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The Apostle Paul: How Did a Prideful Pharisee Become a Humble Servant?

Article by: Sarah Koontz

Saint Augustine described Paul’s conversion as “the violent capture of a rebel will.”​​

Before God could use Paul for His purposes, He had to humble and reshape the man into His image.

When Jesus Christ showed up in Paul’s life and called Him to a new way of living, Paul responded in faith.

Paul was a prideful sinner, saved by grace, who learned to serve his Savior with humility.​​

How did this transformation occur?

Slowly.
Deliberately.
Painstakingly.

As students of Scripture, it is easy to skip to the end of a person’s story (result) without considering the timeline of their lives (process).

  • Abraham and Sarah had to wait 15 years to see God’s promise of a son fulfilled.
  • Joseph had to endure many years of captivity and slavery before he was used by God to rescue his people from a terrible drought.
  • Moses spent 40 years in the desert tending sheep before God spoke to him out of the burning bush and called him back to Egypt to “set his people free.”

And the Apostle Paul invested three years in divine preparation (Gal 1:15–18) before preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

The Apostle Paul Learned Humility

“God takes His time. When God plans to use us, He puts us through the paces.” Chuck Swindoll

Immediately after his conversion, Paul attempted to proclaim, “Jesus is the Son of God” in the synagogues at Damascus (Acts 9:20–25) and Jerusalem (Acts 9:26–30).

But the people were not ready to hear this message from him, and they plotted to kill him in both locations.

This foreshadowed the kind of life Christ had called him to (Acts 20:23), and I believe these near-death experiences helped Paul recognize the importance of fortifying his newfound faith.

Concerning the three-year gap between the Apostle Paul’s conversion and public ministry, Dr. Warren Wieresbe wrote, “Paul gave himself to study, prayer, and meditation, and met with the Lord alone.”

This time of relative quiet in Paul’s life prepared him for the trials that were to come.

It is quite possible that the transformation we see in Paul’s character occurred during this season of quiet, intimate time alone with God.

Raymond Edman labels this as “the discipline of delay.”​​

Paul describes his fresh perspective in Philippians 3:7–8a HCSB, “But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Rather than focusing on his own agenda and goals, Paul spent the remainder of his life focusing on what God had done.​​

The Apostle Paul’s story teaches us that human pride dissipates in the presence of Almighty God.

In the words of Andrew Murray, “Nothing is more natural and beautiful and blessed than to be nothing in order that God may be everything.”

The Apostle Paul Understood Suffering

“Specific pain enables us to comfort others specifically.” Chuck Swindoll

Paul’s story also teaches us that the path to humility and fruitful servanthood is full of suffering and sacrifice (2 Cor 11:24–31).

Paul endured much hardship during his time on Earth.

And he found the strength to persevere in his calling because he discovered that God’s grace is sufficient, and God’s “power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

This beautiful discovery cost Paul dearly (2 Cor 12:7–8); it also equipped him for a life of humble servanthood.

When I read Paul’s words to the first-century believers, I can feel his passion, pain, and purpose.

Paul did everything in his power to serve God and his fellow man with humility and selflessness. 

He ran his race with endurance, and his earthly reward was hardship, suffering, and death. 

Paul’s life teaches us the actual cost of dedicating your life to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

There is nothing easy, simple, or comfortable about accepting Jesus’ call to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Him (Mt 16:24). 

The knowledge that Paul was able to endure suffering without bitterness is comforting to me.

The Apostle Paul Appreciated God’s Grace

“We tend to require more than God does!” Chuck Swindoll

Because God’s grace is such an essential aspect of Paul’s theology, he opens and closes every single one of his letters with a reference to God’s grace. 

For Paul, the uniqueness of the Christian faith is wrapped up in the immeasurable grace of God. 

Salvation is pure grace from beginning to end. It is the undeserved, unearned, unequivocal favor and forgiveness of God.  

As Christians, even the best and most admirable works do not improve our standing before God or possess the power to save us from our sins. 

Paul judged himself accurately, and his ability to define and surrender his weaknesses allowed him to be used by God. 

Paul’s life teaches us that humility is one of our most potent weapons against the temptations of this world; it protects us from sin and reminds us of our dependence upon Christ. 

When we seek to love God with our whole being and aim to serve others selflessly, we discover there is little room left in our lives for pride and self-importance. 

I am incredibly grateful for the powerful lessons about humility, suffering, and grace woven throughout the Apostle Paul’s life and writings. 

Journey to humility study logo

Join us for Journey to Humility: A Free Online Bible Study

The Apostle Paul was God’s “chosen instrument” to take His name to “Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites” (Acts 9:15). 

He was useful because he was malleable.

Paul viewed himself as a bondservant of Christ (Rm 1:1), a co-laborer for the gospel (1 Cor 3:9), and the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).

He freely admitted his faults and failures (1 Cor 15:9) and humbly accepted his earthly assignment (2 Cor 12:9-10). 

He overcame hardships (2 Tim 3:11) and ran his race with endurance (2 Tim 4:7). 

And he did this all in the context of community!

In the Acts and Pauline epistles, we meet the many participants in Paul’s preaching and teaching ministry. The apostle’s work was a “collaborative ministry” with somewhere between 81 and 94 co-workers mentioned in the Scriptures [SOURCE].

I want to personally invite you to join us for Journey to Humility, a free 30-day Bible study detailing the people, places, and predicaments that shaped the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Each day, we will meet new characters in Paul’s story and explore the impact they had on his life.

This e-mail-based Bible Study consists of twenty-two lessons delivered over the course of thirty days (with two rest days each week), including Scripture readings, devotionals, shareable graphics, and digital gifts.

You will receive a welcome letter within fifteen minutes, and the first devotional will arrive in your inbox tomorrow morning. Don’t forget to invite friends! Bible study is always more fun with friends.

As you study Paul’s life and meet the diverse cast of characters in his story, I urge you to pay attention to the critical contributions each person makes.

I pray that you will find yourself somewhere in this study.  Each of us has a critical role to play in God’s story here on earth.

If God has not called you to be a Paul—maybe He’s preparing you to be an Ananias, a Timothy, or another character from the story.

1 Corinthians 12:12 HCSB says, “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ.”

God created you on purpose for a purpose. Are you willing to become a usable tool for His glory?

Your Bible Study Partner, Sarah Koontz

 

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Picture of About the Author: Sarah Koontz

About the Author: Sarah Koontz

Sarah Koontz is the founder of Living by Design Ministries, a non-profit organization that exists to deliver free Bible Studies to inboxes around the world. She is a passionate storyteller who enjoys using illustrations to communicate deep spiritual truths. Sarah and her husband Ryan live on thirteen acres in the heart of the Black Hills, SD. They have two beautiful daughters, a rowdy flock of chickens, and a house full of foster kittens. Sarah is an avid gardener, a faithful coffee drinker, lover of one-pot-dinners, an unexpected homeschooler, and a Dallas Seminary student.

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