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Paul the Unbeliever

The life and contribution of the Apostle Paul, his persecution of the Church, his radical conversion, his role as the Church’s greatest Apostle and his martyrdom for Jesus.  


Paul’s role in the establishment of the early Church is second only to Jesus himself. As the Apostle to the Gentiles he moved the early Church from being a sect of Judaism towards becoming a worldwide faith which encompasses all of humanity. His wrote 13 of the NT books and his own conversion stands out as a picture of Christ reaching down to save someone who was at the time seeking to imprison and kill Christians. His missionary efforts set the model for all those who have followed. Paul is so significant that some have charged him with inventing Christianity as we know it. Paul however traces his role to his call by the Risen Jesus and his insight as the application of the Gospel, of Jesus, to all of life, in particular the mystery of the Gospel that in Jesus there was no longer Jew of Gentile, but they are fellow heirs in Christ, Ephesians 3:6.
Note: There is a history link here to ancient Rome and Greece

Key Concepts

  • Paul’s life before his conversion
  • Paul’s conversion
  • Life after his conversion
  • His call to be am Apostle to the Gentiles
  • The Jewish/Gentile controversy - do the Gentiles have to be circumcised? The mystery of the Gospel, See Ephesians 3
  • His Missional mind – to convert the whole Roman empire
  • The Gospel applied to all of life - see 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians
  • Paul, the Apostle of the Holy Spirit
  • Paul, martyr for Jesus, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” Galatians 2:20

Scripture References

Paul wrote 13 of the books of the New Testament and each of them contributes to our understanding. In addition the second half of Acts is almost entirely devoted to Paul. Much of what we know comes from matching the accounts of Acts with his letters, but in other ways they are separate and have their own story to tell. Highlights are really too many to list, but a few are:
Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1-19 - Paul’s conversion
Acts 9:2-31 - Paul immediately after his conversion; the people did not trust him
Acts 10 and 11 - the beginning of the Gentile controversy
Acts 11:19-30 - Paul begins to serve
Acts 13 - Paul and Barnabas, called by the Holy Spirit, begin their missionary work, which takes up the rest of the lives.
Acts 15 - The first Church council at Jerusalem where they discuss the Gentile question and whether or not the Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses
Acts 17 - Paul preaches Athens to the philosophers of Greece
Acts 28:23-31- Paul, having been arrested by the Jews in Jerusalem and given to the Romans, has finally come to Rome after a long and difficult journey. Here he again tells the Jews about Jesus but they will not listen, so Acts ends with the Gospel begin sent to the Gentiles, who will listen.
Paul’s Letters
Romans 1-5 - all have sinned and are saved by faith alone
Roman 6 - this does not mean we can sin
Romans 7 - the Law is from God but cannot save us or set us free from sin
Romans 8 - we are set free by the Holy Spirit who enables to live for Jesus
Romans 9-11 - what about the Jews and God’s promises to them? Very complicated by basically only those who are of the same faith as Abraham are really Jews, and so now all who believe are his children and part of Israel
Romans 12-16 - practical application of the Gospel to many issues
1 Corinthians 12 - the body of Christ
1 Corinthians 13 - the love chapter
Galatians 1 - only one Gospel, set free from the demands of the law, now by the Holy Spirit we fulfill the law by love
Galatians 3 - Pauls description of the salvation experience of the Galatians
Galatians 3:28 - all social barriers are gone in Christ
Ephesians 3 - no more Jews and Gentiles
Philippians 2:1-11 - Jesus as our model

Philippians 3:1-21 - Paul's life in Christ

Philippians 4:10-13 - Paul can do all things through Christ
Colossians 1:15-23 - the Supremacy of Christ
I Thessalonians 4 and 5 - the return of Christ



Christian History Links to Paul - very useful
YouTube Videos
Romans video from the Bible project. Growing series of videos using an animated overview approach of the books of the Bible and key Bible themes, including several of Paul’s books


Ideas/Strategies for Lessons

What do the students think conversion is? What do they think a Christian is? Look at the accounts of Paul’s conversion and his own description of it. What do they think happened? What does it mean for them?
Analyse Paul’s character traits, strengths, weaknesses before he became a Christian, and talk about how these were turned by God into strengths for the Gospel. Then analyse their own strengths and weaknesses. How can God use you?
Explore the Jew/Gentile controversy. Part of this was theological and concerned deep issue about God’s will, but there is also an ethnic barrier at work (see Galatians 3:38 in which all social barriers are gone in Christ). Paul’s was doing – trying to establish community and unity in Christ, with equality against the norms of the day. What issues would Paul react to today? How would Paul react to issues in the media today. Analyse a newspaper today through the eyes of Paul. How would he react?

Design a board game about Paul’s travels, including challenges and events in his life, e.g. shipwrecks, prison, etc.

Role play Paul’s conversion or key scenes from his life
Get speakers in who have had dramatic conversion experiences, e.g. John Watt (escaped from prison)
Get those who conversion was not so dramatic and talk about how it happened and how they knew

Get missionary in to talk about the challenges of taking the Word to the world

Activity to explore unreached communities in the world and what efforts are being made to reach them, e.g. China.
Explore how modern day technology is opening more opportunities to spread the word. Design a website to share the message of God’s love.
Invite a panel of local church leaders and let the children challenge them on how they are (or are not) being the hands and feet of Christ in the community. Let the children quiz them according to what Paul did, e.g. what is your church doing for people on the edges?

Create posters, artwork, websites, etc. on a famous passage of Paul, e.g. Philippians 2:1-11, Colossians 1:15-23, Philippians 3:7-11, Ephesians 1 or 2

Prepare an assembly for the school, doing a dramatic representation of what they have learnt.