Second Chances: Youth Bible Study on the Life of Paul the Apostle

Use this free youth ministry lesson plan to teach about the Life of the Apostle Paul, from Murderer to Missionary for Jesus Christ. This Bible study is ideal for Middle School and High School students in Sunday School class or youth group meetings. Teenagers will be encouraged to see the forgiveness of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to give a new life through faith in Jesus’ Christ.

The apostle Paul is a remarkable Biblical figure for several reasons. Paul is a villain turned hero, an enemy of Christ turned servant of Christ. Once transformed, he lived a life completely devoted to spreading the Gospel and suffered greatly for the name of Jesus. Paul is another great example of a “do-over” story. Even those with rough beginnings can accomplish great things for God’s kingdom. Living for the Lord is far from easy, but is worth it when we know this world is not our home and we serve a higher master!

Bible Lesson Focus: God can use anyone to fulfill His purposes in discipleship. This lesson examines the life of the apostle Paul and how he served Christ and the church. Paul started out a self-righteous antagonist of the Christian faith, but God transformed his life and made him a pillar of the early church and devoted servant of Jesus. Paul reminds us that anything is possible anytime, for those willing to be used by the Lord.   

Scripture Passage: Various highlights from the book of Acts
Target Audience: Middle school and high school students (6th-12th grade)
Optional Teaching Materials: Blindfolds; post-it notes; maps; rocks; Bibles; pens and paper.

Youth Ministry Game Activities to Introduce Teenagers to the Bible Lesson on Paul

Lesson Opening: Paul’s life is quite action-packed and remarkable. He endured hardships and suffering of all sorts, all for the sake of the Gospel. He also did not start out following Jesus at all, but was chosen by God to do amazing things for the mission of the church. Start the lesson with a few teenage ministry game activities that might introduce Paul or touch on aspects of his story.   

  • Going on a trip…Paul went on several missionary journeys during his life and ministry. Discuss the difficulty and steps that might have been involved in first century travel, compared to our current transportation systems. Look at maps describing where Paul went and when.
  • Blindfolded obstacle course: when Jesus first visited Paul on the road to Damascus, he was blinded for three days and needed help getting around. Partner students and devise an obstacle course that they must go through, with one partner blindfolded.
  • The former villain…in a sense, prior to his conversion Paul (then Saul) would have been considered a “bad guy.” Play a round of “who am I?” by giving students post-it notes on their backs, featuring famous villains from stories or movies. Students should walk around asking others questions to try identifying which person is on their note.
  • What’s this got to do with it? Before opening Bibles, provide students with several items related to Paul. Examples include pens (he wrote letters), rocks (he was stoned almost to death), snake toys, boats (for journeying or being shipwrecked), or handcuffs (for his arrest). Invite students to hang onto the items and visit them during or after the lesson to identify what part of Paul’s life they match.

Explain to teens that this will be another “character study” of one person in particular in the Bible. It can be wonderful to look at individual characters and how they were used by God. Paul was a key figure in the early days of the Christian church, and worked as a missionary to tell others about Jesus. Paul was another “mess to success” story of God giving someone a second chance. In this lesson, students will look at a few scenes in Paul’s life, to consider how God might be able to use them, as well.  

Ask: Can you think of someone who would be considered a “bad guy” or “villain” in history or fiction? What would it be like for that person to suddenly become heroic?      

Youth Bible Study Lesson on the Life of Paul the Apostle

Bible Lesson: Middle and high school students work well with a variety of reading methods. Some might prefer to read passages on their own and review what they understood from reading. Many, though, enjoy hearing verses read aloud and explained. Some students are happy to read out loud themselves, and “popcorn reading” can be a great way to keep them engaged with the text. However, students who wish to remain out of that limelight should not be forced to read.

This free youth ministry lesson features a few passages with stories that highlight key points in Paul’s life. There are many other quality options along the same topic. You are welcome to explore fewer passages than these, or look into more stories if time and attention allow. If you choose to focus on just one of these (the conversion, for example), you might want to have students dramatically act out the events described.

Provide some background on Paul, or Saul, as he was formerly known. Saul was a well-educated Jews, brought up in a good family with good standing. He was so devout to the faith that he wanted to persecute those who followed Christ. In fact, he was standing by in approval when Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was killed. Saul was preparing to arrest more followers of Jesus when his life was transformed by the Son of God!

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. -Acts 9:1-9

This is a critical point in the life of Paul (Saul). In fact, you might opt to use this as the main focus of the lesson. Saul was determined to get rid of this Christian “threat” and was ready to round up and arrest as many Christians as possible. God had other plans for his life, of course! Jesus met him on the road, and literally blinded him. From then on, Saul’s life was turned around completely.

Note the naming, also. Saul didn’t suddenly start going by Paul after his conversion, nor was this a name given by God directly, as when Abram became Abraham. Saul would have been more the Jewish-association name. Paul actually means “small” in a sense, and related him more to the Gentiles. Paul started using this name when he preached to those outside of the Jewish church. He wanted to emphasize Christ and always explain that he wanted to become less, and make Jesus more.

Ask: Have you ever had a life-changing experience? How did it shape you?

Continue the story by explaining that Saul dedicated his life to spreading the word about Jesus and establishing churches. But he encountered a number of challenges in his life, too. People didn’t want him to continue his work, and went against him. In one of these instances, Paul was arrested, along with his companion Silas. But even being in jail didn’t stop them from praising God. In fact, they sang hymns in prison! And something amazing happened with God’s power.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  -Acts 16:25-34

Note the significance of this event. For one thing, an earthquake blew the jail doors open. There is no way to explain that except for God’s power! But the point isn’t just to have a remarkable trick or great rescue. This event took place to bring about belief. The jailer was despairing until Paul and Silas encouraged him and shared the gospel. The jailer and his whole family were saved after this earthquake.

Ask: Have you ever had an opportunity to share your faith? What should you do in such circumstances?

Continue the Paul exploration with the story of Eutychus. In a sense, you could actually describe this strange tale as a case of being “bored to death”! Explain that Paul was an impassioned (and evidently long-winded!) speaker. In this passage, he talked so long and so late that a young man fell asleep, fell out a window, and died! But miraculously, Paul brought him back to life through the Holy Spirit.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. -Acts 20:7-12

Note how God works in and through us. Paul was a vessel for the Lord’s work, but he wasn’t the main one acting. It was the Holy Spirit who restored life into Eutychus. Yet it is remarkable to see what Paul was able to do through faith.

Ask: What is the hardest thing you’ve had to go through in life? How did you deal with it?  

The next passage involves another trial that Paul faced. He was traveling on a ship as a prisoner when the boat hit rough waters. A storm came up and for weeks those on board despaired and gave up hope. When the ship finally came to ground, Paul was almost killed, but was allowed to make it safely to land.

Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to run the ship ashore. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders. Then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the vessel aground. The bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was being broken up by the surf. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.  -Acts 27:39-44 (all of Acts 27, essentially)

This wasn’t the end of the story, though! Paul made it to land, but was bitten by a venomous snake. The people who saw it happen expected him to die right away, but again God spared his life. This, in fact, convinced people that Paul was more a god, but he of course denied that idea, pointing to the one true God who saved his life.

After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. 3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.  -Acts 28:1-6
The final passage described here looks at a speech that Paul gave in Rome. He wanted to reach as many people for Christ as possible, and he appealed to the highest power in the land at the time for an audience. He went before Caesar and gave testimony to Jesus. This, of course, did not help Paul get out of jail or endear him to the people, but that wasn’t his plan. He was compelled to share God’s love and the message of Christ to all he could find. Much like Peter, he wanted to tell everyone the good news!

When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. 25 And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:

26 “‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.  -Acts 28:23-31

In the end, Paul spent time under house arrest. He wrote many letters to the churches he had visited and helped establish. In fact, we read these letters today…they make up much of our New Testament and we call them “epistles.” Some include letters Paul wrote to people in Rome, Galatia, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Thessalonica (sound familiar?). Paul always emphasized that it was Christ in him who was the hope of strength or work. Eventually, Paul was beheaded for his faith. But he dedicated his life to serving Jesus and telling others about Him.  

Close with prayer. Thank God for the example of the early church founders. Ask for His help to be bold in sharing faith and being willing to be used by Him.

Youth Pastor Teaching Tips: Consider discussing other stories of “second chance heroes” of the Bible, such as David, Jonah, Peter, and Abraham (to name just a few!). The second chances theme will often help young people dealing with regrets about their own sin and failures. Be ready to share some Bible verses about shame to encourage them to turn to God’s forgiveness.

For more teaching ideas, compare a children’s ministry lesson on the story of the Apostle Paul’s life.

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