Saul of Tarsus first appears in the Bible record as the young man who kept the clothing of the witnesses who cast the first stones at Stephen’s martyrdom. Saul was probably in his twenties at the time and had a fine Jewish pedigree. Well educated, having studied under the famous Rabbi, Gamaliel, he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews” and also a Pharisee. But that day, as he gazed upon the expired form of the first Christian martyr, his education took a further dramatic but retrograde step. He witnessed the murder of one of the despised Christians, and from that moment, Saul would no longer be a passive observer but an active persecutor of the saints of God. From then until the moment of his conversion, he “made havoc of the church.”
Saul’s life at that period was ruled by prejudice, passion, and bigotry. He was intensely sincere, but despite his sincerity, he was intensely ignorant and wrong. To this day, many make the same mistake, even Christians. Passionate sincerity does not make our beliefs or behaviour right. We should never fail to bring all we believe and practise to the touchstone of the Word of God. We act right only when we live biblically.
Contrary to his intention, Saul’s persecution helped the early church. Christ had commanded His disciples to radiate out from Jerusalem to Judaea, Samaria, and beyond with the gospel message. In His providence, God used Saul’s persecution to bring about His will. He still makes the wrath of man to praise Him. (Psa.76:10). Whatever our afflictions, He will overrule every attack of the devil for our good and His glory and lead us forward in triumph (II Cor. 2:14-17).