Acts 9:10-22 (web)

Saul's Commission

9:10 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias. 
The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias!" He said, "Behold, it's me, Lord." 
9:11 The Lord said to him, "Arise, and go to the street which is called Straight, 
and inquire in the house of Judas for one named Saul, a man of Tarsus.
For behold, he is praying, 
9:12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in,
and laying his hands on him, that he might receive his sight." 
9:13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man,
how much evil he did to your saints at Jerusalem. 
9:14 Here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." 
9:15 But the Lord said to him, "Go your way, for he is my chosen vessel to bear my name 
before the nations and kings, and the children of Israel. 
9:16 For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my name's sake." 

9:17 Ananias departed, and entered into the house. 
Laying his hands on him, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord, 
who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me,
that you may receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 
9:18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he received his sight. 
He arose and was baptized. 
9:19 He took food and was strengthened.

Saul stayed several days with the disciples who were at Damascus. 
9:20 Immediately in the synagogues he proclaimed the Christ, that he is the Son of God. 
9:21 All who heard him were amazed, and said,
"Isn't this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? 
And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!" 
9:22 But Saul increased more in strength, 
and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus, proving that this is the Christ. 
 

Comments

Paul an Apostle - Why?

In Acts 22 Paul gives more details of the account. He speaks of Ananias saying, "He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there." Acts 22:12 Paul was praying on the "Straight" and narrow way. But like Peter in the next chapter, Ananias was given a vision to go to him. And like Peter he objected to a degree because of his particular prejudice, but in the end went. It was no doubt to his great surprise that God would chose Paul as a vessel to bear his name in such an honorable mission. What did Paul do to earn such a honorable position and task? There are those among the rich lazy Christians who avoid suffering for Christ by avoiding ministry responsibilities, failing to walk as Jesus did, who point to the sentence that reads, "I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my nameís sake" and go on to say that such suffering and such a mission was punishment for Paul's sins. But in fact what is more honorable than suffering for Christ's sake? And should we view contemptuously all the other Christians who have suffered for Christ? I would rather view contemptuously those who hold such a viewpoint.

In view of the fact that Paul gained the position of Apostle not through faith nor any virtue of his own tells us that such a role is not born of reward but of responsibility. We saw in the case of Judas that such a role of responsibility incurs greater judgment in the end. But that possessing such a role does not guarantee that one will be saved. Paul was to be the replacement of Judas. A persecutor replaced a betrayer. Yet as an apostle Paul was to turn out much different than Judas. People are often too proud and presumptuous of their own opinions as to how they think things will turn out in the end. I wonder if God throws in surprises in life like these just to frustrate such people.

Paul was the least likely candidate to be an apostle to the Gentiles. He had not believed in Jesus during his earthly ministry despite the miracles and not only disbelieved Christians like Stephen who presented the gospel to him, but even persecuted them to the death. Furthermore he was of the religious elite of whom Jesus denounced for their hypocrisy. He certainly was not empathic towards Gentiles but was no doubt more xenophobic than the other apostles, being particularly zealous for the Law of Moses. We would think he would have turned out to be the most legalistic of the apostles. But he turned out quite differently. Paul's conversion and resultant ministry is another miraculous evidence affirming the gospel. For there is no other reasonable explanation for the transformation of this man.

It is insightful to consider also Paul's view on his being chosen:

"I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of Godís grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all Godís people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery" Eph 3:7-9

"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 themó yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." 1Cor 15:9,10

His emphasis is on God's grace, not simply with respect to the forgiveness of his sins, but rather God's grace to transform him into the man he was. The gospel involves not just the forgiveness of our sins, but also the transformation of us as individuals to live a lifestyle consistent with that of a child of God. But the following verse is somewhat confusing.
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief." ITim 1:12,13
When was Paul considered "faithful"? Was it when he condoned the stoning of Stephen? Was it when he was on the road to Damascus on his way to persecute Christians? Before his commission there is no evidence of his faithfulness. And was it due to this supposed virtue of faithfulness that he was commissioned? What it could mean is that God foresaw that he would be faithful in the ministry and based on such foreknowledge chose him. After all doesn't Peter speak of the elect "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God" 1Peter 1:2.

Then he seemingly excuses himself saying that it was because of his ignorance and unbelief that he was shown mercy. But then again aren't all sins committed with an element of ignorance and unbelief? Apparently not to the same degree. For some sins are done knowingly and willfully and there are those done blindly. This is not to excuse those done blindly. Yes, they are also subject to judgment, but to a lesser degree. 

"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,  but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Heb 10:26,27 And "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning." 2Peter 2:20
Such would be the case if after the Damascus experience Paul rejected the faith. And let this be a warning to Christians who "trampled the Son of God under foot" leaving the faith. God will have less mercy upon such people than upon the ignorant. The more you know, the more you will be held responsible for.

God choses the Humiliated

Another aspect characterizing God's choice for leadership is Humility. As virtuous as "humility" sounds, in practice is means that he choses people that have faced humiliation. And how does he keep the leadership humble? By humiliating them. Humility is both the most essential of character qualities, and it is the most universal among his leaders. Joseph started out proud, but God brought him through humilating circumstances to make him a leader of Egypt. Moses also was proud in Pharoah's court, but after his 40 year exile of humiliation God prepared him as a humble leader to go back and lead his people out of Egypt. It was even written that he was the humblest in the land. King David also faced humilation early and later in life. But the ultimate example is Jesus, accused of being a child of fornication and growing up poor in the outskirts of Israel. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

But why would God chose an elite Pharisee, an arrogant and violent man? It seems to me such a man would be despised by the Christians. After all, he was a Pharisee. Such a word was and is not particularly honorable in the Christian community. After he became a Christian he faced a great deal of hostility both from the Jews and even from Christians who were suspicious of him. He was to be more humiliated than the other apostles. For they could speak freely in Jerusalem and they enjoyed popularity among the Christians there. But if Paul preached there he would be threatened with death. He was sent to the Gentiles, which to the other Apostles is like garbage duty. It was too humilating for them to preach to such dogs. They wouldn't even eat with the Gentiles. But Paul would become as if one of them. Though facing so much humiliation in his ministry, it could be argued today that he became the most important man in history second to Jesus. His writings have been the most read of all time. And like Jesus he became another example of God exalting the humble. So if you want to be greatly used by God, be prepared to face humiliation.

Paul's Baptism

In Acts 22 Paul elaborates saying Ananias told him, "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." This was the point of his salvation, if indeed he acted with salvific faith.  It was here that he had to deal with his sins. Calling on the LORD to forgive our sins in the process of our repentance has the effect of washing our sins away in a sense. Our innate sinfulness has to be dealt with as well, but our sins are forgiven, freeing us up from the wrath of God. Also just to reiterate, one cannot be saved by merely calling on the name of the Lord or praying Jesus into your heart. Salvation from our sins and the wrath they incur must be the subject of our prayer when it comes to salvation. If a person merely wants to have an "experience" or are motivated otherwise, but are not willing to humbly deal with their sins, they cannot be saved. And furthermore one must believe as a conviction to be saved and not merely experimenting with faith. Today many are deceived, being told they are saved, or presume they are saved, but they are not.



The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 29,2015