Note: Georgette Forney of Anglicans for Life contacted me a few months ago and ask me to write a series of short essays on any of the readings from the Lectionary for the month of September. I was asked to provide thoughts, insights, and understanding of the text and any application as it had to do with life, protecting and defending the right of the unborn or the weak to live. I was happy to do so. These short meditations appear at LeaderWorks.
A Terrorist Receives Mercy
…even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief… 1 Timothy 1:13
We have been fighting a protracted war against terror for exactly 15 years on Sunday, September 11th. No one would say it has been conclusive. The terrorists, many of them “lone wolves” now, seem to strike at will. Their cells reach throughout the world. We all know it will take a long time before we see real progress or lasting peace. Some call this war a generational struggle for survival.
Can it ever change? Will terrorists every stop the violence. Honestly, many people today do not think so.
But there is always hope because our God is always there and He, in a sovereign act, can change the circumstances of any situation overnight, or in Paul’s case, in the bright light of noon!
In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul tells of his former life with disarming honesty and transparency. He reveals who he was and the horror of what he did. Paul admits that he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. He was responsible for the incarceration of innocent people, the harassment of believers, perhaps even torture. He was there at the stoning of Stephen and gave approval to it. He was complicit in a murder.
Today he would be called a terrorist.
But then God intervened. At high noon, in the most significant event to happen at noon since the crucifixion Jesus, our Risen Savior spoke to Paul. Once a hate-filled man, Paul became a believer in Christ and the Apostle to the Gentiles. God stopped him in his tracks and spoke to him unequivocally. God used this man’s misdirected passion and unparalleled brilliance to spread the Gospel instead of trying to squash it. As we know from the history of the Early Church, Paul would define and shape the theology, missiology, and expansion of the Gospel of Christ.
How? We cannot know the specifics of how the Early Church prayed. But one thing is for certain: they prayed for their enemies. This was the teaching of Jesus. This was one main emphasis of Jesus in His life’s teaching (“…but I tell you, pray for your enemies and for those who persecute you” Matt. 5:44) and at his death (“Father forgive them…” Luke 23:34) The Early Church prayed mightily and they prayed for their enemies and those who would do them harm.
In fact, it may have been the obedience of the Early Church to Jesus’ command to ‘pray for your enemies’ that, in God’s sovereign plan, worked a mighty work in the terrorist-turned-teacher of God’s Grace.
Every Christian can take great comfort and strength in this. God can and does change the human heart. We must always know that God can do whatever He wills to do. The human spirit, even as rebellious and violent as Paul, is no match for the sovereign power of God.
Those who persecute others, who harm innocent lives, to take innocent lives, are all subject to God’s overwhelming power to penetrate a heart of stone and give instead, a heart of flesh.
May it be so in our own day.
(The image above is the earliest known depiction of the Apostle. It is found on the wall of a cave in Ephesus.)