On numerous occasions I've been able to share my faith with friends, family, neighbors and people who've I just met! When Christ followers share their story they generally break it into three parts: Life before Christ, Meeting Christ, and Life after conversion.
For the last several months our church has been studying the book of Acts. In Acts 26 Luke shares the fourth telling of Paul's faith story. Paul is going to follow this same order as he shares his story with this distinguished group of people. Keep an eye out for how Paul shares his story in these three sections, as he speaks to his audience and gives a compelling argument for Christ.
1) Life before ChristPaul begins by sharing about his life before Christ (read Acts 26:4-11). Paul starts by appealing to his Jewish roots. He talks about his strict training as a Pharisee. Paul confirms he was a well known young man. He left his home in Tarsus to study in Jerusalem. He had a well-known mentor who was teaching him the precise way to interrupt and follow the Law of God. He appeals to those who knew him as a youth to confirm his lifestyle.
The Jewish people were constantly looking for the Messiah. When you read the Old Testament you see they longed for the savior of the world to come. The Jews knew the Messiah would come in the lineage of David so they expected the Messiah to be a conquering king and not a humble servant. That is why when Jesus came in the manner He came it was foreign to them. The Jews couldn’t see a scenario where God sent the redeemer in this fashion. Once again, Paul appeals to his Jewish orthodoxy and Hebrew tradition.
As Paul continues his story, he expresses his prior actions of condoning the death of those who followed Christ. Not only did he condone their punishment but was so bent on stopping the spread of the Gospel he sought out those who believed in Christ to find them and hunt them down. For Paul it was more desirable to have these people blaspheme the name of the Lord than to punish them. You begin to see how twisted his thinking had become and how focused he was on punishing the first century Christians.
This might sound crazy to your ears, but in Jewish circles Paul was praised for his actions of seeking out believers in this manner. His zeal for the Lord was encouraged and he had the support of the Jewish leaders. He was viewed like the Junior who scored extremely high on her SAT score. His people thought of him like the teenage surfer who has amazing potential. Older Jews would talk about how he was living with their approval. The Jews promoted Paul’s zeal for the Lord and encouraged him to persecute those who trusted Christ.
2) Meeting ChristNext Paul makes a transition to share about his personal encounter with meeting Christ (read Acts 26:12-18). This is the fourth time in the book of Acts that Luke recounts Paul conversion experience. Paul explained how he was not content to keep his persecution of Christ followers to Jerusalem and Judea. He set his sights on Damascus and headed out under the name of religious zeal to extract the lives of those for followed Christ.
The journey was about 135 miles and would have taken several days on the horseback. We don’t know exactly where Paul was on this journey in relation to his destination but the Lord personally stops this hate mission. Jesus is displeased with Paul’s actions and asks, “Why do you persecute me?” Paul thought he was living in the light but really his life was surrounded with darkness. When we think about this meeting with Christ, Paul was persecuting the Messiah he was hoping for. His actions are in contrast to the hope he was waiting for as a Jewish man.
Jesus gives Paul a clear instruction here. Paul has been appointed a servant for Christ and is called to bring the light he just experienced to their lives. The Greek word we have here for servant means “under rower” and is used to reference the lowliest of all servants. Paul thought he was his own master but now his life is not his own. He will be an under rower for God and follow orders from a new master. From what we’ve learned about Paul’s life in Acts, he has accomplished this. Paul immediately gave up his agenda and surrender to the Messiah he had been looking for all his life.
Luke shares a valuable lesson for everyone of us. It is God who pursues us; not us who pursue God. Paul wasn’t looking for God, remember it was Jesus who interrupted his life. Paul had his own plan. Many of us had our own plan for life and God interrupted our life and gave us real life in Him. Paul wasn’t seeking God. I wasn’t seeking God. Are you seeking God? If you are seeking God this morning, it’s because God has been seeking after you. He loves you too much to keep letting you live apart from Him.
3) Life after conversionAfter Paul shares about meeting Christ, he talks about his life after conversion (read Acts 26:19-23). Paul quickly appeals to the King to trust in Christ. He minimizes himself and lifts up the name of Christ. Paul knows he is an under-rower. He continues to speak to Agrippa as one who understands Jewish culture and Hebrew traditions. Paul would have been an expert in the Torah with his training as a Pharisee so he is able to speak this way.
Right away Paul declares his obedience to God in the vision he received from heaven. There may be some people who have received an instruction from the Lord but they haven’t obeyed it. I can think of one of two times in my life where I believe God was asking me to be obedient and I rebelled. But not Paul. Paul obeyed the instruction from Christ. Paul continued to travel the world but now his aim was to help people find Jesus, not to get them to blaspheme. Paul makes a compelling argument here that our faith ought to be demonstrated in our actions.
Remember earlier in the telling that Paul asked King Agrippa to be patient with him? Paul finally gets to the reason why he is on trial. Paul is on trial because he was grabbed in the temple courts, in Jerusalem, and some Jews tried to kill him. If you’re not familiar with that story look up Acts 22 and 23. You can read more about Paul’s life to see what he went through. At this point in Paul’s life he is aquatinted with the suffering of his Messiah. Paul has suffered for his faith in Christ but he hasn’t given up and continues to share his story to point more people to Christ.
If you’re a Christ follower let me ask a blunt question, when was the last time you shared your faith? I’m not doing this to shame or guilt you but to get you thinking about sharing your faith. It can be scary. It can be intimidating. You can feel like people will reject you. They aren’t rejecting you but are rejecting the God who saved you. I highly encourage you to take an hour and learn how to effectively share your faith.
In the last ten months of my life I’ve spent more time in hospitals than I could have ever imagined. One thing that I’ve learned is that generally people who are sick and dying don’t get out of bed. When they cease to walk the end is nearer for them. This got me thinking about our walk with Christ. When we stop sharing our faith, our faith muscle can loose it’s strength. If you haven’t shared your faith lately, ask God for an opportunity to do so and watch how He increases your faith, helps others find Him and brings joy to your heart.