Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish zealot who aimed to stamp out the Christian movement using violence and intimidation. After he encountered Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus, he had been dramatically converted to The Way, but his reputation still intimidated everybody. That’s not too surprising, since he had recently been active killing Christians and persecuting the church… Followers of Jesus avoided him with good reason. Was Saul just pretending to be a Christian so he could go undercover and infiltrate the inner circle? Had he actually become a believer? Was he still dangerous? No one really knew…
“And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 10:26-7, KJV) The man with the worst reputation among believers was shunned by the church, conversion or no. Was he still violent? Would he kill again?
Let’s make just a couple of observations: if we have been doing wrong, then even if we repent and change, our past actions have consequences. Saul, the self-described “Pharisee of the Pharisees”, had been out there persecuting and killing Christians. He had gained a reputation before his conversion, and the reputation did not go away just because he said things were different now. It took some time, and he had to demonstrate that his life had really changed.
Still Looking for the Perfect Church?
People in church are often hesitant to associate with people who are not. There is a subtle brand of righteous insulation that takes place, and this was certainly the case with Saul! There are some church-goers who believe that if righteous Christians hang out with sinners, they might themselves be tainted with sin. That sort of logic creates a cultural divide between Christians and non-believers, and it smacks of some sort of presumed spiritual superiority for believers which doesn’t actually exist (It might be instructive to remember that the church would be empty if only perfect people got to join…)
As Saul discovered, having a change of heart doesn’t change the past. If you’ve ever wronged a loved one, and then asked for forgiveness, don’t be surprised if they are skeptical about your new attitude. It may be that you’ll have to show them that things really have changed. Saul was an outright enemy to believers, so when he told people about how he encountered Jesus on the Road to Damascus, his conversion didn’t seem possible to most folks. It’s not really surprising that when he tried to join the church, he was ostracized and rejected.
And besides, he had not yet written that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation” in Ephesians 2:8, so nobody had memorized that verse yet.
A Reputation Lingers
Can you imagine how different the world would be if Saul had never been accepted by the church? If he had walked away, bitter and resentful? Imagine the consequences! Yet as Saul stood on the outside looking in, even when everyone was afraid of him and avoiding him, there was one man who looked beyond his fearsome reputation.
Luke says this: “But Barnabas…” In the midst of paralyzing fear, it only takes one courageous person to get things moving the right direction. Saul had been guilty of horrendous things BUT Barnabas looked beyond them. This man Saul was not the kind of guy you’d want to sit next to at the covered dish supper, BUT Barnabas invited him… Saul had a terrible reputation and a checkered past, BUT Barnabas took him and brought him. Saul was not accepted into the church, BUT Barnabas brought him. Barnabas somehow saw beyond Saul’s past, and shepherded him into God’s fearful family.
Without Barnabas, who knows? Perhaps Saul would never have become Paul. Perhaps an embittered and frustrated Saul might have slunk off, rejected and hurt, and gone back to persecuting Christians. What person outside of your church family is being excluded or marginalized? Who are you loving and bringing into the kingdom?
Saul to Paul by Way of Barnabas
Greeting someone new to church may seem a little small,
Unless the guest has had a wanted poster on the wall,
For persecuting Christians– yeah, a guy by the name of Saul,
Who watched as they stoned Stephen, and was feared by one and all.
But Barnabas reached out to him, and not in trepidation,
Undaunted by Saul’s former life or current reputation.
He didn’t cater to the enemy’s intimidation,
And brought Saul right into the Apostolic delegation.
The rest is history. Saul changed his life and changed his name,
And due to Barnabas, the world has never been the same.
Paul became a missionary, saved from sin and shame,
And said, “For me to live is Christ; for me to die is gain!”
The next time someone comes to church who doesn’t quite fit in,
No matter what they look like, and no matter where they’ve been,
Remember Barnabas and Paul, and all that happened after all,
And realize that greeting someone is not small at all.
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