That’s the question Juliet asked upon learning that Romeo’s last name was Montague, the family name of her rival. When she went on to say, “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet,” it is rumored that Shakespeare was poking fun at the Rose Theater, the rival of his own Globe Theater. The less-than-desirable sanitary conditions at the Rose were said to have created an atmosphere that was somewhat odoriferous!
The name “Paul” means small or little, but the apostle who bore that name was originally called “Saul” (Acts 13:9), a name that means desired. When the people of Israel desired a king (I Sam. 8:5), God told the prophet Samuel to choose a man named Saul (I Sam. 9:17). In relaying this to Saul, Samuel said, “On whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on thee?” (v. 20).
This prompts us to ask about the Apostle Paul, “Why would a man whose name means desired choose to go by a name that means small?” We believe the answer is that he no longer wanted to be desired of men. He now wished to appear small in the eyes of men, so that the Lord would loom large in their sight, and they would begin to desire Him instead. If you are looking for fulfillment in life, you might want to consider following his example, for that is the only path of joy for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see this clearly emphasized in the case of King Saul, who chose a path that was opposite of the path chosen by Paul. King Saul started out little in his own eyes and then got “too big for his britches,” as they say. We know Saul started out well, for when Samuel told him that God had chosen him to be Israel’s king, he responded,
“Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me?” (I Sam. 9:21).
As a member of the smallest family in the smallest tribe of Israel, Saul felt unqualified to lead God’s people. But God chose him because he considered himself to be less than the least of all the saints in Israel. We know this because when he rebelled against God, Samuel said to him,
“When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel… Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD…” (I Sam. 15:17-19).
Samuel’s use of the past tense here indicates that Saul was no longer little in his own sight. Evidently he began to think, “I’m the king of Israel, I can do as I please!” If you’re thinking that you’re the king of your life, and can do as you please, you’ll soon find yourself like Saul, someone who is no longer “meet for the Master’s use” (II Tim. 2:21).
Beloved, it’s human nature to want to be desired of men, but it’s an evidence of divine nature to desire to look small in the sight of men so that the Lord might loom large in their eyes. Why not learn from King Saul’s poor example, and choose the path the Apostle Paul chose. He started out as one who was desired of men, but learned to look at himself as “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8), one who longed that “Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Phil. 1:20).
Do you long for the Lord to be magnified in you?