Paul’s influence upon the early church is so powerfully apparent that non-Christians debate whether Paul was a mere follower of Jesus or the actual founder of Christianity. I debated with a Muslim apologist a few years ago, and he claimed that Paul founded Christianity. They say that because of his influence on the church’s history. Besides writing thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, he was also very effective as an Apostle, missionary, and church planter.
From our reading plan last week, however, when we are first introduced to Paul, he was a violent persecutor of the Christian church (Acts 9:1). Like most today, a “crucified Savior” was a stumbling block and an oxymoron to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23-24). Paul knows God had already expressed his judgment against Jesus by hanging Him on the cross—case closed (Deut. 21:23), so he thought.
However, on his way to Damascus, a bright light from heaven suddenly shone around him at noon with a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul immediately recognized that this heavenly light was the glory of God. Consequently, he responds, “Who are you, Lord?” The answer to Saul’s question came in the divine glory, “I am Jesus.” He thought he was serving God by persecuting Christians. And he is now faced with the Name that he hated the most. Paul’s conversion was so dramatic that his heart, once filled with hatred toward Christians, was replaced with love, peace, and faith.
In this brief devotion, I want to draw a couple of observations from one verse, Acts 9:4, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”.
First is Jesus’s identification with His people. Before this encounter, Paul had never met Jesus. Did you notice Jesus’s question? Jesus did not ask why he persecuted his disciples. He asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?”. Jesus so intimately identifies with His people that, when they are persecuted, He feels persecuted. Paul understood that our Lord had some kind of intimate connection with His followers, resulting in Jesus sharing our experiences. Isn’t that the best news for all of us? This verse has been the most precious verse to me. It is one thing that we would share in His sufferings (Phil 3:10). It is an entirely different thing that He would share in our sufferings. This kind of relationship is unique to Christianity, while some religions view this as blasphemy. The God who holds all the creation together (Col. 1) is the One who identifies and shares in our suffering and pain.
The second is the principle of sanctification. The truth of Jesus’s relationship with His people would be foundational for Paul’s ethics. Perhaps the most overlooked observation, in my opinion, is the implications of Christ’s union on how we treat each other. This verse has impacted how I view my marriage, relationships, and ministry. The same Lord who identifies with my sufferings also identifies with my brother and sister’s sufferings. When the emotions are high, and it is easy to be upset, I start asking myself, do I treat this person the same way if it was Lord Jesus? The One we love and seek to honor the most loves them and has died for them. Should we not love those whom our Lord loves?
Pauls says to the Ephesians not to grieve the Spirit of God (Eph 4:30). We grieve the Spirit when we are bitter, angry, clamor, and slander one another (Eph 4:31). Rather, Paul tells us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Eph 4:32. Let’s be a church that is kind and tenderhearted towards one another and seek reconciliation because we are people forgiven by God for our sins. I don’t do it perfectly, but it really changed my relationship with my wife and how I interact with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Everyone who feels dishonoring our Lord is unthinkable should treat one another with love and respect.
We should also view this positively, based on Matt 25:40. If we serve even the least of the disciples, Jesus says, “You did it to me.” And Heb 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” It is a great honor to serve our Lord by serving one another.