Summary: The Growth of the Apostle Paul.
Do you ever go sleep (I have always wondered where you go when yo go to sleep) thinking about a problem, or some other thought that you have been worrying like a puppy with a new chew toy?
Well last night I did just that, I was thinking as I went to sleep " Now how I do I translate into words what the Apostle was thinking at the start of his ministry to the average believer or the occasional passer by looking for the latest gossip. Now we all know that there are no average believers as Garrison Keiller says about lake Woebegon residents " Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."
So with that in mind I suppose that I should start at the beginning and all you advanced theologians can slip down to the kitchen and pour yourself a cup of Irish tea (or coffee) and run back up stairs just in time for the good stuff.
Paul brags that he was "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;" (Php 3:5 KJV) And if you remember you Hebrew history,.Benjamin was one of the two tribes which remained when the ten tribes revolted under Jeroboam, and, with the tribe of Judah, it ever afterward maintained its allegiance to God. The idea of Paul is, that he was not one of the revolted tribes, but that he had as high a claim to the honor of being a Jew as anyone could boast. The tribe of Benjamin, also, was located near the temple, and indeed it has been said that the temple was on the dividing line between that tribe and the tribe of Judah; and it might have been supposed that there was some advantage in securing salvation from having been born and reared so near where the holy rites of religion were celebrated. If there were any such derived from the proximity of the tribe to the temple, he could claim it; for, though his birth was in another place, yet he was a member of the tribe.
In this tribe stood the city of Jerusalem, and the temple of the Lord; this tribe retained the true worship of God with Judah, when the ten tribes revolted and worshipped the calves at Dan and Bethel, and returned with Judah from captivity, when the others did not. And the apostle was not only able to make himself appear to be of the stock Israel, but could name the tribe to which he belonged, which many of the Jews, that were of one, or rather of the ten tribes, were not able to do, and may be his chief reason for mentioning this circumstance.
An Hebrew of the Hebrews; not so called only because he could trace his pedigree from Abraham the Hebrew, or understood, and could speak the Hebrew language, which the Hellenistic Jews could not, or was an illustrious one among them, but because both his parents were Hebrews; he was an Hebrew by the father and mother's side both; he was a genuine Hebrew.
As touching the law, a Pharisee - "In my views of the law, and in my manner of observing it, I was of the straitest sect" Paul is saying here. The Pharisees were distinguished among the Jewish sects for their rigid adherence to the letter of the law, and had endeavored to guard it from the possibility of violation by throwing around it a vast body of traditions, which they considered to be equally binding with the written law. Paul here says that whatever advantage could be derived from the most rigid adherence to the letter of the law, was his.
So the picture that we have to begin with about Paul is that a strict no compromise Jew, no room for any change at all. So what happen to Paul to make him the Radical that we first see? And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Act 9:3-5 KJV)
Death walked upon the Damascus Road. Death breathing out itself¨Cdeath incarnate. Death threats, death wishes, death edicts, death indictments.
And death met life¨Cand death died! Saul, Saul, look upon me. Behold, life not death. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, resurrection-life not a shroud of grave cloths. Saul, Saul, look upon me! Behold, acquittal¨Cnot accursed. Saul, Saul, look upon me!