Whether we consider the man, the circumstances, the history, or the accompanying effect, Paul as introduced to us by Luke, reeks of an imposing figure, a drumbeater with the instincts of a bully. He is on the cusp of youth, a beardless youth for the matter, but who no doubt already holds sway with those at the helm in Jerusalem. He has his work cut out and with extreme dexterity is set on wreaking havoc on a newly established faith of a rabid mob that follows a carpenter recently dead. While consenting to the execution of one of the sect’s leaders, it becomes hard to argue whether he is indeed sincere or merely overtaken by hubris. He will let us in on that himself. But he no less earned his place as the archetypal tormentor, so much so that when he crossed over to the other side of the controversy, he was treated with suspicion over the course of his lifetime, notwithstanding the apparent change in his earlier presuppositions.
Paul of Tarsus
The man starts off as a key figure on one side of the divide and ends up as an altogether outstanding figure on the other. But to understand the man in his later life, we must consider his former self. The scene as narrated by Luke transpired in AD 34 and introduces Saul, a one-time protégé of Gamaliel, a famed doctor of the law. Saul was a Hebrew of incredibly careful upbringing, intensely zealous in all matters of the Jewish faith, modern religious fundamentalists would pale into insignificance if such conscientiousness counted. He recounts in his letter to the Galatians that he “profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” For all his intolerance, he possessed a progressive mind broadened by contact with the wider life and speculative thinking of the Greco-Roman world. His later speeches bear testament of acquaintance with at least some of the writings of Aratus, of Epimenides, and of Menander, all Greek poets of renown, and of Seneca and Athenodorus of Tarsus.
Paul himself hailed from Tarsus, in Cilicia. His birth at Tarsus earned him a double personality. He was not ‘Saul of Tarsus’ but ‘Paul of Tarsus’ when not ‘Saul, a Hebrew of Hebrews.’ One cannot divorce his character from Tarsus and still have the man perched on a pedestal. As a native of the city he prided himself as a Roman, born at Tarsus, and named Paul. When before tribunes in his lifelong travails, he brought this to the fore, claiming the privileges of a freeborn Roman. Tarsus was “no mean city” as described by the man himself (Acts 21:39). It was a Roman provincial town. Citizenship of such towns, termed civitas, earned one the full rights of a Roman citizen and such were men of distinction and of at least moderate wealth. The assimilated Jewish inhabitants residing in the provincial towns, as Paul was, were congenial to the imperial government since the civitas was a prized possession that ensured distinction and rank and general respect. Paul was not merely a person born in Tarsus; he had a citizen’s rights in Tarsus. His family no doubt were high-class citizens.
With such an illustrious background, how then are we left ruing the sudden reversal in fortunes. Paul would soon be stripped of all his pedigree and left with, in his defense, only an appeal to his shared kinship to his aggressors to engender pity in them. His appearance before the tribune at Jerusalem, where when “they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence,” reads more like the trial at court of a defeated, friendless, manacled prisoner.
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A firsthand experience
Paul’s experiences conjure up similar episodes in our own lives. We have had to discard our entire lives’ presuppositions at such moments when we “turned unto God from idols, to serve a living and true God.” The LORD has had to make a fresh start with us, severing us from any ties we had with our father and mother’s religion into something altogether novel. We have had to contend with an exhaustive and entire intellectual shift in doctrine. As was with the man from Tarsus, “when it pleased God” we were “separated from our mother’s womb, and called by his grace.” Invisible reality made itself known to our sentient souls in ways no other means could have availed but even then, not without difficulty; many had to reorient their lives away from all that they once believed to be gospel truth. This is often the story of the new convert to the faith!
There is not much of a difference though even for those born in the faith. Take my case for instance. I was raised by a Christian mother who did as much as any contentious parent would do, sending me off to church every Sabbath, but this was not enough to arouse in me a love for Christ. Our Christian homes exposed us to a lot that was secondhand, it was all our parent’s experiences and we inherited every bit of their religion and in the end, it has all been straitjacket and belied. Many are dying wishing they were descendants of a long lineage of Elders or Pastors because perhaps this would advantage their spiritual walk. I do not mean that you bemoan your situation or despise all the teachings of your past life and the people that were placed in your life. The salient point of all this is that you ought instead to follow through to know what the LORD intends to do with you. So, in my situation, He is ever putting me in positions and experiences where I find my mother’s religion of no use and I must find my own experiences, firsthand. I have had to know and find out the LORD for myself.
Come after me daily
The LORD means to give us new experiences with each passing day. He means it every bit when he says that “if any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” And whosoever will not bear his cross, and come after him daily, cannot be his disciple. The verses have an implication that we ought to no longer live on the same experiences as when we first believed but rather advance further with each day. The knowledge that the LORD imparts each day through our Christian experiences and walk with him is every bit efficacious.
If we are ever going to be of any real value to God, we must be more than children of tradition. One cannot explain Paul’s entire lifetime of practical devotion by anything else other than by this one fact. Coming towards the end of his life, he counted it all as dung. “I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
A Revolutionizing Faith
The Faith of Paul was a revolutionizing thing. It upset the whole life of the individual and made him into another person altogether. It took up its cross and followed along after Jesus with no intention of going back. It said goodbye to its old friends as certainly as Elijah when he stepped into the fiery chariot and went away in the whirlwind. It had a finality about it. It snapped shut on a man’s heart like a trap; it captured the man and made him from that moment forward a happy love-servant of his LORD.
Oh, that we be saved from simply going on with the form of things and that we will refrain from giving “attention to stories and long lists of generations… in place of God’s ordered way of life which is in faith.” Let us have our own personal life with Him for that is where our ministry begins. Be right up to date with God and let go of your many years of undoing. All now need a reorientation of their entire presuppositions and be youth of new beginnings as was Paul of Tarsus.
 T. Austin-Sparks, Power with God
 1 Timothy 1:4
 Galatians 1:14,15
 Acts 22