Summary: What an amazing man Paul was! He is still impacting the lives of millions today for Christ. After Saul saw Jesus, we can see Jesus in Saul (Paul).
There are three major characters whose names are used more than any others by far in the New Testament. Do you know who they are?
First, of course, is Jesus. His name occurs 1275 times, and the name Christ, 530 times.
The word “God” which is not a name, occurs 1253 times, Spirit, 338 occurrences which include every use of that word and can refer to any spirit, good or bad. Holy Spirit occurs 91 times.
There are two human characters besides Jesus, whose names dominate all others in the New Testament by over a hundred occurrences: One is Peter, who we studied last week (176 times, as Cephas – 4, as Simon – 33+), and the other is Paul (202 times, and as Saul – 32).
Saul of Tarsus in Silicia was born probably not long after Jesus was born. He was a young man when Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7:58. He was a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee, Acts 23:6. He was of the tribe of Benjamin. Saul also had the benefit of being a Roman citizen by birth. This was an ace in the hole that God blessed him with so that he was uniquely equipped for Mission work later in life. We don’t know much of anything about his parents, but he may have been from an affluent Jewish family and we know that he was extremely bright, because he trained at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the greatest Jewish teachers of the day. The Rabbis would not take many students, maybe a dozen, as we see in Jesus. Because they did much more than simply have classes and give assignments and handouts. Their students were called disciples, and the goal of the disciple was not merely to learn information from their teacher, they wanted to become like their teacher or master. Jesus once said, Luke 6:40 "A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Saul had the teacher that everyone thought was the very best. To say one had trained in the Law under Gamaliel would be sort of like claiming to be trained in mathematics under Einstein. Think about it. Perhaps Saul was in Jerusalem training under Gamaliel when Jesus came into the temple at age 12. It appears that Saul grew up in Jerusalem, even though he was born in Tarsus, about 500 miles from there.
Paul (Saul’s later name) is the only person in all the Bible to say these words: (are you ready?) “Imitate me.” Others may have said this too, we don’t know, but Paul wrote it to the Corinthians twice in the same letter.
1 Cor. 4: 16 I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me.
11:1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.
Like Jesus’ call to his disciples, “Follow me!” This is the call of a Rabbi for his students. "I exhort you therefore, be imitators of me." It is not stated in pride or arrogance at all, but actually in great humility. Paul wants everyone to be like him because he knows his own heart well. Paul gives himself to one thing, and this one thing could be called the central doctrine of Paul. It is the imitation of Jesus Christ. He says such things as this: “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” “When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” “And this is the mystery, Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Because he knew his commitment to be like Jesus Christ, he wanted to impart this same commitment to others. So he said it: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." For Paul nothing was more important than the formation of Christ in us. Nothing even came close. All else he considered rubbish. And he didn’t mince words about it either. To the Galatians he wrote: 4:19 My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…
He was sold out for Jesus Christ, 100% running full blast, 24/7/365, and he wanted everyone else to be that way too. But it wasn’t always that way. When we first meet this man, he is not called Paul but Saul, Saul of Tarsus. He’s probably 30 something then, and zealous as anything for the Law of Moses and Judaism. Saul appears in Acts at the end of chapter 7 in verse 58. What’s he doing here? Well, he’s holding some clothes. Why? So that those who own them can throw rocks better as they stone another young man to death. This young man is being killed because of his testimony about Jesus Christ. Saul undoubtedly heard Stephen say, “I see heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” As they stoned Stephen to death, Saul must have also heard him cry, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit!” and “Lord, do not hold this sin to their charge.” I wonder if those words ever haunted him? Late in his life Paul would say, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” He told the Corinthians, 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.