Lesson 7 -- fourth quarter 2008
October 19, 2008
© Copyright 2008
That wasn't the question of a man trying to determine his options. This question wasn't born of a shopping heart. This was the question of a man wanting to know the next step . . . so he could take it. This question was born of a buying heart . . . with a check already signed "Saul of Tarsus" and needing only the quantity to fill in.
What kind of heart do you have? What kinds of questions do you ask? I want a heart that frequently, honestly and obediently poses Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? questions to the Most High!! With this kind of heart, I would review what I know, looking for things to do that I am not yet doing. With this kind of heart, I would go to church meetings and personal devotions anxious to learn or be reminded of things to do. Ignorance is not bliss; obedience is bliss! Listen to the proclamation of a heart after God's: "I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8). And guess whom God used to pen "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man" (Romans 7:22)!
God yearns for a people who will obey without question or hedging around. Sure, we are to count the cost, but that should be settled once and for all at the cross. Once the cost is counted, what is left for the rest of our lives is paying the cost! The amount is no longer of any consequence; we will pay it. We must spend more time obeying instead of spiritualizing this, shrugging off that, calling the other legalistic, and chucking some others with the Old Covenant. Why are we so afraid to love God?! "If a man love me, he will keep my words" (John 14:23).
Ananias also had a heart disposed to obey. This passage doesn't record his asking a question quite like Saul's, but his attitude reflected the question. Ananias said, "Behold, I am here, Lord" (Acts 9:10). That wasn't a petty response or a simple statement of fact. Ananias was not informing the Lord of his physical position, he was reaffirming his spiritual disposition. "I am available, Lord; what's next?" When the Lord told him, Ananias seemed stunned, his flesh appeared to jump up in protest. God knew this man's heart, though, and responded, "Go thy way" (Acts 9:15). And Ananias did, because he loved and trusted God.
Jesus takes personally how we treat His followers. Jesus declared plainly to Saul that he was persecuting Him by persecuting His followers. He has declared to us just as plainly that He takes just as personally our treatment of His people. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:40). "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ" (1 Corinthians 8:12). Are we listening to Him? Does this matter to us?
Saul purposed to serve God. Saul's heart was set toward God and service for Him. Being "zealous toward God," he thought himself required "to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 22:3; 26:9). Then he made the shocking discovery of his own ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13). His mistake lay not in his purpose to serve God but in his understanding of God. When the Lord showed him the truth, he "was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). God expects similar openness and flexibility from us His followers today.
Obscurity is a matter of perspective. Ananias, that "certain disciple," lived in obscurity, flashed in the darkness for a very brief time, and then faded again. But that is only our perspective...and how poorly we see! He never was obscure before God. God never lost His awareness of Ananias nor of His plan for him. The fact that he flashes only briefly before our eyes in the Biblical record in no way proves that he was only briefly useful to God. Though we may be obscure in man's vision, let's continue our faithful service to God, before whom we are continually visible.
This most likely refers to the iron goad used on beasts of burden who resisted the will of the driver. Those animals eventually learned that resisting the driver brought pain from the goad (and kicking against it only made matters worse).
Jesus' words to Saul indicate Jesus had been speaking to Saul and Saul had been resisting the Lord. So the Lord got more forceful with Saul. Saul finally yielded to the will of the heavenly Driver.
How easily does the Lord "drive" us?
"Lord, I have heard...how much evil he hath done to thy saints" (Acts 9:13). To the human mind, that seems like ample reason to avoid someone. In fact, it is even enough reason to eschew and detest a person. So how could Ananias accept Saul? The key to the answer surely lies here: "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me" (Acts 9:15). When Ananias knew that God accepted Saul, how could he reject him? As the Apostle John wrote years after that, "he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?" (1 John 4:20).
It seems like they would have because they surely would have remembered Jesus' words on the subject. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
The human mind understandably rebels at praying for someone like Saul. "Look. Let's get this straight. I will pray for non-Christians. But pray for anti-Christians? What idealism! What a waste of time!" This kind of attitude reveals despicable arrogance. Do we truly think we are that much better than the Sauls, the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, and the Osama bin Ladens of the world? Such an attitude also minimizes the magnitude and effectiveness of the price God paid at Calvary.
God may bring a real Saul of Tarsus into our lives, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1). Will we pray for his salvation then? Not out of fear for our own hide, but out of love for his soul? I can only hope so. But given my track record in praying for the heathen dictators, "inhuman" terrorists, careless check stand employees, corrupt politicians, mean-spirited drivers, and fraudulent preachers of today...I wonder.
Can the Lord readily change your mind?
How is your commitment to the Lord and His truth?
Perhaps this class is your only "claim to fame" in the church. On the other hand, maybe it is just one more assignment that highlights your already-established visibility. Focus on neither. Whether you are relatively obscure as Ananias or very much in the limelight as Paul, keep your focus off yourself and on the Lord Jesus. Serve Him faithfully in whatever role He places you in the church. Make this class challenging and encouraging for your students by first accepting the challenge and encouragement for yourself. Show them the way as Ananias did Saul.
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