Commentary by Walter Albritton


November 6, 2005


God Often Lets Us Assist Him in Transforming Others


Acts 9:1-31


Key Verse: And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized. – Acts 9:18


          We learn a lot about God in the story of Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road. A clearer picture of God can help us understand better how he transforms our lives. He has the power to change us unassisted but most of the time he uses other people in the process.

          To get Saul’s undivided attention that day on the way to Damascus, God needed the help of no one. The bright light was under God’s control. The voice was that of the resurrected Jesus. No human being assisted in this divine encounter between God and Saul, the murderous opponent of the Christian faith. Saul’s experience with God was much like that of Moses when God spoke to him out while the bush was burning.

          Once God had brought Saul to his knees, he identified himself and instructed Saul to go on into Damascus. Now Saul needed the help of others.  Blind and thus unable to make his way into the city, Saul was dependent upon his companions to take him to the home of Judas on Straight Street. He was as helpless as a child; perhaps this was God’s way of teaching Saul that he would have to become like a child in order to enter the Kingdom of heaven.

           Saul’s encounter with God was so shocking that he lost any interest in eating or drinking. He may have been fasting but we know that he was praying in earnest. God rewarded his praying with a vision of Ananias coming to pray for him. What a welcome sight the face of Ananias must have been to Saul when his sight was restored. We can imagine the grateful Saul taking the face of Ananias in his hands and exclaiming, “Oh, thank you, my brother; thank you!”

          What happened to Saul’s companions we do not know. Perhaps they left the blind man stumbling around in the house on Straight Street and returned home to Jerusalem. We know if they chose to stay behind, they soon became converts to the faith under the powerful influence of the man who became the “light to the Gentiles.”

          In this inspiring story Doctor Luke shows us God at work. He stops Saul in his tracks and turns him around. He calls him to a new life, to a ministry that will change the course of the world. To complete the transformation of Saul, however, he needs the help of a believer named Ananias. So far as we know, this was Ananias’ sole mission in life – to lay hands on Saul, pray for his healing and his salvation, and baptize him into the Christian faith. His mission accomplished, Ananias fades into the shadows while Saul strides forward across the pages of the New Testament to become the greatest of all missionaries and evangelists.

          Dare we say that Saul was a more important man than Ananias? I dare not. In the economy of God the work of both men was of great value to God. Ananias had his mission; Paul had his. Both men were faithful. Saul could not have succeeded in his ministry had not Ananias been obedient to God by risking his very life to minister to this angry enemy of Christ.

          God used other believers as well as Ananias. Though their names are not given, they each made a difference. Some of them cooked and served Paul food. Those who prepare and serve food in the name of the Lord are often overlooked, but their ministry is valuable to the Kingdom. Other disciples welcomed Saul into their fellowship, shared their food with him, and encouraged him as he grew strong in their midst.

          These believers surely cheered Saul on as he began preaching about Jesus. Repeatedly as a pastor I have found strength and courage in the way the laity have encouraged me with timely affirmation or a pat on the back. Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone can give it. Everyone is blessed by it, and the work of Christ prospers wherever it is present.

          A casual reader of this story may not notice the line about how much God expects Saul to “suffer for me.” We should pay attention to this for whenever God calls any of us to serve him, he also calls us to suffering. To serve Christ is to suffer for righteousness’ sake. We should not forget that the early disciples “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer” for Jesus. Though Paul became the greatest of all missionaries, he also suffered greatly for our Lord, finally becoming a martyr for his unyielding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

          Anyone in the Lord’s service will face opposition and sometimes persecution. Satan always seeks to undermine our labor for the Lord. There is much truth to the old saying, “If the devil is not trying to stop you then what you are doing must be pleasing to him.” The father of all lies is always working against what God is doing.

          Observe that God does not expect those who serve him to do so as unthinking robots. Ananias was a real person with real fears. He had considerable apprehension about facing, as God directed, a known enemy of Christians. He was allowed to express his reluctance though afterward he obeyed the word of the Lord and went to meet Saul.

          This shows us that God expects us to let him know how we feel so that, when necessary, he can reinforce his instructions and assure us that he knows what he is talking about. The bottom line, of course, is that like Ananias we must “go” when God says “go,” even when we are not certain about the outcome. We learn in time to leave that in the hands of the Father, who always knows best.

          One final truth emerges from this story. We may serve the Lord faithfully without becoming famous. Ananias was mentioned by name. Saul became known to the ages as the Apostle Paul. Clearly the faithfulness of Paul helped to make the name “Paul” one of the most cherished names in any language. We must not overlook, however, the shining truth that the unnamed “believers” in Damascus had a lot to do with the transformation of Saul’s life. They nourished Saul in the faith. They embraced him as a new brother in Christ even though none of them had any idea whom this little Jew would become.

          In changing lives God often allows believers to assist him. Our part may be small and seem insignificant to us and to others but in the economy of God it can have eternal consequences. Knowing this, we should heed the sage advice Paul would give the Galatians, “Let us not grow weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Often to seek recognition for our service is to render ourselves ineffective servants.

          We shall be wise not to seek either popularity or praise but to find our peace in the knowledge that God knows what we are doing, and that is enough. His grace is sufficient and it is grace alone that enables us to allow neither praise nor criticism to affect our service to Christ.

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