Paul Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Name: Hebrew name Saul. Roman name Paul.
Meaning of name: Saul = “asked”. Paul = “little”
Ancestry and family life: A Benjamite, a Pharisee trained under the famous Gamaliel, circumcised the eighth day, a Roman citizen. Extremely zealous follower of Judaism (Php 3:5-6). Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews.
When and where he lived: Paul lived during the time of the early church. His exact age isn’t known, but he was probably about the age of Peter. He came from Tarsus near the Northeast shore of the Mediterranean.
Events surrounding birth: No info.
Training and occupation: Paul was a Pharisee (Php 3:5-6). Therefore he was highly educated in that time period. He trained under another famous Pharisee named Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He was a student of the Scriptures and knew them well. He was a skillful writer, debater, and public speaker.
Place in history: Paul was an apostle of Christ. He traveled extensively spreading the gospel and establishing churches. He was a missionary to the Gentiles, yet loved his own brethren deeply. He was the spiritual leader over a number of far-flung churches and trained up pastors and elders to oversee those churches. He wrote much of the New Testament, giving us very important doctrines and teachings. Eventually he was martyred.
Special traits: (1) Poor eyesight? (2) Unimpressive appearance (2 Co 10:10). (3) Roman citizen. (4) Miraculous gifts (healing, tongues, etc.)
1. Temper/Pride – Paul seems to struggle with pride at times and having a hot temper. He says that God sent a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble (2 Co 12:7). On the second missionary journey Barnabas wanted to take Mark, but Paul disagreed because of a previous mistake that Mark had made. Evidently Barnabas was right because Mark went on to be a faithful missionary. Paul also grew angry with the servant girl who was a fortune teller and cast that spirit out, apparently in anger (Acts 16:18). He wouldn’t leave the prison in peace when he was wrongfully jailed at with Silas, wanting an apology (Acts 16:37). He also was disrespectful of the high priest (Acts 23:3).
Whole-hearted- Paul was an “all-or-nothing” kind of guy. He was never lukewarm. He either zealously persecuted Christianity or he zealously proclaimed it. This was a very good quality when he finally focused his energy on serving Christ. He was highly educated and could have done a lot of other things, but gave his life to Christ. See Php 3:3-14.
Endurance- Paul faced continual opposition to his goal of sharing the gospel and building churches. The Jews opposed him every step of the way, often stirring up riots, throwing him in prison, getting help from the local authorities in persecuting Paul and his companions, and forcing them from town to town. Paul also faced many false teachers who spoke out against his teachings and criticized him behind his back. Even other Jewish believers were sometimes against him for some of his teachings. He persevered in his mission (Acts 13:47) until the end of his life (cf. 2 Tim 4:6-8, Acts 20:24).
Gave all glory to God (cf. 14:12-20) – Paul never tried to get credit or glory for himself. He gave it all to God. He was consumed with the glory of God. It disturbed him seriously when people gave glory to him instead of God. He often pointed out his own sins and blasphemies. He called himself the “least of the apostles” (1 Co 15:9).
Boldness – Paul was routinely bold for the gospel as when he said. His motto could be Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God…” He stood up for the truth in front of authorities, kings, Romans, Jews, the emperor of Rome, even Peter and other believers. He did not compromise God’s Word.
Contentment (Acts 16:19-31, Php 4:11-13, 2 Co 11:23-28) – Paul faced more persecutions and difficulties than any other believer in history that I can think of. It was unjust. He was beaten and whipped and stoned and imprisoned for the name of Christ. Yet in all of these situations he didn’t complain. Even when he was in a dirty, filthy jail he was singing praises to God!
Sincere love and sensitive heart (Acts 17:16, Rom 9:3) – Paul’s sensitive spirit was provoked when he saw Athens full of idols and all the people blindly following falsehoods. He hated sin and he hated to see people separate from God. His conscience didn’t allow him to stand by and do nothing. He even said he would go to hell forever if it would help to save his countrymen.
Industrious (Acts 18:1-3) – Paul was a worker for God and he deserved wages from the church. But in order to not be a burden on others and further the gospel he willingly worked by making tents in order to support himself.
Leader/strategizer – Paul was a great leader. He gathered others to themselves, worked with them, trained them, and sent them out. He established churches, maintained contact with them through letters, sent messengers and workers to them, and revisited them. He led by example and by service. Strategically he accomplished an amazing amount of work in his ministry, establishing churches and spreading the gospel over a large area. Many of his ministry methods are still followed today. The phrase “tent-making” comes from Paul’s ministry.
Sharp mind (23:6) – Paul’s thinking was very logical and sharp. He knew how to give a good defense to others.
Important acts and events:
Conversion (Acts 9) – Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christianity. He went from place to place dragging believers from their homes to prison. He witnessed and supported Stephen’s stoning. Jesus miraculously intervened in his life to save him and transform him completely. Notice how fast he is baptized and starts proclaiming Jesus.
First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:2-15:35)
Second Missionary Journey (Acts 15:36-18:22)
Third Missionary Journey (Acts 18:23-21:14)
How he died: In his last epistle, 2nd Timothy, Paul was a prisoner in Rome approaching execution. He was martyred there. Tradition says he was beheaded. (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Lessons from his life:
No one is “too lost” or too hard for God to convert (Acts 9). Paul wasn’t just apathetic to the gospel. He persecuted believers with a vengeance. God miraculously intervened in his life to save him. God can and does do the same today. Therefore don’t give up praying for and witnessing to your families and friends, even if it seems hopeless.
God sends trials into our lives for a purpose. Paul went blind, quite a trial! Yet God used this to get Paul’s attention and convert him, quite a goal! We need to rejoice in trials and instead of seeking to get rid of them, try to see what God wants us to learn through them.
Paul kept clear focus in his life on what was really important. He knew that money, esteem, fame, power, a home, even a normal, secure, steady life and marriage are secondary to serving God. This is the chief purpose in life. Perhaps God does have a steady home, job, and marriage planned for us, but if He doesn’t we still be able to follow Him with our full hearts? If we do have these things will we realize they are from God and will we still set our heart on Him rather than earthly things?
Paul strove to become like God. He wasn’t perfect, but He constantly reached for perfection (cf. Php 3:12-14). He even commanded the Corinthians to follow his example of following after God (1 Co 11:1). Paul faced the same things we face. He had the same struggles we have. He went down the same “life road” we will go down. He knows the way and shows us from his own experience how to get there. We can follow Paul’s example in racing after Christ.
Contentment – So often we are not content in life. We complain about the little trials we face and we think “everything is against us” in this world. We think we face trials worse than others. We think the grass is greener on the other side. If only we can get a good job, if only we can finish school, if only we can get a good marriage or home then we can be happy. But this is not true. We must learn to content in our present situation before we can expect to be content in a future situation.
Make use of every chance to share the gospel. Paul shared no matter where he was, even in prison in the middle of the night!
Paul was “all things to all men” as long as he could do so within Scripture. We need to live in a way that we will not offend others by our habits and actions. The only thing that should offend them is Christ in us and Christ preached through us.
Wherever Paul went he drew the respect of those both above and under him. He was able to do this because he walked with Christ and showed compassion and respect to others. Whether in the world or in the church, we should behave in an upright way so that as Paul our conscience can be “clear before God and man”. (Acts 24:16)