Paul [Pôul]—little. The great apostle to the Gentiles, whose original name was Saul, a grander title than that of Paul (Acts 13:9).
How impossible it is to sketch in a page or two the worth and work of the chief missionary of early Christianity! Whole volumes have been written on this expositor of a divine revelation, and the first and most prolific contributor to that marvel of literature, the New Testament. Dr. John Clifford suggests that the making of this remarkable man is revealed to us in six photographs, taken at different times, some by himself, others by the Evangelist Luke. They mark the successive stages of Paul’s growth and suggest the formative energies operative at the chief epoch of his career. (See Acts 7:58; 22:3; 26:4, 5; Rom. 7; Gal. 1:13, 15; Phil. 3:5, for these epochs).
Here is a brief summary of this energetic, commanding, masterful man, who is one of the great characters, not only in the Bible, but in all history.
I. He was a native of Tarsus, and his father was a Roman—a fact significant in Paul’s labors (Acts 21:39; 22:3, 25; 25:16).
II. He was a Pharisee Jew—a Pharisee by birth, son of Pharisees, and a Pharisee by belief, the hope and resurrection of the dead (Matt. 22:23; Acts 23:5, 6; Phil 3:5).
III. He was a freeborn citizen of Rome (Acts 22:25, 28).
IV. He had had a strict religious training. Circumcision admitted him to the covenant relation of his fathers (Phil. 3:5). As a Jewish boy, he would memorize Scripture (Deut. 6:4-9) and familiarize himself with Jewish history (Deut. 6:20-25).
V. He was a tent maker by trade (Acts 18:3). A Talmudic writer asks, “What is commanded of a father towards his son? To circumcise him, to teach him the law, to teach him a trade.” (See 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8).
VI. He had received a good education, finishing up under the great philosopher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). As Paul quotes from the Greek poets, he must have been well acquainted with Greek philosophy and literature. Paul, however, studied not only in Jerusalem but also in “The College of Experience.” Knowledge comes not only from books, but from the responsibility and experience of life (Phil. 4:11-13).
VII. He had been a persecutor of Christ and of Christians (Acts 8:1-4). Enthusiastically Paul endeavored to stamp out the Christian faith. There is no evidence, however, that he himself killed anyone.
VIII. He became a new creature in Christ Jesus. The persecutor became a believer (Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). Paul never tired of telling the story of his striking conversion on that Damascus road.
IX. He had ten years'training for his remarkable work. In Arabia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Syria and Cilicia, Paul spent much time in the study of Scripture and in prayer, knowing that God had called him to function as a witness and minister of the truth (Gal. 1:15-24).
X. He was a great missionary and church builder. Paul undertook three fruitful missionary journeys, the influence of which cannot be overestimated (Acts 13:1; 28:31). In all his travels, trials and triumphs, Paul was borne alone by the one incentive—“To do the will of Him that sent me” (John 6:38; Acts 21:13, 14).
XI. He was a heart-stirring preacher. Three of his sermons are preserved for us in Acts and serve as models for preachers of all time. Paul relied upon Scripture and appealed to historical facts and prophecy. Ponder his sermon to Jews at Antioch (Acts 13:16-41); his sermon to Gentiles at Athens (Acts 17:22-31).
XII. He was a most gifted writer. Of the twenty-seven books forming the New Testament, Paul was the author of fourteen of them, if we include Hebrews. How revealing are his valuable epistles! As Robert Speer puts it, “They show us his character with all its varied elements, his religious intensity, his originality, freshness and depth of thought, and his intellectual boldness and strength, while they reveal to us also his rich moral nature and his human heart enlarged by the grace of Christ.”
Paul’s bodily size and appearance may have been against him, judging from a second century apocryphal description of him: “He was a man little of stature, partly bald, with crooked legs, of vigorous physique, with eyes set close together and nose somewhat hooked.” What he was in his appearance mattered little. Paul lived only to win others to Christ and to make Him known. If legend be true, at the end of his honored life, his foes led him out to the Appian Way where they severed his noble head from his frail body, and he died triumphantly for the Lord he dearly loved. To him life was Christ, and death a gain.