But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:1-5 ESV)
In the above passage, Jesus tells us that when people persecute believers, they are persecuting Him. We often use this scripture to comfort persecuted Christians in third-world countries. However, I recently read it and thought of something else we can use this scripture for.
We naturally tend to apply this scripture to atheists, Muslims, and other religious persecutors, but we forget about another great persecutor of the church: us. I think of how many of Paul’s letters pleaded with the church to stop fighting with each other. Let me just list a few of the scriptures about it.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:13-16 ESV)
But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 1:10-16 ESV)
Ouch. All of these scriptures were written because of real issues happening in the church. They aren’t answers for hypothetical situations. I find it sobering yet helpful that the early church was struggling with unity back then. It speaks on how hard it is to obtain true unity yet how much grace there is for us to have it (mostly because Christ desires it so much per John 17).
Paul, while talking about marriage, gives us a beautiful encouragement for Christian unity:
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body….This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:28-32 ESV)
By the ways we treat other Christians, we can either show our love for the body or our hate for it. Every time we mock or mistreat another believer, we are mistreating our own body. However, we are doing more than that, because we are the body of Christ! We are not just persecuting each other, we are persecuting Him. This is a helpful reminder for me to watch what I say and do to other believers, for one day Jesus will judge how we treated “His brothers” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus takes how we treat His family and His body very seriously.
If we are not careful, we (believers) can find ourselves persecuting Jesus just like the world does.