A Man Transformed
“For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.”
(1 Thessalonians 3:5)
The Apostle Paul had much concern for the church and the faith of the people he and the other disciples, such as Timothy and Silas, had taught and ministered to. They went from town to town, crossed the seas, and worked tirelessly to bring the gospel of Christ to other people. Paul had much love for Christ since he first met Him on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 and those he brought the gospel to because Christ loved the people and wanted them saved. Paul was an Apostle who started churches in many areas, taught others and trained them to continue his work after he moved on. He underwent persecution for his faith, endured beatings, was imprisoned, starved and betrayed by friends. He was shipwrecked three times, was criticized by other Christians as well as the teachers of the law, was under arrest for two years without a trial and was even bitten by a viper. He even endured having a “thorn in his side…a messenger of Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7) to torment him. Although he pleaded with God to remove it, God simply said no and that ‘My grace is enough for you”. So he continued on. This was a man who was dedicated to serving Christ and spreading the gospel to others with great passion.
By reading such an introduction to Paul, one would think he had to be an extremely holy man all his life to be used by God as he was. The truth is that Paul was not always this way and he didn’t always love Christ. In fact, his name use to be Saul and he was known for persecuting Christians. Saul was zealous (devoted; diligent; passionate) in all that he did. He was very prideful and admits in Philippians 3:4-6 he had confidence in the flesh (his own power). When it concerned the Mosaic Law, he was very well educated and knowledgeable; a Pharisee with legalistic righteousness. A Pharisee was a group of legalistic Jews who cared more about religion instead of God and followed tradition and the written law. They believed they kept all of God’s rules in the Old Testament, when in fact they failed to obey many important rules and instead obeyed unimportant ones. Everything they did that made them look good was done in the sight of others instead of doing it privately and bringing glory to God. We see in Matthew 6:2-4 that they did opposite of what Christ taught:
“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.”
The Pharisees and Saul were against the teachings of Christ. Saul tried everything he could to stop Christianity from growing and tried to destroy the church by going from house to house and dragging off Christian men and women to prison. In reality, Saul was very prideful and thought he was doing right by persecuting Christians when in fact he was very wrong. He didn’t see nor understand this until the day he met Christ (after Christ’s resurrection) on the road to Damascus. Saul’s mission? To search for Christian men and women, bind them and bring them to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2). In Acts 9:3-9 we see where Saul, in his meeting with Christ, was where his transformation began:
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” and he said, “Who are You, Lord?” then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (verses 3-5)
To “kick against the goads” was a common term in biblical times. Goads were slender pieces of wood that came to a point on one end and was used to goad stubborn ox into motion. There were times the ox would kick back and the more it kicked the goad the more it pricked its own flesh and caused more pain to itself. We are like the stubborn ox at times. Jesus works on us and tries to get us to move in the right direction but then we become stubborn and kick back against the prodding, hurting ourselves more. He’s not the one hurting us, but our own stubbornness.
Saul asked what Jesus wanted him to do and Jesus told him to get up and go into the city and he would be told what to do. The men who were with Saul were speechless, hearing a voice but saw no one. Saul got up, opened his eyes and discovered he was blind. The men he was with had to lead him to Damascus where he spent three days without sight and fasted (no food or drink). Jesus sent the disciple, Ananias, to Saul to pray for him so he could receive his sight and then Saul was baptized. He ate and was strengthened and spent days with the disciples.
Why would Jesus choose such a man to serve Him and spread the gospel? This man was feared by many including the disciples who didn’t believe Saul was now a disciple until Barnabas talked with them. Ananias who prayed for Saul even questioned the Lord in concern in Acts 9:13-14 after the Lord told him to go and pray for him:
“Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.”
Now watch what Jesus tells Ananias in verse 15-16:
“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake”.
Jesus chose Saul because Jesus transforms people, even those with the most hardened hearts. Saul was passionate in his work, though he was doing the wrong work. He was loyal to the cause, though the cause was an incorrect one. When you take someone this passionate, loyal and devoted to a cause and you turn them around to do the work of the Lord, a positive work, nothing will stop them from spreading the gospel and bringing salvation to God’s people. They may come up against obstacles but through the power of Christ, they will tear through them or find another way to get past them. Just as he had followed the law to the letter in religiousness, he now followed the Gospel of Christ just as strictly.
In order for Christ to transform us He must blind us to the world and open our ears to Him. When the light from heaven shone around him, Saul fell to the ground. Although his eyes were closed, his ears worked just fine and he heard the voice of the Lord. Sometimes it takes drastic measures to get us to hear the voice of the Lord, but when we do there is no mistaking it. If you notice, Saul, who was very prideful and worked from his flesh now worked in the spirit. Where his method was to use fear, manipulation and violence, he now put people at ease, speaking kindly to them in a way they could understand. Where he once gave the orders and forced people to do things, he now had to be led around by others (the men who were with him), rely on other Christians to care for him and now had to face the same suffering he use to cause. Speaking from experience, when God wants to humble you, He will do it in the very areas you pride yourself in. When He wants to strengthen you, He will do it in the very areas you have fear or weakness in. When God wanted to break me of pride in my work and perfectionism, I now found myself making a multitude of mistakes until I accepted the fact that I make mistakes. When he wanted to heal me of my anger problem, he allowed me to be in situations and amongst people that not only caused me anger but yelled at me and I couldn’t say a word…literally. When he wanted to heal me of unforgiveness, He allowed me to be in a multitude of situations that caused hurt and pain so I would learn how to love and forgive those people. Situations I would have walked away from in the past. If I hadn’t been “listening” to Christ, I wouldn’t have known what to do.
Christ wants to transform us and use us for God’s glory but we have to make the effort to listen and obey. As we can see earlier in the reading, we may choose to follow Christ, but others may not believe we have changed due to our past. We can’t allow that to hinder our walk. We must continue doing the right thing and let Christ take care of the rest. The truth will come out eventually through our walk.
The time is coming when we will have to make a choice. I made the choice and only understand a piece of the suffering. Would I ever change my decision? No, because Christ didn’t change His decision to suffer and die for me. In everything I have been through, Christ never left my side but encouraged me to continue moving forward in His name.
If you made the decision a long time ago to accept Christ, I encourage you to keep moving in what He tells you to do and don’t stop no matter what obstacles stand in your way. The gospel of Christ can be spread anywhere and at anytime. If you haven’t made the decision to accept Christ and feel He wouldn’t accept you or wouldn’t be able to change you, that thought is furthest from the truth! He accepted and called a man who persecuted the very people Christ loved and used to spread His Word to others. He transformed his hardened heart and gave him a heart of love, mercy and forgiveness. If He did it to him he can do it to you. He’s just waiting for you to stop kicking back and accept the free gift He has for you…the free gift of salvation.