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Paul: A Unique Person

About this article

This 60-75 minute session focuses on Paul's unique background that prepared him to share the Gospel with different cultures.

Background for the Teacher
Saint Paul has fascinated Christians throughout history. The combination of his Jewish upbringing, his exposure to Greek culture, his fiery personality, and his openness to God's grace uniquely prepared him to spread the Gospel. This session introduces the young people to Saint Paul, the person. It examines the people and events that formed his worldview and shows how his conversion changed his understanding of Christianity.

The opening activity has the participants introduce themselves using the form of an acceptance speech. To prepare for this, they reflect on the people and things that have influenced them. This experience prepares them to appreciate the influence of the people and events in Paul's life.

Next, a scriptural search helps the young people put together a portrait of Paul. The purpose of the activity is to enable the participants to discover the influences in Paul's life that contributed to the success of his ministry.

Because this session contains a lot of hands-on Bible work, be attentive to the young people's comfort level in looking up passages. Be prepared to help.

Preparation
Materials Needed

  • newsprint and markers
  • masking tape
  • white, adhesive mailing labels (1-by-3 inches or larger), four for each participant
  • pens or pencils
  • copies of handout 1-A, "Influences on Saul-Paul's Worldview" (PDF), one for each participant
  • Bibles, one for each participant
  • blank writing paper

Other Necessary Preparations
Prepare to lead this session by doing the following things and checking them off as you accomplish them:

  • For step A. Make a drawing as described in step A.

Opening Teacher Prayer
Before the session find a quiet place to center yourself. Call to mind any worries or concerns that trouble you. Place them in God's hands as you pray the following:

Loving God, send your spirit to help me in my weakness, to carry my prayers to you when I do not have the words to pray, or do not even know what to pray for. For I trust that all things will work together for good for those who love you, who are called according to your divine purpose. If you are for me, who can prevail against me? If you did not withhold your own son, but gave him up for all of us, will you not give me everything else that I need? Who should I be afraid of? I need fear no person, for it is you who justifies, and I believe that Christ Jesus, risen and victorious, intercedes for me at your right hand.

What can separate me from your love? Will hardship or stress or persecution or joblessness or busy calendars or sickness or even death? No, in all these things we are already victorious through Jesus who loved us. Let me be as confident as Paul that neither death nor life, neither spiritual nor worldly powers, neither present nor future events, truly, no force in the universe can separate me from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (Based on Rom. 8:26-39)

Procedure
Step A: Get-acquainted Activity: The Acceptance Speech (20 minutes)

Before the session. Draw a silhouette of a person on a sheet of newsprint. To the right of the figure, write the following headings: "Family and ethnic heritage influences," "Religious and moral influences," "Influential friends and mentors," "Influential traits and skills." Use handout 1-A, "Influences on Saul- Paul's Worldview" (PDF), as a model for this. Display your poster on a wall.

1. Warmly greet the young people as they arrive. If they do not already know you, introduce yourself and give a little personal background about your family, your work, your hobbies, and so on.

2. Give each participant four blank adhesive address labels with the backing still attached. Tell the participants to write their initials in the lower right corner of each label. Explain that they are going to introduce themselves to the group by giving a short acceptance speech for an imaginary award they have been selected to receive. Direct the young people to choose an award for themselves that would be personally meaningful. Then tell them to decide who or what to acknowledge in their acceptance speech. Announce that you have created a chart to help them.

Point out the chart posted on the wall and briefly explain the four categories of personal characteristics. Direct them to take a couple of minutes to think of a person or event in each category that has "made them who they are." Tell them to write on each label a category title and the person or event that they think corresponds to that category. Explain that the labels will be their notes when they give their speech.

3. When the participants have completed their labels, ask them to give their speech. Each person is to describe the imaginary award she or he has won and then acknowledge the people or events written on her or his labels. You may want to go first to demonstrate. Feel free to be humorous or dramatic--it will give the young people permission to have fun with this activity. Also, keep your own speech brief, to model what you expect of the participants. Then invite a volunteer to begin. Acknowledge each person's "acceptance speech" with polite applause. After all the speeches are made, ask the young people to stick their labels on the posted chart--each label under the proper category.

4. Summarize the activity with words like the following:

  • We are all influenced by our family, our culture, our religious and moral upbringing, and the development of our personality and skills. This held true as well for the Apostle Paul, the person whose life and message is the focus of the course. Saint Paul was a fascinating person who directly or indirectly was responsible for half of the books of the Christian Testament. In this session you will discover some of the people and events that influenced Paul's life and message.

Step B: Scripture Search: Influences on Paul's Worldview (30 minutes)
1. Give each participant a copy of handout 1-A, "Influences on Saul-Paul's Worldview," (PDF) and a Bible. Explain that the title uses Saul-Paul because he is referred to by both names in the Bible. It is likely that Saul was his Jewish name and Paul was his Greek or Roman name. This is a clue that Saint Paul had a rich and complex background. Many people and events were influential in forming his understanding of Jesus Christ. We know about these influences primarily through his writings and from stories about him in the Acts of the Apostles. By appreciating these influences on his worldview, we can better understand him and his writings.

2. Divide the group into pairs. Direct their attention to the areas of influence listed to the right of the silhouette on the handout. Note that the list uses the same categories used in the acceptance speech exercise. Also point out that page 2 of the handout offers further information on the categories as they relate to Paul.

Instruct the pairs to look up the Scripture passages listed in the center of the figure. Explain that after reading the passage, they should draw a line connecting it to the influence it most clearly demonstrates. When they are finished, they can read 1 Cor. 9:19-23 and discuss the questions at the bottom of page 1 of the handout.

3. When the pairs are done, call everyone together. Read the correct matches given here and have the young people compare their responses:

  • Acts 9:26-27: Friends and mentors (Barnabas)
  • Acts 17:16-21: Religious and moral influences (was influenced by Greek culture)
  • Acts 18:1-3: Traits and skills (earned a living as a tentmaker)
  • Acts 21:37-39: Family and ethnic heritage (grew up in Tarsus)
  • Acts 22:3: Friends and mentors (Gamaliel)
  • Acts 22:25-29: Family and ethnic heritage (was a Roman citizen)
  • Phil. 3:5; Acts 26:4-5: Family and ethnic heritage (grew up in a Jewish family)
  • Phil. 3:5; Acts 26:4-5: Religious and moral influences (was a Pharisee)
  • 2 Cor. 11:21b-28: Traits and skills (was brave and committed)
  • Gal. 3:1-4; 5:12: Traits and skills (had a fiery and passionate personality)

Next, ask everyone to share their responses to the questions at the bottom of page 1 of the handout. Summarize the discussion as follows:

  • Paul was a deeply committed Jew. As such he knew the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish Law very well. This enabled him to speak with authority to other Jews, appealing to their scriptures, teachings, and history.
  • Paul was born in an important cosmopolitan city of his time. This exposed him to the Greek and Roman worldviews and philosophies. This background gave him a special concern for the salvation of the Gentiles (non-Jews) and gave him the skills to pass the Gospel message on to them.
  • Paul had important mentors who supported and encouraged him--both before and after his conversion.
  • Paul could hold his own in any argument or conflict. He was passionate about what he believed and was not afraid of speaking what was on his mind. When others misrepresented Christian faith or practice, Paul responded courageously in proclaiming and defending the true Gospel message.

Step C: Closing Discussion and Prayer
1. With the time you have left, try to make a connection between Paul's life and the lives of the young people in your group with comments and questions like these:

  • Paul used his unique background and talents to help others believe in Jesus Christ. What is one talent that you have? Could you use it to help others believe in Jesus? Or, how have you used it already to help others believe in Jesus?
  • For Paul, telling others about Christ became the highest priority in his life. He was not afraid to tell others about Christ. Should sharing our faith be a high priority in our lives? Why or why not? Who do you know that is unafraid to talk about his or her religious beliefs? Who do you talk to about your religious beliefs?

2. To close, invite everyone to find Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and read them together as a closing prayer.

Acknowledgments

(This session is adapted from the Horizons book, Paul: The Man and the Message by Brian Singer-Towns. Copyright © 1997 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. These activities may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order these books, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org/catalog.cfm.)

Published July 23, 2008.