Summary: Throughout the ages God has used outstanding men and women to accomplish his purposes in the world. Today we are going to study one of those individuals, the apostle Paul.
A Man Called Paul
Throughout the ages God has used outstanding men and women to accomplish his purposes in the world. Today we are going to study one of those individuals, the apostle Paul. We will notice that God used Paul’s remarkable gifts and abilities for his own purposes. And we will consider what that means with respect to our own gifts and abilities. Let’s read Romans 1:1:
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God. (Romans 1:1)
When you and I write a letter, we generally use a format that includes the date, name and address of the recipient, salutation, greeting, main body, conclusion, and finally our signature.
In the first-century world, they also had a letter-writing format. Typically, it first included the name of the sender, then the name of the recipient. This was followed by a greeting, main body, and conclusion. Sometimes the greeting was inserted between the name of the sender and the name of the recipient. The “envelope” of the letter consisted of the name of the sender, the greeting, and the name of the recipient.
The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in the conventional first-century way: sender, greetings, recipient, main body, and conclusion.
The “envelope” of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the first seven verses of Romans 1, and is an integral part of his letter. What is interesting about Paul’s “envelope” is that it has theological content at every point.
But before we even get in to the “envelope” of Paul’s letter to the Romans, I want us to learn something about the author of the letter to the Romans, a man called Paul. Paul, the author of the letter to the Romans, was a remarkable man, and he was used by God in a remarkable way.
So, briefly, what do the Scriptures teach us about Paul?
I. Paul’s Background
First, notice Paul’s background.
Paul was a rigid, fanatical, nationalistic Jew. He hated the Lord Jesus Christ and everything connected with him, and regarded him as a blasphemer.
As a young man, Paul, then known as Saul, tried to destroy the Christian Church. In Jerusalem he went from house to house, dragged off men and women and put them in prison (Acts 2:3). Still “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” he obtained permission from the high priest to go to Damascus in order to exterminate the fledgling church there (Acts 9:1-2).
On the road to Damascus Paul encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:3-6), and he was converted to Christ. His life was totally transformed, and he became the mighty defender of the Christian faith and apostle to the Gentiles.
Now let’s take a closer look at this because we cannot but be impressed by the marvelous way in which God prepared this particular man for his particular task. What else do we know about Paul?
Paul was endowed with unusual and exceptional natural gifts and abilities. There is no question about that. It is something that comes out everywhere in all of his letters, and also in what we are told about him in the book of Acts. Paul was undoubtedly one of the great minds, not only of the Church, but also, of the world. This is something that is acknowledged even by non-Christians.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that towards the end of World War II a series of lectures was given in London on the “The Master Minds of the Ages.” It was a secular society that arranged the lectures, but in the list of master minds was the apostle Paul, because they had to admit that he was one of the master minds of the ages.
Paul’s great mind is something that comes out very clearly in everything he does. You cannot help noticing his tremendous reasoning power, his logic, his arguments, the way in which he marshals his evidence and facts, and then presents them. He was a most amazing man if you look at him from a natural stand-point and consider the incredible natural gifts and abilities which he had.
But in addition to that, notice his birth, his upbringing and his training. Notice how God was preparing Paul for the great task to which he had appointed him.
A. As a Jew
First and foremost, Paul was a Jew.
He has told us all about that—“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5), and so on.
Yes, but not only that; he was also trained as a Pharisee. Paul had the privilege of sitting at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest teacher among the Pharisees. And there, under that superior teaching, he himself became an expert on Jewish law, at least is it was taught and interpreted by the Pharisees (Philippians 3:5b). Paul tells us that he excelled above all others. He obviously came out as the top student in all his classes, earning the equivalent of two Ph.D. degrees. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, an expert in the Jewish understanding and interpretation of the law of God.