One could say that the Apostle Paul lived the lives of ten men. He lived a faithful life and is a worthy example to follow from a radical conversion on the road to Damascus, fifteen different journeys, starting churches, mentoring young pastors, and all the persecution he suffered. In the coming weeks and months, we will be looking at the instructive nature in the prayers of Paul and studying through his letters to the churches at Colossae, Ephesus, and Galatia.
Before we get into the series, I want to look at a few passages of Scripture that give us an overview of Paul’s life. Before he was known as Paul, people knew Saul of Tarsus, a well-trained Pharisee and persecutor of the Church. Paul tells the story of his conversion in Acts 26:12-18 as he gives a defense before Agrippa. “In this connection, I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (ESV).
Throughout his many journeys, Paul suffered many things for preaching the gospel; he detailed his sufferings to the Corinthian Church as proof of his apostleship. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-33 ESV).
Paul’s letters serve as the bedrock for our Christian lives. In Romans, he lays the theological foundation of the Church; in First and Second Corinthians, he issues corrections; in Galatians, he corrects false teaching and points back to the gospel. Ephesians explains how doctrine applies to life; he wrote about joy to the Philippians while suffering in the worst prison. He also wrote pastoral letters to his spiritual sons, magnified Christ to the Colossians, and spoke of His return to the Thessalonians. Paul’s letters span the breadth of doctrine and practicality, and I am looking forward to teaching through his prayers and various letters. If you would like an ordered account of his ministry and writings, I recommend John MacArthur’s book, One Faithful Life.