I Corinthians 1:18 – “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
The Apostle Paul’s life falls in line with this verse he wrote to the Corinthians. For the first part of his life the preaching of the cross was foolishness to him. He could personally testify of this fact. But when he was saved, the preaching of the cross took on the power of God to him and in his life.
When discussing the Apostle Paul, one cannot over emphasize the impact he had on the growth and development of the early church. He was a critically needed Apostle and an incredibly influential one. His conversion provided an incredible testimony of the saving, life transforming power of Jesus Christ. His missionary journeys led to the establishment of churches throughout the Mediterranean world. He is known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles”. He helped widen the door to the Gentiles after Peter first opened it. He left a big imprint on the Holy Scriptures. He wrote 13 (14 if you count Hebrews) books of the New Testament. In the history of the early church that Luke wrote, “The Acts of the Apostles”, Luke devoted the majority of it to the ministry of Paul. Paul was a mighty man of God, mightily used of God, to do mighty things for God.
BIOGRAPHICAL OVERVIEW OF SAUL
Saul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia around 5 AD. (Acts 21:39, 22:3. 23:34) Tarsus was a Roman province in SE Asian Minor (modern day Turkey). Tarsus was a capital city known for its school of literature and philosophy which was said to rival the schools in Athens and Alexandria. It is said Paul most likely attended this school while living in Tarsus. (Acts 21:39 – But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus…)
Tarsus was a thriving business hub. It was a free city, and a city that enjoyed favor with Rome, so much so, that its residences were bestowed Roman citizenship. This explains why Paul could claim Roman citizenship and explains his comments in Acts 22:27-28 – “Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.”
Saul was of pure Jewish ancestry. (I Corinthians 11:22 – Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.) He was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1) He was born a son of a Pharisee.
Saul’s education. All the other Apostles were less educated than Paul. (Acts 4:13 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men…) – Saul/Paul was very well educated. His early educational opportunities were literally among the best, if not the best in the whole world at this time.
Saul’s vocation. He was also trained in tent making. He used this skill to help sustain him in his mission work. (Acts 18:3)
Saul’s religiousness. He was a strict Pharisee. (Philippians 3:5 – Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee)
Saul was a persecutor of the Church (Acts 26:9-11)
Conversion of Saul – Saul’s life and his name was forever changed as a result of an encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. (Acts 7:54- 8:3 & 9:1-6)
PAUL’S EARLY CHRISTIAN LIFE AND SERVICE
Paul’s conversion likely took place around 36 A.D. His first missionary journey began nine years later. What was he doing in this nine-year time period? Knowing Paul’s zeal for God, it was a time of preparation and active service locally for the Lord. If you want to serve the Lord full time with your life as a Pastor, Missionary or Evangelist you need to have a time of preparation and local service to get you ready for that calling. So too, Paul followed this path. He was called, today men are still called into God’s service, Paul prepared, today men still need to prepare for God’s service, Paul worked locally first, today men who are called by God need to be actively working in their local church first.
Immediately after his conversion Paul begins to preach. (Acts 9:17-20)
Paul did not stay in Damascus long after his conversion. (Galatians 1:15-17) Paul went to Arabia, a desert location southeast of Damascus. It is likely Paul stayed here the greater part of three years. (Galatians 1:17b-18a – but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years)
Paul’s first visit to Jerusalem. At first the Church is afraid to receive him. (Acts 9:26 – And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.)
Paul spends five years in Syria and Cilicia (39-43 A.D.) – He returned to Tarsus, the place of his birth, and began preaching in the surrounding regions. Barnabas arrives and Paul departs the area and heads to Antioch. (Acts 11:25-26a) During this year in Antioch Paul and Barnabas preach to many people.
Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem – Paul visited Jerusalem the second time to bring relief to them. Jerusalem had been experiencing a famine and was in need. (Acts 11:29)
PAUL’S FIRST MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Paul has been preparing and training for several years for what the Lord had planned for his life. Now he embarks on his first missionary journey with Barnabas. He would take the gospel to regions that had not even heard of it yet. (Romans 15:20-21 – Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation: But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.)
As the Elders and Prophets were fasting and ministering to the Lord the Holy Spirit told them to separate Barnabas and Saul for the work He was calling them to. The Elders and Prophets then prayed and laid hands on them and sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)
They first went to the Island of Cyprus and preached the word of God. They had John Mark with them at this time; he would go on to later write the Gospel of Mark. Paul started off going to the Synagogues first then he would reach out to the Gentiles.
Paul and Barnabas then went to the regions of Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia (46-47 A.D.) – While at Pisidia Paul accepts an invitation to speak at the local Synagogue. (Acts 13:14-16) – His message can be divided into the following points:
Paul and Barnabas then go to Iconium, where an attempt to stone them forces them to leave. They then go onto Lystra and Derbe where Paul heals a lame man and the local residents attempt to worship Paul and Barnabas. (Acts 14:8-18)
They return home from this first missionary trip and report back to the church at Antioch on how God had opened a door to the Gentiles and blessed their efforts. They set a precedent by doing this that is still carried out today by missionaries. Missionaries go out for a few years and come back to report of their work to the local churches that sent them out on how the Lord has blessed them and used their efforts. (Acts 14:27)
PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY JOURNEY
After some time in Antioch, Paul begins to wonder about the brethren he had won to Christ and ministered to on his first missionary journey. So Paul sets out to go on his second missionary journey. Just like his first missionary journey, his second one begins at the church in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas disagree on whether to take John Mark with this time. John Mark had left them part way through their last journey and Paul thought him unreliable. So Paul selects Silas to travel with him this time and Barnabas takes John Mark with him to Cyprus. (Acts 15:39-40)
Paul and Silas head to Derbe and Lystra again. Here Paul desired Timothy to go with them. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1-3a)
Paul and Silas were not permitted by the Holy Spirit to head toward Bithynia. (Acts 16:7 – After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.) – This should teach us to always be listening and willing to submit to the direction or nudging of the Holy Spirit in our life. Paul and Silas thought it best to go in one direction but the Holy Spirit was leading them in a different direction. They did not quench the Holy Spirits leading in their life. They were attentive to it; they were open to it and wanted to follow Him. (I Thessalonians 5:19 – Quench not the Spirit.)
We cannot cover all the events and circumstances that occurred on this second journey but we will look at what happened at the City of Philippi.
Paul also visited Thessalonica, Berea (where it is noted they searched the Scriptures daily), Athens (where Paul’s sermon on the “Unknown God” took place), and Corinth. Many were saved and baptized in Corinth. Many of the church of Corinth were saved out of deep sin. The ministry in Corinth teaches us that we should never write off anyone and consider them un-savable. God can do anything at any time. Keep praying for those who you think may be a lost cause. God can still save them out of their deep sin and He can do it up to their last breath. (I Corinthians 6:11 – And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.)
PAUL’S THIRD MISSIONARY JOURNEY
Paul’s third missionary journey, he first went to Galatia and Phrygia where he ministered “strengthening all the disciples” in those local churches.
Ephesus – Paul stayed the better part of three years in Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Paul’s efforts were greatly blessed during this time in Ephesus. (Acts 19 & 20)
Macedonia – Paul went on to preach throughout Macedonia. The Macedonians are known for their generous giving to help others even when they needed things themselves. (II Corinthians 8:1-2) – We need to model their selfless giving of themselves, the Macedonian Christians had, in our life too.
Corinth – Paul then goes on to visit Corinth. Corinth was a work that required much instruction, direction, attention and admonishing from the Apostle. Paul was hoping and praying for a good visit with them but not necessarily expecting the visit to go well. (I Corinthians 2:1-4) Paul was always looking to be “strengthening all the disciples” with instruction, seasoned with love. He would admonish sternly if that is what was required of the situation; but it grieved Him to do so because of the great love he had for the lost and those new in Christ.
Agabus prophesied of Paul’s impending imprisonment in Acts 21:10-11 – “And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”
Paul’s arrival into Jerusalem would of have been one of joyful anticipation because he wanted to be there for Pentecost. But it also would have been one of anxiousness because he knew what awaited him there. (Acts 20:22-23 – And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.)
Paul was arrested in the Temple. (Acts 21:27-31)
PAUL’S TRIALS AND IMPRISONMENTS
Paul defended himself in various trials; before the mob in Jerusalem (Acts 21:37-22:29) before the Sanhedrin (Acts 22:30-23:10) before Felix the governor in Caesarea (Acts 23:11-24:27) before Festus the governor in Caesarea (Acts 25:1-12) before King Herod Agrippa II in Caesarea (Acts 25:13-26:32) and eventually appealing all the way to Rome.
This phase of Paul’s life would prove to be a time of prophetic fulfillment. For Paul would have the opportunity to preach Jesus to two Roman Governors, a Jewish King, and the household of Caesar, the most powerful man on the planet at this time. (Acts 9:15 – But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel) – God can use a person surrendered to do His will in mighty, miraculous, and unexpected ways. We just need to be the willing vessel and let God work His will out in our life.
PAUL’S DEATH AND LASTING TESTIMONY
As the time of his death neared, Paul was expecting it. He was ready to be offered a sacrifice (II Timothy 4:3) Paul was not ashamed (II Timothy 1:12) Paul was confident (Philippians 1:21) Paul was sure of his reward (II Timothy 4:8)
Although imprisoned, forsaken by some, and knowing his death was near, Paul was still triumphant. Paul said from that dungeon cell, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” II Timothy 4:17-18. Paul also said these powerful words in the midst of dire and dreadful circumstances; his faith never wavered, his love never ran out, his confidence never faltered, “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” II Timothy 4:6-7.
Paul was beheaded in 67 or 68 A.D. Roman citizenship exempted him from torture and crucifixion. He was executed on a road just outside of Rome by a military escort.
Let’s close this out by reading Paul’s own words in II Corinthians 11:23-33 “Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.“