In the steps of Paul
For many years, I’ve been fascinated by the travels of Paul and I dream of visiting some of the cities and places he visited. So, when Annette and I were looking for a new theme, the idea of looking at the life and travels of Paul took root in our minds. As we discussed the idea, a project began to emerge but now we are beginning to wonder if we have perhaps taken on too much!
Paul is such an important person in the early history of Christianity and he provides us with much of the New Testament. His ministry spanned a period of 35 years and he wrote 14 letters, undertook at least 5 missionary journeys and trained both Timothy and John Mark (the author of the second Gospel). He spent 5 years in prison and he is believed to have died when he was around 65 years old.
In this post we will look at the early life of Paul and his family background and in subsequent posts we will look at each of his journeys including the work he completed on the journey and the lessons we can learn.
So, Paul was born in Tarsus, a Roman city in modern Turkey around the time Jesus was born. Paul was born into a Jewish family but he was also raised as a Roman citizen, a valuable privilege. He was named Saul, a Hebrew name and he was probably also given the gentile name of Paul at birth. His father was a Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin and so Paul was of pure, unmixed blood.
For I went through the Jewish initiation ceremony when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish home that was a branch of the old original Benjamin family. So I was a real Jew if there ever was one! What’s more, I was a member of the Pharisees who demand the strictest obedience to every Jewish law and custom. (Philippians 3:5 TLB)
It was in Tarsus that Saul learned to make tents before, at around 13 years of age, he was sent to Jerusalem to study under the great Rabbi Gamaliel.
“I am a Jew,” he said, “born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, but educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, at whose feet I learned to follow our Jewish laws and customs very carefully. I became very anxious to honour God in everything I did, just as you have tried to do today. (Acts 22:3 TLB)
Saul was in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and was a prominent member of the Jewish community which persecuted the followers of Jesus.
And I persecuted the Christians, hounding them to death, binding and delivering both men and women to prison. The High Priest or any member of the Council can testify that this is so. For I asked them for letters to the Jewish leaders in Damascus, with instructions to let me bring any Christians I found to Jerusalem in chains to be punished. (Acts 22:4-5 TLB)
So, what happened to convert Paul into a follower of Jesus and turn him into one of, if not the greatest preacher Christians have ever seen?
Well, it starts with a journey! Paul decided to travel to Damascus on his mission to capture as many of Jesus’ disciples as he could and take them back to Jerusalem. On approaching Damascus, he had a miraculous conversion to Christianity which is described in Acts 9.
As he (Saul) was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. (Acts 9 3-7 NLT)
Saul spent three days in Damascus deep in thought neither eating nor drinking when Ananias, a disciple of Jesus, arrived and opened Saul’s eyes and Saul was baptised.
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptised. Afterwards he ate some food and regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-19 NLT)
With his baptism the whole purpose of Paul’s life was changed and he began his ministry in Christ’s name.
Immediately after his conversation Paul went to Arabia. Not much is known about this time but we can imagine that he prayed, studied and learned to worship Jesus. It is encouraging for all believers that even Paul took time out to think, to rest and clarify his purpose.
But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvellous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. (Galatians 1:15-18 NLT)
During his time in Damascus, Paul preached in the Synagogue which angered the Jews and they prepared to kill him but he was saved by the other disciples who rescued him by lowering him out of the city in a basket and he returned to Jerusalem.
But Paul was still in danger and was sent back to Tarsus. Barnabas, the disciple, went from Antioch to seek out Paul at Tarsus and brought him back to Antioch. Here we learn of Paul’s first Journey to preach and teach and spread the word of God. He and Barnabas sail to Cyprus where they travel throughout the island preaching and teaching. This is the first of many journeys undertaken by Paul around the Mediterranean.
How can we relate to Paul’s missionary outreach today? All of us, as we commit to a Christian way of life, have undertaken to live our lives according to God’s will and a significant part of the commitment must be spreading the Christian message in whatever form this takes. Observing the worship of God, loving your neighbour, serving the poor, showing compassion and tolerance but very importantly in today’s climate, understanding of other faiths. Bigotry and hatred have no place in the Christian message. Paul believed that God is the God of all people be they Jews or Gentiles, just as we do today.