After the Damascus Road, Paul could never again live on the plane of ordinary humanity – for he had gazed upon eternity. His character is too powerful and dynamic to be understood by those who lived in his era. His are eternal principles which transcend time and speak to people in any century. Every person appropriates for himself the life of Paul – and the words through which he strove to make his thoughts comprehensible.
Paul’s was the most creative mind. He was the most brilliant of all the apostles….and the most skillful theologian. But these are not the qualities which make him really interesting. A self-acclaimed “clever” person surrounds himself with a little circle of admirers unable to penetrate his shallow nature. But Paul’s transparency endears him to us all. We follow his life with the keenest interest, for we sense he has stood in our shoes. His career is full of situations and difficulties like ordinary Christians face in the world.
The life of Paul can be described as a series of brilliant achievements in God. Yet it is not through his victories he possesses our hearts. It is because behind his accomplishments we connect with his frustrations and pain. We look through his eyes and see stress – even to the point of failure. Because we relate to him we can declare with him, “I am perplexed; but not in despair; persecuted; but not forsaken; cast down; but not destroyed” (II Cor. 4:9).
Paul was a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, and marked by a superlative education. These combined factors made his position a very delicate one…and called for the utmost courtesy and tactfulness. Although Paul was endowed with a wonderful combination of natural talent and spiritual gifts, the part he had to play in first century Christianity was challenging. Though superior to the other apostles in supernatural insight, he came into his apostolic office much inferior in influence. Even Peter, the disciple who was the most predominant among them, was rebuked by Paul for his two-faced conduct (Gal. 2:11). But Peter accepted his correction…. and refers to Paul as “our beloved brother” (II Pet. 3:15).
Paul would have forfeited our love had he failed to honor those who had traveled and conversed with Jesus for three years. The disciples respected Paul, for they knew his apostolic authority did not originate with them. The “apostle to the Gentiles” was filled with incredible revelations entrusted to him directly from God. Paul appreciated these men, while boldly and publicly presenting new doctrines. He saw what the other apostles did not immediately recognize: the need to transition from the old covenant into the new.
Only those who hunger for truth are interested in the life of Paul. He is a more intense character than even Luke, Peter, or John. Paul’s letters inspire us to face suspicion and blame greater than we deserve. He was misunderstood by many, but always found a friend to believe in him and stand by him in his hour of need. We hurt for Paul when Luke tells us – “when he came to Jerusalem, he attempted to join himself to the disciples, but they were afraid of him and believed not that he was a disciple…but Barnabas befriended him” (Acts 9:27). We strive to comprehend how Paul must have felt when “he disputed against the Hellenist Jews – and they were determined to kill him” (Acts 9:29). We sense his isolation when he writes, “Demas has forsaken me….Luke alone is with me” (II Tim. 4:10-11). Paul’s entire career was filled with opposition and heartache.
Authors often hide themselves in their essays, poems, and novels – but this is not true of Paul. Because letters are the most personal form of literature, you feel his heartbeat in every verse. Because his intentions are pure, his reasoning is never one-sided. We are not left sensing there are other points of view which he has left out. We are affected by Paul because he expects his readers to catch his enthusiasm and agree with his logic.
When we study Pauline literature, we walk with the man and suffer with him. In his life, we read our own lives – and thus his gospel never grows old or loses its fascination. Paul stands before us – not merely as a representative of human nature, but as one who represents the very best in human nature. Therefore, we are still under his influence, just as those who heard his words two millennia ago.
Intensely human in all his undeniable faults, Paul exhibits that deep spiritual hunger which every believer must possess who hopes to develop their full potential for God.
– Sir William Mitchell Ramsey (1851-1939)