The Apostle Paul: An Example of God’s Grace in Action

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The Apostle Paul

An Example of God’s Grace in Action

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The Apostle Paul: An Example of God’s Grace in Action

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Of the many individuals mentioned in the Bible, Paul is certainly one of the most intriguing. He committed his life to serving God early on and studied under one of the most famous rabbis of the day, Gamaliel—a teacher whose reputation was such that other rabbis and scholars would quote him for centuries. This was no small accomplishment, because a rabbi of that stature would accept only the best and brightest students as his disciples.

As a young man everything was going well for Paul. As he put it, “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:14 Galatians 1:14And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.
American King James Version×
). He was well on his way to becoming a famous rabbi himself, “taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and . . . zealous toward God” (Acts 22:3 Acts 22:3I am truly a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as you all are this day.
American King James Version×
).

Misdirected zeal with dire consequences

But zeal, as history and the Bible show, is not always a good thing.

Zeal can be either good or very destructive, depending on the cause for which one is zealous. In Paul’s case, his misguided zeal in support of the religion of his people led him to horrible acts, including murder of Christians. Let’s read it in his own words:

“I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13 Galatians 1:13For you have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
American King James Version×
).

“I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women . . . and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished” (Acts 22:4-5 Acts 22:4-5 [4] And I persecuted this way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. [5] As also the high priest does bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters to the brothers, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound to Jerusalem, for to be punished.
American King James Version×
).

“Many of the saints [or Christian believers] I shut up in prison . . . and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 26:10-11 Acts 26:10-11 [10] Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. [11] And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to strange cities.
American King James Version×
).

By no stretch of the imagination was Paul, at that time known by his Hebrew name of Saul, a nice person. He was a vengeful and violent man who persecuted and killed those with whom he disagreed—in this case Christians, both men and women. Due to his actions, wives were left widows. Husbands lost their wives. Children were orphaned. Families lost their homes and businesses. Some became fugitives, fleeing for their lives. The first time Paul is mentioned in the Bible, the martyr Stephen was brutally stoned to death by an enraged mob while Paul stood by “consenting to his death” (Acts 7:58-8 Acts 7:58-8
American King James Version×
:1).

When he next appears, he is “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,” seeking authorization to travel to Damascus to arrest any Christians he might find there to “bring them bound to Jerusalem” for trial and possible execution (Acts 9:1-2 Acts 9:1-2 [1] And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, [2] And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
American King James Version×
).

A divine encounter on the road to Damascus

But Paul experienced God’s grace in a powerful and life-transforming way. While traveling to Damascus to carry out this mission, he was suddenly struck down and temporarily blinded. As he groveled in the dirt of the roadway, a voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Stunned, he replied, “Who are You, Lord?”

The shocking response was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting . . . Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:4-6 Acts 9:4-6 [4] And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why persecute you me? [5] And he said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. [6] And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.
American King James Version×
).

Paul was then baptized. Empowered by God’s Spirit, “immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20 Acts 9:20And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
American King James Version×
). Later he would spend three years being personally taught by Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:11-12 Galatians 1:11-12 [11] But I certify you, brothers, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. [12] For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
; Galatians 1:17-18 Galatians 1:17-18 [17] Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. [18] Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and stayed with him fifteen days.
American King James Version×
).

Paul grew spiritually to become a deeply converted man. The zeal he had once directed at exterminating the Church of God was now directed toward building it.

His efforts did not come without a steep personal price: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; [I have been] in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness . . .” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 [24] Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. [25] Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; [26] In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brothers; [27] In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. [28] Beside those things that are without, that which comes on me daily, the care of all the churches.
American King James Version×
).

How often during such times was Paul haunted by the faces of innocent men and women he had rounded up, torn from their families and sent to prison or to their deaths? We don’t know, but we do know that Paul knew he was a “wretched man” deserving of death (Romans 7:24 Romans 7:24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
American King James Version×
).

He wrote to his dear friend and disciple Timothy that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15 1 Timothy 1:15This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

A grateful teacher of grace

He also told Timothy: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 13-14, NIV).

Paul came to thoroughly understand the workings of and marvelous gift that is grace. After repenting of his previous misdeeds, he was used in a powerful way. He knew that God could and would forgive even the seemingly unforgivable. Thus he wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1 Romans 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
American King James Version×
).

Paul fully understood that Jesus had given His life as a sacrificial offering for our sins and that, despite what Paul had done, he was no longer condemned. For Paul, God’s grace had conquered sin and death (Romans 3:24-26 Romans 3:24-26 [24] Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: [25] Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; [26] To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believes in Jesus.
American King James Version×
). Having been saved by grace, he now lived by grace, dedicating his life to “the gospel [good news] of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 Acts 20:24But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
American King James Version×
).

It’s no wonder, then, that Paul wrote so much about God’s grace and goodness. He was a living and profound example of God’s grace in action! As he wrote further in 1 Timothy 1:16 1 Timothy 1:16However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
American King James Version×
(NLT): “But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.”

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