Born Saul to Jewish parents, yet he inherited a Roman citizenship. His home was not the land of Israel. He was single, but not a loner. He could make a long list of both men and women friends. We know he had a sister and that he was an uncle to a young man.
The Mediterranean landscapes familiar to him came from countries we still hear about: Israel, Syria, Turkey, Greece, Albania, Italy, perhaps Spain. God tuned Paul’s heart to a multi-cultural frequency. He could speak several languages; we find him at work in the city. That world was a mix of Greek, Roman and oriental culture. There was plenty wrong with it – – slavery, brutality, illicit sex, and pagan religion. Some criticize Paul for taking unnecessary risks, but he learned how to exploit the hard laws and the hard roads of the empire into which he’d been born.
He didn’t become a Christian until he was an adult. Jesus stopped him on a road near the great city of Damascus. The mystifying thing about this conversation was that Jesus had been killed on a cross years before, rose from the dead and had ascended to heaven. You may read Paul’s own account of this, a sort of court deposition in a one of the books of the Bible called Acts (chapter 26).
There are no photos of Paul. Paintings of him vary wildly: tall and spare, short and bandy-legged. As is often the case with interesting people, we get to know him best from thoughts he wrote down. Quotable:
“… in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents …” (2 Timothy 3)
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1).
“… he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3).
“… to the man … who trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4). “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6).
“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20)
“I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9).
Paul was a driven person. He had a painful awareness of his unbelieving past; he had an uneasy awareness of the sin that still lived in him. He understood himself to be a slave under a new master named Jesus Christ. He saw God’s work as making disciples, a “new Israel,” from all nations. He took this task seriously as he dedicated the later years of his life to that mission. This is why Paul is sometimes known as the greatest missionary the world has ever seen.
Paul would seek employment for a while stitching canvas for tents or sails, until his income permitted him his second career. He was an apostle, a “sent” witness, who’d seen the risen Lord with his own eyes. It’s sad to read that Paul’s traveling and teaching were cut off by his government. He’d actually gone down in defeat to a stronger power years previously, when a no-longer-dead King confronted him on the road outside Damascus. “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Ephesians 6:24).
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