Last time we began looking a bit at the author of Romans, the Apostle Paul. And in particular, what made him so hardcore – so willing to suffer to advance the cause of Christ.
This time we’ll continue along that vein by looking at the significance of one of his titles, The “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
This title really impacted me the other day, and here’s why.
In our Western Civilized, 21st century mind we view things through the filter of 2,000 years of Christianity. This filter tells us it’s only natural for the message of Christianity to be available to “whosoever will”. If you want to become a follower of Christ you can – without any pre-conditions based on nationality, gender, color, etc…
As a matter of fact, to become a Christian all we have to bring to the table is the willingness to humble ourselves, turn from our sin, and receive him and his amazing forgiveness.
However, it was not always so.
In the early days of Christianity, all believers were of a Jewish heritage. The Jews had always been the people of God, and the non-Jewish nations, (The Gentiles) were generally regarded as idolatrous and ignorant heathens.
They were considered “unclean”, so being co-equal with the Jewish people in the plan of God was not anything a typical Jewish person would have considered.
As you can imagine, it came as a great shock when it was discovered that God’s plan through Jesus Christ also included these pagan nations.
And if you’re like me and not Jewish by birth, then that’s great news! And it’s also why Paul is of special importance to us.
That’s because, when God got ready to make the good news of Christ available to both my and your ancestors, he selected Paul, (aka Saul) from Tarsus.
God used him to uniquely speak to this group, and as we will see, he continues to use him to speak to us today.
His life can generally be broken up into 3 main parts.
- Pre-Conversion Period – Early life; Religious Pharisee
- Conversion while encountering Christ in his glorified state on the road to Damascus
- Post-Conversion – Planting of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire; Writings which total over half of the New Testament
Here are some highlights, to give us more details to understand his background.
Factsheet (Pre-Conversion Period)
- Born between 5 BC and 5 AD in Tarsus (a city that was a large trading center under the Roman Empire in modern-day South Central Turkey)
- Roman Citizen by birth. (This citizenship would serve him well as he maneuvered throughout the Roman Empire, actually getting him out of some very tight spots during his missionary travels.)
- Devout Jewish family. Paul’s father was a part of the strictest sect in Judaism, called the Pharisees. An ultra-orthodox group that believed in strict adherence to the law of Moses, as well as the “traditions of the elders”. Paul described himself as a “Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” This group had a reputation of religious arrogance and superiority. Many of them believed that because they strictly observed the law, they were the only ones that were right with God, and consequently looked down on others who were not part of their group. Jesus had many confrontations with the Pharisees during his earthly ministry, highlighting their blatant hypocrisy.
- At a fairly young age he was sent to Jerusalem and studied under Gamaliel, who is considered one of the great rabbis in Jewish history.
- Participated in the execution of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. As we can imagine, after he became a follower of Christ, this is a fact that broke his heart. He referred to himself as the “Chief of Sinners”, probably because of this incident. But it is also something that helped drive him in his post-conversion mission, and perhaps explains some of the immense gratitude he had to Christ as evidenced by his willingness to suffer for the cause.
That’s it for this time.
Next time we’ll continue examining Paul’s life with the intent of gaining an understanding of why God chose him to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.
But maybe more importantly, we’ll glean insight from his story that will help us in our day-to-day journey!
Until then… God bless!