Who Was Paul?
Paul’s great personality shines over the millennia even into our own time, into our present day. In his general letters to individual churches, as well as in his personal letters to co-workers and friends, we see the marks of a great man of God, a man whose heart is aflame and filled with love for undying souls.
Paul was not one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. At first, he is portrayed in the Bible as a fanatical persecutor of the Church. His conversion was extraordinary. His success as a follower of Jesus was also extraordinary. Almost half of the books in the New Testament were written by Paul. His mission among the nations is well known, as he was instrumental in spreading the gospel. After the resurrection of Jesus, the Church consisted of primarily Jewish believers, but only thirty years later the gospel had spread throughout the Roman Empire and into Europe.
What Does Paul Say about Himself?
Paul described himself as a promising young Jewish theologian, zealous for the law of Moses. Born in Tarsus, he belonged to an emigrant Jewish family. The geographical location of Tarsus lies in southeast Turkey today. Paul came from a respected family belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. In his early teens, he was a student of Gamaliel, a respected Jewish scribe (Galatians 1:13-14; Acts 22:3). His zeal for the law was so acute that he persecuted the Church (Acts 22:4; 26:10-11), which was then still in its infancy.
Paul gladly gives account of his conversion. He had a dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. When Christ stepped into his path, he was divinely enlightened. Suddenly, he recognized his sinfulness and his rebellion against God. Through his brutal aggression against the Church, he had brought great guilt upon himself. There on the road to Damascus, he became aware of his pitiful state, his hopelessness, and his sin. He saw no way out. Then Paul experienced the blessedness of God-given pastoral care enabled by the Holy Spirit.
By falling into sin, the human condition was altered. The relationship changed:
a) towards God
b) towards other people
c) towards oneself
This miserable condition of the soul necessitates the need for pastoral care. Healthy, normal relationships are wanting, have become diseased, and are in need of a cure. Only Jesus Christ, through His atonement, provides effective medicine for this predicament.
Pastoral care serves with the intention of healing the inner person and restoring the whole person to health. Good pastoral care is successful in reaching and speaking to the mind, the will, and the emotions of the individual.
Pastoral care begins with care for the soul. It is concerned about those souls who have no salvation and have not yet found healing for their sin-shattered hearts and lives. Pastoral care also offers guidance for those who are converted and serve the Lord.
The most important issue for the person offering pastoral care is to make a correct diagnosis in order to understand and address an individual’s spiritual need. It is important to understand which relationship has been damaged, the relationship with one’s neighbor, with God, or within oneself.
Paul’s Pastoral Care
In Acts, Luke relates how Paul labored in public but also how he provided pastoral care in private: “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31). In public, he was able to reach people from a reserved distance, but in personal pastoral care he could meet the individual’s specific need. Focusing on the individual’s specific circumstances, he could provide, from God’s abundance, the help that was needed. Just like a knowledgeable pharmacist selects the right medicine, so Paul could select those admonitions and promises of God that were right for the soul seeking help. Concerning his stay in Rome, we are told: “Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him” (Acts 28:30). It probably was similar in other places where Paul stayed as well. People came and were able to have personal conversations with him and received spiritual help and strength.
His Success as a Pastor
When Paul needed help in Damascus, he received outside assistance. Ananias and Barnabas were used by God to give him the help he needed. The person offering care must assure the seeking individual that there is hope for him or her. In his repentant state, Paul was totally confused and saw no way out. In conversation with Barnabas, who offered him pastoral care, the way to a hopeful future became clearly evident. Paul learned from this personal experience in order to be successful in his own work as a pastor.
Later on, he would often relate how Christ had lifted him out of the deepest abyss, and therefore he could offer hope for others. His own dramatic experience gave him a foundation to refer back to. He never forgot the depths he had come out of, and this kept him humble and filled with gratitude.
Foundational for the Apostle Paul’s success as a pastor was that he knew Jesus personally. He knew the power of Christ and could share this credibly with those he came into contact with. He had personally experienced God’s power and could therefore tell those who were hopeless and laden with sin about the love, compassion, and faithfulness of Christ. The depth of his own personal guilt and the saving knowledge of Christ were his prerequisites for understanding the spiritual misery of others.
It is important for those in spiritual distress to know that their counselor understands their situation. Only then will they be able to open up and talk about what is essential. They must know their counselor is not just repeating finely polished phrases and giving advice without having a deep concern for their situation. The Apostle Paul did not just recite empty words of comfort. He was genuinely concerned that those seeking spiritual help actually received the advice they needed to get them out of their predicament.
By having an intimate relationship with God, a pastor is able to address even those concerns that an individual may not be able to express. By being sensitive to the direction of the Holy Spirit during counseling, a pastor can see the real need and thus give real help. The person being counseled will sense that the counselor understands and is sensitive to the situation, enabling them to be shown the way forward. Ultimately, the counselor is only a tool in the hand of our compassionate God, striving to be humbly led by the Spirit.
Paul had learned the theoretical aspects of the Old Testament law from Gamaliel, a distinguished scribe. But it was through Christ and from his own experience that he learned how to provide pastoral care in the work of the Lord. Paul’s fatherly advice given in the pastoral epistles (for example, 1 Corinthians 4:14-15 and Galatians 4:19) clearly show how tender and full of love his counsel is.
This aspect of Paul’s work did not always come easy. At times, he was at a loss of exactly what to do (Galatians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 10:10). If at the start he sometimes felt helpless, in the end Paul could thank God for the wisdom, goodness, compassion, and unfailing faith given to him. The same God who was with Paul is also with His people today. He will enable His servants to be useful counselors, leading them by His Holy Spirit and verifying the promises given in His Word through experience.