In Acts chapters 21-23 the Apostle Paul almost sounds like he suffers from multiple personality disorder. In this short amount of time he is recorded as saying, "I am a Jew," then, "I am a Roman citizen," and finally, "I am a Pharisee." Just who are you, Paul?
Paul has travelled to Jerusalem, where God has told him things would get tough. Sure enough, he was in the temple when some Asian Jews spotted him. They began to stir up the crowd and, before Paul knew it, they were beating him and trying to kill him. The Roman guards came and rescued Paul from the angry mob. They literally had to carry Paul up the steps to the barracks, but Paul asked to speak to the crowd.
So on the steps he turned and faced the mob of his own countrymen, who were screaming, "Away with him! Away with him!" Paul was bruised and bloody from the beating he had just received at their hands. But as he motioned to them with his hand, the crowd got quiet to hear what he would say.
Why were they so angry with Paul? Paul was preaching to the Gentiles. But he wasn't telling them to convert to Judaism. He preached that Gentiles could go straight to God through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection. In the mind of the Jews, this was too much. This made the Gentiles equal with them and counted as nothing their great advantages as God's chosen people: the Law, circumcision, the Temple.
So as the crowd quieted Paul began to speak. "I am a Jew," he said. He spoke in their native language and he told them his story. All to show them that he was a Jew like them - faithful to God. But it was the God of the Jews who had sent Jesus the Messiah, and Jesus had sent Paul to the Gentiles. This was God's idea, not Paul's! The crowd could not stomach that thought, and so they began to tear their clothes, throw dust in the air and shout that Paul should be killed.
Lesson number 1: God can use your ethnic background, language and family in the advance of the gospel.
Inside the barracks the Romans were about to flog Paul. The flogging could kill or paralyze him for life, and would also potentially open up more beatings for the other Christians in Jerusalem (showing the Romans that this is how you have to deal with those Christians...), so Paul told them "I am a Roman citizen." When they heard of his Roman citizenship they quickly withdrew and did not beat him.
Lesson number 2: God can use your government and national rights in the advance of the gospel.
The Roman commander then assembled the Jewish council to examine Paul, in order to find out why they were so angry with him. Paul told the council that he had a good conscience before God. A good conscience before God even as a preacher to the Gentiles? This could not be! So they punched him in the mouth. Paul had to go to Plan B. He looked at his accusers and noticed that they were made up of Pharisees and Sadducees. The Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection of the dead, but the Pharisees do. Paul decided to use the "divide and conquer" method. He shouted, "I am a Pharisee!" He went on to tell them that "it's because of the hope of the resurrection that I stand before you!" The council was immediately divided. The Pharisees sided with Paul and began to argue with the Saducees. They began to yell at each other and pull at Paul, so the Roman commander rescued Paul again.
Lesson number 3: God can use your history, training, education, knowledge, etc in the advance of the gospel.
Later, Paul sat in his jail cell. Imagine his discouragement. He has used everything in his arsenal - all of his gifts. And still he sat in prison. Then he received an unexpected visitor. Jesus Christ stood beside him in his prison cell! Jesus told him that as he had testified in Jerusalem, so must he testify of Christ in Rome. Paul had said, "I am a Jew;" I am a Roman citizen;" I am a Pharisee." Jesus brought clarity. "You are a witness."
Jesus was using Paul's gifts. It didn't appear to be working, but Jesus was guiding Paul according to his plan, and would safely bring Paul to Rome as a witness of the gospel! God was sovereign - he was guiding Paul and working out his plan. But Paul was responsible - he was using all his gifts in the gospel work.
No life experiences are wasted.
What do you have? What gifts, training, talents? What hurts and disappointments? What sins are you ashamed of? God can forgive sins (Paul was a persecutor of the church) and heal hurts and take what he has given you and use it for his glory in the advance of the gospel. It won't be easy (Jesus didn't let Paul out of the jail cell; Paul was a prisoner for at least 2 more years!). But Jesus is with us as we love him and follow him. What joy there is in fulfilling your purpose in Christ and his gospel!
Are you a believer in Christ? Have you repented of sin and trusted Jesus, who died for sins and rose from the dead? Then give yourself fully to him and his gospel mission!
Use what you've got!