So Paul attempted to reason with the Jews. He loved his brothers according to the flesh, and always was yearning for any chance of reconciliation.
Always mindful of his audience, Paul specifically started his speech in Aramaic, an off-shoot of Hebrew. It was the most common language of the Holy Land. The NIV text note says it could be translated as Hebrew, but it’s not likely. His audience all spoke Aramaic, and he wanted to establish a connection with them.
And that concern continued as he spoke to them. He really emphasizes his background before he came to know the Messiah. He was born a citizen of Tarsus, but he was raised in Jerusalem, the most holy city for Jews. And even more importantly, he was trained in the Law by Gamaliel. This was name-dropping at its finest, because Gamaliel was considered by conventional wisdom to be one of the greatest rabbis of the 1st century. Notice that he brought up the common heritage he had with his audience of which he wanted to remind them: At the feet of Gamaliel he “was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors.” He was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.”
And just how devoted was he? Well, when he heard about this new sect called Christians or followers of Jesus, he leaped into action. He started persecuting believers in Jerusalem, and was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians when he was struck down on the road.
Paul here hammers home again and again just what type of man he was before he encountered Jesus. He did this to make a connection with them. But it also shows the incredible change the Lord had made in his life. Again, Peter was just a humble fisherman minding his own business when Jesus met him. But Paul was an active enemy of the Church and did everything he could to wipe it out. That’s the strongest evidence he presents that this Jesus was real, and his conversion was not a sign of a flaky personality who would change at the shifting of the wind. Something had happened on that road.
The rest of the story we’re pretty familiar with, so for the rest of today, I’d like to make another point with Paul’s character and what happens when the Lord gets a hold of a man.
We see what type of man Paul was before his conversion. He was dedicated, devoted, self-sacrificing, self-disciplined, and zealous for what he considered to be right. When he studied the Law, he would take no teacher less than the greatest, undoubtedly the hardest course he ever took. He was passionate in the extreme. In fact, that’s a great word that summarizes his personality pretty well: Extreme.
And what did Jesus do to him? Did the Lord temper that passion? Did he mitigate Paul's zeal? Did he moderate that extreme personality? Not in the slightest. All that zeal, all that passion, all that self-discipline was just channeled into a new direction.
That’s how the Lord usually works. Yes, there’s a sense in which he changes a man. At the very least, the Lord’ll refine a man and smooth some of the rough edges. But there’s another sense in which he merely changes the direction of the person.
That’s why this is so important for us to know. Perhaps you’re reading about Paul and think “I could never be like that.” Perhaps. But God doesn’t want to change you into a clone of Paul or Billy Graham or Augustine or Rick Warren. He wants you to be like Christ. And Christ is big enough that each of us can reflect him in a unique way.
Be who you are in Christ, not who someone else is in Christ. Make sense?
Lord Jesus, I thank you for the incredible diversity in your Body, in your Bride. I don’t have to be clone of anyone else. I just need to be like you. That’s hard enough. Please let’s get on with it.
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