was gone our leader decided to take some pictures of the group. As he reapproached our area, he noticed our leader getting ready to take the picture. He rushed up and energetically offered his “service” to take the picture so that the leader could be in it also. The leader kindly refused to let him take the picture. He made another plea to help, emphasizing that the leader needed to be in the picture too. The leader adamantly refused the help. The man was crestfallen. You could just see all the energy and enthusiasm that was in him disappear. He left us in a more depressed state than when he came upon us at first. All the good we had done was undone and more by the leader refusing to allow him to serve us.

The moral to the story is that while we are servants, we must also not be above being served. Therefore, if someone offers you their service for something we should find a way to accept it, so that they may be servants of Jesus Christ to us.