To finish off this series on injustice, I want to focus on the role of the oppressor. Especially in turning from the oppressor to someone who fights for the cause. This week we are going to focus on Paul, who we know as being an oppressor and persecutor of the newly emerging Christian faith. However, his life took on a complete transformation after a meeting with the Lord. He started as a man who persecuted the church but ended up becoming a fighter for the faith, he was a mentor and someone who ended up imprisoned and dying for the cause. I want to look at Paul’s life because there is so much we can learn from it. In one way or another, we have all stood in the role of the oppressor whether it be through ignorance or malice. However, we need to know that there is always hope. Where we may have been in the wrong before, now is the time to step up and do what it is right. Fighting to do better and for others to know and do better. We will continue to move forward in the movement to make sure Black Lives Matter, to look out and to fight for all who have been oppressed for too long. For where the hurt and oppressed are, we will find the heart of God.
The first mention of Paul is when he is known as Saul, it is in the setting of the stoning of Stephen. Dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of the young man named Saul… And Saul approved of their killing him. (Acts 8v58,60) The picture painted of Saul is one who is not active in the stoning but one in which he condones their actions. The killing of Stephen leads to widespread persecution for the church, which you see Saul taking an active part in.
But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8v3)
Saul was known for his persecution of the early church; he was following in the steps of the religious leaders before him. The religious leaders who had argued with and ultimately ended up putting Jesus on the cross. What the religious leaders had seen as a threat was ingrained into Saul, therefore as the early church continued to grow, they seemed to become more of a threat. In response, Saul arrested and persecuted those who were linked or known for their faith.
However, this all changed when his attempt to further his persecution led to a transformative encounter with the Lord. Saul had gone to the high priest, to ask for letters to the synagogues in Damascus. The reason, he wanted permission was to have the authority if he found any man or woman connected to the way; he could bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. As he carried out this mission, he was encountered on his way by the Lord.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (9v4)
This is a powerful question because it highlights that Saul’s oppression of Jesus’ followers is a direct attack on Jesus.
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. (9v5)
I want to highlight this text for each one of us reading this. It is convicting to think about the impact of our actions; not only on the people who have received them but their effect on a wider scale. It is important how we choose to treat people because it is a direct reflection of how we treat Jesus. Many of us forget, we are all people who are condemned due to our sin but have been saved due to the blood of Jesus. In being saved we have been met with an abundant amount of grace, grace which we should always be extending to others. In relation to oppression and injustice, when we allow it to take place and choose to stand aside. We are perpetuating persecution against people who have never deserved that. Especially if you come to it from a Christian standpoint Jesus even teaches that our actions have a direct correlation to how we serve him.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go and visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
On the other hand, the King rebukes those who have chosen to glance over and not care for the needs of those around them. They are cast out from his presence and go into eternal punishment. Although this seems harsh, we should not take it lightly. As Christians, we lay down our lives for the service of others, especially those who are oppressed and suffering. We need to realise we have so much to give and to not bypass the cries of those who are persecuted.
This interaction between the Lord and Saul leads to a whole transformation of Saul’s life. The people whom he persecuted became the people who he served and worked alongside. Saul was famous for his oppression and this transformation was met with uncertainty and fear. This is shown through Ananias, whom the Lord has asked to go and minister to Saul.
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about his man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name,” (9v13-14)
Ananias knew the intentions of the man but did not know the transformation and restoration the Lord was doing within Saul’s life. There will be times when we are challenged on our motivation and intention of why we are helping. May we not be people who shy away from our errors or our ignorance. There will be times in which we make mistakes, but we surround ourselves with people who are willing to teach us and help us turn our wrongs into rights.
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (9v15-16)
Saul’s life was not going to be easy, but the Lord knew how much could be accomplished through his life. He was faithful to all that he was called to do by the Jewish religious leaders and that same faithfulness could be carried into serving the Kingdom of God. It was not long before Saul grew more in knowledge and understanding, Saul was mentored well, and it enabled him to mentor and teach others well too.
Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. (9v22)
This ministry led to persecution for Saul, in which there were many attempts to kill him and many times in which he was imprisoned. He would use any opportunity he was offered to share the gospel, whether he was in chains or free. His life was laid down in the service for the kingdom and bringing the kingdom to the gentiles.
I want to highlight the importance of Saul/Paul’s past. Paul did not deny his past, he knew the cruelty which he had inflicted on many. He admitted it throughout his ministry, ‘For I am the least of the apostles and do not deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.’, (1 Corinthians 15v9-10). He allowed his mistakes of the past, to be used to teach people how wrong he was. How much grace his life had been met with due choosing to surrender and live his life in accordance with the gospel. I think one of the reasons, Paul was on fire for the ministry and very blunt in his teaching; was due to knowing how much he had been saved and liberated from. He was fighting for his faith and for the faith of others because it was a cause that mattered. He knew the life of his past, a life that was led by the condemnation and oppression of others and he did not want anyone imprisoned within that same way.
Paul used his heritage which put him in a privileged position to fight for the cause. He was protected in a sense because he was a Jewish descendant who was also a Roman citizen. Which gave him the opportunity to stand before many courts, not only to defend himself but gave him the opportunity to spread the gospel among many leaders and officials. Paul surrendered and used his rights to fight for the greater good and it led to life and freedom for many. Even the letters of Paul are instrumental in the gospel which is still being used today and preached regularly.
Paul was a man who laid down his life for others and used his life to teach others from the mistakes he had made. His life was used to bring hope, truth, and life to those who he ministered to and those who used his letters to minister to others. Paul knew grace and that grace led to a full heart transformation which led him to know his Saviour and want others to know Jesus too. The apostles and disciples took time to mentor and educate Paul, they accepted him even in the brokenness of his past and he became a powerful mentor and advocate for the newly emerging Christian faith.
I wanted to share the life of Paul because I want us all to know hope. Our life can be used to be instrumental in helping to bring about change. We have such a vast amount of resources to educate ourselves. We have people who are willing to have conversations with us. We are no longer in a place where we can be ignorant. We need to know the importance of educating ourselves and not relying on people to spoon-feed us. Fight to know the truth, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Do not forget to love those around you and check on how they are doing too. We can be transformed but a full heart transformation can only come from Jesus.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36v26).
I want to finish with a small reflection of the past weeks. In my honesty, the past few weeks have been a huge learning opportunity for me. There were so many issues that I was ignorant of or I believed to be taboo, so I never discussed them. I have been using my time to learn and to grow in knowledge. There are many areas in which my heart has been completely broken because of the injustice and oppression which is being allowed to play out through many systems in very influential countries. It has led me to a lot of prayer and re-examining my faith. My faith is personal to me but when my faith is only about my relationship with Jesus and making sure my life is running smoothly, it is such a selfish and worldly way to live. Whereas all I have been learning, reminds me to take my eyes off of myself and to seek to live out the commands of God. The commands of God tells me to love my neighbour as myself, if I am not doing that or allowing people to be treated in a way I would never want to be treated then I am not living out that command well. I have to admit I still have so much to learn but I am thankful the Lord does transform our hearts. I am thankful in a year where we have been isolated due to the pandemic, the Lord is bringing us together to fight for freedom and justice and the outpouring of love that flows from it. We are powerful when we all join together, we can accomplish incredible victories. Although the fight will not be easy because there will always be people who will attempt to limit and to destroy that which is good. However, may we not give up. May we all do our part. May we learn, grow, and advocate together.
Lord, thank you for all you are teaching us about oppression and injustice. Thank you for opening our blind eyes and for giving hearing to our deaf ears. May we no longer believe it is acceptable to leave others to fight for a cause, but know we have to play our part too. May we truly reflect on our actions towards others, knowing that how we serve others is how we serve you. May we no longer think anything is disconnected but you are in and through all things. You are a God who greatly cares for the oppressed and seeks justice for those who have been stripped of it. As we learn more and more, may it not simply be head knowledge, but may it flow out in how we live our lives. May we learn not to be afraid to speak out and fight for the lives of those who should have always mattered. If we do happen to get it wrong, may we allow ourselves to be taught and learn how to do things better. We pray for all the protests, petitions, and donations to be able to achieve the goals of getting justice for individuals and communities who have been overlooked and cast down. May we continue to join together, to fight, and to not take no for answer. May your spirit move in the hearts of people so we will see incredible changes in every broken system that keeps people imprisoned. May we hope for those who would continue to oppress, that they would lose their authority and power. May you raise up people who would fight and care for the individuals they are meant to be serving and governing. In Jesus name, Amen.
I have linked resources at the end for all the ways you can be a part of fighting for justice. I am going to add some of the programmes and documentaries I have been watching. These shows are graphic within their content and there is use of language just to make you aware of that. They have helped me to learn a lot.
Shows and Documentaries (Netflix):
- When They See Us
- Oprah Winfrey Presents: When They See Us Now
- Time: The Kalief Browder Story