Paul, at least in my opinion, is the most prolific pen-pal of biblical times. He penned thirteen letters that serve as thirteen books of the New Testament. Following Paul’s conversion, he traveled as a missionary, laid out the structure of the church, and functioned as guide and purveyor of modern Christian faith.
So, where did Paul begin? Was he raised with a heart of rebellion and a thirst for truth? Not exactly. Paul found his path as a revered and wise bringer of the Gospel following a violent stint on the other side of Christianity.
We first see Paul in Acts 7 when the world knew him as Saul of Tarsus.
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Paul, then Saul, was present at the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. At that time, Saul believe he was serving God by attempting to eradicate “the Way” or Christianity. He believed the followers of Christ were going against God and went to brutal lengths to stop them.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Saul was on a mission to take down anyone serving Christ, and this path led him to Damascus. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul was right in the middle of a warpath to persecute Christians. He was well-known in and beyond Jerusalem for his anti-Christian agenda. When Jesus met him on the road, everything changed.
Once in Damascus, Saul spent several days with the disciples who lived there, and he immediately began to preach. Just like that, his heart was completely renewed in Christ. All it took was one encounter with Jesus to stop a rampage of destruction.
Not all of our paths to Christ are pretty. Paul was Saul, a man with a solid belief in a faith that didn’t include Christ. Saul was a man who believed that the imprisonment and possible death of Christ’s followers was the best way to serve God. And what did Jesus do? He met him face to face. He saw the passion and the zeal with which he pursued Christians, and redirected those gifts to the cause of Christ.
God can take the “bad” parts of you, the misguided notions and the shame you hide, and turn them around for good. Saul became Paul. The face of the persecutor became the heart of the Savior.
The same man who would travel far to see Christians behind bars became the man who said this.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
The same man who fought to destroy them is now the man sending love and encouragement to the churches. From the moment he encountered Jesus, he was set on a new road to the front lines of ministry and even found himself behind the bars of persecution. Though his life wasn’t always easy, it is clearly apparent that he believed that trials in the name of Jesus were more than worth it. God did that for Him, and He can do that for all of us.
Give God the “bad”. Give him the pieces that aren’t so pretty, and He’ll direct your imperfections into His perfect ministry.