It does seem counterintuitive to love someone that wants to harm me. My enemy isn’t someone who doesn’t care about me at all. According to good old Merriam-Webster, an enemy is “someone who hates another” and “someone who attacks or tries to harm another.” (So, they care a lot.)
Aside from the whole believer’s baptism thing, the main belief that differentiates Mennonites from other Christian denominations is pacifism. The “love your enemies” verses do a pretty good job of backing up that belief. (It’s hard to shoot someone and then claim you loved them.)
Well, that’s all fine and dandy for me since I’m not living in a war zone or anything. It’s easy to be a pacifist when there’s no danger. It’s nice in theory, but we’re living in a fallen world. There are evil men out there and by George, it’s up to us to stop them.
It’s up to us to stop them. But, how? The Bible is full of people going to war in God’s name. How can I go around pretending my feel-good, hippie love crap could actually change the world and end violence?
Because Acts tells me it can.
Most Christians know the book of Acts relates the story of the early Christian church. In the beginning, the book focuses heavily on Peter. However, it soon shifts to Paul. The first time I read through Acts, I didn’t understand why Peter was pretty much ignored once Paul showed up. (Seriously, who is this dude usurping Peter’s place?)
I knew that Paul wrote quite a bit of the New Testament (contained in the Epistles), but I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I wanted to know what happened to Peter, Matthew, and all the other apostles who had actually known Jesus. This Paul guy never even met Jesus (unless you count that after-death appearance on the road to Damascus).
But, what if the real point of Acts isn’t to simply narrate history? (Bear with me. I promise I have a point.)
If the story of Acts could be subtitled, “The Road to Rome,” then it makes sense for Luke to shift his focus to Paul. Paul was a Roman citizen (which helped him in his missionary efforts) and Acts ends when Paul reaches Rome and begins to teach Romans about Jesus. The implication is that once this new religion has reached Rome, it can reach the world…and it did.
Paul is a pretty big deal. We sort of owe him for our religion.
We focus on Paul’s conversion, but we only focus on part of it. Christians love Paul’s conversion story. What’s not to love? The Big Bad meets the risen Christ and becomes the fledgling religion’s biggest advocate.
Except, that’s not when he was converted. Something happened between Paul’s meeting with Jesus and his conversion. That’s where Ananias comes in. Without this man, we would not have Paul.
To understand what Ananias did, we have to understand what Paul (then called Saul) was like before his conversion to Christianity.
Saul didn’t just dislike Christians. He actively persecuted them. He was in Damascus specifically to round up Christians.
It would be reasonable for Christians to hide from him. It would be reasonable for Christians to defend themselves from him. But, that’s not what happened.
After Saul met Jesus on the road, he was struck blind. He didn’t hop up off the road and baptize himself. He didn’t ask Jesus into his heart or anything like that. The Bible only says that he was lead into Damascus and didn’t eat or drink for three days. There is only one thing Saul did. He prayed.
He had been rooting out Jesus’ followers. He was totally cool with them being killed. He’d just had a conversation with Jesus himself (who was supposed to be dead, by the way). He was blind and praying. I can’t imagine how hopeless he must have felt to realize he’d been working against God the whole time he thought he was doing God’s will.
Ananias knew Saul was looking for men just like him to imprison and execute. There was no doubt that Saul was his enemy. When Ananias was told to “go”, he understandably questioned the command. He didn’t know the details of Saul’s experience with Jesus. For all he knew, Saul would arrest him as soon as his sight was returned. God’s chosen instruments weren’t always terribly noble (ahem…the first Saul we run into in the Bible…)
The fact that Saul was meant to be an instrument of God didn’t mean Ananias wasn’t charging into the lion’s den. Ananias had no guarantee of safety.
“Brother Saul” – This is how Ananias greeted Saul.
He didn’t burst into the room screeching, “You vile, filthy sinner!” He didn’t condemn Saul as a persecutor or murderer. He didn’t tell him to clean up his act. He greeted him in love, as a brother. It wasn’t that fake I love you so much that I’m going to tell you what an awful sinner you are love either. It was pure, honest, selfless love.
That is what makes Ananias the biggest hero of the early Christian church.
Saul was baptized and received the Holy Spirit only after he met Ananias.
I’ve seen Ananias praised for having enough faith to be obedient to the command he was given. Sure, he was obedient. I don’t think that’s really the point, though. After all, he didn’t have enough faith to immediately run down the road and chat with Paul. He was all, “So, you do know who this Saul guy is, right?” instead of immediately obeying.
The real story I see is the story of love. Ananias did obey, but he obeyed an earlier command Jesus gave.
Acts says that the church then enjoyed a “time of peace and strength“. Not only had one of their staunchest opponents converted, but he was actively recruiting new members.
Without Paul, Christianity wouldn’t have spread as it did.
Without Ananias’ willingness to love his enemy, we wouldn’t have Paul.
Who else has made such a huge impact on Christianity in so few verses?
For Christians, loving our enemies does make sense and is practical in a less-than-perfect world full of evil people that want to hurt us (just ask Paul).
Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas (2009, October 14). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Kindle Locations 1961-1962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Larkin, W. J. (1995, November). Acts 9 – IVP new testament commentaries. Retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Acts/Pauls-Conversion