Lessons from Paul Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Paul thought he was doing God’s will when he persecuted the church.
Title: Lessons from Paul
Text: “Declared to be the Son of God with power
...by the resurrection from the dead.”
Bible Reading: Romans 1:1–4, 4:24–25, and 8:11
The subject of today’s lesson is one of the most well-known people in human history. It’s been said that other than the life of Jesus no other life is worthy of study than that of Paul. His conversion to Christianity proved that the power of Christianity could overcome the strongest of prejudices. He would eventually write more books of the New Testament than anyone else; He would start lots of churches and (lead) many to faith in the Lord. The leading topic of Paul’s thinking and preaching was to explain, in an understandable way, why Jesus died.
Paul wrote 13 letters, or epistles, that clearly shows his focus on the plan of salvation. It was Jesus who revealed to him the lessons he taught and the sermons he preached. It was because Paul had such an obsession with Jesus that the message of Jesus Christ went forth through him to evangelize the world. Paul was a powerful preacher and he has many lessons to teach us through what he wrote in his letters to individuals and churches. His testimony before King Agrippa is a clear witness from one who knows what Jesus did for him. I will read our text to you, and as I do listen for the lessons that are there.
1 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” So Paul stretched out his hand and answered for himself:
2 “I think myself happy, King Agrippa, because today I shall answer for myself before you concerning all the things of which I am accused by the Jews,
3 especially because you are expert in all customs and questions which have to do with the Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.
4 “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know.
5 They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.
6 And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers.
7 To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope’s sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews.
8 Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?
9 “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.
11 And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
12 “While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests,
13 at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.
14 And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
15 So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.
17 I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you,
18 to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’
19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,
LESSON NO. 1: THERE IS MORE TO PLEASING GOD THAN BEING RELIGIOUS.
There are a lot of religious people around today, but many of them have never had a personal experience with Jesus. They are good people and they do good things, but they are not saved. Paul was like that. He was a very religious man. We (red) in our text that Paul said this about himself, “My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Paul’s conduct, as an enemy of Christ, was the result of his background. The Lord Jesus had never met an enemy more bitter and brutal than Saul of Tarsus. Paul was his Roman name, and Saul his Hebrew name. He had an ingrained hatred of Jesus Christ and the gospel. He believed that it was his duty to God to stamp out this new religion. Paul said, “…that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” The Pharisees, and there were only about 6,000 in all of Palestine, were well respected by the people.
• They insisted that everyone should be taught the Scriptures; nothing wrong with that.
• They tithed and gave. They had a lot of good points: and gave more; nothing wrong with that.
• They did their best to keep all the Laws of God, which according to them were 613 in all; nothing wrong with that.
• They knew the Old Testament well, and some like Paul were trained to be a rabbi; nothing wrong with that.
On the surface, the Pharisees appeared to be very good men and they did a lot of good things. Paul, according to his own testimony was a Pharisee in the strictest sense. In another place, he called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees. As such, he would not tolerate those who were part of this new faith, called Christianity. And he believed that he was doing God’s will when he dragged men and women out of their homes for being Christians, and sent them off to prison.
In the 3rd chapter of Philippians, Paul repeats his religious qualifications. This is what he wrote, “though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (4-6). In these verses, he says seven things about himself:
1. “Circumcised in the eighth day.” By this, Paul means to show that he had godly parents. They took him, when he was eight days old, to be circumcised. This shows that they brought their child up according to Mosaic Law.
2. “Of the stock of Israel.” Probably, many of the Pharisees were half-breeds, but Paul was not. He was from the stock of Israel.
3. “Of the tribe of Benjamin.” This is like saying that he belonged to the best family.
4. “An Hebrew of Hebrews.” This means he was a leader. He was in the highest echelon of the religious circle. He was up at the top.
5. “As touching the Law, a Pharisee.” The Pharisees represented the very best in Israel, and Paul was the best of all.
6. “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church.” Paul thought he was doing God’s will when he persecuted the church. The other Pharisees were content to run the Christians out of Jerusalem, but not Paul. He was determined to ferret them out all over the world.
7. “Touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless.” This means that he brought the proper sacrifice for his sin to make things right before God. Paul was sincere. As far as the Law was concerned, Paul was a super saint. Paul had what we call head knowledge. But the problem is that God wants you to make it a matter of the heart.
Paul’s religious experience, reminds me of the rich young ruler’s encounter with Jesus. His story is in the 19th chapter of Matthew.
That young man had a question for Jesus that revealed his problem. He wanted to know what to do to earn eternal life. Jesus’ emphasis was always on the attitude of the heart, not on deeds. Jesus showed the young man that he had failed, even in the areas in which he thought he had done well. His wealth was not his problem; his divided heart was. The vital message Jesus gave the man was not “Go, sell what you have,” but it was this “Come, follow Me.” This young man had a religion of the mind that never penetrated his heart. He walked away from Jesus, sad and defeated. Friends, it is the same today, it takes more than religion to please God.