Paul was a paradox. He was the former Saul, now Paul. He had been a persecutor of Christ followers, now he was persecuted because he had become a Christ follower. Paul was now being persecuted for proclaiming the very truth that he had worked so hard to suppress once upon a time. But now, Paul knew the truth and he could not keep silent. Paul knew the true identity of Jesus. This was revealed to him as he traveled on the road to Damascus. It was there Saul had an encounter with the Living God.
“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?’ ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’ He replied.” (Acts 9:3-5)
Through this encounter Saul learned that Jesus is who He said He was all along. When Saul realized that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Deliverer, the Redeemer of Israel and of the world, the Son of God, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Savior . . . that Jesus was everything the Scriptures had foretold He would be . . . everything changed for him. This realization born of revelation changed Saul into Paul. It changed him permanently.
God had plans for Saul, far beyond simply changing his name. God would change his heart and make him a new person, with a new purpose in life. Paul’s purpose was no longer to persecute those who knew who Jesus is but to proclaim the very truth of Jesus’ identity that he had worked so diligently to suppress before he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man is My chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for My name.’ ” (Acts 9:15-16)
Yes, God had a purpose and a plan for Paul all along. And on God’s plan the path for Paul led straight to and through prison, not just once but multiple times. God’s plan for Paul to carry His name to so many people and to so many places was actually accomplished because of, not in spite of, Paul’s time spent in prison.
This is counter intuitive to be sure, but true nonetheless. Paul was traveling to visit churches in many places such as Rome and Philippi and Corinth. But he was often prevented from visiting in person due to being detained in prison. So Paul wrote letters to those believers he was longing to visit in person. And because he did, we have many of the books that make up the New Testament. Books such as Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Timothy, Titus – these were all letters written by Paul to the believers in these locations. Had Paul been there in person, he would have had no need to write a letter.
Paul acknowledged this when he wrote in his letter to the Philippians (1:12-14), “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he said, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” (Eph. 6:19-20)
Paul didn’t let “being in chains” stop him from his purpose of sharing the gospel with everyone and anyone. He wrote letters to those he wanted to visit personally. He stated in Romans 1:11-13, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – . . . I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you,”.
Paul pours out his heart in his letters to these churches and to Timothy and Titus as he sits in prison, prevented from doing what he wanted to do, which was to preach the gospel in person to all these people. As it turns out, Paul’s letters had a wider audience down through the ages, that is to say, they reached more people than his physical presence with them at that time ever would have done.
What Paul’s persecutor’s intended for his harm, (to detain him in prison, thereby preventing the spread of the gospel) God used for His good purposes – to actually advance the spread of the gospel and give us several books of the New Testament.
If Paul’s plans to visit these various churches had gone as scheduled, he would have had no reason to write letters to them because he would have been there in person preaching and teaching. It is a good thing that God’s purposes are the ones that prevail, not ours.
The paradox of Paul is that the very thing that was meant to keep him from his God given calling of taking the gospel to the world, (imprisonment) was in fact the very thing God used to ensure that Paul would indeed proclaim (through his letters) Christ’s gospel, to all people for all ages.
As Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Paul made his travel plans but God had a different plan for him, a path that led to and through prison. Proverbs 19:21 says it clearly, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” thank you Lord that You are Sovereign!
sincerely, Grace Day