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14.  Paul

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul || 14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren || 14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul || 14-2-3 Paul: A Character Study || 14-3 The Preaching Of Paul || 14-4 Saul Changed To Paul || 14-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus || 14-6 Paul And Christ  (1) || 14-6-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels  || 14-6-2 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Statistics || 14-6-3-1 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Analysis And Implications || 14-6-3-2 Inspiration: The Human Factor || 14-6-3-3 The Enigma Of John's Gospel || 14-6-3-4 The Nature Of The Gospel Records || 14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture || 14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ || 14-7 Paul And Christ (2) || 14-7-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels: Further Observations || 14-7-2 Paul And The Parables || 14-7-3 Paul's Use Of The Sermon On The Mount (Mt. 5 - 7) || 14-7-4 Paul's Exposition Of Gethsemane || 14-7-5 Paul And The Characters In The Gospels || 14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels || 14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist || 14-7-8 Saul, Paul And Stephen || 14-7-9 Following Elders || 14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles: Observations || 14-8 Paul's Heroes || 14-8-1 Paul And Moses || 14-8-2 Paul And King Saul || 14-9   Paul and Corinth || 14-10 Paul And His Weak Brethren || 14-11 Paul's Thorn In The Flesh || 14-12 Paul's Shipwreck  || 14-13 Paul’s Self-Perception || 14-14 Paul, Philemon and Onesimus || 14-15 Chronology of Paul’s Life

Chapter 14: PAUL

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul

Paul: Really Our Example

Paul is set before us as " a Christ-appointed model" of the ideal believer. He himself seems to have sensed this happening when he so often invites us to follow his example (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Gal. 4:12; Phil. 3:17; 4:9;  1 Thess. 1:6; 2:10; 2 Thess. 3:7,9). He does this quite self-consciously, for example: “I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved...let no man seek his own, but another’s [profit]” (1 Cor. 10:33,24). He even says that he doesn't do things which he could legitimately allow himself, because he knew he was being framed as their example (2 Thess. 3:7,9). He saw in his conversion a pattern for all those who would afterwards believe (1 Tim. 1:16). Having said that he was "chief" of the tribe of sinners, Paul goes straight on to say that this "was so that in me as chief might Jesus Christ shew forth all his longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should later believe on him" (1 Tim. 1:15,16 RV). This sounds as if Paul realized that he was being set up as the chief, supreme example to us; a template for each of us, of forgiveness and zealous response to that forgiveness. Thus Paul's description of how the light of the glory of God in Christ shines in the heart of the new convert (2 Cor. 4:6) was not without reference back to his own Damascus road conversion (Acts 9:3; 22:6; 26;13). Indeed, it is even possible that the way he made Elymas blind “not seeing the sun for a season”, so that he had to be led by the hand (Acts 13:11), is all so reminiscent of Paul’s own experience that he was consciously seeking to replicate his own conversion in the life of another man. And this is, indeed, the very essence of preaching from a grateful heart. He saw the power that worked in Him as working in all of us (Eph. 3:7,20). Paul wishes that the Colossians would be “filled with the knowledge of his will” (Col. 1:9), just as at his conversion he had been chosen so “that thou shouldest know his will” (Acts 22:14). He wanted them to share the radical nature of conversion which he had gone through; the sense of life turned round; of new direction… The Damascus road experience surfaces time and again in Paul’s writing and self-consciousness (Rom. 10:2-4; 1 Cor. 9:1,16,17; 15:8-10; 2 Cor. 3:4-4:6; 5:16; Eph. 3:1-13; Phil. 3:4-11; Col. 1:23-29).  

It is no mere pointless repetition that results in Luke recording Paul’s conversion three times in Acts (Acts 9,22,26). Special attention is being paid to his conversion, because he is being set up as the model of all Christian conversion. Paul’s conversion-commissioning experience on the Damascus road has many similarities with the commissioning of Ezekiel. Ezekiel saw a similar vision of glory, heard “a voice of one that spoke”, fell to the ground, resisted the commission, received Divine assurance, rose up by Divine invitation and was prepared for his commission by signs and wonders. The difference was that Paul says he saw the glory of the risen Christ. Ezekiel saw the glory of Yahweh, as the Lord Jesus wasn’t in physical existence and hadn’t resurrected at his time. But essentially, it was the same glory- for the glory of the Father is now fully invested in the Son (Rom. 9:23; Phil. 4:19). Ezekiel saw at the head of the vision of glory “the likeness of a man”. He calls this figure the Kavod , the glory of God (Ez. 1:29). Although Jesus was not in physical existence at Ezekiel’s time, I suggest that Ezekiel saw a vision of the Lord Jesus in glory. John 12 says that Isaiah likewise saw the glory of the Lord Jesus when he saw a similar vision of glory in Isaiah 6. James 2:1 speaks of “our Lord Jesus Christ, the glory”. Christ is “the Lord of glory”, reflecting the glory of God (Col. 1:27; Heb. 1:3). When Paul writes of our being transformed into “the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49) he seems to have in mind Ez. 1:28 LXX: “The appearance of the image of the glory of the Lord”. “The glory” in Ezekiel is personified-  it refers to a person, and I submit that person was a prophetic image of Jesus Christ. But Paul’s big point is that we each with unveiled face have beheld the Lord’s glory (2 Cor. 3:16- 4:6); just as he did on the Damascus road, and just as Ezekiel did. It follows, therefore, that not only is Paul our example, but our beholding of the Lord’s glory propels us on our personal commission in the Lord’s service, whatever it may be. 

Galatians was one of Paul’s earlier letters. In it, he speaks of his own baptism: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live” (Gal. 2:19-21). Years later he writes to the Romans about their baptisms, in exactly the same language: “All of us who have been baptized…our old self was crucified with him…the life he lives he lives to God” (Rom. 6:1-10). He clearly seeks to forge an identity between his readers and himself; their baptisms were [and are] as radical as his in their import. Note how in many of his letters, especially Galatians and Corinthians, he switches so easily between “you” and “we”, as if to drive home the fact that there was to be no perception of distance between him the writer and us the readers.  

The Lord spoke of Paul even before his conversion as "a chosen vessel unton me" (Acts 9:15). The words "chosen" ['elect'] and "vessel" recur frequently in Paul's reasoning in Romans 9-11, where he argues that we are chosen vessels, elected / chosen by grace. It's as if Paul is warning us not to see him as a special case, a piece of Divine artwork to be admired in passing; but as a very real example of how God is just as powerfully at work with us.

The way Paul begs us to follow him (e.g. " I beseech you, be as I am" , Gal. 4:12) indicates the degree of confidence he had in acceptance by his Lord, his certainty that his way to the Kingdom was valid (Surely he had been told this by some Divine revelation? ). Consider how Paul exhorts us to be "blameless" (Phil. 1:10; 1 Thess. 5:23)- and yet uses the same word, in the same letters, to describe how he was "blameless" (Phil. 3:6; 1 Thess. 2:10). He exhorts us to speak ‘freely’ in our preaching (2 Cor. 3:12), just as he himself “speak freely’ in his witness to Agrippa (Acts 26:26). There are a number of aspects of Paul's life which clearly demonstrate his spiritual growth; especially if the Acts and epistles are read chronologically. Paul wrote 2 Tim. 4 when news of his imminent death had just been broken to him (2 Tim. 4:6 Gk.). As Paul faced his death, there was a deep self-knowledge within him that he was ready, that he was " there" . As we face the imminent return of the Lord, it should be possible for us to have a similar sense: " I am now ready..." . If we don't know that we are " in the faith" and that " Christ is in you" , then we are " reprobates" (2 Cor. 13:5). All those who will be accepted must, therefore, will, therefore, have a measure of self-knowledge and appreciation of how far they've grown in Christ. Growth is a natural process, it's impossible to feel it happening. But by looking back on our lives and attitudes and comparing them with the experience of successful believers, it is possible to get some idea of our readiness for the judgment.

Notice how there was no distinction between Paul’s will (“When I could endure it no longer, I also sent….” 1 Thess. 3:5), and that of his fellow workers (“When we could endure it no longer…we sent.…” 1 Thess. 3:1–2). He assigned to his brethren his own feelings and decisions.  Indeed, Paul explains to the Thessalonians that he has consciously lived life before them in order to provide them with a template to copy; and their copying of that template in turn became a pattern to those within their circle of contact to emulate. In this we see the power of example, especially in the preaching of the Gospel: "You know what kind of men we were among you for your sake (i.e. Paul consciously lived as an example to them). And you became followers of us... so that you became examples to all in Macedonia... so that we do not need to say anything [because those who had copied Paul's example were effectively his voice to others]... for they [the converts of the Thessalonians, not Paul] themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you [i.e. the converts of the Thessalonians were a reflection of Paul's conversion of the Thessalonians]... you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judaea" (1 Thess. 1:6-9; 2:14). This last comment suggests that in imitating Paul, the Thessalonians were imitating the ecclesias in Judaea- perhaps indicating that it was those ecclesias who had initially influenced Paul and been his pattern, and now he was a pattern to the Thessalonians, and they in turn were a pattern to their converts in Macedonia.

Paul comments that he persecuted the Christian church "zealously" (Phil. 3:6). He was alluding to the way that Phinehas is described as 'zealous' for the way in which he murdered an apostate Jew together with a Gentile who was leading him to sin (Num. 25). Note that the Jews in Palestine had no power to give anyone the death sentence, as witnessed not only by the record of the trial of Jesus but Josephus too (Antiquities 20.202; BJ 2.117; 6.302). Paul was a criminal murderer; and he had justified it by saying that he was the 1st Century Phinehas. Ps. 106:30 had commented upon the murder performed by Phinehas, that his zeal "was accounted to him for righteousness". This sets the background for the converted Paul's huge emphasis upon the fact that faith in Jesus is what is "reckoned for righteousness", and it is in this way that God "justifies the unGodly" (Rom. 4:3-5; 5:6; Gal. 3:6). Paul is inviting us to see ourselves as him- passionately obsessed with going about our justification the wrong way, and having to come to the huge realization that righteousness is imputed to us by our faith in the work of Jesus.

The record of Paul’s dealings with Elymas appears to indicate that Paul was consciously seeking to bring forth a convert in his own image as it were. Paul struck Elymas with blindness, telling him: “Behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season”; and like Paul, Elymas sought someone to lead him by the hand. There are several points of contact with Paul’s being smitten with blindness at his conversion (Acts 13:11 cp. 9:8). Paul saw his conversion as a pattern for this man, indeed, for all of us.  It's recorded that Paul 'fulfilled his ministry' (Acts 12:25); and he can use the same two words in telling Archippus to ensure that he too fulfils his ministry (Col. 4:17). Surely Paul is setting himself up as a pattern, and inviting his brother to follow it.

As we've said, Paul is set up in the New Testament as our example of spiritual growth. What we want to do is analyse his letters chronologically and in harmony with the record in Acts, and discern how he grew spiritually. And remember, as we do so, that he really is framed as our example. His conversion and subsequent spiritual growth are recorded as they are because they are a pattern for every subsequent believer (1 Tim. 1:16)- not just for those involved in preaching and pastoral work. It's because of this, it seems to me, that we have so much information about the man Paul; we really are enabled to enter into his spirit and personality. His physical appearance is stressed (Gal. 4:13,14; 1 Cor. 2:3,4; 2 Cor. 10:10; 12:5,7,9; Phil. 3:21; and especially his hands: Acts 21:11; 27:19; 1 Cor. 4:12). We imagine him as having a dark complexion, seeing he was confused with an Egyptian (Acts 21:38). Time and again Paul brings before us the fact he really is our example; thus he begins his Roman epistle with a description of himself as Paul...called to be an apostle, separated..." , but soon goes on to point out that the Romans were " also the called of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1,6). He told those Ephesian elders, beset as they already were with the evident beginnings of apostasy: " These hands (showing them) have ministered unto my necessities...I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye (too) ought to support the weak (implying Paul worked at tent making not only for his own needs but in order to give support to the spiritually (?) weak), and to (also) remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:34,35). Paul seems to be unashamedly saying that those words of Jesus had motivated his own life of service, and he had shown the Ephesians, in his own life, how they ought to be lived out; and he placed himself before them as their pattern. The Lord Jesus recognized, years later, that the Ephesians had followed Paul's example of labouring motivated by Christ as he had requested them to; but they had done so without agape love (Rev. 2:3,4). Paul had held up his own example of hard work for Christ to the Corinthians too: " I laboured more abundantly than they all...therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye (also) ...always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:10,58). His advice to Timothy in 1 Tim. 3 as to what constituted good eldership was shot through with reference to his address to the Ephesian elders, where he outlined what manner of man he had been  (I am indebted to Geoff Henstock for pointing out these links): 

Blameless = “pure from the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26)

Husband of one wife = Paul?

Sober = “serving the Lord with all humility of mind” (:19)

Given to hospitality = his example was in that he was “ready to support the weak…it is more blessed to give than to receive” (:35) and his whole attitude to care for the Jerusalem poor was evidence enough.

Apt to teach = “I have taught you publickly, and from house to house…I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (:20.27)

Not covetous = “I have coveted no man’s silver” (:33)

One that ruleth his own house well =  Paul as the father of so many

Not a novice = Paul

A good report of them without = “These things cannot be spoke against” (19:36), and witness his appeals to a good conscience before both God and men  when on trial. 

Paul wrote to Timothy at Ephesus, and his language in 2 Timothy has many allusions to his own behaviour whilst at Ephesus. He spoke at Ephesus of how he had preached the word "at all seasons" (Acts 20:18)- and he tells Timothy to do likewise (2 Tim. 4:2); Paul had taught what was profitable to others (Acts 20:20); and this was to be Timothy's pattern (2 Tim. 3:16 RV). As he spoke to the Ephesians of the time of his departure, hard times to come and the need to use God's word to build us up (Acts 20:29,32), so he told Timothy (2 Tim. 4:3). Paul in writing to Timothy was consciously holding himself up as Timothy's example in the context of Ephesus. He tells Timothy to “endure hardness” and “endure afflictions” in the Gospel’s work, and then goes on to use the same Greek word to describe how he himself ‘suffered trouble’ in the same work (2 Tim. 2:3,9; 4:5). Having exhorted Timothy to be strengthened in the Lord, Paul speaks of how the Lord has strengthened him in his last court appearance (2 Tim. 2:1; 4:17).

Paul's autobiographical passage in Romans 7, where he describes his sinfulness and the results of it, is actually expressed in terms of Adam's fall in Eden. So many phrases which he uses are lifted out of the LXX of Genesis 3. The evident examples are: "I would never have known what it is to covet, if the Law had not said, You must not covet [cp. Eve coveting the fruit]... when the command came... sin [cp. the serpent] beguiled me... to kill me... sin resulted in death for me by making use of this good thing... who will rescue me now from the body of death?". Adam is presented to us as 'every man'; and so Paul applies this to himself, and yet through the allusion to 'every man' in Adam, he sets himself up also as our example.


When Paul speaks of redemption, he alludes to the practice of manumission, whereby a slave could be redeemed by his master and given the breathtaking gift of the much coveted Roman citizenship. Paul was a Roman citizen. But he invites all of us to see ourselves as a citizen of a Heavenly state (Phil. 3:20). We learn from Acts 22:26 that Paul was a Roman citizen from birth. The question therefore arises as to how they obtained citizenship. It would not have been through army service, because they were observant Jews (Phil. 3:5) and Jews didn’t serve in the army. “The most common origin of this status for Jews outside Palestine was the manumission of Jewish slaves by masters who were themselves Roman citizens. In this case the citizenship was acquired….after one or two generations” (1). So it seems Paul had been ‘redeemed’ by manumission. And yet he uses the very language of manumission about all who are redeemed and freed in Christ. 

Paul’s Openness

As he prepared to die for his Lord, Paul's openness increased yet more.  He tried to motivate Timothy to resist apostasy in the ecclesia by reminding Timothy of how well he knew Paul's example: " But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, patience" (2 Tim. 3:10). The sense of purpose and determination in Paul comes over so often (e.g. Acts 19:21). The constant energy of his mind comes over in the record (e.g. Acts 28:23), and also in his letters (note the urgency of " today" in Heb. 3:7,13,15; 4:7; 2 Cor. 6:2). It makes a good exercise to read through the record of Paul in Acts and highlight words like " reasoned" , " persuaded" , " convinced" , " purposed" , " disputing" (e.g. 18:4,5,11,19; 19:8,9,21). And he really is our example, not just a historical figure to be admired.  

The openness of Paul, his self-revelation of his innermost spirit, especially to his detractors at Corinth, is incredible. In such situations one tends to be cagey and reserved rather than open-hearted. But much of what we learn about Paul's innermost struggles comes from his letters to the Corinthians, who seemed ready to abuse his every word. He bluntly reminded them of his openness: " O ye Corinthians, our mouth is opened unto you, our heart is enlarged" (2 Cor. 6:11). And he asks them, as his very own children, to be that open with him: " Now for a recompense in the same (I speak as unto my children), be ye also enlarged" (2 Cor. 6:13). He can say that they surely know what “knowledge” he has, because he has been thoroughly manifested [Gk. phaneroo] to them in absolutely every way (2 Cor. 11:6 Gk.); there was nothing he knew which he hadn’t shared with them. He is so open with them that he doesn’t just write in a political, guarded way to them, watching every word- in that although they accused him of being indecisive (“yea and nay”), he can say “Though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent” (2 Cor. 7:8). His loving passion for them cannot be suppressed. And it was the congruity in Paul between his outward behaviour and inner belief that made him so real and credible to so many. Thus when he says that he rejoiced that he had confidence in Corinth in all things (2 Cor. 7:16), they knew that he could somehow mean this whilst at the same time be critical of them. Like the Lord, Paul’s transparency was what connected him with people. He says that he needs no letter of recommendation to them, because he is written on their hearts; “by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God…we are made manifest unto God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Cor. 3:3; 4:2; 5:11). There were those in Corinth who thought in terms of appearances rather than the heart; those who demanded letters of recommendation before accepting Paul (2 Cor. 5:12); but Paul’s response is that because he is transparent to God, it is inevitable that he is transparent before them his brethren. They knew in their hearts / consciences, no matter how they sought to deny it, that he was sincere. And this was why Paul could be so open with the critical Corinthians about his personal life. “Be ye also enlarged” invites us to be like him in this. To be asked to have the openness of Paul is a challenge indeed. Even in our Christian experience, those brethren and sisters who have the most influence on others are those who artlessly radiate their own spirit, whose struggle with sin, devotion and example is unconcealable and uncontrived. 

For Paul to be set before us so often as our pattern is fundamentally challenging. The inspired record and he himself set him up as our hero and model. It has often been said: “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man wholly committed to Him”. In Paul we see, after the Lord Jesus, just such a man. It has truly been commented: “Paul was such a man, and the world has witnessed the effect. He possessed a firmness of commitment to his Lord, a fervency of spirit, a compassion of heart, a breadth of outlook, a keenness of perception and a constant openness to the Spirit. Such an example of a Christian life and ministry stands as both a paradigm and an inspiration to us today” (2)


(1) Simon Legasse, ‘Paul’s pre-Christian career’ in Richard Bauckham, ed.,The Book Of Acts Vol. 4 (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995) p. 372.

(2) So Richard Longenecker concludes his extensive study of Paul in The Ministry And Message Of Paul (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971).