“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (Jn. 3:16)
The apostle Paul is one of the great examples of the contrast between our own life-plans and God’s plans.
Paul is the chosen apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) precisely because his original idea of how to serve God was so far off the mark… that after his conversion Paul could not possibly look down his nose at the Gentiles for worshipping dumb idols.
Any other highly educated Pharisee would have great difficulty accepting and carrying out the mission to convert the Gentiles to the Christian faith, but Paul after Damascus had no allusions as to the utter failure of his own well-intentioned but misguided plan to rightly serve God by persecuting the early church.
A highly-educated Pharisee filled with self-righteous contempt for the pagan Gentiles could never have successfully carried out God’s mission of loving outreach contained within the new gospel message of reconciliation and forgiveness through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But a Christ-transformed Saul of Tarsus fits the job description for a first-century missionary evangelist…perfectly.
The life of Paul confirms the incredible wisdom and foresight of God in being able to manipulate events to turn apparent defeat into victory.
Paul as Saul the Pharisee is the deadliest enemy of the new Christian church in Jerusalem. Saul is arresting Christians, throwing them in jail, and having them beaten or in some cases killed (Acts 26:10). Saul is the last person on the planet that anyone would think could become a convert to Christianity, let alone become one of its greatest champions.
Yet it is precisely this extremely misguided effort by Saul that allows God to flip Saul into Paul on the road to Damascus, thus creating in a moment an exceptionally qualified spokesman with unparalleled credentials to present the case to the world that Jesus is indeed the Christ.
Paul’s education at the “feet of Gamaliel” at Jerusalem, places Paul’s knowledge of the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament above reproach. Combined with the super-humility that resulted from experiencing God’s forgiving love, and the sensational nature of his conversion, this makes Paul a uniquely powerful advocate for the new Christian faith.
The forgiving grace of Jesus Christ that produces this quick turnaround in Paul’s life, allows Paul to look at the Gentiles and know that God can do the same thing with them as well, no matter how misguided, deceived, and outwardly lost they appear to be.
Paul’s past also uniquely prepares Paul to attack his new mission with the expectation that persecution would come to whoever the first evangelists to the Gentile world would be. Paul had an insider’s understanding of the perils that lay ahead. In one of his letters to the churches (Gal. 1:13), Paul says that he wasted the church in Jerusalem, hailing men and women into prison, causing some to blaspheme and putting others to death.
When Paul ventured out to spread the Christian gospel, he entered upon the mission field knowing fully in advance what could and probably would happen to him.
Paul was aware of the evil that the Jews could do to him for preaching about Jesus the Christ, because he had already done these same things himself to other believers before his conversion. Paul knew intimately about the depth of animosity that some Jews would have against the new Christian faith.
Paul knew that he was not above being beaten by the authorities on several occasions, or being nearly stoned to death in Lystra. While most people would wash their hands of this evangelical mission to the Gentile world after such a stoning by the Jews, and tell God to find someone else, Paul is not offended at God for his rough treatment at Lystra and gets up un-phased and undeterred to continue his missionary journey.