Few have done more to further the gospel and build the church than the apostle Paul. He authored most of the New Testament, traveled throughout Europe and Asia to share the good news, and invested his entire post-conversion life to nurturing believers, persuading unbelievers, and teaching the truth. He suffered stonings, beatings, and floggings; endured hunger, weariness, and nakedness; escaped violent mobs, sailed turbulent seas, traveled foreign lands, and withstood false brethren. He preached, encouraged, rebuked, refreshed, and debated.
His legacy of faith, however, does not exist without the remarkable courage of a man named Ananias. Before he encountered Jesus, Paul ruthlessly persecuted the church and did everything in his power to destroy the fledgling faith. His desire to annihilate the church before his conversion, was as passionate as his effort to cultivate the church post conversion. It is that cruel man, known then as Saul, who Christ confronts outside Damascus, afflicts with blindness, and then sends into the city for further instructions.
Three days later the Lord appears to Ananias in a dream and tells him where to locate Paul, so he can restore his sight and baptize him in the Holy Spirit. Ananias resists. He informs God of Paul’s brutality against the church and argues that it’s not safe to meet with him, let alone baptize him. Jesus understands Ananias’ anxiety; so He explains that He has chosen Paul and has a plan for him.
Despite the overwhelming risk to life and limb, Ananias obeys. He ignores those voices that tell him that Paul is beyond redemption; that men so hostile to the gospel, so hateful to Christ, and so harmful to the church cannot be salvaged; that they are doomed to darkness. Instead he locates Paul, introduces himself as a brother in Christ, heals his blindness, and baptizes him.
The rest is history. Paul becomes the most influential individual in church history. Without Ananias, however, Paul the church pillar remains Saul the church killer.
How many of us avoid sharing the gospel with people antagonistic to Christianity; who denigrate the Lord or mock His people? How many of us calculate an individual’s likelihood of conversion before we discuss Jesus’ sacrifice? How many potential Pauls never hear the gospel because we assume their inflammatory rhetoric and brash hostility towards Christianity disqualify them from joining our ranks?
Take time this week to identify someone in your life unlikely to embrace Christ – someone who defiantly shakes his or her fist at God, condemns the church, and views Christians with contempt. Ask God to soften the person’s heart and provide you with an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus. Who knows, perhaps that person who appeared so opposed to God becomes an effective advocate for Him.