Apart from the Lord Jesus Himself, there is no person, living or dead, whose life has encouraged me more on this journey than the Apostle Paul.
Before his conversion, Saul’s life was similar to that of many affluent people today. Born and raised in the rich seaport of Tarsus, he enjoyed the best of all worlds. His cultural background combined Roman citizenship, Greek culture and Hebrew scholarship.
Saul was intellectually brilliant, savvy to ways of the world and a global thinker. In an information culture where knowledge was power, young Saul was uniquely positioned. In addition, he had the right connections in Jerusalem. He had the educational and family pedigree needed to go to the top in any field.
If God had not intervened, it is interesting to speculate on where Saul’s ability, determination, intellect and zeal might have led him. He might have become a powerful political leader, a judge, a general or a successful businessman. Saul had everything, including a religious fanaticism so powerful that it sent him off to track down and destroy the early Christians.
But then it happened. Saul met Jesus on the Damascus Road, and his life was changed radically. Blinded by the Living God, Saul had little pride and self-confidence left as he was led by the hand to the house of Ananias.
Lying in the dust before the Lord Jesus Christ, he asked this all-important question, which I believe is the key to the secret of Paul’s life: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).
Up until then, Paul had been living for his traditions, his religion—and above all, himself, governing and running his life. But when he met the Lord Jesus Christ, he turned over the rulership of his life to Jesus. That word, kurios, in the original text means “the one who has authority over, ownership.” Saul threw up his hands and said, “Lord, here, take my hands and chain them to Yours. I want to be Yours now and forevermore. I am giving up the right to run my own life. From now on, You will take charge.”
The rest of Paul’s life is history, as the expression goes. You can read about it in the book of Acts, experience it through his letters in the Bible and see its effect on the Church for the next 2,000 years.
Wherever Paul went, people could not forget the impact he made upon their lives and community. In Thessalonica, the unbelievers testified, saying, “Here comes a man who has turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, paraphrased).
In Ephesus, the enemies of the cross, those who hated everything Paul preached, confessed, “Throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands . . .” (Acts 19:26).
In other words, wherever he went, whether people liked him or not, one thing they could not deny was that this man, Paul, was dangerous. His very presence brought changes in their thinking and living.
So what was the secret of Paul’s extraordinary life? Was it his education, background or abilities?
No, it was none of those things.
The secret of Paul’s life was none other than his submission to the lordship of Christ. Paul recognized that blood was the price Jesus paid for him, and he was no longer his own. For so long, he had robbed God. He had held his life back. Now, in repentance, he gave his life back to the Lord.
It was because of Paul’s absolute submission to Christ that God entrusted Paul with power and spiritual authority. It wasn’t Paul’s giftings that earned it, nor a flawless life that sustained it. It was simply that Paul yielded so that Jesus could do His work through him.
This is what has encouraged me so much about the life of Paul. I see that any person indwelled by the Holy Spirit can surrender his or her life in the same way that Paul did. And that means, the same spiritual reality that Paul lived is possible for every man, woman, boy and girl today. What God did in Paul, He can do in anyone.