Make Spiritual Progress by Following Paul’s Example
“I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.”—2 TIM. 4:7.
1, 2. What changes did Saul of Tarsus make in his life, and what important work did he take up?
THE man was intelligent and decisive. However, he ‘conducted himself in harmony with the desires of his flesh.’ (Eph. 2:3) He later described himself as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man.” (1 Tim. 1:13) That man was Saul of Tarsus.
2 In time, Saul made radical changes in his life. He put off his former ways and worked hard ‘not to be seeking his own advantage but that of the many.’ (1 Cor. 10:33) He became gentle and showed tender affection for those who would have been victims of his animosity. (Read 1 Thessalonians 2:7, 8.) “I became a minister,” he wrote, adding: “To me, a man less than the least of all holy ones, this undeserved kindness was given, that I should declare to the nations the good news about the unfathomable riches of the Christ.”—Eph. 3:7, 8.
3. In what way can studying Paul’s letters and the record of his ministry help us?
3 Saul, who was also known as Paul, made outstanding spiritual progress. (Acts 13:9) One sure way to accelerate our personal advancement in the truth is by studying Paul’s letters and the record of his ministry and then imitating his example of faith. (Read 1 Corinthians 11:1; Hebrews 13:7.) Let us see how doing so will motivate us to develop a good routine of personal study, to cultivate genuine love for people, and to have a proper view of ourselves.
Paul’s Routine of Study
4, 5. How did personal study benefit Paul?
4 As a Pharisee who had been educated “at the feet of Gamaliel, instructed according to the strictness of the ancestral Law,” Paul already had some knowledge of the Scriptures. (Acts 22:1-3; Phil. 3:4-6) Right after his baptism, he “went off into Arabia”—either the Syrian Desert or possibly some quiet place on the Arabian Peninsula that was conducive to meditation. (Gal. 1:17) Paul apparently wanted to reflect upon the scriptures that proved that Jesus was the Messiah. Moreover, Paul wanted to prepare for the work that lay ahead of him. (Read Acts 9:15, 16, 20, 22.) Paul took time to meditate on spiritual things.
5 The Scriptural knowledge and insight that Paul acquired from personal study enabled him to teach the truth effectively. For example, at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, Paul used at least five direct quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul also referred to the holy writings several times. His Biblical arguments were so persuasive that “many of the Jews and of the proselytes who worshiped God followed Paul and Barnabas” in order to learn more. (Acts 13:14-44) When a group of Roman Jews came to him in his lodging place years later, Paul explained matters to them “by bearing thorough witness concerning the kingdom of God and by using persuasion with them concerning Jesus from both the law of Moses and the Prophets.”—Acts 28:17, 22, 23.
6. What helped Paul to remain spiritually strong when facing trials?
6 When facing trials, Paul continued to examine the Scriptures and derive strength from their inspired message. (Heb. 4:12) While imprisoned in Rome before his execution, Paul asked Timothy to bring him “the scrolls” and “the parchments.” (2 Tim. 4:13) Those documents were likely portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that Paul used in his in-depth study. Acquiring knowledge of the Scriptures by having a routine of Bible study was essential to Paul so that he could remain steadfast.
7. Cite the benefits you can gain from regular Bible study.
7 Regular study of the Bible, accompanied by purposeful meditation, will help us to progress spiritually. (Heb. 5:12-14) Regarding the value of God’s Word, the psalmist sang: “The law of your mouth is good for me, more so than thousands of pieces of gold and silver. Wiser than my enemies your commandment makes me, because to time indefinite it is mine. From every bad path I have restrained my feet, for the purpose that I may keep your word.” (Ps. 119:72, 98, 101) Do you have a routine of personal Bible study? Are you preparing for future assignments in God’s service by reading the Bible daily and reflecting upon what you read?
Saul Learned to Love People
8. How did Saul treat those outside of Judaism?
8 Before becoming a Christian, Saul had been zealous for his religion, but he had little concern for people outside of Judaism. (Acts 26:4, 5) He watched with approval as some Jews stoned Stephen. Saul must have been emboldened by what he saw, perhaps viewing Stephen’s execution as deserved punishment. (Acts 6:8-14; 7:54–8:1) The inspired account relates: “Saul . . . began to deal outrageously with the congregation. Invading one house after another and, dragging out both men and women, he would turn them over to prison.” (Acts 8:3) He “went so far as to persecuting them even in outside cities.”—Acts 26:11.
9. What experience caused Saul to reexamine the way he treated people?
9 When the Lord Jesus appeared to him, Saul was on his way to Damascus to harass Christ’s disciples there. The supernatural brilliance of the Son of God left Saul blind and dependent on others. By the time that Jehovah used Ananias to restore Saul’s sight, Saul’s attitude toward people had changed forever. (Acts 9:1-30) Upon becoming a follower of Christ, he worked hard to deal with all people as Jesus did. This meant putting off violence and being “peaceable with all men.”—Read Romans 12:17-21.
10, 11. How did Paul display genuine love for people?
10 Paul was not content with just being at peace with others. He wanted to show them genuine love, and the Christian ministry gave him that opportunity. On his first missionary tour, he preached the good news in Asia Minor. Despite fierce opposition, Paul and his associates concentrated on helping meek ones to embrace Christianity. They revisited Lystra and Iconium, even though opposers in those cities had tried to kill Paul.—Acts 13:1-3; 14:1-7, 19-23.
11 Later, Paul and his group searched for rightly inclined people in the Macedonian city of Philippi. A Jewish proselyte named Lydia listened to the good news and became a Christian. The civil authorities beat Paul and Silas with rods and threw them into prison. However, Paul preached to the jailer, with the result that he and his family were baptized as worshippers of Jehovah.—Acts 16:11-34.
12. What motivated insolent Saul to become a loving apostle of Jesus Christ?
12 Why did the onetime persecutor Saul embrace the faith of his victims? What motivated that insolent man to become the kind and loving apostle who was willing to risk his life so that others could learn the truth about God and Christ? Paul himself explains: “God, who . . . called me through his undeserved kindness, thought good to reveal his Son in connection with me.” (Gal. 1:15, 16) To Timothy, Paul wrote: “I was shown mercy [so] that by means of me as the foremost case Christ Jesus might demonstrate all his long-suffering for a sample of those who are going to rest their faith on him for everlasting life.” (1 Tim. 1:16) Jehovah forgave Paul, and receiving such undeserved kindness and mercy moved him to show love to others by preaching the good news to them.
13. What should move us to show love to others, and how can we do so?
13 Jehovah likewise forgives our sins and mistakes. (Ps. 103:8-14) “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” asked the psalmist. (Ps. 130:3) Without God’s mercy, none of us would have the joy of sacred service, nor could we look forward to receiving everlasting life. God’s undeserved kindness has been great toward all of us. Like Paul, therefore, we should desire to extend love to others by preaching to them and teaching them the truth and by strengthening our fellow believers.—Read Acts 14:21-23.
14. How may we be able to expand our ministry?
14 Paul wanted to progress as a minister of the good news, and Jesus’ example touched his heart. Among the ways the Son of God showed incomparable love for people was by means of his public ministry. Jesus said: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.” (Matt. 9:35-38) Paul acted in harmony with any request he might have made for more workers by becoming a zealous worker. What about you? Can you improve the quality of your ministry? Or can you increase the share you are having in the Kingdom-preaching work, perhaps even making room in your life for pioneer service? Let us show genuine love toward others by helping them to gain “a tight grip on the word of life.”—Phil. 2:16.
Paul’s View of Himself
15. How did Paul view himself in relation to his fellow Christians?
15 As a Christian minister, Paul set an outstanding example for us in yet another way. Although he received many privileges in the Christian congregation, Paul was well-aware that he did not earn those blessings and that they were not due him because of his abilities. He realized that the blessings he experienced were expressions of God’s undeserved kindness. Paul recognized that other Christians were also effective ministers of the good news. Despite his standing among God’s people, he remained humble.—Read 1 Corinthians 15:9-11.
16. How did Paul show humility and modesty in connection with the issue of circumcision?
16 Consider how Paul handled a problem that arose in the Syrian city of Antioch. The Christian congregation there was split over the issue of circumcision. (Acts 14:26–15:2) Since Paul had been appointed to take the lead in preaching to the uncircumcised Gentiles, he might have thought of himself as an expert in dealing with non-Jews and therefore well-qualified to resolve the problem. (Read Galatians 2:8, 9.) When his efforts did not seem to clear up the issue, however, with humility and modesty, he went along with arrangements to approach the governing body in Jerusalem to discuss the matter. He cooperated fully as its members listened to the matter, reached a decision, and assigned him to be one of their messengers. (Acts 15:22-31) Thus Paul ‘took the lead in showing honor’ to his fellow servants.—Rom. 12:10b.
17, 18. (a) What feeling did Paul develop toward those in the congregations? (b) What does the reaction of the Ephesian elders to Paul’s departure teach us about him?
17 Humble Paul did not distance himself from his brothers and sisters in the congregations. Rather, he became attached to them. At the end of his letter to the Romans, he greeted over 20 people by name. Most of them are not mentioned anywhere else in the Scriptures, and few had special privileges. But they were loyal servants of Jehovah, and Paul loved them dearly.—Rom. 16:1-16.
18 Paul’s humble and friendly manner built up the congregations. After he had met with the elders from Ephesus for the last time, “they fell upon Paul’s neck and tenderly kissed him, because they were especially pained at the word he had spoken that they were going to behold his face no more.” The departure of a proud, aloof man would not have caused that reaction.—Acts 20:37, 38.
19. How can we show “lowliness of mind” in our dealings with fellow Christians?
19 All who wish to progress spiritually must manifest a humble spirit as Paul did. He exhorted fellow Christians to do “nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Phil. 2:3) How can we follow that counsel? One way is by cooperating with the elders in our congregation, following their direction and upholding judicial decisions made by them. (Read Hebrews 13:17.) Another way is by highly esteeming all our brothers and sisters in the faith. The congregations of Jehovah’s people are often composed of individuals of diverse national, cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds. Should we, though, not learn to treat all with impartiality and affection, as Paul did? (Acts 17:26; Rom. 12:10a) We are encouraged to “welcome one another, just as the Christ also welcomed us, with glory to God in view.”—Rom. 15:7.
“Run With Endurance” the Race for Life
20, 21. What will help us to run the race for life successfully?
20 The life of a Christian can be likened to a long-distance footrace. Paul wrote: “I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me as a reward in that day, yet not only to me, but also to all those who have loved his manifestation.”—2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
21 Following Paul’s example will help us to run the race for eternal life successfully. (Heb. 12:1) By all means, then, let us continue to make spiritual progress by developing a good routine of personal study, by cultivating deep love for people, and by maintaining a humble attitude.
How Would You Answer?
• How did Paul benefit from regular personal study of the Scriptures?
• Why is deep love for people important for true Christians?
• Having what qualities will help you to treat others impartially?
• How can Paul’s example help you to cooperate with the elders in your congregation?
[Picture on page 23]
Draw strength from the Scriptures, as Paul did
[Picture on page 24]
Show love by sharing the good news with others
[Picture on page 25]
Do you know what endeared Paul to his brothers?