The Persecutors and the Persecuted
“But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
Acts 8:3 (ESV)
The news about the systematic persecution of people who profess the Christian faith is distressing. It appears to be happening in various places around the world, notably in the war zones of the Middle East.
Paul, before his change of name from Saul, was full of hatred against those who followed Jesus Christ. In the passage above we read that he was “ravaging” the church. It is a strong word and this is the only time that the Greek word used appears in the New Testament. It does exist in other Greek manuscripts, particularly in the works of Hermas and Philo of Alexandria. According to FF Bruce’s the Acts of the Apostles: the Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary (published first in 1952 by Eerdmans Publishing in the US), it “refers especially to the ravaging of a body by a wild beast” (page 182).
It is a frightening concept. Believers together form “one body”, the converted Paul would later write, and thus “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it” (1 Corinthians 12:20, 26). We are all affected when any of us is attacked and hurt. When Saul lashed out at the church it was as if a ferocious lion or an angry bear or a charging bull had targeted and ripped apart its unsuspecting victim. These few words at the beginning of the leading verse carry so much impact. They describe Paul’s unsparing fury and relentless determination in his assault on the church.
Paul himself went on to suffer persecution for his faith in Christ. When he urged the Romans to “bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12:14) Paul, who had done so much violence to the church and “tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13), knew full well how his own life had been turned around. He had been blessed by and through the grace of Jesus. He, who had shown little mercy, received an abundance of mercy, and he preached the faith that he had tried to suppress.
Let’s pray fervently for the comfort and deliverance of those who suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake. At the same time pray for the persecutors, that they may experience the grace of God.
Holy Father, help me to engage prayerfully in your love and compassion for the persecuted and also in your grace, not just for those who suffer, but also for those who cause others to suffer. In Jesus’ name.
Study by James Henderson
About the Author:
James Henderson is the National Ministry Leader for Grace Communion International in the UK and Ireland. This week James is speaking in our Watford congregation. You are welcome to attend any of our local congregations. For details of your nearest local congregation, check on our website, www.wcg.org.uk under the ‘Churches’ tab, or ring +44 (0)1858 437099.