Paul's original name was Saul. Paul was his Roman alias, which in Latin was "Paullus." Paul's life can be divided into two different phases: the first half of his life when he used all types of methods to fiercely persecute the Christians, and the latter part when he offered his entire body and soul to Jesus. This dedicated service was almost to perfection and for centuries, he has been a model to many Christians. This article gives a brief account of the dedication of Paul, to serve as an encouragement not only to brethren who offer themselves to full-time ministry, but to all the brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom 12:1; 14:7-8).
Paul was a Jew belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. Born a Roman citizen in Tarsus (Rom 11:1; Acts 22:3, 29), he grew up in Jerusalem and was taught by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3, 21, 29; 23:3). From his youth he hated Christians (Acts 7:58-60); later, he became their persecutor and went from place to place, arresting and imprisoning them. He even had authority from the high priest to put many of them to death. On many occasions, he slandered the name of Jesus and forced the believers to blaspheme (Acts 8:1-3; 26:10-11; 9:1-2; 22:4-5). When Paul was still actively persecuting the church, the Lord's calling came upon him. On the way to Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly shone around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting"…"Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:3-6; 22:5-10). Paul got up, but when he opened his eyes, he discovered he was blind. For three days, he remained in this condition, and did not eat or drink (Acts 9:8-11). Later, the Lord sent a disciple named Ananias to lay his hands on Paul. Paul had his sight restored, received the Holy Spirit, and was baptized for the remission of his sins (Acts 9:10-12, 17; 22:3-10, 16-18). From then on, Paul's new life unfolded.
What factors caused such a complete change in Paul that he maintained a full devotion to the Lord's work and to accomplish all that had been entrusted to him? What gave him the strength to endure all difficulties in order to complete his three missionary journeys, write the many invaluable epistles, and accept imprisonment and death calmly and fearlessly? Some reasons we can gather are:
1. The Heavenly Vision
On one occasion, during his audience with King Agrippa, Paul testified of his experience along the journey to Damascus and of the Lord's commission to him and declared that he "was not disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:12-23).
The call of the Lord became the main motivating force behind Paul's dedication. For this reason he said, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship" (1 Cor 9:16-17). In acknowledgement of the Lord's commission, Paul offered himself completely and strove to accomplish his task. He went from Damascus to Jerusalem, to all Judea, and reaching out to the Gentiles also, he preached the message of repentance (Acts 26:16-20).
2. The Love of Christ
Paul said, "For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor 5:14-15). Paul knew that death and eternal condemnation faced all sinners (Rom 6:21; 2 Thess 1:8-10). Neither the law nor their own good deeds could save them. Yet, God came into the world to give salvation freely to all who believe in Him. Such monumental love greatly touched Paul and became his motivating force. He said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal 2:20). To repay the Lord's grace and love, Paul-was compelled to live for the Lord (ref. Gal 2:15-16; Eph 2:8-9; Rom 5:6-8; 1 Cor 15:1-5; Rom 1:16-17; 3:24-25).
3. The Surpassing Gain of Knowing Christ
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Phil 3:7-9)
He received special grace from the Lord and was lifted up to paradise where he heard inexpressible things (2 Cor 12:1-4) and saw the glory in the Heavenly Kingdom. He experienced the blessings of being with the Lord; he testified, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom 8:18), and "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). Paul yearned for the imperishable eternal heavenly heritage and strove towards the goal in order to receive the heavenly reward from God through Christ Jesus.
4. Passion for Lost Souls
Paul said, "Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you" (1 Cor 9:23). He knew full well of the goodness and importance of salvation. He considered that he was "a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise" (Rom 1:14-15) and told the Corinth church that his "heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Rom 10:1). He wholeheartedly wanted to "preach the gospel, not where Christ was named" (Rom 15:20-23). It was obvious that he earnestly wanted all men to receive salvation. It was this kind of love and sense of responsibility that propelled him throughout his dedication to the ministry of preaching.
5. Willingness to Bear the Cross
The Lord said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26-27). To offer oneself to be a full-time preacher, one must possess the will to sacrifice oneself and endure hardships. Paul indeed fulfilled this, and became a model for Christians of the end time. In his epistles, Paul recorded the sacrifices he made and the sufferings he endured for the Lord:
- For the believers: "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (1 Thess 2:7-8).
- For the Lord Jesus: "Nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:22-24). "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:10-13). True enough, soon after Paul arrived at Jerusalem, he was arrested, and later sent to Caesarea where he was imprisoned for two years. In the end, he died as a martyr for the Lord in Rome (refer to 2 Tim 4:6).
- Persecutions: "…in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned" (2 Cor 11:23-25).
- Life-threatening situations: "Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Cor 11:25-27; refer to 1 Cor 4:11-12)
- Mental torture: "Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?" (2 Cor 11:28-29). "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now" (1 Cor 4:12-13).
Paul successfully lived out the dedication of his whole life to the service of the Lord. When he knew that he was about to be martyred, he was not afraid or remorseful. On the contrary, he was greatly comforted and filled with joy, for he knew that there was in store for him "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, [would] give to [him] on that Day" (2 Tim 4:7-8).
It is hoped that all my beloved coworkers who have offered themselves to the service of the Lord and all brothers and sisters in Christ will follow Paul's exemplary footsteps in being totally obedient to the Lord's calling, in being motivated by the love of Christ, in wholeheartedly seeking to gain Christ, in the passion for lost souls, and in bearing the cross.
The Lord will surely strengthen us to fight the good fight, to complete the race, and to keep the word. Like Paul, who emerged victorious, we will be able to enjoy blessings and glory that surpass all things, enduring to eternity.