Acts 8:1-8 The Power of a Dark Past

And Saul approved of his execution.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

The Power of a Dark Past

The execution of Stephen was the marker of the beginning of intense persecution.  Saul was a key figure in hunting down and exposing Christians for their new found faith.  These were not mature Christians who had walked in the faith for years.  The faith was in its infancy.  The work of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that those who barely understood it were willing to be persecuted for it.  This does not mean that only initiates are foolish enough to suffer.  Persecution is an equal opportunity hardship.  Those outside the faith do not really differentiate according to how well-versed a Christian is in their faith.

Saul is particularly singled out for his poor behavior because his conversion will be all the more remarkable.  If Saul’s poor behavior were watered down, the story in the next chapter would seem less.  Saul was passionate in his persecution of the church.  Dragging men and women from their homes is similar to the acts of Isis in Syria and Iraq at the moment.  The fact that Saul didn’t kill as many people as Isis may only be because he was in a country occupied by Rome which wouldn’t allow him to vent his rage to the fullest.

My mother and I have struggled over how my father is represented in the book that Kelli and I have just finished for Moody Publishers.  Early in their marriage my father’s behavior (and my mothers) was tainted by their immaturity.  Living in the house, their story affected my story.  My mother still loves my father passionately and can easily accept the writing about her own actions, but her love for my father causes her to want to protect him from negative exposure.  Kelli and I also write a lot about our own failings and how God is still working on them.  My Dad, though, found faith in God in the end.  If you knew my Dad you would see how strong a testimony that is to God’s grace.  I love my Dad, too.  But I see the strength of his testimony, like Saul, represented in the magnitude of the change God wrought in his life.  I grew up in a church where the sin and struggle of the older generation was constantly hidden.  “We don’t air our dirty laundry in public” was one of the phrases used to justify this position.  This means that in times of failure my generation felt they were imperfect and that imperfection could not be tolerated.  No-one older than us had imperfections.  In their care to protect each other and themselves from pain, they did not provide us with living examples of what God could do.  Most of my friends left the church for something more accepting or authentic.

My mother reluctantly gave us permission to print the darker side of their struggle in their early twenties.  It is only a paragraph.  However, I believe it will help those who struggle in ways similar to my parents to see how much God has done in their lives.

Anyone who knows my twenties knows that I made very poor choices and did somethings that still push me toward shame and self-condemnation.  I was told by some people that I really respected that I should never be involved in ministry.  I was traveling the world as a kind of escape from many things.  God used that time in spite of my foolishness.  God also has shown the magnitude of his grace in allowing me to teach ministers for ten years, raise a couple of beautiful children, and work on a a book with a talented wife.  God shows his own glory in this, too.

How do you tell your tale?  Do you hide the sin that was once your master?  Do you hide the sin that entangles?  God is glorified most by authenticity.  Even when I was in my darkest struggles with the faith, friends became Christians because they saw the authenticity of the God that we struggle with.  People open up to open people.  People become vulnerable with the vulnerable, broken with the broken.

Prayer

Oh God, I am grateful for your grace that has taken my foolishness and worked to correct it.  I am grateful for the ministry that you do through our broken lives.  Saul is an example of a man who was far from you and he came to you in a miraculous encounter.  My father is the most powerful example of that in my own life.  May his testimony be used in our upcoming book to honour his memory, but more importantly may your name be glorified.

Questions

  1. Whose death had Saul just observed?
  2. Why is Saul so negatively and graphically represented?
  3. What was the consequence of his negative actions, and the actions of those like him?
  4. Who have you observed going through the most transformation?
  5. What is the advantage of ministers communicating their own weakness and struggle as well as victory?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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