Genesis 1:26 says “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” When God created us he made us in his image. In the same way our children share our characteristics we share the characteristics of God. In the same way a mirror reflects our likeness we are made to reflect the glory of God. When God created each of us it was with a purpose. Creating and
designing something isn’t just slapping random things together and calling it good enough. Design is precise, intentional and for a purpose. The gifts we’re given aren’t gifts that can only be used exclusively for righteous or good purposes. Even when we don’t live our lives surrendered to God we still possess the purpose he created us for as well as the gifts he gave us to live out that purpose.
Think of it this way, a hammer is a hammer no matter who’s hands it’s in. In the hands of a toddler it can be a dangerous weapon destroying walls and coffee tables and yet in the hands of a master builder it can create homes, businesses and help others dreams become reality. We instinctively use our gifts however we can for whatever purpose we value most. I’ve often looked at highly influential and successful individuals in business, entertainment or politics and thought to myself, “I wonder what they could accomplish if they were serving God.” As human beings it can be easy for us to assign motives and morality to the actions of others. We judge how others are using their gifts and talents, often harshly. I wonder if God looks at each of us and sees only our potential. I wonder if he views us not through the lens of what we are doing with the gifts he’s given us but what we could do with them. When we are living lives that are based on pleasing ourselves and we don’t surrender our gifts, talents and purpose to God we often use our gifts carelessly like a hammer in the hands of a toddler and, get equally disastrous results. I’ve heard many stories of people that have changed the direction of their lives and how they use their gifts based on an encounter with Jesus but one of my favorites is the story of Saul. We first hear about Saul in the story of Stephen, the first follower of Jesus who was killed for his faith.
Acts 7:55- 8:1a “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. And Saul approved of their killing him.” Acts 8:2-3 “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison."
Meet Saul of Tarsus. Saul was born around 5 A.D and was from the tribe of Benjamin.
He was a Pharisee and received his education at the school of Gamaliel (one of the most influential teachers of the Law at that time.) To put it simply Saul was pretty hot stuff. He was young, passionate, highly educated in the best schools and passionate about what he believed. What he was doing compares to the secret police busting down doors and dragging people away to camps during WWII or some of the things I’ve heard and read about Christians that have been beaten, imprisoned and killed for their faith. This was a purposeful movement led by Saul to destroy the followers of Jesus and he embraced it with all the passion and conviction that stirred in his heart. In fact he has so much passion to destroy the early church that once he’s finished going through Jerusalem he goes to the religious leaders and requests to go to another city roughly 150 miles away to continue rooting out the followers of Jesus. In that time period this journey would have taken about two weeks on foot. Talk about conviction to a cause! Acts 9:1-2 “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Saul used his influence with the religious leaders to rally them to his cause. He used all the gifts and skills that God had given him but not to do what God had made him to do. He wasn’t using them for the purpose he was created. Have you ever done that? Maybe you have a gift of persuasion, have you ever manipulated someone with your words? Or the gift of serving others, have you ever been resentful because of your inability to say no and lost relationships because of it? What about the gift of leadership, have you ever used your influence to lead others into doing the wrong thing? With a gift of wisdom, have you ever used what you know to damage someone else? I think it’s pretty safe to say that all of us have used our gifts and talents with selfish motives. So how do we surrender our gifts to God so that we can truly reflect his character and live out our purpose using the gifts that he’s given us?
Acts 9:3-9 “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.” Talk about having a God moment! Paul had a moment with Jesus that was so powerful that it knocked him flat on his face and struck him blind. Have you had a God moment that was so powerful that it changed the course of your life? What does it take for you to sit up and pay attention to what God is saying to you? Saul is headed to Damascus to round up all the followers of Jesus there and take them to prison when Jesus appears to him. He’s living his life in direct contrast to what God created him for and yet God meets him there, in that moment, and saves him. Years later he writes, “For 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 them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15: 9-10.
The believers in Damascus know who Saul is and that he has the authority to drag them back to Jerusalem in chains. God speaks with a believer named Ananias in a dream and tells him to go lay hands on Saul and pray for him so that he can receive his sight back. In an act of amazing obedience Ananias does what God asks and goes to Saul and prays for him and Saul receives his sight back and is baptized. In the very next verse Acts 9: 19a-23 “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.” Three days before he was ready to drag away all the followers of Jesus and throw them in prison and now he’s preaching that Jesus is the Messiah. Saul life has been changed after his encounter with Jesus and he can’t be the same. His life has taken a dramatic turn and true to form Saul embraces it wholeheartedly. Being blind for three days doesn’t seem to have stolen any of his passion and conviction and now, he’s using his gifts to reflect God’s glory. He’s using all his wisdom and everything that he learned through his amazing education to persuade others of the truth. In fact, he must have been extremely persuasive, because, in a very short time he already has people following his teaching and, he’s really ticked the religious leaders in Damascus off. This is a man who has the gifts of influence, leadership and persuasion. Acts 9:23-25 “After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.”
What does it look like when you have an encounter with God and change the way you're living? How do others respond?
Acts 9:26-30 “When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.” I have to laugh when I read this. I put myself in the shoes of the apostles and the other believers in Jerusalem and I would have no idea what to think about this whole situation. I picture Saul as a bit of a wildcard here. Preaching wherever he can. Arguing with whoever disagrees and vehemently defending his new beliefs. I think I would have sent him home to Tarsus as well. When we change our motivations and start to live out of our values and begin using our gifts and talents differently, it may take awhile for others to trust the change. For example, if in the past we have used our words to wound others more often than heal and encourage them when we first start changing our actions may be looked at with fear and disbelief. The toddler with the hammer has to grow and learn to become the master builder. It’s a process and doesn’t happen over night. One of the things that helps us grow more quickly is other people. Acts 11:25-26 “Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Barnabas is an amazing disciple maker. His name means “son of encouragement” and I’m sure that’s exactly what he did with Saul. He sees the potential in Saul and works alongside him as they minister together for a year in Antioch. In fact, they minister, preach and travel together for years planting churches and spreading the good news of Jesus. Saul continues to mature as a believer of Jesus and we commonly know him by another name, Paul.
The apostle Paul is traditionally attributed to have written 13 -14 of the books of the New Testament. His letters and writings have influenced, encouraged and challenged countless millions of people. Before becoming a follower of Jesus he used his design (his God-given gifts) to destroy lives as he attempted to wipe out the followers of Jesus. He used his passion and conviction to hunt them down and convince the religious leaders to persecute them. After his life changing encounter with Jesus he was still the same man and possessed the same gifts and talents. For the rest of his life he remained a passionate man driven by his convictions. A man who used his wisdom and the knowledge he gained from his amazing education to influence and lead people. When he became a follower of Jesus he set aside his own motivations and took up the cause he was truly made for. He used all of his gifts and talents to reach the Gentiles with the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ. The church you attend likely exists because of Paul’s influence and leadership. You and I along with millions of others have been impacted by his words and by the wisdom of his teaching. When Paul surrendered his will, his design, his gifts and talents and his purpose to God the effects reached through centuries. There is no way that he could have known the impact he would have but God did and in the same way you have no idea the impact that God has created you for. What could happen if you surrendered your will, your design, your gifts and talents and your purpose to God?
Questions for reflection
What do you think Saul/Paul valued most before his encounter with Jesus? How can you tell?
What do you think he valued most after his encounter with Jesus? How can you tell?
What characteristics, gifts and values do you see in Saul/Paul that remained consistent before and after his conversion?
What personal challenge can you take away from this story?
What personal characteristic, gift, value do you see in your own life that has been true of you for as long as you can remember?
What could happen if you live out your passion and convictions?
What do you need to surrender to God in order to step fully into what he created you to do?
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