“Who was Saul of Tarsus? And why did God choose him as His apostle to the Gentiles?”
Acts 6:8-7:60 – Arrest and Stoning of Stephen
Acts 8:1-3 – Saul’s Persecution of the Church
Acts 9:1-31; 22:1-22; 26:12-18 – Paul’s Conversion
1. This Quarter’s Lessons: At the outset of this quarter’s study on Galatians, I want to make a couple of confessions. First, I should note I am the principal writer behind each of the lessons in the Adult Bible Study Guide on Galatians. In addition, I have also authored the companion book that goes along with the lessons. That book is entitled Galatians: A Fiery Response to a Struggling Church (Review and Herald, 2011). Since I’ve already written extensively on Galatians, I will try not to simply repeat that material in this quarter’s Good Word Study Guide. Instead, my plan is primarily to highlight a few key points and raise additional questions for discussion. To get the most out of our study, I would encourage you to obtain a copy of the companion book on Galatians. It is packed with more information than is not found in the quarterly and it also contains additional material that attempts to connect the issues in Galatians with issues we face today.
2. Galatians and Adventists: Several years ago when I was preparing this information on Galatians, I shared several messages on Galatians at a spiritual convocation in the Pacific Northwest. After the end of the first presentation, a lady told me she was glad to hear a series on Galatians because a friend had just told her that Seventh-day Adventists were afraid of Galatians. Her friend claimed Adventists were legalists and did not really understand the gospel. As proof of this, her friend said Seventh-day Adventists never study the book of Galatians. While I was glad to assure her that her friend was mistaken on both accounts, it is certainly true that some of Paul’s comments in Galatians have been mistakenly used to teach that Christians who are saved by faith no longer need to observe the law of God. Although Paul says we are not saved by what we do, he also says that what we do is important. To many readers, this can certainly sound very confusing, and even contradictory. This quarter’s lessons provides us an ideal opportunity to grapple with this issue, and in the process to grow in our own personal understanding of what God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
3. Paul’s Background: But before we look at Paul’s letter in particular, we need to first look at the man Paul. Who was this man? What events shaped his life? Why was he so opposed to Jesus and His followers at first? What made this one-time persecutor decide to become a follower of Jesus himself? And why did God choose Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles instead of using one of the other apostles?
Paul was born around A.D. 5 to a Jewish family living in Tarsus, a city located along the northeastern coast of the Mediterranean in what is modern day Turkey. Although he was raised outside of Palestine, he was still raised in a conservative Jewish home. In addition to being given the Hebrew name Saul at birth, he also was circumcised according to the law, learned to speak his native tongue, and was raised with a knowledge of the laws and traditions of the Jewish people (Phil. 3:4-6). At the same time, however, Paul was a man of two worlds. Although he was Jewish, he grew up in a Greco-Roman city. He was given a Greek name, Paul, learned the Greek language, and was even a Roman citizen. As a young man, he decided to become a member of a Jewish sect known as the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a group of conservative Jews who were focused on keeping the Jewish laws as well as a collection of oral laws that were passed down for generations. These orals laws were an additional set of rules given by various rabbis that were intended to keep people from even coming close to breaking one of the laws found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Paul was not always a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was the foremost persecutor of Christians for a time. He was convinced that the followers of Jesus were being disloyal to the Torah, and thus hindering God’s plan for Israel by their claims that the crucified Jesus had risen from the dead and was the long awaited Messiah. In his mind, there could be no tolerance for such nonsense, or for anyone who refused to give up such ideas. Paul was determined to be God’s agent to rid Israel from such heretical beliefs. It was not until he encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus that he realized he was fighting against God instead of working for Him.
Questions for Discussion:
- Describe the reaction of Ananias to God’s instructions for him to go see Paul (Acts 9:10-14)? What do you think shocked Ananias more: the news of Paul’s conversion, or the fact that Paul was to be God’s chosen apostle to take the gospel to the Gentile world (Acts 9:15-16, 26:16-18)?
- In Paul’s account of his conversion in Acts 26:14, he mentions how Jesus said it was hard for Paul to kick against the “goads.” A goad was a sharp rod that acted like a modern day electric cattle prod. What, in your opinion, were some of the goads that Jesus had placed in Paul’s life that Paul was “kicking” against?
- Does every Christian have to have a spectacular conversion experience? What basic elements are necessary for genuine conversion? When did you first accept God’s call to direct your life?
- Who is the least likely person you know who would become a Christian? What is there about the story of Saul’s conversion that brings you encouragement?
- After his conversion, Paul was clearly driven by the purpose God had for his life. What sense of purpose do we find when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior? Is your life purpose-driven? What purpose does God have for your life? And how would he let you know?
- What characteristics and qualifications do you see in Paul that allowed him to be used by God as His apostle to the Gentiles?