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As an American, or citizen of a great country, your family has a history of serving in the highest leadership positions with unparalleled achievement and enviable honor. Your family name alone commands respect and resonate patriotic admiration. It opens doors of opportunities and privilege of good education. It has brought remarkable and astounding testimonials to you. You have not only fostered that reputation, but also made your own mark in the sands of time.
However, you tragically discovered that the enviable monument your family laid and built on is a fraud. You have believed and held on to lies. The public perception is also false. Consequently, the labor, zeal and devotion in upholding and preserving the supposed values amount to proliferating falsehood. Your passion to defend, protect, keep the integrity and honor of that institution is on false pedestal. The efforts have not only been worthless, but a pile of refuse and rubbish! Now you face the onerous decision: to admit and come out publicly to tell the truth or continue to preserve the institution.
This was the exact situation of Dr. Saul. He was a lawyer, born into a noble Jewish family. He was also a Roman, a citizenship many bought with great price. When education was costly and many could not afford it except the aristocrats, he studied in the most prestigious schools and became a doctor of law under the direct tutorship of the most revered, respected and presiding leader of the Jewish court of law, Gamaliel.
These were among the greatest educational attainments or height anyone could boast of at the time and Saul did boast of them. He challenged anyone with a better qualification: “though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh: if any other man thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.” (Phil. 3:4-6). He was later called Paul, the Apostle.
In a twist, Paul not only disparaged these achievements but also called them rubbish. He discovered that everything he had held on to, believed and acted on were not only lies but misleading and ungodly. He did not just walk away to start something new, but was active in telling everyone that cared to listen how he had been deceived, and how profane and blasphemous his beliefs, family tradition and education were. He was quick to warn every one of the danger and terrible consequence of towing the same path.
With great conviction and boldness, Paul shared the experience that not only changed him but gave him a new perception about life. It was an unforgettable encounter with the person he was on his trail to forcefully and legally obliterate his legacy. According to his religion, by doing this, he would add another feather to his cap of achievements. His name is Jesus, the same person his religion, traditions and education had portrayed as the arch-enemy. That encounter on the road to Damascus changed Paul forever.
Paul used to be an active leader in the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1), he ‘made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison,’ (Acts 8:3) he was ‘breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.’ (Acts 9:1) But when he met Christ, he confessed that his zeal to please the God of his fathers and preserve the generational and religious institution was tantamount to persecuting the very God he was trying to please. He recognized and accepted the same Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
It is amazing how Jesus changed this man’s credentials from being a self-confessed and law-approved ‘blameless’ person to being “a blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious person.” He said he obtained mercy, because he did it ignorantly in unbelief (1Tim. 1:13). In unbelief, but approved by his religion!
Paul had to let go his ego, status, gains, titles and other achievements. He said: “what things were gains to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” (Php. 3:7-8)
Festus was a governor. He was one of the people who knew Paul’s religious, political and educational antecedent and zeal. He once exclaimed during a cross-examination of Paul, “with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” (Acts 26:24) But in a swift reaction, Paul assured that he was sane and knew exactly what he was doing. “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:25) He emphasized again: “I will say it again: No one should think that I am a fool. But if you do, then treat me like a fool so that I can also boast a little. When I talk as a confident boaster, I am not talking with the Lord’s authority but like a fool.” (2Cor. 11:16-17)
What could make Paul, a man of such a high intellect and integrity to assume such a radical and suicidal stance? He was a man of enviable social and educational icon but turned against the belief that he lived for all his life.
After enough foothold and conviction on his new found faith, Paul became its strongest promoter, patron and advocate. This was the same religion he once tried to extinguish. His former religious leaders were surprised as Paul tore and pulled down the institution with the same zeal he once used to promote and defend it.
Would you do the same if you tragically found yourself in the same shoes?
One of the greatest sentiments people adore and would not want tampered with is their religion. Its laws, values and practices are so sacred even to a fault. Often we hear: “I was born a Catholic I will die a Catholic.” But what if you tragically found yourself in Paul’s situation, or you face the naked truth of some of your denominational beliefs, activities and even festivals, would you reconsider your belief or hold on to it, anyway?
Let us take Christmas and Easter festivals as examples. Many have said that they originate from pagan festivals, and that they were unknown and never practiced in the early church. That may be one truth too many for some to believe. How about a discovery that many of the early-church practices were completely different from the present practices, especially the clergy-laity, which some have said is the doctrine of Nicolaitans that Jesus said He hates? (Rev.2:6,15) What would you do: admit, quietly turn around and start afresh or be rebellious about it? Would you tell the whole world the whole truth, and what if that were your only choice?
In his ferocious zeal to persuade and convince the high and the mighty, King Agrippa said to Paul: “A little more and you will be making me a Christian.” Paul’s responded: “it is my prayer to God that, in little or great measure, not only you, but all those hearing me today might be even as I am.” (Acts 26:28.BBE) He was so much convinced he was ready to take a curse on himself so that the whole nation of Israel could also be like him. “For I have a desire to take on myself the curse for my brothers, my family in the flesh: who are Israelites.” (Rom.9:3-4.BBE)
Paul became completely sold out to his new faith and it became his life. He said: “For if I am a preacher of the good news, I have no cause for pride in this; because I am forced to do so, for a curse is on me if I do not. But if I do it gladly, I have a reward; and if not, I am under orders to do it.” (1Cor.9:16-17). He became prisoner of his own conscience. He must tell the truth, regardless of the cost.
To testify of the truth he found became a passionate to him. He expended all he had to make this truth known to all, including his freedom, esteem, respect and position. He did not do it with compulsion but with satisfaction and joy. At the end of his life, he said: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2Tim. 4:7-8)
Would you give a voice to the truth you believe, regardless of the cost or prefer to survive in the shadows of lies?
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” – Martin Luther King, Jnr.
write by Harding