In the last post, we spoke about God’s love for us, and how God views us as imperfect as we are; in this one we will seek to look at an example that shows God’s love and mercy even more. The Bible, in as much as it is the Word of God to man, it is not merely the sayings of God, but it also seeks to layout demonstrations of the lessons God wants us to learn; the characters of the Bible are not set out as idols to adore, but as examples to learn from, failures and all.
There is a reason why the Bible continues to endure as the bestselling book of all time; in its pages, we find men and women with the same weaknesses and shortcomings as we have, individuals with a past to them, a past that they may not necessarily want people to know, yet God chose to have their dark moments recorded for posterity; that those who come afterward may know that even the characters of the Bible possessed weaknesses such as their own, and may from that learn, that the God who was able to transform the lives of the profligate to be virtuous, liars to become man of integrity; He that was able to so work in their lives, surely can do the same in their own.
In 1Timothy 1:15 Paul tells us this point as he points to his own life, he writes – "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Of whom I am chief, now that last phrase is one that we might take with a grain of salt, for when we think of Paul, generally only glorious things come to mind – Paul, the faithful preacher, earnest labourer – staying for months at a time preaching and teaching the word, the church planter; such and more. But he was not always Paul the apostle, he used to be known as Saul of Tarsus.
The first time that we meet with Saul is at the stoning of Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Christian Church. Saul was a man zealous for the traditions of his fathers, such that he not only was a complicit bystander in the death of Stephen, but went further and played a leading role in the death of many Christians, In Acts 9 we read "1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 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 unto Jerusalem." Acts 9:1-2
So troubled was he about this religion of Christ, that he desired to exterminate it wherever it was to be found, this was Saul. But God did not allow him to accomplish his purpose, we read "3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?", and Saul replied "Who art thou, Lord?" Acts 9:3-5.
This must have been a very fearful experience for Saul, but instead of striking down the man that had caused such hurt to the Church, God desired to make him a champion of the faith, from being a persecutor, to being a defender and propagator of it.
Why one may wonder? Well because God is a God of love, He desires to save, not destroy. But there are other reasons that can be found for why God spared Saul. To explain the first, imagine a fight between two armies, if the general of one is to die, this may cause rejoicing in the enemy camp, but it is not necessarily an advantage for the opposing army; now what if instead of dying, the general actually defects and joins the other army – this will result in a definite advantage to that army, for with the general’s skills come knowledge of the tactics of the opponent, useful information to have in battle.
Saul was in the kingdom of Satan when he was opposing the Christian Church, by converting Saul, God transferred the zeal that opposed Him, to be His emissary. That is how God is, he sees the bad things we do, but he sees the potential for good as well; a man may be a womanizer, with his words seducing many; God sees that and yes doesn’t like the man’s ways, but he sees a talent of speech that could be mightily used – instead seeking women to fall for him, God says make their hearts melt with a knowledge of Jesus love for them.
The second reason why God showed mercy to Saul is so that we may learn that we to can hope for God’s mercy, after telling us that he was a chief of sinners, Paul writes – “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1Timothy 1:16. (NIV)
His immense patience, that is what God wants us to know. The same God that showed Paul mercy, in his wayward way, is the same that is willing to show mercy to us, though and times we have opposed his mercy. No matter how terrible, no matter how dark one’s past may be, Jesus stands with arms wide open, to offer mercy to all, and He assures us, “whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 3:37. (NIV)
The same mercy, and transforming grace that God exercised to Paul, He desires extend to us, won’t you let Him?