The Apostle Paul, author of much of the New Testament, was first called Saul and was a very different person before meeting Christ. As Saul, he saw no contradiction between persecuting his religious enemies (the new Christian church) and being righteous under the law. He also may also have seen Christianity as a political threat, a new religion that would upset the balance of power between the Jews of the first century and the occupying Romans by demanding loyalty to a higher power above Rome. From this perspective, he may have thought his religion required persecution of those who disagreed.
Luke, author of Acts, describes Saul’s pre-Christian life like this:
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” – Acts 9:1-2
Paul himself does not deny this past, writing to the church in Galatia:
“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” – Galatians 1:13
But when confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus as referred to in Acts 9 above, the Lord asked him to his face: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14). This is a strange expression for us, but to “kick against the goads” meant that by fighting against God’s will (including His grace for His people in any nation or tribe), Saul was only hurting himself. Goads were sticks that were pointed on one end and used to prod oxen to move where a farmer wanted them to go. A stubborn ox who decided to resist would “kick against the goads,” only leading to more pain. Persecuting the absolute Lord of the universe is not a good idea.
Saul learned his lesson and after that confrontation, changed his name to Paul, a man transformed in how he treated those he might consider enemies. He went from “breathing threats and murder” against Christians, to wishing for the salvation of the Jews, and anyone who would listen:
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved.” – Romans 10:1
In Christ, His hate for the “other” became compassion. Saul wanted to put his enemies to death; Paul wanted to put his own sin to death. He never shied away from his brutal past, but he also began nearly all of his letters to the early churches with a greeting like this one at the beginning of Galatians:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” – Galatians 1:3
Dear fellow travelers, as I mentioned in an earlier post about why I use that particular greeting, “Let’s strive to bring grace and peace to every encounter we have as we travel through this world.” Even with those we might consider enemies.