|The Church An Extension of Christ
by E.H. Jack Sequeira
During the time that the gospel was systematically preached throughout Judea and Samaria by outstanding leaders such as Philip and others, the Lord was preparing a human instrument to take the gospel message to the Gentile world. That human instrument was none other than my favorite character of the Bible, the apostle Paul.
Here was a man motivated and fully dedicated to what he believed was the truth. As Saul, he believed that the Christian church was the enemy of God. After he got Stephen out of the way, he went all out to destroy Gods people. Acts 9:1-2:
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lords disciples. He went to the high priest 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.
Later on, he made this statement to King Agrippa. Acts 26:9-11:
I, too, was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
That was Saul the persecutor.
But God knew his heart, He knew the kind of man he was inside, that even though he was trying to destroy the infant church, in his heart he believed he was doing the right thing, that he was actually serving God. That is the big difference between God and us. We judge others by what we see them do but God judges us by what we are inside. That is why we must always leave God to do the judging. Romans 14:10:
You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before Gods judgment seat.
Having done all he could to destroy the church in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus now prepares to destroy the church in Syria. Once he gets the necessary documents from the high priest, he sets out for Damascus, the chief city of Syria. Note what happens. Acts 9:3-9:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?
Who are you, Lord? Saul asked.
I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting, he replied. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
Although there have been many scholarly attempts to explain what could have happened to Saul on the Damascus road that it may have been a lightning stroke or an epileptic seizure Paul himself is utterly consistent in all his writings as to just what he heard and saw on this occasion. He saw and heard none other than Jesus Himself. Paul bases his apostolic authority on the fact that he had seen Jesus.
Saul was a young man who was very sensitive and dedicated to the things of God. But Judaism kept him in darkness until this moment of exposure. And even though this experience left him physically blind for a few days, the eyes of his inner being were opened and he realized for the first time that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah.
This experience left an indelible mark on his soul and he was never the same man again. One of the first things he did after his conversion was to change his name from Saul to Paul. This change is very significant. As Saul of Tarsus he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, the same tribe as King Saul. Obviously, his parents gave him the name Saul because they were hoping he would be a great man one day. But when he found Jesus, he changed his name to Paul, which means little. Now his one desire was to be a slave of Christ so that Christ may be all in him. Romans 1:1:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God....
Having confronted Saul on the Damascus road, notice how Christ turns Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle and prepares him for his mission to proclaim the gospel to the gentile world. Acts 9:10-16:
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, Ananias!
Yes, Lord, he answered.
The Lord told him, Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.
Lord, Ananias answered, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.
But the Lord said to Ananias, Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.
The first thing I would like you to notice in this passage is Ananias reaction to Gods request. Certainly, we cant blame him for the way he responded. From any human standpoint, Saul is the last person we would think of as Gods chosen man. Yet he was. In the same way, God is today preparing men and women to lighten this earth with His glory. We must never undermine His choice or His ways. Often, I meet some very strong opponents of the gospel, and I have to ask myself, Is this person going to one day be another Paul?
The next thing I want you to notice is what God said about Pauls ministry. They were two in number: first, where God was going to use him, and second, how Paul was to make his impact. Let us consider them:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Suffering is something none of us likes. But that is the cost of discipleship. It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of grace without opposition and suffering. The devil will make sure of that. Paul was willing to put up with sufferings because the love of God compelled him.
From the time Paul was converted on the Damascus road to the time he was martyred in Rome was approximately 30 years. During that time, he made three major missionary journeys, wrote several epistles, and established many churches. Paul never experienced burnout. You know why? Not because he was superhuman but because he accomplished his ministry by the grace of God. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10:
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. 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.
We think of grace as the unmerited favor of God by which we are saved. That is the primary meaning of grace. But the Bible also talks of grace as the power and strength of God made available to believers so that they can carry out Gods purpose in their lives without experiencing burnout. Here is Pauls own experience. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of Gods grace given me through the working of his power.
Do you know that the same grace power is available to each one of us? Paul pointed this out in the fourth chapter of Ephesians. Ephesians 4:7:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
God never calls you to do anything for Him without giving you His power and strength to do it. Note Pauls experience. Acts 9:17-19:
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Immediately, something like scales fell from Sauls eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
When we depend on our own strength to do Gods work, we experience burnout. This is the problem with so many of us and, as a result, Gods church suffers. But when we do the same work in Gods strength, we never get tired of serving Him. Isaiah 40:28-31:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Please remember this text when you are called upon to serve in a church office. As a result of Gods intervention in Sauls/Pauls life, the church prospered. Acts 9:31:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.
As God intervenes in each one of our lives, may our own churches also prosper.