Paul loved God and hated Christians. Actually, he loved the law propagated by the religious leaders at the time. Paul was a prominent Jew with a reputable heritage and respectable standing. And this rebel Jesus, with his eccentric followers, threatened to upend his tidy Jewish community. Those who followed Christ were a direct threat.
Paul studied under a famous Rabbi, lived in a thriving metropolis and enjoyed the benefits of both his Jewish heritage and Roman citizenship. Variance from God’s law was non-negotiable for him. While a tentmaker by profession, Paul made it his life’s pursuit to disrupt the heretics claiming Jesus was the Messiah. He hunted down, harrassed, and was instrumental in the deaths of followers of The Way. And, in God’s upside down economy, he was the perfect person to spread the Good News.
We don’t know if Paul encountered Jesus before his crucifixion. But Jesus definitely got Paul’s attention after his resurrection as Paul traveled to Damascus. Ironically Paul (still called Saul) was on his way with a letter from the high priest giving him authority to arrest followers of Jesus. Suddenly a bright light appeared and a voice called “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Jesus told Paul to go into town and await instructions. Then Paul was struck blind. Lack of sight often has symbolic implications in the Bible. Look at what Jesus told the Pharisees during his ministry:
. . . I entered this world to render judgment—to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind. -John 9:39 NLT
Paul, who thought he had it all figured out, was in fact blind to Jesus: The Way, the Truth and the Life. So he became physically blind for three days. On the third day, “something like scales” fell from Paul’s eyes. He had been blind spiritually, then physically. But God gave him sight both with his eyes and his heart. He was baptized immediately. Then Paul followed Jesus and never looked back.
1.) Paul Gave Up Everything
Imagine you had a comfy house in the suburbs. You drove a sensible but expensive car. You went to potlucks with well-known pastors. You led a committee to eliminate the local riff raff. Then suddenly, in a vision, you are told to sell it all and go around the world telling the riff raff about Jesus. Could you do it? Would you need a few days to think about it? Granted, if I was blind for three days, I might give the proposition more thought. But give up not just comfort, but reputation and even safety? Maybe. But it’s a tall order.
So what made Paul leave his life of luxury to become that which he had previously hated? In a nutshell God opened Paul’s eyes to the love of Jesus. Paul had an accurate picture of his past and God’s grace, acceptance and extravagant love shown through the King of Kings. This gave Paul the courage and joy to give up everything:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Timothy 1:12-16 NLT
I’ll follow a good leader. Maybe even sacrifice some of my comfort. There’s no one on earth I would trust with my soul. But then there’s no other leader with the ability to forgive my sins and offer abundant life (this side of heaven) and eternal life (on the other side) besides Jesus. Paul turned over his life to follow Jesus and even found a way to be “content” in even the worst circumstances. He learned to do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Phil 4:12).
2.) Paul Spoke Out Boldly
Sometimes it’s hard not to make excuses for what we don’t understand about God. Or just stay silent in mixed company. Paul doesn’t waste any time and marches straight to his old stomping grounds:
Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (Acts 9:22)
His old comrades hated him and wanted him dead. Christians were terrified of him. Remember, he used to drag them out of their houses and throw them in jail for claiming Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. They must have thought they were being tricked. How hard it must have been for Paul to recant the beliefs he had once been so zealous for. But God paved the way and Paul never hesitated. Barnabas vouched for Paul. The believers gave him a chance to speak. And a 32-year missionary journey began.
Relaying a message from our leaders comes with risks. Your boss wants you to teach a seminar on company policy. But do you buy into it yourself? Your pastor asks you to lead a class or small group. Do you agree with the views? It’s hard to communicate a message when we aren’t sold out. Paul was without question sold out for Jesus. And he wanted everyone to know.
3.) Paul Discipled Others
Not only did Paul become a follower of Jesus, he urged others to as well. And then discipled them in their journey of faith. He didn’t mince words, make excuses or miss opportunities. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always go to bat for God. But Paul makes it simple:
The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT
Paul preached love above all. It’s not that he didn’t instruct the early church in their conduct. To be sure he had some scalding statements for those who were weren’t following what Jesus taught. In fact he scolded the Ephesians for engaging in endless and fruitless discussions (I Tim 1:4). But at the end of the day Paul chose love, because that is what Jesus taught. So many have missed, or lost this message of love. Certainly we see love lost in our societies. But love is lost in the church as well. Listen to how Paul describes love:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NLT
How many noisy gongs do we have in our churches? How often to we trade the true, life-changing message of love for a critique of another’s behaviour? Imagine how much easier it would be to talk to others about following Jesus if our message was rooted in love. Nevermind doctrine, repentance or sin. We follow Jesus because he loved us first. Even when we were still sinners! (Romans 5:10). If we really knew how much Jesus loves us (it’s truly incomprehensible) we would follow Him without question even to death. We would trust even what we don’t understand.
After the scales fell from Paul’s eyes he saw for the first time. He knew who he would unquestioningly follow, and eventually was put to death for his unwavering followership of Jesus. If we make the same commitment, ccept the boundless love of the saviour and “sell it all” to follow him, we might find it easier to follow others. They won’t be asworthy, but they are certainly appointed. Don’t worry so much about who you are: Follower or leader. Focus on whose you are. In Jesus you are highly valued, have infinite worth and are unconditionally loved. Wherever you find yourself, know that He has paved your way. Follow Jesus and just see where he leads.