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THE APOSTLE PAUL: (ACTS 9:1-4)



9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 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. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

PAUL WAS LEADING PERSECUTOR OF THE EARLY CHRISTIANS WHO LATER BECAME AN APOSTLE OF JESUS CHRIST, THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS OF THE EARLY CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES, AND GREAT APOSTLE TO THE GENTILES. HE HA SDONE MORE TO SHAPE CHRISTIANITY THAN ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL EXCEPT CHRIST HIMSELF. WE KNOW ABOUT HIM FROM LUKE'S ACCOUNT OF HIS CONVERSION AND MINISTRY IN ACTS AND FROM THE THIRTEEN LETTERS BEARING HIS NAME IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

PAUL WAS BORN IN TARSUS TO JEWISH PARENTS WHO WERE ROMAN CITIZENS (THROUGH WHICH HE HIMSELF ACQUIRED ROMAN CITIZENSHIP) AND GREW UP IN THE TRADITIONAL JEWISH HOME. A TENTMAKER (OR LEATHERWORKER) BY TRADE, HE WAS EDUCATED AS PHARISEE BY THE WELL KNOWN RABBI GAMALIEL IN JERUSALEM. HE BECAME ACTIVE IN THE VIOLENT PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS AS A YOUNG MAN. BUT THROUGH A LIFE CHANGING, PERSONAL REVELATION OF THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS, HE RADICALLY CONVERTED. HE THEN DEDICATED REST OF HIS LIFE TO PROCLAIMING JESUS AS SAVIOR AND LORD THROUGHOUT THE MEDITERRANEAN WORLD (GAL 1:11-16). HIS DEDICATION AND HARD WORK, ESPECIALLY AMONG GENTILES (TO WHOM HE WAS SPECIFICALLY CALLED), RESULTED IN THE FOUNDING OF SCORES OF CHURCHES DURING THE FIRST CENTURY. MOST OF HIS LETTERS WERE WRITTEN TO THESE CHURCHES.

PAUL'S BELIEF IN JESUS AS THE JEWISH MESSIAH SET HIM APART FROM HIS JEWISH CONTEMPORARIES. HIS VISION OF JESUS BROUGHT HIM TO THE REALIZATION THAT JESUS' DEATH AND RESURRECTION BRING RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LIFE TRANSFORMING POWER TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN HIM. PAUL NO LONGER UNDERSTOOD RIGHTEOUSNESS IN TERMS OF THE CAREFUL OBSERVANCE OF THE LAW OF THE MOSES, BUT AS A GIFT FROM GOD TO THOSE WHO PUT THEIR TRUST IN CHRIST, THE SAVIOR WHO DIED FOR THEIR SINS (ROM 4:1-8), AND HE WAS CONVINCED THAT THE GIFT IS FOR GENTILES AS WELL AS JEWS (ROM 3:21-26).

PAUL'S THIRTEEN LETTERS DEAL WITH A WIDE RANGE OF ISSUES, SUCH AS SALVATION AND WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE ABOUT CHRIST (ROMANS, GALATIANS, EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS), SPECIFIC PROBLEMS IN THE CHURCH (1 CORINTHIANS), THE NATURE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE AND COMMUNITY (EPHESIANS, COLOSSIANS), AND QUESTIONS ABOUT PAUL'S OWN AUTHORITY AS AN APOSTLE (GALATIANS, 2 CORINTHIANS). SOME OF HIS LETTERS ARE INTENDED TO ENCOURAGE YOUNG BELIEVERS WHO ARE SUFFERING FOR THEIR FAITH (PHILIPIANS, 1 THESSALONIANS) OR TO CORRECT FALSE TEACHING (GALATIANS, COLOSSIANS, 2 THESSALONIANS). STILL OTHERS ARE WRITTEN TO INDIVIDUALS, GIVING SPECIFIC ADVICE RELATED TO THEIR LIFE AND MINISTRY (1-2 TIMOTHY, TITUS, and PHILEMON). TOGETHER, THESE THIRTEEN LETTERS REVEAL MUCH ABOUT THE LIFE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIANS AND THE PROBLEMS THEY FACED, AND ABOUT PAUL'S OWN GRACE - CENTERED UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH AND LIFE.

TO BE CONTINUED...............

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