San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen for a while collected and shared “aptronyms” from his readers. For example, a substitute teacher one of his readers had met was named Mr. Fillin. A piano teacher someone else knew was named Patience Scales, and when the Vatican spoke out against rock 'n roll, the spokesman happened to be named Cardinal Rapsong. In The Washington Post, another journalist named Bob Levey also from time to time shared examples sent in by readers of his own column, including a food industry consultant named Faith Popcorn, a lieutenant called Sergeant, and a tax accountant called Shelby Goldgrab. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nominative_determinism]
Such irony in the world made way for yet another chuckle Terry Slack and I enjoyed at the Sacred Selections auction we both attended in Dallas two evenings after our visit to his congregation, when he checked in to make sure I had received his emailed class notes I’d requested from his Wednesday night Bible class so I’d have no reason to think “Now there’s a guy living up to his name.” Ha! Given the depth of his outstanding, action-packed presentation of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and all his engaged, learned students of the word of God, he of course had nothing to prove. Terry Slack is certainly no slacker, and we'd very much encourage anyone looking for a deep dig into the word of God to take in one of the Bible classes offered at this truth-loving congregation.
After a lovely pre-class Mediterranean dinner with members so very dear to us, Nathan and Acacia McCown and many warm greetings upon our arrival, class began at the Arlington church of Christ with students sharing aloud adjectives that would best describe Saul of Tarsus. We all agreed. This was a man who was well-studied, intensely religious, single-minded, determined, completely dedicated, and zealous, yet also exceptionally ruthless and even brutal.
When the class was asked to share our adjectives that describe the same man after his conversion to Christianity, it was interesting to note that although brutality and ruthlessness had been replaced with love and graciousness, many of the raw materials within Saul of Tarsus, of course, remained when he was born again. Paul the Apostle of Christ remained committed, determined, zealous, steadfast, single-minded, eloquent, and well-studied. For readers not as familiar with one of the most amazing transformations recorded in human history, I’ll share here a brief summary of Terry’s presentation:
In Acts 8 we learn that intent on preserving Judaism, Saul of Tarsus had one controlling passion: he wanted to bully, and bludgeon every man and woman who blasphemously gave their allegiance to this fake Messiah named Jesus Christ! As a result of his determined efforts, many Christian men and women in the first century had been brutally beaten, tortured, and died. Even still, by Acts 9:1-2, we learn that Saul refused to be satisfied with his efforts in and around Jerusalem, and was ready to do even more harm by pursuing Christians who had fled to places beyond Israel’s border. What’s worse, when Saul of Tarsus approached the high priest and conveyed his willingness to be their licensed agent to stamp out this new movement— Caiphas, the high priest was more than happy to grant his approval to allow Saul to take this journey 150 miles north, as far as Damascus for the purpose of arresting those “belonging to the Way”; and wrote a letter not only granting permission, but also urging the assistance of those in local synagogues as well.
Just about the time we think we’ve met the single most unlikely man who would ever be converted to Christianity, Acts 9 happens: At about noon a light brighter than the noonday sun flashed from heaven around him, knocking him to the ground. It is then that this seemingly unstoppable zealot heard a question that changed everything, from the very One he was attacking. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (vs 4). In that single moment Saul came to the shocking realization that Jesus who had been crucified wasn’t dead after all—and that all his efforts had been an attack on the very God he claimed to be serving, the same God who had also raised Jesus from the dead!”
At this point in Terry’s class, one of the students asked a reflective question that I believe every honest lover of truth should from time to time ask: “Am I Saul?” Good question. Am I absolutely sure that I have not locked into a false conclusion for which I’m pouring myself out, that is doing the exact opposite of what I intend: hurting myself and everyone else. Have I truly familiarized myself with the whole counsel of God so that I don’t waste my life and do more harm than good. Have I allowed the truth to set me free?
Terry went on to note that this man who was intent on taking Christians in Damascus by storm was rendered totally helpless, being led by the hand into that same city! The painful guilt and humiliation of Saul’s memories for the three days following this vision had to have been almost unbearable.
Another student in our Bible study pointed out that Saul could have easily said, what many have essentially said when they’ve encountered Jesus: “No, thanks. I’d rather stay blind the rest of my life than admit many of my family and friends are deceived by the same false ideas that have me in its grip.” Instead, Paul sees this vision for the grace that it was, and refuses, even in his three-day state of shock, to receive the grace of God in vain (1 Corinthians 15:10).
It’s also noteworthy that Jesus doesn’t save Saul on the spot, nor does He even tell Saul what he needs to do to be saved; He simply directs him where to go and to wait. Just as remarkable is that although Saul enters the city very much a changed man, he is not yet a saved man. Ananias, though initially fearful and reluctant, only knows Saul for the terrifying things he had done, but Jesus sees him for what he could and would become: a “chosen instrument” (v. 15). Upon his arrival, Ananias lays his hands upon Saul, enabling him to regain his physical sight, and what’s more --- he speaks the words that would open his mind to “see” clearly God’s plan for saving him, culminating in his spiritual rebirth---a moment Paul recalls in Acts 22:12-16: “A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’”
Terry noted: As Ananias speaks the word of God to Saul, the two men who previously had been enemies now became brothers—and one of the most radical transformations in all of human history had just taken place! One moment Saul of Tarsus was the chief of sinners, the next he was a devout believer on his way to becoming the chief of saints; one moment he was convinced Jesus was an imposter, the next he willingly owned that same Jesus as Lord and King! One moment he was a brutal terrorist committed to the extermination of those belonging to “the Way,” the next he was new creature proclaiming the Way of Christ as the only means of salvation! One moment he was a willing tool in hand of the Sanhedrin, next he was a willing instrument in hand of the Savior; there was a total revolution that transpired within Him! And what an indispensable tool he was: This persecutor-turned-preacher; within about 30 years spread the good news of Christ from Jerusalem to Galatia to Ephesus to Rome and perhaps even to Spain. Before AD 47 there were no churches, but by AD 57 Paul had established churches in the provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia, and by AD 65 Paul could speak as a man whose work was complete (2 Timothy 4:7).
Gary Haberma has noted that God had built into Saul a combination of qualities that were unique to him; “he was a Jew by birth, training, religion, and education, but a Greek by scholarship, learning, and language, and then a Roman by citizenship.” This perfectly suited instrument, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, would be used to pen at least 13 of the 27 New Testament books, the “divinely breathed, inerrant, word of God—and as such will outlast the sun, moon, and billions upon billions of stars.”
After Terry’s class, a well-traveled brother who had recently toured some of the most gorgeous works of art in and around Europe, spoke a few words of encouragement making the point that although we see throughout all of creation God’s breathtaking artistry, it is only we humans who are made in the image of God that compose His most remarkable work of art, if we but let Him have his way with us. Yea, verily. Beautiful things, far beyond our imaginations can happen in our lives to His glory when we, like the Apostle Paul humbly yield, as still as clay in the hands of a divine Potter (Isaiah 64:8) everything we are made of so that this most skilled Artist can do things through us that will turn the world upside down in all the right ways.
His Power Can Make You What You Ought To Be,
His Blood Can Cleanse Your Heart And
Make You Free:
His Love Can Fill Your Soul,
And You Will See It Was Best For Him
To Have His Way With Thee.
Cyrus S. Nusbaum
Northwest church of Christ
505 Milby Rd.
Arlington, TX 76013