God’s Message goes to All Nations

Unit 3

The Road To Damascus

Paul Becomes a Christian Acts 9:1-31

An EasyEnglish Study Unit (2800 word vocabulary) on the New Testament from Acts to Revelation

www.easyenglish.info

G. Barrie Wetherill and M. P. H. Stear

Words in boxes are from the Bible.

A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.

This commentary has yet to go through Advanced Theological Checking.

 

1. Introduction

Probably one of the most important events in the early church was when Paul became a Christian. When we first read about him, his name was Saul. Later, Saul’s name was Paul. He was *Jewish, and he was a Pharisee. Pharisees were *Jews who thought that they obeyed all of God’s commands. They thought that they were always right. They were very proud men. They did not like what Jesus said. But after Paul became a Christian, he did not think like a Pharisee. He became famous because he told people about Jesus.

Paul became a Christian not long after Jesus came back to life. However, it was many years later that he began to tell people about Jesus. We are now going to study three things. We describe Paul. We see how God spoke to him. We see how Paul changed completely.

2. Paul – His Early Life – The Man He Was

A *Roman citizen from birth

Paul was born in Tarsus in Cilicia. Cilicia is part of what is now Turkey. Most people in the *Roman *empire in those days were slaves. Paul’s family must have been important people. His father had somehow become a *Roman citizen. Perhaps he paid money for this, which would have been very expensive. As a result, Paul was born as a *Roman citizen. Not many people were born as *Roman citizens. Paul was very unusual. When men arrested Paul in Jerusalem, people talked about this. That shows us how important it was, to be a *Roman citizen.

Acts 22:24-28 The *Roman officer ordered soldiers to take Paul into their camp. He told the soldiers to beat him. The officer asked Paul questions. He asked Paul why the people shouted at Paul. The soldiers prepared to beat Paul. Paul said this to the officer: ‘Is it legal for you to beat a *Roman citizen? You have not proved that I am guilty.’

When the officer heard this, he told his captain. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a *Roman citizen.’ The captain went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a *Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am’, Paul answered. Then the captain said, ‘I had to pay a big price to be a citizen.’ ‘But I have been a citizen since birth’, Paul replied. Some people still wanted to ask him questions. But they left immediately. The officer himself was afraid. He knew that Paul was a *Roman citizen. He knew that he had put a *Roman citizen in chains.

Sometimes it was very useful to Paul, that he was a *Roman citizen.

NOTE: It is useful to study when Paul used his rights as a *Roman citizen. It is also useful to study when he did not use those rights. See the note about this at the end of this chapter.

A well known professor educated Paul in Jerusalem

Paul was born in Cilicia. He knew how the Greeks thought. He knew how the Greeks lived. He also knew how the Hebrews (*Jews) lived. Today, we know how important it is for *missionaries to know other people’s civilisation. When people prepare to be *missionaries, they often spend a lot of time learning about this. They have to live in different civilisations. They have to understand the Bible. They have to understand their own civilisation. These are two separate things.

Here we see how God prepared Paul. Paul was to speak about Jesus to people who were not *Jews. It was very useful that an important *Pharisee taught Paul. After Paul became a Christian, the *Pharisees were always his enemies. They did not like what Jesus said. Now they did not like what Paul said. God had made sure that Paul understood their opinions. This was very useful. In one of his speeches, after men had arrested him in Jerusalem, he said this:

Act 26:3 ‘I am a *Jew, and I was born in Tarsus of Cilicia. But I grew up in this city. Gamaliel taught me the *Jewish law. He trained me well. I was just as eager to please God as any of you are today.’

Paul grew up as a very strict *Pharisee

Clearly, Paul grew up as a strict *Pharisee. In his family, children would have learned to repeat large sections of the *Old Testament. His father would have taught him to keep all the ‘traditions of the *elders’.

[These traditions were a set of rules for daily living. The *Pharisees had to obey them. The *Pharisees wrote the rules, so that people could obey the Law. Jesus spoke out against these traditions.]

Acts 26:4-5 ‘The *Jews all know the way that I have lived ever since childhood. They have known me from the beginning of my life in my own country. They have known me in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time. They can say this, if they are willing. They can say that I lived completely as a *Pharisee. I obeyed every one of their laws.’

Paul’s knowledge about the *Old Testament was of great value to him when he was a *missionary. Before he became a Christian, he had a good knowledge about the *Old Testament. He respected it very much, but he did not completely understand it. Then he met Jesus, who was alive after death. The *Holy Spirit helped him to understand the *Old Testament. After that, he did not think that the *Old Testament was only a book of rules. He loved it.

Paul was loyal to his *Jewish religion

As a young man, Paul was loyal to religion. He obeyed many rules, which were part of his religion. Even in his youth, people thought that he was a great man. The following verses make this clear.

Galatians 1:14 I was learning more about the *Jewish religion than many other *Jews of my own age. I was extremely eager to obey the *Jewish traditions.

Philippians 3:4-10 Other people may think like this. They trust in the way that they live. I have more. My parents *circumcised me on the eighth day. I am one of the people of *Israel, of the family of Benjamin. I could not be more *Jewish. In regard to the law, I am a *Pharisee. I opposed the church eagerly. I obeyed all the laws of the *Jews, completely.

Paul here shows how proud he was. This is the kind of man that he was. Then he became a Christian. Pride is one of the worst *sins. Pride caused *Satan to go wrong. Paul was convinced that his *holy duties made him seem good to God. On the road to Damascus, he found out how wrong he was!

Paul was a very intelligent man

It is also clear from the Bible that Paul was a very intelligent man. Some people have said that Paul had one of the best minds of all time. But that does not mean that he was a good man. A person is not always nice because he is very intelligent! The Bible says that it is better to be wise than to be clever. Wisdom shows itself by what a person does with his intelligence. But *spiritual wisdom comes through the work of the *Holy Spirit. The *Holy Spirit shows us what God wants. Then he helps a person to understand what God wants. He helps that person to obey God. In chapter 5 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he contrasts not *foolishness and intelligence but *foolishness and wisdom. Wisdom means that you understand what God wants. Paul says, ‘Be very careful, then, how you live. Do not be foolish, but be wise. Take every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish. Understand what God’s will is’ (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Paul strongly opposed Christians

Paul had letters from the most powerful leaders of the *Jewish *faith. The letters gave him authority to search for Christians. He had authority to put them in prison. Fierce feelings filled him. The Bible says that he wanted to murder Christians. These are some of the things that Paul did:

Acts 22:3-4 I searched for Christians so that men could kill them. I arrested both men and women and threw them into prison.

Acts 22:20 Stephen died because he was a Christian. I was there when he died. I stood there. I approved of this. I guarded the clothes of those who killed him.

Acts 9:1, 2 Meanwhile, Saul was still planning to murder the *disciples of Jesus. He went to the most important priest and asked him for letters to the rulers of the *synagogues in Damascus. If he found any Christians there, whether men or women, he would take them to Jerusalem. There he would put them in prison.

Acts 26:10-11 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the most important priest, I put many Christians in prison. When men killed them, I voted against the Christians. Often I went from one *synagogue to another to punish them. I wanted them to speak against God. I was so eager that I even went to foreign cities to find them.

It seemed natural to Paul to behave like this. He showed fierce anger towards other people. It did not seem natural to have feelings of peace, love, and *forgiveness. He would do all that he could do. He would force people to give up this new religion. He would make them obey his *Jewish traditions.

Paul would try. He would force people to believe. He would make them do what he wanted. He wanted them to give up their Christian *faith. Men have tried this all down the ages, and they are still trying. It is one of God’s enemy’s most important methods. Long ago, King Nebuchadnezzar tried to do this. He wanted three young *Jewish men to kneel to an image. He could not make them do it. At last, he threw them into a big fire (see Daniel 3).

In many parts of the world today, it is a dangerous thing to be a Christian. Christians are dying for their beliefs. Paul was the sort of man who made plans for cruel punishment. His idea was to arrest all of the Christians. He would throw them in prison. People threw stones at them to kill them. They killed them in other ways too. Paul was very eager to do this. He was much more eager than other people in Jerusalem. He never thought about *forgiveness! One of the most frightening things about Paul at this time was his that he was so eager. He believed that he was obeying God. These ideas today are still just as frightening. How can a person like this change? He changes only when he meets Jesus. Then the *Holy Spirit comes to a person and causes a complete change.

3. How God Spoke to Paul

But all this time God was speaking to Paul. People were opposing and attacking Christians. The way that the Christians behaved impressed Paul very much. We know this about Paul. He saw how men killed Stephen. People threw stones at Stephen, and Paul agreed with this. Stephen was the first Christian who died because of his *faith. Luke writes about it like this.

Acts 7:55-60 But Stephen was full of the *Holy Spirit. And he looked up to heaven, where God is. He saw the beauty of heaven. He saw Jesus standing next to God. ‘Look’, he said, ‘I see heaven open. I see Jesus, who is the Son of Man. He is standing next to God.’ When Stephen said this, the people covered their ears. They shouted as loudly as they could. They all rushed at him and dragged him out of the city. They began to throw stones at him. Meanwhile, the witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, ‘*Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘*Lord, do not blame them for this.’ When he had said this, he died.

This must have made a great impression on Paul. Paul caused the deaths of many other Christians. He must have seen many other people die like this.

He had also heard people say that Jesus had come back to life. Many people said that this was what some of the *Old Testament writers had spoken about. Now it had come true. Luke tells us this. After Jesus had come back to life, he gave his *disciples a Bible study. He taught them that the *Old Testament referred to him, (Luke 24). They would have talked about this when they told the *Jews about Jesus. Later, this became an important part of what Paul said. He liked to prove from the *Old Testament that Jesus was the Christ. Paul must have heard this message. He was a very intelligent man. He must have had doubts, as he thought about various parts of the Bible. He must have understood that Christ made them true.

A second important fact is this. Paul’s religion was about actions and rules. The Christian *faith was different. The Christians said that they had a personal relationship with God because of Christ. They believed that they were part of God’s family. This relationship is rather like David’s relationship to God. We read about that in the *Old Testament book of Psalms. As an example, see Psalm 25.

Psalm 25:1-5 I belong to you completely, *LORD. I trust in you, my God. Do not put me to shame. Do not let my enemies beat me. No one who trusts you will ever be ashamed. Those who do wrong things without excuse will be ashamed. Show me your ways, *LORD, and teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me. You are God my *Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

Paul knew nothing about this sort of relationship with God, which this psalm and other psalms show us. His religion was one of actions and duties. He had pride and confidence in how he lived. The Christians whom he was opposing were very different.

We can be sure that all this made Paul even more fierce towards Christians. He tried to forget about his doubts. He made himself very busy. People still behave like this. They do not want to think about something, so they make themselves busy. Paul was in this state of mind when he went on a journey to Damascus…

4. Paul Before Damascus – A Man Without Christ

Before he became a Christian, Paul was a man without Christ. He shows us what such a man is like. Paul was very proud of himself. He clearly thought that he was a very important person. He had strong feelings, like anger and hate. He did not think about other people’s feelings. He did not even think about other people’s lives. He believed that he knew what was right. He would force people to agree with him.

The Bible is an honest book. It shows clearly what man without Christ is like. When our important beliefs are in danger, we can be fierce. Our civilisation is not as strong as we like to think!

For example, when many people of *Israel praised the young David to King Saul, Saul became jealous. He tried to kill David many times. But David had done nothing wrong.

Here is another example: People told King Herod the meaning of signs in the stars. They meant that there was a new king of the *Jews. Herod tried to kill Jesus. He also killed a large number of young boys and babies.

Here is another example: Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him. They sold him as a slave. Joseph had to spend years as a slave. He went to prison. Man without Christ can become angry and fierce when his most important beliefs are in danger!

We see this today, in homes and families. Such behaviour is hard to understand, but it is part of man’s nature. But Paul was yet to learn this.

5. What Paul Saw on the Road to Damascus

When a person becomes a Christian, it is as if he meets Christ. The woman in John chapter 4 met Christ, and Nicodemus met Christ (John 3). Paul wanted to find Christians in the city called Damascus. But, on the road to Damascus, Paul met Christ, who was alive again. Paul saw Christ in all his *glory. It was so bright that Paul was blind for three days afterwards. Suddenly, he realised what he had done. He had attacked Christ, who was the *Messiah. He had fought AGAINST God! Jesus had pointed straight at Paul’s wrong attitudes.

Acts 9:4, 5 He fell to the ground and heard a voice. It said to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you attack me?’ ‘Who are you, *Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are attacking’, he replied.

Paul felt great terror. He realised what he had been doing. All through his life, he realised this more and more. He had done a terrible thing. When he began to work for Jesus, he said this about himself. He said that he was the least of the *apostles. Later he said that he was the least of all the Christians.

1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the *apostles. I do not even deserve that you should call me an *apostle. I attacked the church of God.

Ephesians 3:8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, he blessed me. He sent me to tell the *Gentiles about the enormous riches of Christ.

A person must know that he has *sin. If he does not know this, he cannot become a true Christian. Without this, you cannot be like the Christians in the *New Testament. It does not matter what your experience has been. Paul knew that God forgave him. He forgave him because of what Jesus did for him on the *cross. Now he began to learn what *sin was. There is an important point here. Later in his life, Paul was even more conscious of his *wickedness, when he had attacked Christians. But he knew that God had *forgiven him, of course. He says in Romans,

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no blame for those who belong to Christ Jesus. Through Christ Jesus, the law of the *Spirit of life freed me from the law of *sin and death.

There was no blame – Paul was sure about that. He was free from God’s judgement because of the death of Christ. But all *sin makes us guilty. There are results. God, in Christ, forgives us, but we may have to live with the results of *sin. Certainly, because of what Paul did, there would be many families of Christians with people missing.

We must have this sense of *sin when we first become Christians. This is very important. God forgives the *sin because Jesus gave his blood for us. Jesus often pointed straight to *sin. When he began his work for God, this was his message. He told people that they must be sorry for their *sin. When he met the woman at the well, he spoke about her wicked life, (John 4:16). For Paul, as for all of us, the beginning of a new life with Christ was to realise his *sin.

6. Paul is Blind for Three Days

Think about the reason why God allowed Paul to be blind for three days. Ananias might have come immediately. But those three days gave Paul time to think. He had time to think more about how bad his *sin was. He also thought about how great God’s goodness was. Perhaps he asked why God had bothered with him – someone who had opposed God so much.

Paul would remember Stephen and other Christians. He had not wanted to remember them before this. Now he had the opportunity to think about them. In fact, he probably could think about nothing else. He probably remembered King David’s great song, in the Book of Psalms.

Psalm 51:1-4 Pardon me, God, because of your love that has no end. Because you care for me so much, take away my *sins. Take away all the *wickedness that is in me. Make my life new and good. Because I know every wrong thing that I have done. I think about my *sin all the time. Against you, you only, have I done wrong. I have done what you know is evil. What you say is right. You are always right when you *judge people.

At some time, Paul remembered what he had read in the *Old Testament. This would not be difficult for him. *Jewish boys learned large sections of the *Old Testament and could repeat them. Paul now understood that Jesus made God’s *prophecy come true. He made God’s wonderful plan of *salvation come true. This was something that he would develop later. He wrote about it in the letter to the Romans. Paul was also able to use the *Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the *Messiah. His words were extremely powerful. By the time that Ananias came, Paul was ready. Ananias *baptised him immediately. Paul had no doubts at all that Jesus was in fact Christ.

Acts 9:20-22 At once he began to teach in the *synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished. They said, ‘We thought that this was the man who caused such trouble in Jerusalem for all the Christians. We thought that he had come here to take them as prisoners to the priests.’ But Saul grew more and more powerful. He now said that Jesus is the Christ. So he confused the *Jews in Damascus.

Yes, Paul had learned that Jesus was in fact the Christ. He was able to prove it from the *Old Testament. We know that later he lived for a time in the land that was called ‘Arabia.’ There he thought more about God’s plan of *salvation. But he had learned something else now.

7. What Paul Learned

a. Religion Alone does not Satisfy a Person

The first error – The rules that men teach

Saul loved his religion. His religion caused him to behave as he did. He perfectly obeyed the many rules of his religion. But on that road to Damascus, he found that this behaviour was of no use. He had thought that these rules were what God wanted. That is why he obeyed them so carefully. But these rules were the rules of men. Some people said that they were from the *Old Testament. But they were not! Jesus spoke about this several times.

Matthew 15:1-9 Then some *Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They asked, "Why do your *disciples not obey the tradition of the *elders? They do not wash their hands before they eat!"

Jesus replied, "And why do you not obey the command of God? Why do you prefer tradition? For God said, ‘Give honour to your father and mother.’ He said, ‘You must kill the person who does not give honour to his father or mother.’ But you say that a man can say this: ‘I am going to give God the gift that I might have given to you.’ This man does not give honour to his father and mother. You do not obey the commands of God. You obey your tradition. You pretend to be good people, but you cheat. Isaiah was right when he spoke about you. He said ‘These people give honour to me by what they say. They do not honour me by what they do. Their *worship is of no use to me. Their rules are the rules of men.’ ”

This was the first error. Saul and his teachers taught what men said. They did not teach what God said. Of course, they told people that these commands were in the *Old Testament. But it was not true. They did not teach the real words of the Bible. They taught their own words and their own ideas. After that experience on the road to Damascus, Paul understood this clearly. He came to understand the true value and meaning of the *Old Testament. Later, he said this:

Galatians 1:15-17 God chose me from my birth and blessed me. Then it pleased him to show that his Son was in me. This was so that I might tell the *Gentiles about Jesus. I did not ask anyone for advice. I did not go to Jerusalem to see the first *apostles. I went immediately into the country of Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

God gave Paul a new gift of wisdom. He could now distinguish between man-made rules and what was really the command of God. Such wisdom is important in the church today for three reasons:

·           It can separate what comes from the Bible from what has become tradition for a particular church.

·           It can separate what comes from the Bible from what comes from our culture.

·           It can separate false teaching from true teaching.

Today people still make this same error. It is a favourite ‘holy’ way to think. People tell you that some great authority has dealt with all this. They say that all that you have to do is to believe and obey.

God told men to write the Bible for everyone. It is for each one of us. We each must read the Bible for our authority. And God promises that his *Holy Spirit will explain it to us. When Paul told people about Christ, again and again he told them to refer to the *Old Testament. In ‘Arabia’ Paul studied the *Old Testament!

The second error

The second error is to forget that true Christian belief is not rules and regulations, but a relationship to Christ.

People can obey *holy duties eagerly. They think that this is enough. Paul tells the Philippians this:

Philippians 3:4-10 Other people may be confident because of the way that they live. I can be more confident than anyone can. They *circumcised me when I was eight days old. I am from the nation of *Israel and the family of Benjamin. No one can be more *Jewish than that! In law, I am a *Pharisee. I attacked the church very eagerly. No one could blame me for anything at all.

But whatever was to my honour I now consider loss because of Christ. There is more. I consider that everything else is a loss. Only one thing matters. I must know Christ. He is my *Lord, and this is wonderful. For him I have lost all things. However, I consider that they are like rubbish. I have gained Christ. It is as if I live in him. The law does not give me a life that pleases God. I trust Christ for that. I want to know Christ more. He gave men power when he came alive again. I want to share in that. He suffered. I want to share that too. I want to be like him in his death.

Paul knew that he should no longer obey the rules eagerly. Now that he was a Christian, he needed a relationship to Christ.

b. What it Means, to be a *Disciple

When Paul was blind, in Damascus, the *Lord Jesus taught him to be a *disciple. He taught him that he would have to obey God. He would have to serve Jesus. In Acts 9, the *Lord told Ananias to go to Saul. The *Lord said, ‘I will show him how much he must suffer because of me’ (Acts 9:16). Very soon, Paul was in danger in Damascus, and then in Jerusalem. He had to escape quickly from both these places.

What God offers us is free. God offers to forgive us freely because Christ offered himself. He did this when he died. But it is not easy to be a Christian. Jesus himself emphasised this. See Luke 14:25-33; John 15:18-21. In this second passage Jesus talks about the *Holy Spirit. The *Holy Spirit helps us to follow Jesus.

8. Paul’s Prayer ‘What Shall I Do *Lord?’ Acts 22:10

a) Paul was humble

All true Christians are humble, and certainly, Paul became humble. Jesus said we must be humble.

Matthew 18:3 And he said: ‘I tell you the truth. You must change and become like little children. Otherwise you will never enter heaven.’

Paul shows us this truth. Paul thought that he was a great man. He obeyed the rules of his religion. He had been one of the best students at the university of his day. He had studied under one of the greatest men of his time – Gamaliel. Now Paul had letters from the *High Priest – now he had real authority. He was very proud. But suddenly he becomes humble. Here in this verse we see that he is like a child. This shows us that he is really sorry for his *sins.

b) He is no longer proud

When Paul became a Christian, it must have been very difficult for him. Everybody knew about it. They knew that he had attacked Christians. Now he was saying ‘I was wrong’ in public. That is difficult. Pride is one of the worst *sins. Now Paul was no longer proud.

c) He is like a soldier who has to wait for orders

Before this, Paul knew what he would do. He would not let anybody stop him! He would force these Christians to give up their new belief! Now he waits for Christ’s orders.

d) Notice where the orders are to come from

The orders are not to come from the church, not from Peter or John, or the other *apostles. They are to come from Christ himself.

Let us think again about what Jesus said in Matthew 18:3. Unless we ALL trust in Christ in this way, like a child, we cannot enter heaven. Perhaps you want to enter heaven. Then there is only one way – we must bend down before Jesus, as Paul did. We must thank him because he died for our *sin. We must say*Lord, what do you want ME to do?’

9. Paul Learned more about *Sin

As Paul learned more about the Christian *faith, he learned more about *sin. Read what he says in his letters:

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish and did not obey. Many desires and pleasures made us think wrongly. We were jealous of other people, and had nasty thoughts about them. We hated other people, and they hated us. But when we learned about the kindness and love of God our *Saviour, he *saved us. This was not because we had done anything that was good. He loved us and forgave us. He *saved us by the gift of a new kind of life. The *Holy Spirit came with this new life. God gave us the *Holy Spirit plentifully with Jesus Christ our *Saviour. His *grace to us means that we have no blame now. We are like children who will receive good things from our father. We receive the gift of a life with God that will never end.

Ephesians 2:1-9 As for you, it was as if you were dead because of your *sins. You lived a life of *sin when you lived like other people in this world. You obeyed the ruler of the *kingdom of the air. He controls all those people who do not obey God. We all used to live like that. We pleased only ourselves. We did what we wanted to do. We allowed our *sins to direct our thoughts and our actions. We deserved to die because of this. But because of his great love for us, God, who is very kind, gave us a life with Christ. He did this even although our *sins made us like dead people. It is his *grace that has *saved you. It is as if God raised us up with Christ, to heaven, where Christ is. He does this to show his *grace in all the days to come. He gives us a life with Jesus. His kindness to us is better than any riches Nothing is as good as this. His *grace has *saved you, because you believed in Jesus. But you did not do this by yourself. It is the gift of God. You cannot claim that you have done anything. It is not anything that you did. God has done it.

Romans 1:18-19 God shows us his anger from heaven, where he is. He is angry because men do not think about goodness, but are evil. Their evil behaviour means that they cannot know God’s truth. But they can know the basic truth, because God has made it plain to them.

In these passages, we read about how much Paul understood about *sin. He also shows us what God thinks about *sin. Paul wrote these passages some time after he became a Christian. But some knowledge of *sin is essential to *salvation. Paul began to understand that the law showed up our *sin.

Romans 7:7-12 Some people might think that we are saying that the law is sin. We are certainly not saying that! I would not have known what *sin was, except through the law. The law said ‘Do not desire other people’s possessions.’ That taught me what desire really is. Because of this command in the law, I began to desire. That was *sin in me. There is no *sin apart from the law. The law tells me what *sin is. *Sin does not exist apart from the law. Once I lived my life apart from the law. But when I learned about the commands of the law, *sin came to life. Then I died. The commands should have helped me to live. Instead, they brought me death. Because *sin cheated me. The command of the law should have helped me. Instead, it was as if it put me to death. The law is *holy. The commands in the law are *holy, right and good. But *sin uses them to spoil a life.

[Paul does not mean that the command of the law killed him. He does not write about the death that comes at the end of our life. God wants us to know him. If we do not know God, we do not have a complete life. Paul thinks that this is like death.]

Paul had tried to please God. He had tried to live by God’s law. But the law at last helped him to know about *sin. Then he knew that he needed a *Saviour. In the verses after this passage Paul writes about his *sin. He is very honest. *Sin is very powerful, but Christ is more powerful. He makes us free from the power of *sin.

10.  As Paul Obeyed, he had more Trust in God

a) God chose Paul for his work (Acts 9:15)

God chose him for a particular work. He wanted him to tell the good news about Jesus to the *Gentiles. God also prepared him for the task. God arranged that Paul’s family knew both the *Jewish and the Greek civilisations. He gave him one of the finest minds that ever existed. He gave him the *Holy Spirit. With his help and power, Paul could speak clearly about Jesus. He made Paul brave, because his enemies attacked him in a terrible way. God helped him to be brave, patient and joyful (Colossians 1:9-11). Notice here that God gave Paul a mixture of ‘natural’ and ‘*spiritual’ gifts. What Paul had to do was to obey. He always remembered that God had chosen him. That knowledge affected him very much. It gave him a reason for his work. He mentions it at the beginning of many of his letters. For example,

Galatians 1:15 ‘God chose me from my birth. He called me to work for him by his *grace. It pleased him to show his Son in me. He did this so that I might tell the *Gentiles about him. I did not discuss this with any man.’

Read also Romans 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:12; Acts 13:2.

In the same way, God chose all the *apostles for their work:

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you. I appointed you to go and work for me. The work that I asked you to do will be successful. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

God also chooses us. He gives us also what we need.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, royal priests, a *holy nation, a people who belong to God. You are to speak out. You must praise God. He has taken you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Corinthians 12:7 Now to each one God gives the *Holy Spirit for the good of everyone.

God has a purpose for each of us, to work out for his *glory. He chose Paul. Then he gave him what he needed. In the same way, he chooses each of us. He gives us what we need also. We just have to receive and to obey.

b) As Paul obeyed, he grew in strength and knowledge of the *Lord (Acts 9:22)

It is God’s way, and it will be his way with us. God wants to use us for his *glory here. We must obey as Paul did. If we obey, we will behave in a very different way. We must not look back. That was Paul’s experience. He explained it when he wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, ‘But one thing I do: I forget what is in the past. I aim toward what is ahead of me. I always go on toward the goal to win my prize. The prize is that God has called me to heaven with Christ Jesus.’

c) Jesus never promises that life will be easy

Even at this early time, Paul was soon in danger, (Acts 9:23, 29). But he soon learned that the *Lord would certainly be his *shepherd. Psalm 23 promises this. He had a wonderful thing to say at the end of his life:

2 Timothy 4:6-8 I am already offering myself as a gift to God. The time has come for me to go to him. I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race. I have been completely loyal. Now God is keeping for me the crown of *righteousness. The *Lord, the *righteous Judge, will give it to me on that day - and not only to me. He will also give it to all who have hoped for him to come.

11. Paul’s Experience can be our Experience

Like Paul, we can know what it means to be a Christian.

1) We need to be humble, and to give up all pride.

2) We need to know our *sin. Jesus dealt with it when he died.

3) We need to honour Jesus and say, ‘What do you want me to do, *Lord?’

God gave Paul all that he needed. He promises to do this for us. We might doubt that we can continue as Christians. But we do not need to doubt. We can trust God and his promises. He will help us. If God has spoken to us, we must not oppose him. Each time that we oppose him, it becomes harder to trust him.

Some of us know that we belong to Christ. We must think about whether we have asked Paul’s question. We know what God wants US to do. He has already told us! He wants us to spread the good news about Jesus round the world. He wants us to do this before he comes again. This is the work that Jesus left for the *apostles. They should spread the good news about Jesus round the world. That work has not ended yet. Paul and his companions did their part. Think about what God is asking you to do.

12. Paul Obeyed the Good News About Jesus

Paul became a Christian. Immediately he began to tell other people about Jesus. He did it in Damascus. There he had wanted to kill Christians. He did not want them to tell other people about Jesus any longer. But now he spoke with great power, and he was soon in danger. After some time, Paul went to Jerusalem, and he was soon in danger there too. After this, he went back to his home city of Tarsus, and remained there for about 10 years. We know nothing of his life there. But we can be sure that he continued to tell people about Jesus. He would tell them that Jesus was alive again.

NOTE: We can find out what sort of a man Paul was. In order to do this, we must look at 3 places in Acts. There we find out how Paul became a Christian. We can read about this also in Galatians 1 and 2, and elsewhere. These passages show us what kind of man Paul was: Acts 9:1-19a; Acts 22:3-21; 26:4-18; 7:58; Galatians chapters 1 and 2. See also Isaiah 6:1-6 for the effects of a *vision of God.

Extra Note: Paul’s *Roman *Citizenship and his Rights

Paul was a *Roman citizen by birth and a *Jew. He became an *apostle because he met Christ. Christ told him to go and tell other people. It is useful to know how and when Paul mentioned his rights. Many of us live in societies where people talk much about our rights. They talk less about our responsibilities. Paul did not always use his rights as a *Roman citizen or as an *apostle.

a) A more important *citizenship

Philippians 3:20 shows us how Paul thought about earthly and heavenly *citizenship together.

Philippians 3:20 But our *citizenship is in heaven, where God is. And we eagerly wait for a *Saviour from there, the *Lord Jesus Christ.

This is of particular importance because he is writing as a *Roman citizen to *Roman citizens in the *Roman military city called Philippi. They had the same rights as if they lived in Rome itself.

b) Heavenly *citizenship did not set Paul free from responsibilities as a *Roman citizen

E.g. Romans 13:1-7 shows us that Paul understands his responsibilities.

c) He did not claim his rights as a *Roman citizen only when he was in personal danger

He cared about the truth of the news about Jesus. He cared about the people in the new churches. If they were in danger, he talked about his rights, e.g. Acts 16:35-40. The men who had authority in the city of Philippi wanted to send Paul and Silas away secretly. Paul refused. He used his rights as a *Roman citizen to make them apologise. The early church would benefit from this. It might protect them from unjust actions from the authorities. It also gave him time to be with church members before he had to leave. Notice that Paul did not use his rights to prevent the punishment and prison. In Acts 22:24-29, Paul uses his right as a *Roman citizen to avoid an unjust punishment. But this helped him to speak about Jesus to more people in the days afterwards.

d) Paul was very proud to be a *Jew, but he respected other nations

He had a great desire for his own people to become Christians, (e.g. Romans chapters 9-11). His pride also shows when he speaks about their faults. He was prepared to say that they were wrong. He did this even if it hurt himself. He did not think that his country was always right. But he cared very much for his country. It is an important for us to notice this. It has lessons for Christians in many countries today.

e) As an *apostle, Paul was ready to give up his rights

He always referred to himself as a slave of Christ. The slave was the most humble person in any house. 1 Corinthians 9:1-18 shows us Paul’s attitude. The church in Corinth did not give him money when he was with them. They could have done this, but he did not ask for it. He did not want to seem selfish. He did not want to spoil the truth of the good news. When he spoke about his authority as an *apostle, it was not for himself. It was when the truth about Jesus was in danger. This was because people said wrong things about Paul.

There is much in Paul’s attitude here that is useful for Christian life today in any civilisation or country. It is especially useful where people are very proud of their nation. Those who are in Christian leadership will find it helpful to think about Paul’s attitude.

Word List

apostle ~ one of the 12 men whom Jesus chose to be his helpers. He chose them to teach people about him. Christians call Paul an apostle.

baptise ~ put a person in water, or put water on a person, to show that Christ has made him clean; a sign that a person has become a Christian.

circumcise ~ cut off the loose skin from the end of the sex part of a boy or man; an *Old Testament act that showed that the person agreed to keep God’s laws.

citizenship ~ the fact that a person belongs to a city, or to a nation.

cross ~ two pieces of wood fixed together. Jesus died on a cross, and so the cross is now the sign of the church.

disciple ~ a person who believes in Jesus and obeys him.

elders ~ church leaders, usually older, wiser.

empire ~ the land that an emperor rules over. An emperor is a kind of king.

faith ~ belief and confidence in something or someone; trust in God and in his Bible.

foolishness ~ to be foolish

forgive ~ to choose not to remember the bad things that someone has done.

forgiveness ~ when you choose not to remember the bad things that someone has done.

Gentiles ~ people who are not *Jews; people who do not know God.

glory ~ the power and greatness of God.

grace ~ a gift of God that we do not deserve and cannot earn; his help and protection.

High Priest ~ the most important priest in the *Jewish temple. The temple was the building where *Jews went to honour God.

holy ~ like God or to do with God; all good with no bad in it.

Holy Spirit ~ God’s Spirit; Jesus sent him to help people.

Israel ~ the *Jewish people.

Jew ~ a person from the same big family and country as Jesus.

Jewish ~ a word that describes a *Jew or anything to do with a *Jew.

judge ~ decide if person is good or bad.

kingdom ~ land that a king rules over.

Lord ~ another name for Jesus. It shows that he rules over everything.

Messiah ~ the name that God chose for Jesus Christ; he separates people from God’s anger and makes them right with God.

missionary ~ a person who goes to another country to tell other people about Jesus.

New Testament ~ the part of the Bible that tells us about the life of Jesus, and about the beginning of the church.

Old Testament ~ the part of the Bible that tells about the time before Jesus came.

Pharisee ~ a *Jew who thought that he had kept all of God’s commands. Pharisees did not like what Jesus said. They thought that they were always right and they became very proud.

prophecy ~ words that a prophet speaks, which tell people what God wants.

righteous ~ with no *sin, pleasing God.

righteousness ~ the state of having no *sin, and pleasing God.

Roman ~ belonging to the city of Rome, or to the lands that the Romans ruled.

saint ~ a holy person, who knows Jesus as *Lord; a name for a Christian.

salvation ~ when God saves us from the results of our wrong beliefs and actions.

Satan ~ another name for the evil one, the devil.

save ~ free a person from the results of wrong belief and action.

Saviour ~ Jesus, who brings us to God, and rescues us from wrong things in our lives.

shepherd ~ a person who looks after sheep.

sin ~ when people do not do what God wants; wrong things that we do or say.

spirit ~ part of a person; it is alive but we cannot see it.

spiritual ~ living but we cannot see it; belonging to the spirit, the part of a person which is alive, and which we cannot see.

synagogue ~ the place or building where *Jews meet together. They pray, they study the Old Testament (the first part of our Bible), and they attend other public meetings.

vision ~ a dream, sometimes a dream that comes to a person who is awake.

wickedness ~ all the very bad things that a person does.

worship ~ when people honour God; to pray and sing his praises.

Book List

Craig Keener ~ Bible Background *Commentary NT ~ IVP

B. M. Newman and E. A. Nida ~ A Translators Handbook on The Acts of The *Apostles ~ UBS

F. F. Bruce ~ The Book of The Acts ~ MMS

Donald Grey Barnhouse ~ Acts – An expositional commentary ~ Zondervan

In the Footsteps of Paul ~ CWR (Daily Bible Readings 1988)

I. Howard Marshall ~ Acts ~ Tyndale

Campbell Morgan ~ Acts of the *Apostles ~ Pickering and Inglis

Paul Barnett ~ ‘Bethlehem to Patmos’ ~ Biblical Classics Series ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-874-3

Werner Keller ~ ‘The Bible as History’ ~ Hodder and Stoughton

F. F. Bruce ~ ‘Israel and the Nations’ ~ Paternoster ~ ISBN 0-85364-762-3

Also: Personal notes and material from many other sources

 

© 1999-2003, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

July 2003

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