© 2000, J.W. Carter
Dealing with people can be quite inconvenient and sometimes requires a great deal of commitment and/or sacrifice. In our self-centered culture many people are satisfied in keeping to themselves, and those who do establish relationships outside of the family tend to keep others at arms length, establishing relationships that are better defined as acquaintance than as friendship. People do not often see a need for deep or lasting relationships with others. In some communities people are ignorant and afraid of anyone who is different than themselves, and reject any opportunity to close the cultural gap. Consequently, our society is becoming more and more unfriendly, and more and more cliquish. It is a society that is becoming a mosaic of separate subcultures rather than the "melting pot" of cultures that the framers of this country intended.
Should we become involved with other peoples lives? How do we become involved in other peoples lives? The scripture is full of descriptions of how we, as Christians, are to relate to one another and to relate to those outside of the Family of God. We find there that Gods plan is to use faithful believers to be the hands and feet of His grace. How does God go about meeting the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of people? He uses us to minister to one another. What happens if we fail to do this?
This scripture lesson describes the impact that one faithful believer, named Ananias, had through the simple obedience to God in reaching out to the need of another.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. 11And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
We can see from this verse that the setting involves two people. We are meeting Ananias for the first time. (Note that this is not the Ananias who with his wife died after lying to the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:1-7. That Ananias is already dead.) Ananias was a Greek Jew who lived in Damascus, and was a respected member of the congregation there. Who is the second individual in this setting? (Saul of Tarsus.) We first meet Saul of Tarsus in Acts 7:58 when he was in charge of those stoning Steven, the first recorded Christian martyr. Saul was a well-schooled Pharisaical zealot who saw Christians as a heretical Jewish cult that, because of their blasphemy, was worthy only of persecution and death. Our modern euphemism for his action is "ethnic cleansing," or more accurately stated, "genocide." His zealous hatred was supported by the power of the church. Christians became extremely fearful of Saul for the real threat he represented. He had been going from house to house, congregation to congregation, arresting Christians. This prompted the many Christians who had come from "every nation under heaven" go return to their homes, furthering the spread of the gospel. Surely, it never dawned on Saul that his campaign of violence was the catalyst for the first major spread of the gospel throughout the region. Saul was not satisfied to persecute only those in Jerusalem. He obtained permission from the church to take his war against The Way outside of the gates of Jerusalem, and was on his way to Damascus, where a relatively large Christian community had formed.
Sauls persecution of the church came to a sudden end (Acts 9:1-9) when he was on the road to Damascus, Syria, to arrest the Christians there and bring them to Jerusalem. (Note that this is outside of the influence of Jerusalem.) He was taking his murderous vengeance on the road. There on the road he was blinded by a bright light and, with his followers, heard Jesus speak to him (his followers did not see the light,) asking Saul why he is persecuting him. Sauls only answer was "Who are you, Lord?" Jesus identified himself and simply gave Saul instructions to continue on into Damascus where he would be told what to do next.
Saul had just experienced the greatest shock of his life. All of his personal authority had just been stripped away by a voice from God that declares that all of what he had been doing was actually persecuting the Lord, not defending the Lord as he had thought. He could look at those he had murdered and imprisoned and realize the damage he had done already. Now he found himself blind and without a mission or purpose. Undoubtedly his blindness left him frightened, knowing that this disability would most likely take away all that he had. He could never enter the temple. He could not return to the only life he had known. His life had, most likely, lost most of its purpose, and certainly, its zealous mission. This certainly gave Saul time to think, and as verse 11 describes, an inspiration to sincerely pray. He turned to God in his time of distress and need.
And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
We have two instances of a vision referred to here. The words we are reading are those of the Lord to Ananias as He is giving him instructions concerning the task that Ananias is to perform. Ananias was given this command in a vison. The vision that the Lord describes to Ananias was experienced by Saul in his prayer. What was that vision? God revealed to Paul that his sight would be returned. Saul found himself completely at Gods mercy, at the mercy of a God that he had been persecuting and through a Christian Jew he had come to put in prison. Sauls response was entirely humble and penitent. However, his reputation was so well established that others did not know or believe this.
Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
Have you ever felt that the Lord was asking you to minister to someone, but you did not do so. What were some of the reasons you used to defend your refusal? What do you do when you see someone stranded along the side of the road? Do you stop to help, or do you keep driving? What do you do when you come near the homeless or a beggar asking for money? God asked Ananias to lay his hands on Saul. What was Ananias response? When God calls us to minister to someone else, what do we have to fear? I am convinced that if it is truly God who is calling you, He will protect you from all harm, and will empower you to do the work to which you have been called. I have personally, on several occasions, seen proof of this, being placed in what some would consider harms way only to have been carried through completely unscathed and able to do what God assigned. Still, it is easier to try to tell God that He does not know what He is doing, as Ananias is attempting to do. God was gracious with Ananias, and revealed His purpose clearly to alleviate his fears.
But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: 16For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my names sake.
All people have value, and all Christians have great potential for ministry. Each of us has been created with a variety of interests, skills and talents, all of which God can use for His purpose. It is easy for us to look at someone and think that they will never be of use to God, and Ananias certainly had reasons for his doubt. Saul of Tarsus was a rabid enemy of the Christian church. The purpose for his coming to Damascus was understood, and anything that he is involved in would be perceived as a ploy to achieve his destruction of the church there. However, when we look at the skills and drive that made Saul such a zealous and successful power against the Gospel, we can also see what would happen if that individual were turned to God. If we look at people this way, we will often see tremendous potential in people. The same drive, intelligence and skills that make people horrific enemies of the Gospel could use those same traits to make a significant impact for Christ. Imagine what would happen if some of our most well known personalities suddenly turned everything over to God; Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, the president of the Latter Day Saints, who else? Look at what happened to Saul, almost immediately.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. 19And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. 20And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. 21But 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? 22But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
What kind of impact did Ananias simple obedience have in Sauls life? Saul would change his name from the Hebrew Saul to the Gentile name, Paul, and as the word of the Lord stated, Paul would use his zealous nature to perform a calling that none of the apostles could be willing to do: he focused his ministry on the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Paul would rise so quick in the ministry that he brought upon himself the same persecution that he had reserved for the Christians, and often found himself in need of help from other Christians. Just as we are called to minister to those in need, those needs do not always come from the down-and-out, but often from the up-and-in crowd.
Also, few people have as much unmet need as vocational ministers. We expect them to give and give, and we rarely give much consideration to their needs. While they are giving, often most of the interaction they feel is criticism from people who may not agree with everything they do. Such stress often leads to the breakup of a ministers family, and such breakup is considered by the congregation as a fault of his own. Sometimes, we need to carefully observe the needs of Christian leaders and see what it is that they are up against and look for opportunities to minister to them. We find this happening quickly in Sauls ministry.
And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him: 24But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him. 25Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket. 26And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem. 29And he spake boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus, and disputed against the Grecians: but they went about to slay him. 30Which when the brethren knew, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him forth to Tarsus. 31Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea 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.
Where the world teaches us that we are invading other peoples privacy by involving ourselves in their lives, Gods word teaches us that we are ministers of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that is to be brought to every person. We are called to minister to others; there is no shortage of scriptures that give guidance in this area. Consider a few of the following imperatives from scripture and spend a few moments meditating on the meaning of each:
John 13:34-35. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Romans 12:9-10. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Romans 12:15-16. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Romans 13:8. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Romans 14:13. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brothers way.
Romans 15:7. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:14. I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Romans 16:16. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Cor. 1:10. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Gal. 5:13. You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Eph. 4:2. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Eph 4:32. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Eph. 5:19. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:21. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Col. 3:13. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
1 Thess. 5:11. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
Hebrews 3:13. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.
Hebrews 10:24. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
Hebrews 10:25. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherand all the more as you see the Day approaching.
James 4:11. Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.
1 Peter 1:22. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.
1 Peter 3:8. Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 4:9. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
1 John 3:11. This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.