Luke 9:48 "…for he who is least among you all -- he shall be great."
The verse quoted above seems contradictory. However, such are things in the Kingdom of God. A pearl is highly valued and desired. However, its origins are very humble. Something insignificantly small – and undesirable to the clam - causes a lesion within it. The clam, to self-protect, creates a substance with which it covers and isolates the irritant. The final result of this process is a precious pearl. It is in this light that we look at Paul's conversion.
What do we know of Paul before His conversion? We know that he was an old covenant believer of God, filled with religious bigotry, status and pride. Paul says of himself in Acts 22:3, "I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day." He proceeds in Philippians 3:5, I was, "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee." He was born a Roman citizen according to Acts 22:25 – 28. According to Galatians 1:14, He "…profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." He was present at Stephen's death and consenting of it according to Acts 7:58 and 8:1. After this, He persecuted the church as we read in Acts 8:3 and 22:4, 5:
Act 8:3 "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison."
Act 22:4, 5 "And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished."
Paul's original name was Saul (Acts 13:9). His parents gave him this name because they hoped he would be as great as King Saul (Saul means desired). It seemed Saul did not disappoint his parents. That was until his conversion, when he became a New Covenant believer. After Paul's conversion (Acts 9) Saul changed his name to Paul, which means little one; this was to contrast his name in his life without Christ. After conversion, he no longer pursued greatness but was content to consider Christ as the great and desirable One and he, Paul, was a small one. Indeed, he called himself the least of the Apostles and all saints (1Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8), the chief of sinners (1Timothy 1:15), and a wretched man (Romans 7:24).
Paul's view of himself is very paradoxical, as the things of God often are. From our human perspective, we consider the little one and least of all of the Apostles as the greatest apostle of all. He was the preeminent evangelist, highly successful at church planting, and the most prolific letter writer. Paul agreed that it looked as though he was great, but then he clarified in 1 Corinthians 15:9-11. Let us read in I Corinthians 15:9, 10 (ESV),
"For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy 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 toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
How did Paul do it? We could argue that it was Paul's energetic personality, along with his educational attainments and excellent training that produced such a worker for Christ. But these things merely enhanced the tool that he was. Sister White has said it is not the abilities which the man possesses or will ever possess that give him success in the work, it is the mighty outworking of the Holy Spirit on the heart through the one who is surrendered. But naturally a man who is well prepared and pays attention to the little things can have a wider sphere of work, than one whose energies and talents are divided, undisciplined or untrained. (See COL, Chapter 25 on Talents). It was the Holy Spirit through Paul that accomplished all these things. Paul completely gave himself to the Holy Spirit's control, and trusted in God's promises and provisions. He was a man of prayer. There are approximately 32 references on prayer in Paul's epistles. These indicate that not only was he a man of prayer, but that he was filled with, and followed the directions of the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9; Acts 16:6). Paul, who said he was the least of all the apostles, did not disappoint the Lord. Could the same be said of us?