He was a killer. He was a tyrant. A bully. A fighter. Oh. I’m not sure that he actually killed anyone out right. But he approved of Stephen’s killing. He stood by while an innocent man was stoned to death. And then he moved on. Looking for more victims. You see. He was looking for believers. Men and women. He would drag them from their homes and families and put them into prison.
He was a man who thought he was working for God, but instead he was working against God. He looked to bring down anyone in opposition of what he stood for. He was trying to destroy the church. He frightened anyone who came near him. His reputation preceded him. Those who had heard of him would do anything to stay out of his path.
Why was he being such a brute? His victims were believers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He believed in God, but he didn’t believe in the risen Christ. He stood against everything they stood for. And he was determined to take down that group of believers. Oh. The devil had his soul, all right. And he didn’t care.
Who was this man?
Saul was a Pharisee. He had studied the Hebrew and Greek Bible. In his day, he would have memorized many Scriptures. He knew the law inside and out and obeyed it religiously. He once said that he was the best Jew one could find. He was a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. His heritage could not be denied. So, why was he against this group of believers?
Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. 1 John 3:18
There was another man. He was Stephen. He was a man of God. A follower of the Way. He was a member of a group who believed that Jesus Christ, the Messiah had been born and then died on a cross. He was among a group of seven chosen to distribute food to the widows. And with this responsibility came boldness. He boldly preached the new message of salvation. He even performed miracles. He was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
So it was widely known that Stephen was a believer of the message of the Messiah, just as Saul was well known for hunting those believers. They were on a collision course. One fateful day, their paths met and it changed the course of history. Stephen’s physical life ended and he entered heaven’s gates. Saul continued on his path of destruction.
At some point, Saul took his beliefs too far. That’s when he started persecuting Christians. He was out for blood. He was a zealot for revenge. What was he trying to prove? He was trying to protect the traditions of his ancestors instead of seeking salvation from the Savior.
History shows that Saul disagreed with the message Stephen was preaching. They stood on opposite sides of an argument that no human could settle. One group of Jews believed in the Messiah and others didn’t. They had never met, but they couldn’t agree to disagree.
Saul belonged to the group who didn’t believe in the Messiah. Stephen believed in the Messiah, the risen Savior.
So there stood Saul. Standing guard over the coats. Some might say he was minding his own business. But really. He was an eyewitness to a murder. He could have stopped it. Or he could have gone for help. He could have spoken up. But no. He watched Stephen die. The man was stoned to death. I wonder if Saul even flinched when he saw the stones made contact.
Saul stood up for his beliefs and others paid with their lives. Stephen stood up for his beliefs and he paid with his life. It didn’t have to be that way.
You can read the full story of Saul and Stephen in Acts 6-8.
As in the day of Saul and Stephen, today’s church isn’t a perfect place. It’s filled with people who have differing opinions and beliefs. Many today have opposing thoughts and convictions about so many topics. There will always be rumblings of discontent. In the church and outside the church walls. Some believe one way. Others believe another way.
The question is. Do the beliefs point back to Scripture? Are the opinions and rumblings based on Biblical teaching or personal preference? Are we holding on to the traditions of our ancestors when they only followed rigorous laws and rules? Or are we following the teachings of the Messiah and seeking redemption for our sins?
I wonder. When we can’t agree to disagree, are we holding onto an idol of our own making? Are we more concerned with having our way instead of building up the church? If believers can’t agree, what message does that send to those who are questioning their own faith?
As believers, we really do need each other. We need to build up one another. Support and encourage each other. We must pray for each other. Times are tough. They may be tough for a long time. We’re not guaranteed an easy life. So, during these times of uncertainty and uneasiness, let’s pull together and support one another.
And if we disagree, let’s agree that we disagree.
The heart of the gospel should be the gospel of the heart.