Paul's Preparation

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;” (Galatians 1:15–16, ESV)

Jesus Christ saves all who come to him — but he does not visit us all in the big splashy way that he visited Saul on the road to Damascus. Those of us who have seen the Savior as our own Savior are no less children of God than was Saul, but Saul’s salvation moment was, shall we say… unique. Saul learned the biggest lesson first — that Jesus Christ was Lord! Thereafter, everywhere he went and everything he did was under the direction of God. Saul carried a burden which you and I do not carry, however. While spearheading the advance of the Gospel into the Gentile nations (which was more than a full-time job in itself), God used him to lock down some heavy revelation into written form, and a good portion of our New Testament is the result. Since Paul’s primary foci, the souls of people and the word of God, are two entities that will live on in eternity, these ministries were no small matter. So, God tended to Saul as he did to many other champions of the faith. He renamed him. Saul became Paul. And he sent his Spirit to guide him forever.

Paul told the Galatians that he was separated for service in four distinct steps. He was set aside at birth, called by the grace of God, received the revelation of Jesus Christ and began the work of preaching. Please note that Paul did not seek the input of men, but he instead began his work right away. He didn’t even report to the leaders in Jerusalem for three years. Even after he did report in, it was another fourteen years before he came back again. Paul’s call-to-arms was between God and him, so he conferred not with flesh and blood. What would that have added to Paul, anyway?

Paul did have human input, of course. Before his conversion, he was trained as a Pharisee, and proof that he was a good student lies in his own admissions about his former sins. Paul said that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees, a zealot, and a persecutor of Jesus Christ — one who persecuted members of the Way. Additionally, he was in agreement (if not in authority) with the stoning of Stephen, and he often secured warrants to chase down Christians and bring them to the rulers of the Jews for persecution. These things he did with a particular zeal, so much so that he was known and admired among his contemporaries. But behind this zeal lay a man who learned his lessons. He knew the Scripture, he knew the Jewish traditions, and he could argue and champion pharisaical positions on doctrine and on life. Who knew that God would use all these things for the furtherance of the Gospel? Who knew that God would use this declared enemy of Jesus Christ to teach and preach about him as no man has ever done! God knew, of course.

God knew Paul at the stoning of Stephen. God knew him at the wailing of widows, and God knew him at the persecution of Jesus Christ. And in his wisdom, God allowed Paul to accumulate many regrettable experiences — and they remained an emotional burden to him throughout his life. If Paul ever felt himself being lifted up, all he would have to do is remember the family hardships that he caused, and then slink back into reality. He was, after all, just a man, a sinner saved by grace. And if he ever found himself without Jesus Christ, he was a man most miserable (1 Corinthians 15:19). Jesus became his portion, his consolation — his whole life!

God knows, better than we know, how to prepare a worker. He seeks supple clay, not great credentials. In fact, Paul forsook his credentials to become God’s man. Like many of the other Pharisees that Jesus talked to, Paul was earnest. But unlike them, he had not hardened in his traditions, and that’s the defining difference. Tradition has its place, but a love of it can harden the heart and deafen the ears, whereas a true love for God manifests itself in malleability (Isaiah 64:8). Paul proved that.

From a Christian perspective, your life up until this moment has been your training ground for future service. Has yours been unconventional in any way? Has it been a way of cruelty? A way of sorrow? A way strewn with regrets? Do you feel the eyes of critical people burning through your back? None of that matters, because it is your way and not anyone else’s. Do what Paul did. Let the Sculptor work… and do not look around as much as up.

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