(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

It is necessary to use the information in Acts, Galatians and Corinthians to piece together Paul's first ten years as a Christian.

Immediately after his conversion he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. Acts9v19. He then went into Arabia - to the east of Damascus. Gal1v17. Paul may have stopped in the countryside outside Damascus but travelled into the synagogue for the Sabbath. He certainly continued to speak in the Damascus' synagogues during this period of reflection because Acts9v22 informs us that Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days the Jews conspired to kill Saul but he escaped over the wall in a basket and makes his way to Jerusalem. See Acts9v23 and 2Cor11v32and33. This entire period lasted three years. Gal1v18: Then after 3 years I went up to Jerusalem. It is probable that Saul spent most of his time in Arabia studying, praying and meditating. Saul got to know Peter and James in Jerusalem. He argued with the Grecian Jews before the church sent him away to Tarsus. Saul was probably in Tarsus, his home-town, for seven or eight years. These were years spent in relative obscurity where his ministry was not attended with significant blessing. Once Saul finally leaves Tarsus he never returns. He never writes to the church in Tarsus. His letters barely mention this part of his life at all.

Saul made a slow start to the work God called him. He did not achieve much in the first ten years. We have to ask why that was? Surely as an evangelist everything was in his favour. He had a dramatic conversion. Saul of Tarsus was a prize trophy of grace. He had a superb knowledge of the Old Testament and the intelligence to use it effectively to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ. Saul was full of enthusiasm and energy; skilled in debate and argument. Today Saul would be the star turn at evangelical rallies. So why did God make such little use of Saul in the first ten years? Perhaps, because he had much to learn.

(B) Saul needed to learn wisdom.

The young Saul was:

    He baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. Acts9v23. Saul succeeded in stirring them up so much that they plotted to assassinate him as he was leaving the city. Where ever Saul went as a young man trouble followed not far behind.

    (b) Confrontational.
    Saul took on the Grecian Jews in Jerusalem - the very ones that had engineered Stephen's death. The synagogue of the Freedmen where Stephen did his preaching was where Jews from Cilicia - Saul's home province - attended. So Saul targeted the very Jews who had been so resistant to Stephen's ministry. He was inviting a violent reaction and got one because the Grecian Jews tried to kill him. Saul was also putting the future of the Jerusalem church at risk. So, for his own safety and the well being of the church, he was escorted to Caesarea and put on a boat for Tarsus.

    (c) Obsessional.
    Saul did not know when to stop witnessing. In the end God puts a stop to Saul's ministry in Jerusalem. The Lord spoke to him in a trance: "Quick! Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me." Acts22v18.

It seems to me that the Christians in Jerusalem were quite glad to see the back of Saul. After his departure Luke records: Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord. Acts9v31.

Paul needed to learn to be more conciliatory. In later life he was prepared to make many concessions to the weakness of others:

1Corv9v22and23: To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

1Cor10v31to33: So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God - even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many so that they may be saved.

Romans15v1: We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

It is likely that Saul was humbled and learned to be more conciliatory in his home-town of Tarsus. In 2Cor11v24 Paul states that: Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods..... It is highly likely that Saul received these beatings in Tarsus. Rejection and failure are hard taskmasters. They tend to modify a hard line, abrasive, in your face, confrontational approach. It is not necessarily the best way to preach the gospel.

I have tended to be confrontational all my life. It has not brought me much success. My father used to tell me to be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove. He urged me to be less controversial in the pulpit so that at least a few churches asked me back to speak again! He told me to be gracious.... I have never learned, with Paul, to be all things to all men to save some. It might have been a lesson well learned.

(C) Saul needed to learn the importance of fellowship.

Paul was fiercely independent. He preferred to plough a lone furrow. It is a measure of his independence that he writes to the Galatians: I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Gal1v11. Paul then goes on to say that after his conversion: I did not consult any man nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was. Gal1v17. When he did finally get to Jerusalem he did not exactly mix with the other apostles. He only spoke to Peter and James. Now, I do not consider all this is to Paul's credit. There is nothing discreditable in receiving the gospel from someone else or in consulting with other Christians. Paul was very concerned to be accepted on an equal footing with the other apostles!

Paul never took a penny for preaching the gospel except from the Philippians. He was quite prepared to remind the churches of this: ... the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
But I have not used any of these rights. .....
I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. ....
What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. 1Cor9vs14to18.

Paul was even reluctant to accept the hospitality of Lydia - she had to shame him into it! He preferred to work as a tent maker and to pay his own way. In this he was very dissimilar to his Master who was always prepared to accept the hospitality of others and relied on the support of several well to do women during his ministry.

Paul boasted that he had never built on a foundation laid by another man. Again what is wrong with that? Why does Paul feel it necessary to draw attention to this fact?

Now lest any one think that I am being unduly critical of Paul let me admit to being like him in this one respect at least. I, too, am very independent. I never take a preaching fee. I never charge for conducting a funeral. I have never been paid for anything I have written. My website is sponsored by no-one and recommended by no organisation. I do not really belong to the Association of Grace Baptist Churches with which my own church is in fellowship. I do not consider this is a strength. My parents used to urge me to accept payment for preaching. My mother would say, "Look John you can always give the money to charity. By refusing to take anything you spoil it for others." I wouldn't do it - for pretty much the same reason as Paul. I also realise that I could do with some feed back on my website. I would be more likely to receive constructive criticism if supported by a religious group.

As Paul struggled alone at Tarsus he surely reflected on how he had been helped during his early years as a Christian. Ananias baptised him. The Christians in Damascus helped him to escape over the wall in a basket. Dear old Barnabas, the great encourager, introduced him to the church in Jerusalem. Peter and James instructed him in the things of the Lord. Some of the Jerusalem fellowship ensured that he got safely to Caesarea and away to Tarsus. Paul must have realised that for all his learning and the revelations that he had from Jesus he was not achieving much by himself.

Barnabas rescued him from a dead-end ministry. He travelled to Tarsus and invited Paul to join with him and others to work in the church at Antioch. At Antioch Paul was part of a team.

Eventually Paul was able to write his wonderful description of the church as a body: But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it.

Christians cannot exist independently - we are each of us part of the body and our well being is dependent upon all the other parts.

In the end no-one showed more pastoral concern for others than Paul. Critics of the great apostle should read with humility his gracious appeal to Philemon to show mercy to Onesimus. He addresses Philemon with such tact and tenderness: Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Philemonv7. Paul's personal greetings in the concluding chapter of Romans show just how much he cared about his fellow Christians.

(D) Saul needed to know more and more of the love of Christ.

Paul always preached Jesus. In Damascus he preached that Jesus was the Son of God and later proved from the Scriptures that he was the Messiah. This was probable his theme in Jerusalem. He succeeded in baffling the Jews in Damascus and enraging the Grecian Jews in Jerusalem.

Paul was always concerned to persuade the Jews that Jesus was God's anointed one. However, as time went on I believe that he concentrated more and more on Christ crucified. This was the supreme demonstration of the Saviour's love. Paul writes to the Corinthians: When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1Cor2v1 Paul proclaimed the love of Jesus in making sacrifice for sin and relied on the Holy Spirit to apply the message to the hearts of men.

Sometimes when I listen to the gospel being preached it is mostly about the sin of man. Now it is very easy to speak at length about the sin of man because we all have first hand experience of it. Satan, too, is very happy for us to keep speaking about man's sin. What sinners need to hear about is:

          Oh, the love that drew salvation's plan!
          Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
          Oh, the might gulf that God did span at Calvary!
          Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
          Pardon there was multiplied to me;
          There my burdened soul found liberty at Calvary.