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Learn from Paul’s Failures

Learn from Paul’s example, a man who helped kill believers and persecuted the church

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: We all fail. This Bible study encourages us to learn from our failures. It uses Paul as an amazing example of learning from failures.

Part 2 of a 4-part series on “Overcoming Failure”

Part 1      Part 3      Part 4

The Bible tells of many leaders’ failures

I’m glad the Bible describes the failures of many people who committed serious sins or failed in other ways, but who then turned to God and learned from their failures. If the Bible only had stories of successful, perfect people, I would have trouble relating to it.

Make it personal

1. Are you encouraged to know that you aren’t alone in having failed sometimes? Explain your answer.

Learning from failure — Paul’s example

After Jesus rose from the grave and was resurrected, his followers were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to share the good news about Jesus, and many people became believers.

The Jewish leaders were extremely upset about this. They thought they had dealt with Jesus by having him crucified. A young man named Saul was especially upset. (Note: In Acts 13:9, we read that Saul “was also called Paul.” From that point on, the Bible refers to him as Paul.)

Paul was an accomplice to murder.

The first time we read about Paul, he was an accomplice to murder. He was guarding the clothes of a mob that was stoning Stephen to death. Stephen’s “crime” was preaching about Jesus.

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57-60)

We read that Paul was there, giving approval of Stephen’s death (Acts 8:1).

What do you think?

2. Do you think Saul was impressed by Stephen’s short prayer? Why or why not?

Paul captured Christians in Jerusalem and put them in jail.

Paul, previously known as Saul, continued to persecute Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem, going house to house and dragging people off to prison.

And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. (Acts 8:1-4)

Related: How to respond to attacks on your faith

Paul persecuted more Christians and voted for many to be killed.

Not only did Paul persecute Christians in Jerusalem, he also traveled to foreign cities to persecute them (Acts 26:11). He tried to get them to blaspheme, and he voted for many to be put to death.

I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. (Acts 26:9-11)

Paul planned a trip to look for Christians in Damascus. Before he left, he asked the high priest for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

Make it personal

3. What does “Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” mean?

4. If you were living when Paul was alive, would you think Paul was likely to become a believer, or that God might make him an apostle? Explain your answer.

Paul had an encounter with Jesus while on the way to Damascus.

While Paul was on the road to Damascus, he had an amazing encounter with Jesus and became a believer. (Read Acts 9:3-19.)

Paul learned from his failures.

When Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul learned that he had failed in his efforts to serve God. He had been persecuting God, not serving him (Acts 9:4-5).

Paul did much more than learn from his failures. His life turned around completely. Instead of persecuting Christians, he started to tell people about Jesus.

At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. (Acts 9:20)

In the following years, Paul started churches over much of the Roman empire. He was often beaten and imprisoned for his faith, yet he wrote:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

Related: What does being “born again” mean?

What do you think?

5. What can you learn from Paul’s examples? What are lessons you can learn from your own failures?

6. What did Paul mean when he wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)?

Paul became humble.

Paul was a Jewish leader before becoming a Christian. However, after he was born again, he was deeply regretful and humbled by his sins. He learned from his failures.

Paul referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). Also, although he recognized that he was an apostle, he described himself as “the least of the apostles.”

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

Paul did not think God saved him because he was a good person. Paul realized that the opposite was true. God saved him as an example of his unlimited patience for those who believe in Christ.

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16)

Related: What is humility?

What do you think?

7. Is it easy for an important person to be humble? Why or why not?

8. Does being humble mean you can’t lead? Why or why not?

God brought unexpected (good) consequences.

Although Paul had been an active enemy of Christ and approved of killing Christians, God forgave him and used him to make a tremendous difference for the cause of Christ.

  • God used Paul to bring many people to faith in Christ, to establish churches, and to strengthen the body of Christ.
  • God used Paul to write many letters that became part of the New Testament.

Make it personal

9. Think about your own failures. Does Paul’s story give you hope for your future? Why or why not?

Lessons we can learn from Paul

  • Don’t give up because of your failures.
  • Learn from your failures, then dedicate your life to serving Jesus.
  • Be humbled by your failures. Thank God for his forgiveness. Never consider yourself a “big shot,” regardless of your position.
  • Never give up on anybody. If Paul could learn from his failures, anyone can learn from his or her failures. If Paul could be saved, anyone could be saved.

Make it personal

10. Describe how one or more of these “lessons we can learn from Paul” encourages you.

Memory verse

But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16)

Personal application

1. How serious were Paul’s sins? Explain your answer.

2. When Paul became a believer, what changed about his life?

3. Do you think the memory of his sins dragged him down into a non-functioning depression? Or did he learn from his failures and move forward.

4. How did the memory of his sins affect Paul’s life?

5. What do you think Paul learned about God’s forgiveness?

6. Paul was a leader in the church, and he wrote powerful letters which became part of the Bible, yet he was humble. Why was he humble?

7. What were some unexpected (good) consequences that came out of Paul’s background?

8. Does knowing about Paul’s background and God’s grace toward him give you hope for yourself? Why or why not?

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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