A united front

Saul’s dramatic transformation was evidenced by his immediate preaching of the gospel in Damascus where he had previously planned to arrest Christians and “bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). Luke said, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:20-22).

Saul’s conversion had two profound effects on the spread of the gospel. First, Luke said Paul’s transformation “confounded the Jews” (Acts 9:22). The Greek word translated confounded, sugcheo (soong-kheh´-o) means to commingle promiscuously (G4797). The phrase we might use today would be “sleeping with the enemy.” In a figurative sense, sugcheo can mean to throw an assembly into disorder or to perplex the mind. You might say the Jews were caught off guard;  they were unable to process the news that Saul had gone over to the other side. The second effect of Saul’s conversion was that he was able to convince people that God was really at work. Luke said Saul was “proving that this is very Christ” (Acts 9:22). In other words, people couldn’t dispute the fact that Saul had changed dramatically.

The Greek words Luke used that are translated confounded and proving are derived from the same root word, sun (soon) which denotes union; with or together, “i.e. by association, companionship, process, resemblance, possession, instrumentality, addition” (4862). What was happening was that the gaps were being filled in and the gospel was no longer able to be disputed. It was evident from the miracles that were taking place and the dramatic changes people were witnessing that Jesus’ gospel message really was true.

Saul’s conversion was a significant turning point in the spread of the gospel because he was viewed as a respectable Jewish citizen. His collaboration with the Jewish council to stamp out Christianity made Saul a serious threat once he switched sides and began preaching the gospel. It says in Acts 9:23-25, “And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.” The threat on Saul’s life made his conversion even more believable. As a result of the danger he faced, Saul was accepted into a close inner circle of persecuted believers. A man named Barnabas vouched for his credibility and was able to introduce Saul to Jesus’ twelve apostles in Jerusalem.

The bond that formed between Saul and Jesus’ apostles was a testament to the power of the Holy Spirit to bring unity among believers. Although the apostles were suspicious of Saul and may have resented his miraculous transformation, they didn’t question his loyalty because he was willing to risk his life in order to preach the gospel. When Barnabas took Saul into his confidence, it was just as much an act of faith for him as it was when he sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36). As a result of Saul being joined together with the apostles, Luke said, “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Acts 9:31).

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