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I Am Saul Of Tarsus

Or I Could Be

The Apostle Paul

Here's the description we had in the last study. "I cannot stand to see what they are doing to God's people!! They teach their erring ideas. And God's people are listening. They are being corrupted. Something has to be done to stop this! Before God, I will take responsibility. I care deeply about God's people and I will do whatever I can to stem the tide of this false teaching." So who is this? Is he helping God's cause or hurting? Is his attitude correct?

The above scenario could aptly describe Saul of Tarsus, who hated Christianity and persecuted the church. But the same could be said of Saul/Paul after he became a Christian. He was concerned over false teachers and their influence on the church. We know before becoming a Christian he hurt the church and afterward he helped. Was his attitude right? Consider the following details.

In Acts 7:58 we first encounter Saul. He held the garments of those who stoned Stephen. Acts 8:1 tells us Saul was consenting to Stephen's death. In Acts 8:3 we learn this was only the beginning for Saul. He brought horrible persecution on the early church. Acts 9:1-2 says he brought threatening and slaughter against the disciples. In Acts 22:4 Paul later recalled he had imprisoned and even persecuted Christians unto death. In Acts 26:10-11 Paul gives a chilling summary of his efforts against the church. He portrays his former self as a near madman seeking to destroy the church. It makes Saul of Tarsus sound villainous, but consider his attitude during all this.

In Acts 26:9 Paul said he truly thought he was supposed to do these things. In Philippians 3:6 he spoke of the persecutions he wrought as an act of zeal. In John 16:2 Jesus said the ones persecuting the church would think they did God a service. It seems this was Saul's disposition. So there's no question he was concerned over Christianity having an ill effect on Judaism. He felt the ones he regarded as God's people, the Jews, were being corrupted by Christian teachers. So he vigorously sought to destroy the church. Though his actions were wrong, his attitude is admirable.

But when we look at Paul's work as an apostle, we see similar zeal regarding false teachers, though a different approach. In II Corinthians 11:2-4 Paul was concerned about God's people at Corinth being deceived by someone teaching error. Later in verses 12-15 he uses pretty strong language to describe these false teachers and pledges to stop their influence. Paul goes on to show that he excelled those who claimed to be apostles but were not.

Consider Paul's approach to the situation at Galatia with the false teachers troubling the churches there. In Galatians 1:6-9 he protests the influence false teachers were having and instructs the Galatians to let them be accursed. In Galatians 3:1 Paul lamented that the Christians in Galatia had been bewitched by false teachers. In Galatians 5:7-12 Paul used very strong language to condemn the false teachers who were corrupting God's people in Galatia. He wished for the false teachers to "cut themselves off". Paul wanted their influence to cease. He zealously desired this and zealously used his influence to thwart that of false teachers.

See the contrast. As a Jew, Saul hated Christianity, feared the influence it was having, and out of zeal for God fought Christianity. Then he was converted to Christianity. Paul feared the influence false teachers were having and out of zeal for God fought them. He went from totally wrong to very right, but showed the same pattern of zeal and resisting what he believed to be error. What's the one difference between Saul as a Jew and the same Paul as a Christian?

In Romans 10:2 Paul said of the Jews, "For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge." Zeal without knowledge becomes wildly misdirected deeds of sincerity. That fittingly describes Saul as a Jew. His attitude to serve God with zeal was good, but his knowledge was misguided. As a Christian he had correct knowledge so his zealous deeds took on new meaning.

This analogy shows us several things, a few we'll notice here. First and most obvious is the fact that knowledge makes all the difference in zealous deeds. A person may have all manner of zeal for God, but if that zeal is not guided by knowledge, it's a recipe for a train wreck. In Proverbs 19:2 the NKJV says, " is not good for a soul to be without knowledge." Saul of Tarsus is a clear example of this truth.

Another important lesson we learn from Saul's/Paul's example regards opposing false teaching. Upon reading the scenario description for this study it would be very easy to assume the mystery character was some self-righteous person who blindly opposed others who didn't agree with him. But that is not the case. Such an assumption might be based on a feeling that it's wrong to vigorously and openly oppose false teaching/teachers.

But Paul's example shows otherwise. God would have us beware of teaching that will lead his children astray. Matthew 7:15 warns us about false teachers and instructs us to be wary. II Peter 2:1-3 echoes similar warnings. While we certainly can't be self-righteous in our attitude, we are within the bounds of duty when we oppose false teaching.

So now you know, our mystery person was two totally different people, yet the same man. Paul, before and after conversion to Christ, was a drastically different person. One thing he had going for him both times was his zeal for God. When that zeal met knowledge he became a wonderful worker in God's family. He expressed that zealous work in opposing error that threatened God's people. The contrast in his behaviors are interesting, telling and teach us very important lessons we can live by today.