Saul was a man who had a distinct future ahead of him. He had sufficient education that if he lived today would make him a doctor or lawyer. People who were his peers had great admiration for him. The way he described himself was, “a Pharisee of Pharisees.” Even though he was probably a young man when we meet him in the Bible, he was already a member of the Sanhedrin court which was the ruling body of the Jewish religion. His conviction and devotion were profound. Saul, who later became Paul, was the kind of man who seemed to walk on the red carpet of life. As far as his service to God was concerned as a Jew, it appeared that he had a type of mystical relationship with God.
With all these things being said about him, there was a dark side to this man. His fervor gripped him so tightly that he could not see the truth that was all around him. He easily gained a writ of execution to track down those people that he considered to be a threat to the Jewish way of life. His ideology bound him tightly to the traditions from years before that respected rabbis taught was the proper way to serve God. He was not only a defender of the faith, but he was also a protractor against any and all people that were subversive to the will of the Sanhedrin court including the dictates created by the pharisaic teachings that were so many no one could follow them no matter how hard they tried.
By exercising the writ of endorsement from the Sanhedrin court, he functioned as a sheriff. Even though everyone considered him a good man, he did terrible things in the name of religion. By his efforts, many people were arrested, prosecuted, and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. As Saul, he wanted nothing to do with this Jesus who was proclaimed as the Messiah. He believed that Jesus was just another social misfit that deserve to be crucified. Never would he accept the proclamation that Jesus was the Son of God and that he rose from the grave. To him all of this was dangerous nonsense. As a dedicated Pharisee, Saul considered himself a crusader who would put things right in society. He caused families to be torn apart, people beaten and shackled. History does not record the exact number of people who experienced the depth or extent of his murderous rampages against those who were his victims. All that can be said about his efforts was that he stood as the single malicious antagonist against Christianity. We first meet him in Acts chapter 8 when he was an accomplice to the murder of Stephen who became the first martyr of the church.
It was said of him in verse three, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hauling men and women committed them to prison.” In the ninth chapter of Acts it is said, “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
He was abruptly halted in his efforts by the vision of the resurrected Christ speaking to him saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” The vision was so profound that he said, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” This good man had a long journey to become a righteous man. He endured temporary blindness, rejection from those who were members of the church for fear of him. Even though he was so highly educated and a leader within Judaism, as a born again Christian he had to start over in his life by being instructed with those in the faith. At one time he was a tall figure in society, but through his conversion he had to become a small man submissive to those who were already devout in their service to Christ.
God used Paul to establish many churches through various missionary journeys. He wrote most of the New Testament while instructing people about divinely influenced relationships with each other including the proper organization and functioning of the church. He was beaten, imprisoned, slandered, and demeaned. For us to appreciate the ministry of this man, we must realize how far he had to fall from his high position in society to rise again offering so much influence extending to us today.
There is one issue that we must consider. While he was preaching, healing, and teaching, he had a personal problem. Paul described it as a thorn in his side. It was a kind of torment that God told him he must endure to keep him humble. Some people say that it was physical illness or afflictions. Others say that there was a particular person that followed him around in his ministry tormenting him and harassing him. This writer believes there is something else that was a constant bother to him.
All of us have done things in our lives for which we are not proud. In some cases, it may have brought great harm to other people. In the process of walking down life’s path, there could be some of us that have done immense damage to the lives of others. It could be criminal in nature. It could be inappropriate. It could be using people in such a way that their own psyche was destroyed. It might be to just one person, a small group of people, or many people. Whatever we have done in the past cannot be erased. Natural consequences must be endured even though we have accepted Christ and our sins have been forgiven.
I believe that this thorn in Paul’s side was guilt. Probably the cries of his victims, the sight of blood and tears haunted him. He might have had nightmares rehearsing the results of his terrible actions. Jesus forgave him. Jesus did not erase his past. This good man struggled the rest of his life with the result of all the bad things he did to people while at the same time preaching to others that they needed to get right with God.
The lesson for us is simple. Whatever you have done in your life, if you are sincerely repentant, God will forgive you. He may even lead you to great heights as a witness to the world. It is very important that we let our past keep us humble. A life well lived for God is a life that will include struggles as we journey to the eternal joy that awaits us.