2001-08-09 - Winning and Losing
Acts 9:20-25 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, "He is the Son of God." 21 And all those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, "Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?" 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. 23 And when many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. And they were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. (NAS)
Most folks are familiar with Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. The story is at least generally known in even non-Christian circles how Paul was driven to the ground by a bright light. He had been traveling to Damascus with letters from the Chief Priests authorizing him to take prisoner anyone calling themselves Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. The source of the light identified Himself as "Jesus Whom you (Paul) are persecuting." (Acts 9:5). Paul was led blinded to the city where He became one of those whom he had been sent to take captive.
Paul has the same reaction as many new believers. He wanted to tell everyone he could get in shouting distance about Jesus. But God had hardly begun the work on Paul's heart and life. He had been born the son of a Pharisee and become a Pharisee himself. He was full of wisdom concerning the scriptures.
Acts 23:6 But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" (NAS)
Acts 22:3 "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. (NAS)
Equipped with the same zeal for God that drove him to persecute the church, Paul now debated with the Jews at Damascus. His logic was impeccable, his mind as sharp as a razor. His education and professional studies served him well as he mentally sparred with anyone who would debate him. He confounded his opponents to the point they looked for a way to kill him. Irony of ironies! The man who stood by while Stephen was stoned is now the target.
The believers in Damascus put their lives on the line to sneak Paul out of Damascus. If they had been caught helping Paul escape, they would have been killed as well. But with the Lord's protection, Paul was away from the city to safety.
Acts 9:28-30 And he was with them moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. (NAS)
Once the disciples at Jerusalem had finally accepted and welcomed Paul, he was off to the temple for more debates. He ended up in the same boat. The disciples in Jerusalem sent him off to Caesarea to save Paul from another plot against his life.
In all this, Paul won all his debates and confounded many with his iron-clad arguments. No one could withstand his logic or deep knowledge of the Torah. At every turn he won their minds and in the same breath lost their hearts. A debate lost often hardens a person's heart against even the most complete argument. I have seen my own neck get stiff when my position has been attacked by people with the best of intentions. For someone already seeking answers, they are far more open to explanations. A person who is ready and willing to debate is already convinced of his or her position. Only God can change the heart of this one. Your quiet living testimony will speak volumes to their hearts before any speech will penetrate past their ears. If you must speak, remember to do so in love.
It seems that Paul learned this as he grew in his life as a Christian, a little Christ. I am learning this more every day. The wisdom of men will only butt heads with the wisdom of others. The power of God displayed in a changed, humble and peaceful life is a force that the hardest heart will have trouble resisting.
1 Cor 2:3-5 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (NAS)
Tell of Jesus always. If necessary, use words - St Francis of Assisi
Lord Jesus - You have given many of us insightful minds and the ability to construct implacable logic. Yet, confounding the wise again, You make humility and peace the most potent arguments that can be presented. Grace, mercy and peace lived out speak deeply to watching hearts. For with the heart a man believes. It is the heart that must be captured, not the mind. Teach us to use these tools for Your Kingdom. Amen.