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Lesson 1: Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles *

Introduction: There is an old saying that we need to put our self in the place of another person before we can truly understand that person's situation. When I was a young man, I spent my summers building homes and apartments with my brother. One morning on the long ride to work, my brother's car broke down and he decided that we should just walk and see if someone would give us a ride. We were not dressed very well, and we were carrying tools. It was not an inviting picture for someone considering giving us a ride. Normally when I was driving, I did not pick up those trying to get a ride - that would be dangerous! But now, I was desperately hoping that someone would show sympathy to us! To better understand the letter to the Galatians, we are going to try to put ourselves in the place of its author, Paul. (For those who do not know, "Saul" later was called "Paul." I'll just call him "Paul" in this lesson.) Let's plunge into our Bible study and see what the Bible has to teach us about his life. Let's see what it would be like to be Paul!

  1. Paul: The Background

    1. Read Acts 21:26-28. Paul is arrested on what charges? (That he is violating the Jewish law and teaching against the Jewish people.)

    2. Let's skip down a few verses and read Paul's defense. Read Acts 22:2-3. What kind of credentials are these? (Paul says he is Jewish, not an enemy of the Jews. He was raised in Jerusalem, the center of Jewish culture.)

      1. As to the charges that Paul is against the law, he says that he was taught by Gamaliel. Who is Gamaliel? (Adam Clarke's commentary tells us that Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel (one of the most famous Jewish teachers in history), he was the president of the Sanhedrin council, and the 35th receiver of the traditions. Fausset's adds that Gamaliel was celebrated as "the glory of the law," and the first designated Rabban "our master.")

        1. In today's terms, what is Paul saying? (That he was taught by the world's foremost authority on the law. He is better acquainted with the law than those making the charges against him.)

    3. Read Acts 22:4-5. How is this relevant to the charges against Paul? (You suggest that I am willing to violate the law? I've been killing people who opposed the law!)

    4. How would you summarize Paul's defense up to this point? (He is better educated on the law than his accusers, and he is more zealous for the law than his accusers. He is not refuting the charges, he is just saying, "Who are you to accuse me?")

    5. You have heard Paul. Put yourself in his place. What kind of attitude would you expect he would have? What kind of attitude is reflected in his defense so far? (He would feel superior. And, he is superior in terms of his education.)

    6. Read Acts 22:6-10. Let's talk about this. Paul lays out his extraordinary credentials, and then says "God chose me." Why did God choose him?

      1. Read Judges 7:2-3, 1 Corinthians 1:20-21 and 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. The Bible has a recurring theme about God working through human weakness. Being smart and well-educated is a problem because those kind of people tend to claim the glory due to God. Has God changed His approach?

      2. Another problem with intelligence, education and power is that we tend to rely on it instead of God. In light of all of this, why would God chose a guy (Paul) with a superior attitude? (I'm not sure. But, this is good news for smart, well-educated people. God not only used Paul in a major way, but he also used Daniel and Moses. God uses talented, well-educated people and He uses those who lack these talents. Praise God that all of us have an opportunity to serve Him.)

  2. Paul: The Instruction

    1. Look again at the first sentence of Acts 22:10. If you had Paul's educational background, his zeal for the law of God, and his charter of authority from the Sanhedrin to wipe out the Christians, would you be asking this question? (Your whole life is turned upside down! You thought that you were obeying God. You thought Jesus was a fraud. Now you find out that Jesus is God! You would truly not know what to do.)

      1. What kind of answer does God give? (First, follow simple directions, then I will give you more.)

    2. Read Acts 22:12 and Acts 9:10-15. What kind of person is Ananias? (Trusting! But, he wants to be sure God knows all the facts about this fellow who has been killing the Christians! Notice that Paul calls Ananias "a devout observer of the law." That gave him something in common with Paul. Plus, this fellow had the respect of his Jewish neighbors.)

    3. Read Acts 22:13. What does this action tell Paul? (This fellow can perform miracles. He can undue what God did! Therefore he must have been trusted with the power of God. I would immediately have an attitude of great trust and gratitude towards him.)

      1. We find more detail about this event in Acts 9. Let's read Acts 9:17-19. Notice that Ananias refers to both the working of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in this event. What does this suggest?

      2. Paul was blinded by the light. Why should "scales" fall from his eyes? (Details like this give credibility - something physical changed that you could see. It seems unlikely scales formed as the result of a bright light, but God wanted to show a physical change.)

    4. Read Acts 22:14. Let's break this down. I thought Paul was one of the foremost experts on the law - having been taught by Gamaliel. What does the language "chosen you to know His will" suggest? (That Paul needs more education. Perhaps different education.)

      1. Who is the "Righteous One?" (This must mean Jesus. See Psalms 16:10.)

        1. If it means Jesus, how is this possible? (This gives us an interesting insight. Paul is promised that Jesus will personally teach him. Since Acts 1:3 records that Jesus taught the other apostles after His resurrection, this makes sense.)

        2. Read Galatians 1:11-12 and Galatians 1:15-17. What consistent claim is Paul making about his instruction in the gospel? (That he received it directly from Jesus!)

    5. Read Acts 22:15-16. To whom is Paul to witness? (All humans.)

      1. How would this impact his former understanding of life? (His focus was on teaching Jews and promoting the understanding of the law. Now he has a mission far beyond his own people.)

      2. Why does Paul have to be baptized? (This is an acknowledgment that his past life promoting what he thought was the Kingdom of God, was instead sinful.)

        1. How difficult is it for a person with much intelligence, great education and a superior attitude, to make a 180 degree turn? (This had to be very difficult.)

    6. Read Acts 22:17-20. Is Paul willingly accepting God's direction? (No! God tells Paul to leave because he will not be able to persuade these people. Paul says, "Why not! These people know I was the most zealous advocate of their views! Surely, they will take me seriously!)

    7. Read Acts 22:21. What is God's direction for Paul's life? (To teach the Gentiles.)

      1. Why do you think Paul records his argument against God's direction? What is he telling his listeners and us? (He is emphasizing the God part of his work. He is giving credit to God. Paul says I had the best education, I was smart, motivated and hard-working. I had the backing of my nation's religious leaders. But, God turned all of that around. He changed everything and gave me a mission I did not choose.)

        1. Put yourself in Paul's place. How would that feel?

    8. Read Acts 22:22. Was Paul telling a popular story? (No!)

      1. Do you think that Paul would have anticipated this? (Yes. This gives credibility to what he said. People lie to avoid trouble. People who are saying things that get them into trouble are most likely telling the truth. Lawyers call it a "declaration against interest.")

    9. If you were Paul, looking back over your life, what would you think about the way God had led you?

      1. Was it a waste of time for Paul to be instructed by Gamaliel? (No. It was important that Paul was a great student, that he had the best teacher, and that he was filled with drive. All he needed was to better understand God's will for his life.)

    10. Friend, what about you? Do you strive for excellence in all that you do? Has God given you gifts that you use to advance His Kingdom? Are you open to being led by the Holy Spirit in ways you did not anticipate?

  3. Next week: Paul's Authority and Gospel.
* Copr. 2011, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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