The Apostle Paul, in Acts 26, is reciting to King Agrippa the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. Then known as Saul, he was on his way to Damascus “in raging fury” (Paul’s words) to stamp out supporters of a movement connected with the name of Jesus. On the trip, Jesus shows up, there is a bright, blinding light, and loud voice (in Hebrew) asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And Saul/Paul responds, “Who are you, Lord?”
Saul/Paul loved God and was zealous to serve him. His reading of Scripture convinced him that Jesus could not have been the Messiah. Jesus had been crucified on a cross and Torah was clear, “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” (Deuteronomy 21:23). To Paul, belief in Jesus as the anointed one of God was blasphemous, and likely an obstruction to the coming Kingdom of God. As long as there were Jewish people following this false messiah, God might continue to hold back on the fulfillment of his promises.
In order to serve God well, Paul unleashed his fury on followers of the way! He relentlessly sought to ferret out believers in Jesus, “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul’s own words imply torture of these people in an effort to “make them blaspheme” (Acts 26:11). His trip to Damascus was so that he could extend his work to include the Jewish community there as well. “Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) he would hunt them down and “bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2). Paul was certain that his was a righteous cause and that it called for extreme measures. That is what ZEAL does!!
The problem with serving God in this way, however, is that it has no clue about who God is. Jesus (God in a bod) shows up and Paul has to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” Oswald Chambers comments: “We have shown our ignorance of Him in the very way we determined to serve Him. We serve Jesus in a spirit that is not His, we hurt Him by our advocacy for Him, we push His claims in the spirit of the devil. Our words sound right, but our spirit is that of the enemy….The spirit of our Lord…is described in 1 Corinthians 13.” Serving God in a spirit that is contrary to his character is, in fact, a persecution of Jesus himself!
Any Christian service offered in a spirit of pride and arrogance, condescension, manipulation, misrepresentation, deception, impatience, self-indulgence, self-promotion, demand for submission to one’s authority, coercion, violence, competition (in short…anything less than the self-giving love of Jesus for others)—that kind of service reveals an ignorance of the one we seek to serve. Granted, Paul’s case was an extreme example, but we do not have to be guilty of “raging fury” to be abusive of people in the name of serving Jesus.
Perhaps we would do well to periodically examine our service in light of James’ statements on wisdom, “…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason (approachable), full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere” (James 3:17), lest Jesus show up some day asking why we are persecuting him, and we have no clue who is talking to us.