God’s Word for You
Acts 26:9-11 Love your enemies
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 15, 2021
9 “I myself was convinced that in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth I ought to do many things. 10 And this is what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And synagogue by synagogue, in all the synagogues, I frequently punished them and tried to make them blaspheme. I was insanely furious against them. I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
In this second part of Paul’s sermon, he revealed just how zealous he was to put an end to Christianity. He builds a case against himself that rises in volume and pitch to an overwhelming crescendo of guilt. Paul takes personal responsibility for what he did, emphasizing his actions with “I, myself.” At first it was simply that he talked himself into opposing “the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” The miracles of Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and certainly the death and resurrection of Jesus meant nothing to Paul except to stir up jealousy. Young Saul of Tarsus convinced himself, “I ought to do many things about this.”
Next, he rounded up Christians (now he recognizes them as saints) and put them in prison. He added his vote when it came time to sentence them to death. This would have been death by stoning, as we saw happen to Stephen (Acts 7:57-58) and even to Paul himself (Acts 14:19). Paul did not vote as a member of the Sanhedrin. There are several references to Paul before the Sanhedrin or members of the Sanhedrin and never once is it stated that he had been a member. So when he says that he cast his vote, he might be saying simply that he agreed with the vote, or that he participated in some other way.
More than this, he went around to all the synagogues, one after another, and rooted out the believers. He says he punished them in order to try to get them to blaspheme. We might think of torture, but torture isn’t the only method of inflicting pain to produce a desired result. He might simply have struck people, beating or whipping them. The more cruel forms of Roman torture were not actions a Jew would take against fellow Jews, even those who had become Christians. The Greek verb Paul uses (ἠνάγκαζον, imperfect indicative from ἀναγκάζω) could either mean “I tried to force them…” (a conative meaning) or “I forced them again and again…” (an iterative meaning). He doesn’t explain further, but based on Acts 22:4 I think that Paul really did these things. Also, in the present context he is piling up his former wicked acts, and to merely “try” rather than to do it again and again would be anticlimactic.
Paul’s “insanely furious” attacks took him to foreign cities. What cities he means is uncertain. Did Paul make “anti-missionary” journeys? He might be talking about cities in the Decapolis southeast of the Sea of Galilee, or to the northwest in Syria. Certainly his final journey to Damascus was one of these trips.
Paul is not just exposing his guilt as a Christian for what he had done. He knows that he was forgiven all this by Christ. But in a hearing such as this, his real point is that the Christians had a lot more provable evidence to have him put on trial than the Jews did. The Christians could have had him condemned, but they welcomed him into their number. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay’ says the Lord. On the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Romans 12:19). Paul’s words show that the Christians could have condemned him, but didn’t. What should the Sanhedrin have done? They should have behaved the same way, but they flew into a rage. That’s what he had done, too, when he was one of them.
Christ tells us to love our enemies, to pray for those who mistreat us, and to bless those who curse us (Luke 6:28). He tells us to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), and to lend to anyone who asks without demanding to be repaid (Luke 6:30). There are at least six reasons for doing these things:
- To give glory to God (Revelation 14:7).
- To show our obedience to Christ by falling in line with God’s will Mark 3:35).
- To set an example in Christian living for our children and for others (1 Timothy 4:12).
- Because God works through human beings and human charity as part of his divine providence and the way he provides for all people (Luke 11:11-13; Psalm 37:25).
- To carry out the general will of God that the world be a harmonious place in which his church may thrive (Isaiah 32:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:1).
- Because we may perhaps lead an unbeliever to question their actions by our desire not to retaliate, and there can be a door to proclaiming the gospel (Ephesians 5:15-16; 2 Corinthians 2:12).
Pray for the people of the world, but especially pray for the people of God. Paul asks: “Pray for us!” (1 Thessalonians 5:25). Pray that we would stand up when persecuted, that we would forgive when sinned against, and that we will give God glory by setting a Christian example with the things we do. When we sin, we ask God to forgive us. When we do not sin—well, there is nothing we do that is not tainted with sin in some way. But we ask God’s forgiveness, guidance, and help. And we ask all Christians everywhere: Pray for us. Pray for each other.
Pastor Timothy Smith