by Jeff Wolverton
Sentry Magazine, December 1999
As Christians, we are instructed to add the Christian graces to our life (II Peter 1:5-8). We are also told that if we love Christ we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). James tells us that if we stumble at one point we have become guilty of all (James 2:10). We are to wear the fruit of the Spirit and put off the deeds of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-24). Ideally, this is how a Christian is to live each and every day.
Of all the heroes of the New Testament, probably the Apostle Paul would be many people's number two choice (I hope Jesus Christ would top everyone's list), yet as we look at Paul before his conversion he was not a person a Christian would want to keep company with. He gave his consent in putting Stephen to death, entered house after house, dragging off men and women, putting them in prison, and caused some to even lose their lives (Acts 9:12,21;22:4-5).
I have wondered how I would have reacted if I was a Christian back then and was a victim of Paul's persecution. How would I have· reacted after hearing of his conversion to Christ if my wife had been killed because of him? Well, ideally the scriptures tell me what I am to do. I have to forgive if I expect to be forgiven of my sins (Matthew 6:15). I also have to put away bitterness and wrath, which I believe any normal person would have under such circumstances (Ephesians 4:31-32). Realistically, would this be something even the strongest of Christians would be able to do immediately? Probably not. Realistically, one would be emotionally hurt, bitter, angry, and probably wish bad things to come upon this person.
How then does a Christian go from realistic behavior to ideal behavior? Like God tells us to. First of all, we have to acknowledge our utter dependence upon God and realize that we cannot live as He would have us to without His guidance and help. God is the creator, man is the created and it is not within man who walks to direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). Second, we have to pray, pray, pray. We would have to ask God to show us things through His eyes, not through our eyes. Realizing this, I would be reminded that my Christian wife is with the Lord and she cannot be with me, but I can go and be with her (II Samuel 12:23).
Even with God's help, it wouldn't be an easy thing to go from the real to the ideal, but with God, we can do all things (Philippians 4:13). Hopefully each day the bitterness and wrath would be less and less, while the forgiveness would be more and more until, finally, years later when news comes of the death of the Apostle Paul (he was thrown from a pinnacle and then beheaded it is alleged) I would hopefully have gone full circle. Not only would I love my brother, the Apostle Paul, and long ago have forgiven him, but at the news of his death would be weeping and mourning for him and praying that family and friends of the Apostle Paul would be comforted in their grieving.