The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists at him in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.
Acts of the Apostles 7:54-60 NLT
Saul who would later become Paul sanctioned this execution of one of Jesus’ followers. Saul was absolutely certain that this was the right thing to do. You see Saul was a believer, but not in Christ. He was an Old Testament expert, he grew up learning and reading from the scriptures, he was what one might call, a man of privilege.
When Stephen started preaching in the name of Jesus, Saul grew angry and allowed the stoning of Stephen to happen, this he did in the name of God.
Saul was a hundred percent certain that what Stephen was saying was wrong, not a trace of a lingering doubt, Saul was doing the right thing… or was he?
I’ve done that, thought I was right when I was wrong that is, I’ve been so convinced that what I believe to be the only way a person can believe and that what I believe to be one hundred percent true, the right way. Only to take some time and realize that I was in fact wrong. I opened my mouth only to find that I should have kept it shut.
I’m seeing it in our churches as well, we are throwing these proverbial stones at each other over matters that really do not matter. At least Stephen died for something that was true and vital to his faith as a Christian, what we do when we disagree with other believers shows our true character, especially when it’s over something silly and unimportant.
I understand that churches have been splitting and going in different directions for two thousand years, sometimes it’s necessary so that they don’t fight, but many times it’s downright foolish and over foolish differences.
Many times we can get so caught up on one little thing that when a different opinion comes along we cover our ears with our hands like a child does when he doesn’t want to hear his parents and shout lalalalalalala. Notice how the people who stoned Stephen did the same thing? They were so stuck in their way that when a different view came along they wouldn’t even give him the time of day.
Later, when Jesus knocked Saul to the ground and blinded him Saul finally realized that what he’d been doing was wrong, yet to him it felt so right. He was renamed Paul after that episode and he began to study the scripture through the lens of Jesus, and not his religion.
He studied for three years before he got back on the horse, so to speak. But this time he would go out and win people for Jesus, not kill them because of Jesus.
The tables would turn now and Paul would find himself accused at the hands of the Pharisees, labeled a traitor and a marked man he would win over more people than any of the other disciples, he would go on to write many letters to the churches that he helped plant, letters that would comprise more than half of the New Testament.
From an arrogant man who literally thought he knew everything, to the most humble of gentlemen who loved the church so much that he would give everything for them. Paul faced beatings, floggings, cold and damp prison cells that are actually more like holes in the ground, and all the while he continued to write and take care of the church.
Paul came from being a man who would kill for God, to being a man who would die for Jesus.
There is so much we can learn from Paul, and not just from his letters but from his character. It’s the same character he had before his transformation just now he had the right motivation, the right goals in mind.
Saul’s ambition to get to Jesus was the same even after he became Paul, but now he wanted to help and not hurt.
Sometimes our ambition is good but slightly misguided, we can think that we are so right only to find out later that we were wrong. A sign of true humility is being able to admit being wrong and still wanting to move forward, like Paul who only wants to do God’s will both before and after his encounter with Jesus. Our goals can be good, right even but if we are hurting others in the process the road we’re using to get there can be very wrong.
It’s a means to an end we say, and the end matters but so does the means. The goal of getting to heaven is good, but let’s not do it by stepping on other believers, let’s do it by stopping and helping each other.