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The purpose of this lesson is to look Paul's life and to note that God does not look for wise for charismatic in terms of this world's view but for men of varied personalities and weaknesses to empower with His Holy Spirit to convey the Gospel.
Saul, the educated, the murderer, the physically weak.
Little is known of Saul before his conversion. His father was a pharisee and so he followed his father. It was customary for all Jewish boys to learn a trade - Paul was a tentmaker. His family was an influential one. His father was a Roman citizen and so he also enjoyed that status. At the age of 13 he went to Jerusalem where he studied at the foot of Gamaliel a distinguished teacher of the law. It seemed that the course of Saul's life was set - that of being a influential teacher of the law. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel, a pharisee and respected doctor of the law. It was Hillel who made several important contributions to the interpretation of the law as found later in the Talmud. All this to say that Saul had a great future in his Jewish nation.
Saul's course dramatically changed by the power of the Gospel.
|I am obligated both to Greeks and non_Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.  That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Romans 1:14 - 16.|
This happened to Saul. Saul was converted by the power of the Gospel. Some suggest that Saul was sovereignly saved by the Lord Jesus so that he could be the apostle to the gentiles. We do not know what went on in the heart of Saul before his conversion - we do know that in this case the Gospel was preached to Saul by none other than Jesus, Himself. History is filled with accounts of men who were diametrically opposed to the Gospel right up to the moment of conversion - why should we change the mode of conversion with Saul?
It was during Saul's personal ascent to influence that he came in contact with a group of Jews who had recently become involved with the newly established church. His first real contact was during the killing of Stephen, a prominent member of this church. Our passage in Romans gives powerful testimony of the ability of the Gospel of Christ to completely change a life from sin to a life of glorifying the Lord.
He met the Lord on the way to Damascus where he was determined to root out these believers in Jesus Christ - even to the point of having them executed. But he was stopped in his intent to harm the church by the Lord Himself. Read Acts 9:1-22. Saul was saved and was to become a very powerful messenger of the Lord by carrying the Gospel to the gentiles. Class read the following:
|Acts 13:43_48 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews
and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged
them to continue in the grace of God.  On the next Sabbath almost the whole
city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.  When the Jews saw the crowds, they
were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.  Then
Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you
first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now
turn to the Gentiles.  For this is what the Lord has commanded us: " 'I
have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the
earth.'"  When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the
word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.
Acts 28:28 "Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!" (NIV).
Saul's (Paul, his Roman name) weakness.
Some might say that one of Paul's weaknesses was that he was a very stubborn and strong-minded man (see Acts 16:36 - 41). It may just be that Paul was such a man but God took this energy and determination and used it for His glory in the widespread dissemination of the Gospel. Once Paul set his mind to do a thing only the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit could stop him ( see Acts 16:16).
One of Paul's weaknesses was a physical ailment. Class read 2 Cor. 12:7 - 10.
|2 Cor. 12:7 - 10. To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.|
This medical problem was apparently debilitating - some Bible students point out that this may have seemed distracting in Paul's preaching of the Gospel, except for his reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. Please note again 2 Cor. 12:10 - 11.
Why was Paul such a powerful instrument in the hands of God? Of course, he was chosen by the Lord to bring the Gospel to the gentiles:
|Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.|
It seems that every time he tried to preach to the Jews, he was frustrated. But when he turned to the gentiles the results were mostly predictable:
|Acts 13:48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.|
Can we list the factors that made Paul such a powerful instrument in the hands of God?
Paul's weakness was an opportunity for him to rely on the grace of God in empowering him for effective service.
In Paul's case he had the talent - he had the training for rational debate. He could have relied on his innate talents and skills that he had developed at Gamaliel's school (college). But he utterly rejected that. Listen to his commitment to the power of the preaching of the Cross and the Holy Spirit. Class read around 1 Cor. 2:1 - 10. Listen to his attitude towards his formal training at Gamaliel's school. Class read Phil 3:4 - 10. This became the "benchmark" for effective Christian service in the early church - it remains that same standard today. The benchmark for effective Christian Service in my view is three-fold.
Some final thoughts.
1. Acts 23:6.
2. Acts 18:3.
3. Acts 22:25-28.
4. Acts 7:58, 59.
5. 1 Cor. 1:17 - 19: For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel__not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
6. Matthew 28:19_20: Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
7. I have to be careful here. In today's litigious society professional training is necessary to avoid lawsuits for certain counseling efforts by the pastoral staff and thus could reduce the effectiveness of the local church. There is nothing to prohibit the "farming out" of a promising man to the right educational institution for this training if it does not exist within the local church. The church is still accountable as noted in the next bullet.
8. 2 Tim. 2:2: And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.