Peter Mathews, Newfoundland
There are two great questions in Acts 9 around which the Christian life centers. These are "Who art Thou, Lord?" and "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:5,6) The first question relates to conversion and the second one to our consecration. Those who have been born again may not have verbalized the first question but at that moment when we "were translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of His Love," we discovered Who the Lord Jesus really is and at that instant we were forever linked to Him. (Colossians 1:13) If we look at the passage typically, we see Saul on a journey and coming near to Damascus. Then he saw a light from Heaven, reminding us of Him Who came from Heaven and Who is the Light of the World (John 8:12). He heard a voice speaking to him, causing us to think of the words of the Lord Jesus, "The hour is coming and now is when the dead ones shall hear the voice of the Son of God and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25). Saul made a great discovery that day for he who had thus far fought against the "goads," the strivings of the Spirit, was finally arrested by the intervention of Heaven.
Letís turn to his second question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" The query indicates that Saul was placing the disposal of his life into the hands of the Lord Jesus. The persecutor was to become a bondslave of the Savior he had despised and was to serve with the same zeal with which he destroyed. Instantly, he ex≠pressed the truth of Romans 12:1, "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your intelligent service."
"Arise and go into the street that is called Straight." Main Street in the Christian life should be Straight Street. Saul, who was later called Paul, had the course of his life mapped out before him on the Damascus Road and from that course he never deviated. Many histories line the pages of the Old Testament where kings started well but did not stay on a straight course and so ended their days is disgrace. Paulís great desire and focus during his life was that he might "finish his course with joy and the ministry which he had received of the Lord to testify the Gospel of the Grace of God" (Acts 20:24). He pressed constantly and consistently toward the mark for the prize and at the end of his days he could say joyfully, "I have...finished my course." (2 Timothy 4:7) Lesson one is "Get on Straight Street and stay there."
"Behold he prayeth." How was this newborn believer to be identified and distinguished from the others in the house? He began his life in prayer and this marked him throughout his course for God in the world. While he did not have the same privilege as the original twelve who saw the Lord Who left us an example that we should follow in his steps, he nevertheless imitated the One Who rose up a great while before day and went out and departed into a solitary place and there prayed. (Mark 2:35) Paul prayed and requested prayer for he knew that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." A study in the Prayers of Paul in the epistles would be very valuable. Lesson two is "Continue in prayer."
"He is a chosen vessel unto Me to bear My Name." What a great display of the ways of God when one who was so violent in his persecution of the Church is taken up by God to be a vessel for the promotion of the Truth he had previously resisted. While Paul was a vessel in a special way because of the unique tasks for the Master that were going to be his, we are nevertheless all vessels to bear His Name. Every vessel has a unique sphere to fill in the service of the Lord.
The cleanliness and emptiness of the vessels are prerequisite that we may be "vessels unto honor, sanctified and meet for the Masterís use and prepared unto every good work." (2 Timothy 2:2 1) The vessel that is filled with its own purposes or that is defiled by the world will have to remain unused on the shelf. Paul stayed empty and he stayed clean! In connection with his service we should point out that Paul was not an isolated unit in the army of the Lord. He was "certain days with the disciples at Damascus." When he went to Jerusalem, "he assayed to join himself to the disciples." When he was received, on the basis of Barnabasí com≠mendation, he was "with them coming in and going out at Jerusa≠lem."
Fellowship in the local church is critical for growth. When he went forth later from Antioch with Barnabas to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles, his commendation was from a local church. His labors were reported to that local church on his return. There were no "freelancers" in the New Testament church. Lesson three is "re≠member you were saved for a purpose."
"I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Nameís sake." The sufferings to which the Lord referred were not exclusively the great persecutions Paul endured as he carried the Gospel into hostile territory. He also suffered the rigors of ship≠wreck, robbers, fastings, and deprivation. (2 Cor. 11:23-33) Added to this was the strain of the care of all the churches. In addition he said "on account of Whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them as dung that I may gain Christ" (Philippians 3:8).
Do we know anything of these sufferings? Have we suffered the loss of worldly gain that we might have more of Christ? Do we willingly deprive ourselves of what we call "legitimate things" because of our devotion to Christ and His cause? Since Christ has given all for us we need to ask, "What have I given for Him?" Lesson four is contained in Paulís words to the Philippian saints in 1:29, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake."
"And be filled with the Holy Spirit." It was the purpose of the Lord that Paul would know the reality of being controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit in his life. This being filled does not imply that he would get more of the Spirit for the New Testament teaching is that every Christian, upon believing, is sealed and indwelt by the Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13-14) Nor does it imply that the believer who is filled with the Spirit will display that filling in outward manifestations such as characterized the infant church. It does show us that the Spirit-filled believer is controlled by the Holy Spirit as we have in Ephesians 5:18, "Be not drunk with wine wherein is excess but be filled with the Spirit." Paul gave himself up to the control of the Holy Spirit and thus was filled. His power to live for God was the result of this filling. Lesson five is be filled with the Spirit by submitting yourself to God and His Word.
Sign of Discipleship
"He arose and was baptized." The twelve were told to make disciples and to baptize them (Matthew 28:18-20) This baptism was an outward confession of identification with the Lord Jesus Christ. What a statement for the transformed Paul to be making! Baptism, however, is not only a witness of our identification with Christ. It is a confession that we have died with Him, were buried with Him and have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life. It is a confession that our sins have been washed away and that a great change has taken place within. It is then a confession of a walk and a confession of a washing. It is also a confession of a will for in baptism the new believer is saying that he has a new Lord and Master to Whom he has submitted himself unreservedly. (Romans 6:1-6) Lesson six is "Arise and be baptized."
"And when he had received meat he was strengthened." What happened to Paul physically needs to be the daily portion of the believer spiritually. Paul needed food to sustain his body. Likewise he would need food to sustain his soul. This food is in the Bible, for young believers are exhorted "as newborn babes, desire earnestly the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:1-3) What a tragedy if a newborn baby is malnourished! What a tragedy if one newly saved has not learned the daily necessity of meditating upon the Scriptures! Can there be development? No! The believer who is being fed will also soon want some solid food as he grows in his appreciation of the riches of the Word. The Hebrew believers by contrast had not grown. They suffered from "arrested spiritual development" and had become such as were in need of milk and not of solid food (Hebrews 5:12-13). They had never developed in their appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures. Paul was growing because he was eating. Lesson seven is "Spend time in your Bible every day."