The Apostle Paul is probably the most influential person in Christian history (other than Jesus, of course). He was a missionary who spread the gospel to the Gentile world, which would include me and (probably) you and everyone who is not Jewish. He also wrote almost half of the books in the New Testament, including Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Titus.
His life mattered.
Paul was very effective at his life’s work, and for good reason. He was ideally suited for and skilled at what he did. For example:
He was both a Roman and a Jew. Paul was born in Tarsus, a Roman city and capital of the province. He and his family were Jewish, though. That’s the real reason why he had two names: Saul was a traditional Hebrew name (think King Saul), while Paul was his Roman name used when he started his missionary work in Gentile areas. The fact that he was both allowed him to fit in anywhere (1 Corinthians 9:20-22), like a first-century spy.
He spoke the language. Literally. He spoke Greek, the common language of the Gentile areas he ministered in, because Tarsus was a Greek-speaking city. He also spoke Aramaic and/or Hebrew, the language of the Jews. See Acts 21:32-22:2 for the importance of his bilingual skills.
He was crazy smart. Tarsus was a university city, known for scholarly pursuits. Think Cambridge. This is probably a big source of the philosophy and debating skills he later showed in his letters and in places like Athens (see Acts 17:16-21).
He was a Pharisee. This is why he was also crazy smart when it came to understanding the Old Testament and explaining how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures. He was “thoroughly trained in the law” by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), which is sort of like saying you learned physics from Stephen Hawking. Pharisees were also strict legalists, which is why Paul was so impacted by Jesus’ grace and got so worked up when speaking against legalism in Galatians.
He was a Roman citizen. And a Roman citizen by birth, because he was born in Tarsus. This was a rare and valuable thing at the time, giving him special rights and privileges and saving his neck at least once (see Acts 22:24-29).
He was single. Though many single Christians today see that as a curse, Paul saw this as an advantage. It allowed him to travel freely and focus fully on reaching the lost (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
He persecuted Christians. He threw many in jail, assisted in at least one murder (Acts 8:1-3), and threatened to murder others (Acts 9:1). This ended up giving him the most powerful testimony imaginable: the person who tried to destroy the Church by stoning and imprisoning Christians ended up being willingly stoned and imprisoned himself in order to build the Church. The truth of the gospel was that important.
Now, here’s why I think all of this matters to you or I today: every single one of the things that made Paul so effective occurred before he became a Christian. They were not the result of Paul trying to be a better Christian; they were from the “wasted” part of his life, when he was a very literal enemy of God.
This is the same guy who wrote Ephesians 2:10:
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Paul was successful because God prepared him in advance to do a specific work for Him. As it says in Acts 9:15-16, right at the time of his conversion:
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.”
That’s exactly what he ended up doing. God had it all planned out, even to the point of Paul getting arrested because that would put him in front of governors and kings and give him the legal right to present his case to Caesar.
God has a plan for each believer. He has a plan for you. If you wonder what that plan is, look at how He has prepared you: the skills, passions, and experiences (even bad experiences) that you already have. God loves to redeem the past of sinners like me by using that past to reach others.
What has God prepared you to do?