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
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
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
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).