After being run out of Arabia, Damascus and Jerusalem, Paul returned home to Tarsus in Cilicia. He was a citizen of Tarsus (Acts 21:39; 22:3), and this probably meant Paul’s family was at least moderately wealthy, because the civic reforms introduced there cir. 15 CE took away the status of citizenship from all householders who had not accumulated considerable land and wealth.
Do doubt news of Paul’s change in status in Judaism had not been received well by his Pharisee father. Nevertheless, as long as Paul was not formerly excommunicated by the elders of the synagogue, the family honor obligated his father to receive Paul into the family home. Presumably, Paul would have told his family about Jesus, but this only served to increase the tension between father and son, for it was through this name that Paul’s bright future in Judaism had been ruined.
If Paul had in any way relaxed his meticulous observance of the Jewish ceremonial law in the three years he had become a follower of the Way, he would have quickly resumed his former Pharisaical manner of living, if for no other reason than to ease the tensions at home (1Corinthians 9:20). This may have been one of the first lessons he had to learn. Just because Christ has freed us from obligations to the law does not mean we should run roughshod over the customs of others, especially religious customs that of and by themselves do no harm. There is nothing like family relationships when it comes to adjusting one’s behavior and rounding off the rough edges of a newly professed way of living. This doesn’t mean that Paul would have always behaved in a Christ honoring manner, however. He was no different than any one of us in this regard.
Undoubtedly, Paul learned many of the ways of Christ by the things he suffered. For example, Paul advised the Colossian fathers to keep from discouraging their children by provoking them to the point of anger (Colossians 3:21). It seems Paul may have understood what this meant on a personal level. It wasn’t mere theology for him, because he most likely became angry with his father through the provocation of his parents. It wears a person down when those we love continually criticize us, making us feel we have no way to please them in the manner of life we have chosen for ourselves. No doubt there were many arguments between Paul and his father, and many tears shed while he was alone.
Another factor to be considered is, did Paul ever marry? In his pre-Christian life, Paul was a rising star in the Jewish religion. He was probably over thirty years of age at the time of Stephen’s death, and most Jewish young men, especially candidates for the Sanhedrin, had been married by this time. What could have happened to his wife, assuming he had been married? Probably the marriage had been arranged when Paul was much younger and between families of similar status and wealth. This is the manner in which things were done in the ancient Jewish culture. After Paul had become proficient as a tentmaker under the tutelage of his father in Tarsus, Paul and his wife together with any children they had would have gone to Jerusalem where he served possibly as an officer of the court in the Sanhedrin. It may be that his wife grew up in Jerusalem, and, when Paul sent for her from Damascus after his experience with Jesus, she refused, perhaps at the advice of her father. Of course, all this is conjecture, since we know nothing of Paul’s wife in any of his letters or Acts, if indeed he had a wife; but he does show in his letters a maturity in wisdom regarding family matters, especially the relationship between husband and wife and even writes of this in metaphor to express the degree of intimacy between Christ and his church that would belie his embracing the single lifestyle.
Paul tells us that he had suffered the loss of everything for the cause of Christ. While he is fairly open about what this meant in terms of his chosen vocation in Judaism, he is not so forthcoming in what this may have meant in terms of close family ties, yet we learn late that he did have a sister (Acts 23:16), showing Paul did have a family. He mentions very little about them and this is quite understandable, if his chosen path with Christ was not readily accepted by those he loved. If this is so, then his silence over such things could be taken for honor toward his father, in that he does not mention his father’s antagonism toward the Way. Similarly, it would be for the love he still had for is wife that he hid her sin of not leaving her family in order to cleave to her husband.
In Cilicia, Paul learned how to walk with Christ through the pain he endured over the loss of all things that mattered to him in this life, so that he could reach out to Jesus and apprehend him who had also apprehended Paul, that he might know Jesus more and more deeply (Philippians 3:12). On the Damascus road Jesus apprehended Paul’s will. In Arabia he apprehended Paul’s mind, but in Cilicia the Lord apprehended Paul’s heart. The whole man was now the Lord’s, and, understanding this, we are enabled to see how the Lord bore so much fruit in Paul’s life.