Lesson 11

Paul: Background and Call

(Acts 9, Galatians 2)
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Introduction: Three weeks ago we witnessed Jesus sharing the gospel with a Samaritan woman at the well. Two weeks ago, we learned about Peter's vision that led him to share the gospel with Cornelius, a Roman Centurion. Last week, we read the great things Philip did to bring the gospel to Ethiopia and Samaria. Paul, the man we study this week and the next, is the early church leader most identified with bringing the gospel to the Gentiles. Let's jump into our study of the Bible and learn more about his amazing story!

  1. The Conversion


    1. Read Acts 9:1-2. When the text says, "still breathing out murderous threats," to what does the "still" refer? (This is the stoning of Stephen that we touched upon when we studied Philip. Saul approved of Stephen's death and was at the center of the resulting persecution of the early church. Acts 7:57-Acts 8:3.)


      1. What does it mean that Saul is going to the synagogues in Damascus? (He caused the early believers to flee Jerusalem, now he is following them to Syria!)


      2. Why should Saul have any police authority over anyone who lives in Syria? (This gives us an interesting insight about how the early believers were viewed. The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem must have claimed authority over synagogues outside Israel, even though Rome was the dominant power. This suggests the Jews considered the new Christians to be a type of Judaism.)


    2. Read Acts 9:3-5. What are you thinking if you are Saul?


    3. Read Acts 9:6-7. What do the witnesses confirm? (This is written in an odd way. It seems that the men with Saul saw the light and heard the voice of Jesus. However, they did not see any person.)


    4. Read Acts 9:8-9. What do you think made Saul blind? (The light. Intense lights will blind you for at least a while.)


      1. Why didn't Saul eat or drink? (Put yourself in his place: Jesus is alive and apparently God, and you have been attacking His followers. Not a good situation.)


    5. Read Acts 9:10-14. Does Ananias think God has not been following the news lately? God somehow missed the articles in the Jerusalem Post about this guy Saul? (This sounds like a great gospel opportunity until Ananias hears the name of the man he is visiting. Thankfully, God tolerates dumb responses from us.)


    6. Read Acts 9:15-16. Will this instruction make Ananias feel better? (God shows that He knows about Saul. My guess is that the reference to Saul suffering is intended to make Ananias feel better about Saul's record of persecution.)


    7. Read Acts 9:17-19. Is this what Saul expected?


      1. Has Saul repented? Is there any reason to believe he has changed? (Read Acts 9:11-12. Saul has been praying and God sent him a message about Ananias and him being healed.)


      2. Have you been involved in some serious sin, and then repented and felt the relief of forgiveness? Has that happened to Saul?(This seems to be that moment for Saul. He is baptized, eats and regains his strength after this ordeal.)


    8. Read Acts 9:20-22. Why didn't Saul take a couple of years, study the Bible, get some lessons from leading disciples, and then go out and preach? (Read Acts 23:6 and Acts 22:2-3. As a Pharisee trained under Gamaliel, Saul was a top student of the Bible. He took his existing knowledge, and reoriented it to fit the revelation that Jesus was the promised Messiah. We also know from Galatians 1:15-18 that later Saul left Damascus and spent three years studying.)


    9. Read Acts 9:23-25 What is the official reaction to Saul's conversion? (The Jews wanted to kill him.)


  2. Headquarters


    1. Read Acts 9:26. Did Saul travel straight to Jerusalem from Damascus? (No. Paul does not give us an exact time line, but he spent three years in Arabia before he returned to Jerusalem. Galatians 1:18. After three years of study ("God ... was pleased to reveal His Son to me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles," Galatians 1:15-16), he returned to the Jerusalem headquarters.)


      1. Would you have been afraid of Saul? (Saul starts a persecution that involves killing Christians, then falls off the map for three years, then comes back with a new name. Acts 13:9. Yes, I would be suspicious.)


    2. Read Acts 9:27-30. Is Paul's time at headquarters worthwhile? (Yes. Barnabas is brave and accepts Paul. Then, the Christians at headquarters help Paul slip away from those who want to kill him.)


  3. The Work


    1. Read Galatians 2:1. Recall that Paul slipped out of Jerusalem to escape those who wanted to kill him. This 14 year period appears to mark the time Paul was on his mission to the Gentiles in Asia Minor.)


    2. Read Galatians 2:2. Why would Paul be running in vain? (The leaders might not accept his work with the Gentiles as being legitimate.)


      1. Paul says "those who seem to be leaders." Doesn't he know who are the leaders of the church?


    3. Read Galatians 2:3-5. What is Paul's view on whether new converts need to be circumcised in accord with the instructions God gave to Abraham ( Genesis 17:9-11)?


      1. Why would the brothers be "false" if they are simply arguing for what God told Abraham?


    4. Read Galatians 2:6-7. How deferential to leadership does Paul sound? (Some criticism of church leadership causes me to cringe. But, Paul hardly seems deferential here.)


    5. Read Galatians 2:8. Who does Paul say is the important point of reference for determining if you are doing the right thing? (God being at work in your ministry.)


      1. Consider that test. Are there religious organizations that you think are not promoting the Kingdom of God, but which seem to prosper?


        1. If so, how do you explain that? (Read Mark 9:38-40. Clearly, God was with Paul. Jesus teaches that the "tent" is big when it comes to promoting the gospel.)


    6. Read Galatians 2:9-10. Are "James, Peter and John" pillars of the early church? (Yes!)


      1. Is this more of Paul not being deferential to the acknowledged leaders of the church?


      2. Or, should we consider that Paul has been out of town for 14 years? (The best way to look at this is that long ago, when Paul was in town, he met with Peter and James for only a short time. Galatians 1:18-19. Paul is not a Jerusalem insider. He says his work for the Gentiles is supported by those who he thought were the leaders of the early church.)


    7. Read Galatians 2:11-13. Has your opinion changed now? Isn't Paul now criticizing both Peter and James, the "reputed pillars" of the early church? (The weight of the evidence shows that Paul is not being deferential.)


      1. What is the lesson for our missionary work? (Leaders are not always perfect. They do not always thoroughly understand God's will. Peter has a message directly from God - that is his point in Galatians 1:15-17. In this situation he is not going to defer to humans.)


    8. Read Galatians 2:14-16. How important is Paul's point? (It is the essence of the gospel! It is the essence of righteousness by faith. We see now why Paul would not bend on this point.)


      1. Re-read Galatians 2:13. Barnabas is Paul's trusted partner. How difficult is this issue? (It shows that people of good faith are on both sides of the circumcision issue. But, Paul argues that there is only one right side, and it is the side that is consistent with Christ's sacrifice, but inconsistent with God's instruction to Abraham.)


      2. Do we have issues like that in the church today?


    9. Read Galatians 2:20-21. Friend, have you set aside grace? If so, why not decide right now to join Paul in his determination to live a life of righteousness by faith!


  4. Next week: Paul: Mission and Message.

Discussion

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