I love that painting by Kenneth Wyatt! Whether that is what the Apostle Paul looked like or not, it is a masterful depiction of what Paul might have looked like. This is definitely what it would have looked like as he wrote all the letters that we have come to cherish so dearly all around the world. Today, I would like to take a peek into what Paul’s frame of mind was while he was writing his letters that became the majority of the New Testament.
He knew the kind of man he was before he received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, and he was fully aware of the grace that had been poured out on him. Listen to this man’s heart as he writes about himself.
“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 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.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Paul felt as though he was the worst sinner that Jesus had saved! He was humble about his faith and he was so thankful for God’s love and mercy. He knew what he had come from and he knew where he was going and he gave all the glory to Jesus! Paul went by his Hebrew name Saul before he was a Christian. He persecuted Christians and killed them. He was there giving approval to the murderous mob who stoned Stephen to death (see Acts 7:54-8:1). However, God had a great plan for Saul!
In Acts 9 we read about his miraculous conversion while on the road to Damascus where he was traveling to persecute more Christians. Jesus appeared to him and it changes Saul’s life forever!
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, ” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Yeah, it’s amazing! That is why Paul was so hardcore for Jesus all the way until the end when the Romans chopped his head off! He had just murdered Stephen and he was on his way to imprisoning and killing more Christians, but Jesus stopped him, accepted him, and gave him a new mission! Paul was shown incredible grace and he knew it!
He starts using the name Paul in Acts chapter 13. It is commonly thought that Jesus gave him the name Paul, but we do not see that in the miracle on the road to Damascus. He was still called Saul from that time up until he started using his dual name Paul in chapter 13. Having dual names was common in Paul’s time.
“The custom of dual names was common in those days. Acts 13:9 describes the apostle as “Saul, who was also called Paul.” From that verse on, Saul is always referred to in Scripture as “Paul.””
“Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit…”
Here is a great explanation for the name change from GotQuestions.org:
“Paul was a Jew, born in the Roman city of Tarsus. He was proud of his Jewish heritage, as he describes in Philippians 3:5: “Circumcised on the eight day, of the race of Israel, or the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee.” So zealous and devout was he that persecuting Christians was the natural way for him to show his devotion. He chose to use his Hebrew name, Saul, until sometime after he began to believe in and preach Christ. After that time, as “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), he used his Roman name, Paul. It would make sense for Paul to use his Roman name as he traveled farther and farther into the Gentile world.”
In order to find out how Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, we need to go back to Acts chapter 9 and find out what happened to Saul after he saw Jesus on the road to Damascus.
“The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision,
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
So you see, Jesus Himself appointed Paul to be His “chosen instrument” to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. By the way, God bless brother Ananias! He had no idea he would be healing the man who was going to spread the Gospel around the world, start a lot of the churches, and write most of the New Testament! He was worried about Saul because he knew he had been killing Christians.
Here is how Ananias responded to what Jesus told him:
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.”
That is how Paul got saved and that is how his ministry and calling to be Jesus’ chosen instrument started! The Christians that he had come to persecute became his brothers and sisters in Christ! He was healed, filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized! He spent time with his new friends getting to know them, and then after being strengthened, he immediately started preaching about Jesus! Hallelujah! What an amazing testimony!
“All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.”
Paul’s letters are still proving that Jesus is the Christ to this very day! You might feel like you are the worst of sinners that Jesus has saved, but remember you are forgiven and free and you are a living testimony of the grace, love, mercy, and unlimited patience of Jesus Christ! He saved you because He has a great purpose for you! Push forward into that purpose immediately just like Paul did and never look back!
Grace and peace to you all!