Last week’s lesson on dealing with bullies really impacted me as I was preparing it. Through God’s grace, I was able to communicate the lesson to the kids clearly. This week I am preparing to teach part two, on the life of the apostle Paul. Before Paul became the greatest missionary that the world has ever known, apart from Jesus Christ, he was Saul and he was a bully. I want to examine the facts and discover how he became a bully and what he was doing to bully others. What is God’s plan for bullies and what can you do to handle a bully in a godly way?
I. Saul learned to be a bully
The apostle Paul wrote an important truth for all of us to understand. I believe that he learned this truth the hard way, through the school of life’s experiences. Here is what he wrote:
33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (I Corinthians 15:33)
Saul hung around some bad people who corrupted him and taught him how to be a bully. He hung out with bullies and he eventually became a bully himself.
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7)
When these bullies murdered Stephen, Saul was there absorbing everything. He did not participate in the bullying but he was learning.
1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8)
Immediately, in the next chapter of Acts, we see Saul actively bullying others, specifically new Christians. He agreed with Stephen being bullied and he learned how to bully. Now he has become the bully. Saul was a verbal and physical abuser/bully.
4 “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. 6 “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, 7 and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 8 “And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ (Acts 22)
Saul was such a bully that he ended up trying to bully Jesus Christ. Paul’s own words we found out how bad of a bully he was.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
“He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me. (Galatians 1)
Saul was such a bully that he wanted to completely destroy the church. When you are a bully, you just go from bad to worse. That is very bad but Jesus’ reaction to Saul changes the known world.
II. The bully encounters the love of God
Saul was on his way to bully and hurt more people. Jesus intervenes and gets Saul’s attention first and then shows His love to him. Saul’s life is radically changed and immediately he begins to experience the love of God through the same believers that he was bullying.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; (Acts 9)
Ananias was afraid of Saul but he was more afraid of not obeying God. God commanded Ananias to show His love to Saul and although Ananias was afraid, he went and loved on Saul by serving. This is the way that God wants us to handle bullies, to love them, to pray for them, and to serve them. Ananias is not the only believer who loved on Saul. Barnabas, the man of encouragement also embraced Saul/Paul, showing Christ’s love.
22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. 23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. 26 When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. 30 But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9)
Paul wanted to minister openly yet many of the believers, especially the leaders, were afraid of him. They did not want to accept him because of their fear. Barnabas loved on Paul and brought him before all the leaders with a testimony and personal backing so that
III. The bully is zealous for good
Once the bully encounters the love of God via the believers around him, his life is transformed and he becomes just as zealous to share the love of God with others as he was to hurt others. In fact, Paul was so excited about sharing the love of God with others that he took 3 missionary journeys all over the known world to impart the love of God and the Word of God to all who would listen. He ended up getting bullied for his efforts, many, many different times. While sharing the love of God with others and teaching them the Word of God, Paul planted many churches that became examples to all believers over the last 2,000 years. Another result of a bully experiencing the love of God and being transformed is the fact that 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament were written by Paul. We have a large portion of the New Testament part of the Bible is due to the fact that believers shared the love of God with a bully.
Do you realize that the way that you treat a bully matters? Do you realize that God wants you to love and serve bullies so that you can extend His love to them? Do you realize how the love of God may impact the live of a bully and how that person may end up impacting the world? May the Lord help us show His love to all people, especially bullies, who need it the most.