FacebookTwitterRSS FeedPinterest

By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45am service, 2005-09-04

Text: Acts 9:1-16

Of all the lives in the New Testament that can be studied (other than our Lord Jesus Christ), there is perhaps none that is as challenging and captivating as that of the Apostle Paul. The account of his amazing conversion on the road to Damascus (given three times in the Book of Acts), the accounts of his missionary journeys (which takes up 16 chapters), and the 13 epistles, all combine together to make the impact of the Apostle Paul's life very great, both on Christian doctrine and Christian life.

The life of the Apostle Paul has special meaning for me personally, because he was the one responsible for bringing my father to salvation in Christ! Not that my father actually met Paul in person, but it was through reading a biography that was written on him that my father was saved. This happened way back in 1966 when I was only 4 years old, my elder sister (in secondary school then) borrowed a book from her school library on the life of the Apostle Paul. She left it on a table at home and my father happened to see it and out of curiosity he took it up and started to read it. After that he could not put it down until he had finished it. Then he said to my mum, 'If there truly is such a God who changed Paul's life, I want to know Him.' By God's providence, a relative who came to stay with us who was a Christian took the opportunity to introduce my father to a nearby church. Shortly after that he was baptized.

My own life has benefited much from studying the life of the Apostle Paul, especially when I was about to leave with my family for missionary service in the Philippines 14 years ago. The word that the Lord gave me from Paul's life was 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 'For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.' This passage was very meaningful to me and it motivated me throughout those seven years as a missionary. 

Perhaps some of you here can also testify something similar to this. How you were saved, comforted, encouraged, motivated or challenged either by the words that God inspired Paul to write, or by the life of the apostle Paul himself! What I would like to do now is to take you through a brief survey of the life of the Apostle Paul. And after that we shall draw some important lessons for us to learn, and apply to ourselves from the account of his conversion in Acts 9.

I. A Brief Survey of Paul's Life

Paul was the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6) from the tribe of Benjamin. He was born with the Hebrew name Saul, in a city of Tarsus in the province of Cilicia (Acts 21:39) which was on the south-eastern part of present-day Turkey. 

In this alone we can see how God was preparing him for his mission in life: Tarsus was a very developed city from ancient times that had become strong through it good location as a port. It had already been in existence for a thousand years by the time of Paul, and had attained the status of a Metropolis, where people from different nations and cultures mingled and lived together. In about 100 BC, Tarsus became a Roman city. History tells us that the Jews who lived there had an important part to play in this. The immigrant Jewish community of Tarsus supported the Romans in any political conflict because the Romans guaranteed them the freedom to practice their religion. As a reward for this, the Jews who lived in Tarsus were granted full Roman citizenship, with all the rights of Roman citizens. 

Among these Jews were the Jewish ancestors of Paul. So Paul was born a Roman citizen. Growing up in Tarsus, he became familiar with Greek and Roman manners, customs and languages. This, together with his strict Jewish upbringing, later made him ideal to become God's messenger of the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul's Roman citizenship would also one day be used by God to save his life! He had an excellent education. He learned how to make tents because the region of Cilicia was well known for its tent-making from a special goats' hair cloth called 'cilicium.' 

In his teens he left Tarsus for Jerusalem for his formal religious training under a famous rabbi named Gamaliel (Acts 22:3 cf. 5:34). Then he had about a decade of practical experience as a zealous Pharisee and began to distinguish himself among his contemporaries by leading them in a fanatical 'jihad' against Christians. 

But while he was on his way to the city of Damascus to carry out the persecution of Christians there, the Lord Jesus Christ stopped him in his tracks. This event took place about 36 A.D., when he was about 30 years old (Acts 9:3-6). His call from God was clear and unmistakable. Jesus appeared to him in a bright light. The Lord made him blind, perhaps to make Paul aware of his own spiritual blindness and the darkness he had been living in all this while. 

Humbled and helpless, Paul spent three days praying and fasting until Ananias came, restored his sight and baptized him. Paul was immediately changed from being the foremost persecutor of Christ to becoming the foremost promoter of Christ! (Acts 9:20 'And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.') By doing this he incurred the wrath of the Jews whonow regarded him as a traitor. Paul then went to Arabia for three years (Galatians 1:17). It was probably during these three years that the resurrected Jesus revealed directly to him everything that he needed to know to become an apostolic witness for Him (Acts 26:16). We can liken this to the three years that Jesus had spent with the other apostles to train them.

After this, Paul went to meet with the apostle Peter and James at Jerusalem for 15 days, before spending the next four years in Tarsus and in various parts of Cilicia and Syria. When the first Gentile Church was formed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent by the church of Jerusalem to establish them, and he in turn took Paul from Tarsus to co-labour with him there for a year (Acts 11:19-26). This was where Paul gained his first experience in church-planting work among Gentiles - something which he was to do for the rest of his life.

And then in AD 45, Paul (about 40 years old) and Barnabas were sent as the first missionaries of the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Within the next 15 years, Paul made 3 great missionary journies covering 4 provinces of the Roman Empire, planting new churches everyhere he went. He returned back to the church at Antioch after each trip to give a report of the Lord's work.

After completing his three missionary journeys, Paul was arrested at Jerusalem and imprisoned at Caesarea on charges that were brought against him by the unbelieving Jews. At a hearing there, he appealed to Caesar and so was transferred to Rome (AD 59-61). 

He was apparently released from this imprisonment, and may have traveled as far as Spain during this six-year period. In AD 67 Paul, now in his sixties, was arrested again, and this time he was sentenced to death by the Roman Emperor Nero. But he was fully prepared to face death as he wrote in his last epistle (2 Timothy 4:6-8) 'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.'

Paul, who had been chosen by God to bear the name of Christ, conclusded his life like this! How wonderful it would be if each of us can also say the same thing at the end of our lives - I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. But to be able to say that, we first have to emulate the devotion, and perseverance of the apostle Paul. We should first learn and apply some precious lessons from his life. This morning we want to consider 3 lessons in particular from the account of his conversion in our text of Acts 9.

II. Lessons from Paul's Conversion

A. Do not rebel against God, as you will only hurt yourself if you do this.

This lesson is brought out quite clearly in the words that Jesus spoke to Paul in verses 4 and 5 'Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?... I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' What Jesus said to Paul in here is significant: 'It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.' The Pricks here refer to instruments that were used by farmers when they plowed in the fields: in those days, oxen were used to pull the plow. In order to make the oxen move forward farmers would use a long pointed stick to prod the back of the oxen. There were times, however, when an ox was so stubborn that it refused to budge even when this long stick was jabbed lightly into its hide. Instead of moving forward, it kicks backward with its hind legs against the prodding stick, hurting itself in the process. The stubbornness of the ox therefore hurts only itself, and not the farmer.

Now this is an illustration of the situation that Paul was in, in opposing the Gospel. He was just like the stubborn ox, kicking against the pricks and hurting only himself. Now, no one, in his right mind would want to hurt himself. But that is precisely what happens when a person rebels against God's authority over him.

There are people today who do foolish things against the authority of their parents, their teachers or the government, by purposely doing the things that they are told not to do. But by refusing to listen, they end up in a very sorry state, and they later regret what they have done. Let us be wise enough not to let this happen to us. 

Dearly beloved, perhaps there are some matters in your life that God has been speaking to you about or warning you about through His Word. Perhaps there is some sin in your life that you have not dealt with yet, and you think that you can disregard God's warning about it. Or perhaps you have deliberately been disobeying God over some matter, because of your strong self-will. Please do not disregard God's prompting or go against it any more. It will not do you any good at all. It's no use to fight against God: the only one who gets hurt is yourself! 

B. Be thankful for God's undeserved mercy to you, to use your life for His glory.

This lesson is particularly seen in the words that were exchanged between Ananias and the Lord in vv. 13-15 'Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Thy name. 15 But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.'

There is a very distinct contrast here between what Paul did to God's people, and what God did to him. Ananias spoke about how much evil Paul had done up till that time that had made him feared by Christians. In fact Ananias himself was very apprehensive about going to see Paul. But God replied to Ananias with how much good Paul was going to do from that time onward, to bear God's name as His chosen vessel. 

Now to Ananias, it might have seemed terribly unfair and unjust for God to give this man such a high honour and privilege as to be God's own chosen vessel, to bear His name before Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. Why of all people should Paul, the church's greatest enemy at that time, be the one to enjoy such a great honour as this? The answer is that the Lord deliberately wanted to chose the worst of sinners to be transformed into the best of saints, in order to glorify His own mercy and grace.

The Lord could have left Paul to languish in his pitiful, unsaved state. It would be the just and expected punishment he receives for all his sins. By persecuting God's people so cruelly and viciously, Paul had touched the apple of God's eye, and God had every right not just to strike him with blindness on that road to Damascus, but to strike him dead! That's what he deserved. Paul actually deserved to be cast into outer darkness and destroyed. But instead of giving Paul what he deserved, God chose to transform him into an apostle, a witness for Him to the Gentile world. Paul would then be a prime exhibit, displaying God's great mercy for the entire world to see!

This is what he testified later on, in 1 Timothy 1:12-16 'And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.'

Dearly beloved, each of us is likewise to be an exhibit or showpiece of God's grace to the world. Remember that there is nothing in you to make you more deserving of favour from God. In fact, because of all your sins, you deserve nothing but eternal death and hell! But God in His great mercy sent His only begotten Son to die in your place for your sins. And when you were saved through believing in Jesus Christ, He called you out of darkness and into His marvellous light (1 Peter 2:8,9)! For all these undeserved blessings you have received from God, your life should now show forth God's wonderful grace. You who are saved have been specially chosen by God from before the foundation of the world to bear His name before the world! What a privilege it is to be chosen as a vessel by God, to glorify Him by bearing His awesome and holy name before the world. This is your present role now as a Christian - to let everyone around you know that matchless name of Christ that you are chosen to bear!

May we always be thankful to God for His wonderful grace that has saved us to glorify Him like this. Thank God that He did not abandon you to languish in your pitiful state, but was very patient with you, and finally saved you. Since God has been so merciful to you, you must now serve Him well, and submit yourself fully to do His will. 

C. Submit yourself fully to do whatever God wants you to do.

This was Paul's own response on the Damascus Road, as found in v.6 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' Paul was so overwhelmed and humbled by Christ's revelation of Himself, that he immediately wanted to cease from doing what he would himself to do. He had come to the painful realization that what he had been doing all along was actually against the very God that he wanted to serve. How wrong and mistaken he had been all along! From now on Paul would be careful seek to do only what Christ would have him do. Such submission is the only proper humble response for Paul to give, when he was brought face to face with the Lord whom he had unwittingly persecuted so vehemently.

Dearly beloved, since we have also been gloriously saved at God's great expense for us, we must now respond in the same way to God: Submit yourself fully to Christ, and say to Him, as Paul had said on that road to Damascus, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?' And please be prepared to accept whatever answer the Lord gives to you, even though it may not be very nice and pleasant. When Paul asked this question, it was eventually revealed to him that he would have to suffer much for the sake of Christ's name (v.16 'For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake').

How much did Paul eventually suffer for Christ's name? He summarised them in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 'in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.'

Dearly beloved, are you ready yet to suffer such things, if it is indeed God's will for you? Will you bear the cross that He wants you to bear, or will you complain to Him that it is too heavy for you to bear? Will you submit yourself fully to do God's will for your life even if it means having to endure much inconvenience, pain and sorrow for His name's sake? Perhaps there are some matters in your life that the Lord Jesus has been speaking to you about, or even warning you about, through His Word. Please do not disregard His prompting, or go against it. 

Perhaps you have allowed other pursuits to take priority in your life instead of living your life for Christ. Perhaps you have been allowing yourself to be enslaved or addicted to some sinful habit, despite all the warnings that Christ has been giving to you. Please remember this: It is no use at all to rebel against Christ: it only hurts yourself. Jesus says to you: 'It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks' (v.4). What you must do is to submit yourself, surrender yourself to Him and say, 'Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?'

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11