Saul of tarsus had it all—talent, education, heritage, ambition. But as he discovered, that didn’t prevent him from getting it all wrong on something he’d thrown his heart into. Meeting Jesus changed everything, as it usually does! Receiving the Savior meant Saul then had “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), which is also true of us. But even so, we make mistakes. That’s why we need to listen to Jesus and humbly follow Him.
In the days of the early church, Saul (later known as the apostle Paul) was a rising star in Jewish leadership, and he violently persecuted Christian Jews.
It’s a tragedy of human nature: Even when trying hard to get something right, we at times get it wrong.
The passage says Saul was “breathing” threats and murder toward the disciples (Acts 9:1). The Greek word used, empneón, can have the sense of not just speaking out but “living on” such thoughts. Do you find it remarkable that Saul could have such strong feelings against the Christians, who were nonviolent and attacked no one? Why do you think his anger was so intense?
Confronted by Jesus in a stunning encounter, Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Yet he was a diligent student of Scripture, “advancing in Judaism beyond many ... contemporaries” (Gal. 1:14). What does Saul’s question indicate about his knowledge? Has knowing Jesus as your Savior given you the answer Saul lacked? Tell how knowing God on paper might differ from knowing Him in person.
After meeting Jesus, whose followers he’d been hunting, Saul couldn’t eat or drink for days (Acts 9:19). Most people believe it’s important to live in a way they think is right. Finding out we’ve been wrong, especially about spiritual matters, can be devastating and even frightening. Has it happened to you? What helped you recover?
Finding out we’ve been wrong, especially about spiritual matters, can be devastating and even frightening.
CONTINUING THE STORY
In an amazing reversal, Saul and the Christians helped each other.
Ananias was at first reluctant to visit and pray for Saul (Acts 9:13-14). What does that say about the limits of our knowledge, even as believers? Have you ever avoided obeying God based on your perception of a situation? Describe what Ananias’s response can teach us.
To approach Saul with confidence, Ananias had only Jesus’ reassurance and the Spirit’s power. What in Acts 9:17 shows that love, trust, and obedience had made him fearless? Why might Jesus have arranged the situation so another believer had to help Saul? Describe the role forgiveness must have played for Ananias.
After Ananias prayed for him, Saul was healed and baptized (Acts 9:18), and “immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20). Sometimes being proven wrong leads us—rightly—to silence. But sometimes it paves the way for great boldness. In what ways does humility play out in the actions of Saul and the Christians he’d formerly persecuted (Acts 9:19-25)? Can you describe a time when discovering you’d been incorrect made you quiet? How about forceful?
Knowing that on our own we’d fail, we should be eager to depend on God.
Knowing that on our own we’d fail, we should be eager to depend on God—and forgive our persecutors, who could easily have been us.
Paul regarded himself as unfit to be called an apostle, because he’d persecuted the church (1 Corinthians 15:9). Yet he was like those “considered worthy to suffer shame” for Jesus (Acts 5:41)—a great honor—and was eventually arrested and probably martyred. We are most worthy, even of persecution, when we consider ourselves least worthy.
Consider how this study applies to your life.
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). The Greek word for “righteousness” came from a term for judicial approval, and in Matthew’s gospel, it conveys divine approval. Saul persecuted Christians because he believed he had God’s sanction to do so; he even saw this as his duty (Acts 26:9). In reality, the Christians had God’s approval—but not because of anything they’d done.
The Christians had God’s approval—but not because of anything they’d done.
Two kinds of righteousness are available to believers: God’s approval when we do well, and the approval we always have because Jesus’ righteousness has been applied to us. Understanding the importance of each (and that we’re in Jesus’ debt for both) is essential. What will you do today that shows you’re a “slave of righteousness” and also relying on “the righteousness which is from God on the basis of faith”? (See Rom. 6:18; Phil. 3:9.)
To be persecuted for righteousness sounds like a paradox. It implies having God’s approval often means forfeiting people’s approval. Why do you think that is?
This type of suffering isn’t limited to anti-Christian cultures. It can occur wherever people blessed to have God’s favor come in contact with those outside it. What experiences in your own life might help you see the latter with mercy?
To be persecuted for righteousness is an honor—one that carries an undeserved blessing. This is the immensity of God’s grace: eternal joy in heaven as the reward for embodying Jesus’ righteousness—a gift given to us in love.
Illustration by Adam Cruft