Paul the Persecutor (Acts 8:1-3, Acts 9:1-2)

Imagine the following scenario. There is a small group of Christian people who come from varied areas to our three-state region and associate themselves with Tri-State Fellowship. They are excited about our strong biblical teaching emphasis and our desire to effectuate a multi-generational ministry, and they therefore throw themselves into our church with great passion. We come to truly like these folks and the energy they bring. However, at a point in time they become ardent followers of a nearby evangelist who is around for a brief season before mysteriously departing.

These passionate people return to the church and begin to teach that this itinerate minister was actually a second coming of Christ and that we are terribly foolish to have missed this truth. A few of our people are even led astray by this teaching and it begins to create a rift within the church community.

If with great conviction we believed these folks to be in error and endangering the church family, we would vehemently oppose them with every avenue of opportunity open to us. It would be the responsible and honorable thing to do, especially as leaders.

Perhaps that illustration helps us understand the intense aggressiveness of Saul in the very earliest days of the church era. The first Christians were all Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah, rejected by the nation. Therefore those who were opposed to this conviction saw it as a schism within Judaism … an inside threat, not one from outside. They would believe this to be thwarting the genuine work of God in bringing about the true kingdom. Paul was 100% of this opinion, and being a man of action he was aggressive in his response.

Again, it was upon the stoning of Stephen that we see the Jews (including Saul) totally lit up when hearing of this teaching on Jesus. Here is how Stephen concluded his extended remarks …

Acts 7:51 – “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Yep, those are fighting words that could get you pelted with stones. And Saul is introduced to the scene…

Acts 8:1 – On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

The beginning of the next chapter details some more of Saul’s activism …

9:1 – Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.

But no person is beyond God’s grace. And Paul is an “exhibit A” of that principle.

Some years ago I spent some time with a man who struggled terribly to believe that God could forgive him and be gracious. “You can’t begin to imagine how bad I am,” the fellow said to me as we went for a walk in the fields around the church. “I did some terrible things in Vietnam … true atrocities in villages with women and children. So I cannot imagine that there is any way that God could forgive and save a person like me. It wouldn’t be right.”  Over a period of time that man came to understand that Jesus paid the price for what he had done.

There is no way we can imagine the immensity of God’s grace. And apart from God in grace opening our minds to grasp and understand and accept it, we would continue in a lost state in our sin. God stepped into Paul’s life, and the Apostle never ceased to marvel at the extent of it all. He wrote in summary about it, saying …

1 Corinthians 15:9-11 – For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

See there … it not only God’s grace that saves us, but His grace also that works through us toward any good effect that flows from it. If Paul is “exhibit A,” then let us each be “exhibit B” as we work our way through these studies over the summer.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

One thought on “Paul the Persecutor (Acts 8:1-3, Acts 9:1-2)

  1. There is a deep well of guilt that can be had when we fully understand certain scriptures.

    23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Rom. 14:23 NIV)

    17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (Jas. 4:17 NIV)

    On top of that we have been given two great commandments — to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and also to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    Plenty of room for failure here.

    I understand the crisis of pain that people in the military can go through. Your country wants you to kill enemies … they don’t necessarily do as good job turning soldiers in loving people who love their neighbors as theirselves. I also watched a movie a few months ago about a cop in New York who turned in a million dollars. The other cops weren’t happy with him. Not only was doing the right thing not filled with blessings for him … as I understaood it … he also got a lot of flack from other cops who didn’t want to work with him. As a matter of fact … I think I still have the movie … my wife got it … it is called American Ganster with Denzel Washington playing a gangster deeply involved in a drug ring … masterminding it actually.

    In anycase our consciences don’t always align with how God sees us. We may see ourselves as worse than God sees us … we may see ourselves as better than God sees us. Pay attention to verse 20 where it clearly states “God is greater than our hearts…”

    18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
    19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:
    20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
    21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God
    22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. (1 Jn. 3:18-22 NIV)

    There have been times that I’ve felt almost damned. Yet I had to ask myself … what if I am? The conclusion that I came to is that even if there was no hope for me … I still should do God’s will because it is the right thing to do.

    So I think that because I still decided to serve God and do his will (though uncertain about my state before God)… it eventually dawned on me that since I was living according to his ways to the best of my ability … well… following verse 18 led to the confidence in verse 19 which eventually set my heart more at rest.

    In any case judging ourselves and having a clear conscience isn’t the deciding factor in how we will be judged. Our judge is a just God.

    4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
    5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Cor. 4:4-5 NIV)

    … I could write more about this topic … people can add valuable points but in the interest of brevity and my computer is sluggish… this webpage keeps waiting as I am writing.

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