Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious….
— 1 Timothy 1:13
Sometimes I hear people say, “I just don’t know if So-and-so can come to Christ. They are so hardhearted and far from God!” If you’ve ever said this about a person in your life, today I want to give you hope. We’re going to look at what kind of person Paul was before he came to Christ — and I believe you’ll see and understand that if God could save Saul of Tarsus (who became known as the apostle Paul), then He can save anyone!
In First Timothy 1:13, Paul described himself before his conversion to Christ: “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious….” Although Paul was a strictly religious Jew before he surrendered his life to Jesus, he admitted that he had been guilty of blasphemous behavior. The word “blasphemy” is the Greek word blasphemia — and it does not primarily refer to speaking irreverently about divine matters. It has a broader meaning that refers to any type of debasing, derogatory, nasty, shameful, ugly speech or behavior that is intended to humiliate someone else. Paul used the word “blasphemer” to describe his own past words and actions when he purposefully mistreated and humiliated believers for whom he had no tolerance.
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Before Paul’s conversion to Christ, he persecuted believers in Jesus Christ with a vengeance. To make sure readers understood how atrocious his treatment of Christians was before his con- version, Paul then clarified what he meant, stating that he also used to be a “persecutor” and “injurious.”
The word “persecutor” comes from the Greek word dioko, which means to pursue or to ardently follow after something until the object of pursuit is apprehended. It was the very word used to depict a hunter. By using this word dioko, Paul revealed that he aggressively pursued Christians to capture or kill them like a relentless hunter tracking the scent of an animal.
Proof of this is found in the book of Acts. For instance, Acts 7:57,58 states that Paul (then called Saul of Tarsus) was present at the stoning of Stephen: “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Also, from Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa, we know that he cast his vote for the death of many believers. The apostle told Agrippa, “…Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:10).
There is no doubt that before Paul came to Christ and was still known as Saul, he was such a scourge to the Church that believers everywhere had heard of his vengeance (see Acts 9:21). Saul was obsessed with a sense of duty to eradicate Christians and to cleanse this “filth” from the Jewish community. In fact, when Paul later described his behavior before his conversion in First Timothy 1:13, he used the word “injurious” to explain the maliciousness of his past behavior.
The word “injurious” is the word hubristes. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament states: “The word [hubristes] indicates one who in pride and insolence deliberately and contemptuously mistreats, wrongs, and hurts another person just to…humiliate the person. It speaks of treatment which is calculated to publicly insult and openly humiliate the person who suffers it.”11
Although Paul laid claim to being among the most religious Jews (see Philippians 3:5,6), his use of the word hubristes in First Timothy 1:13 reveals that hatred raged in his heart. Paul acknowledged that his loathing of Christians was once so intense that he derived personal pleasure when humiliation and pain were inflicted on them. Whereas the word “blasphemer” reveals that he once verbally humiliated believers, the word “injurious” indicates that his physical behavior toward Christians was shameful — and that he enjoyed doing it. Both his words and actions were intended to debase, defame, dehumanize, depreciate, drag down, malign, mock, revile, ridicule, scorn, slander, slur, smear, and vilify believers.
When Paul was still Saul of Tarsus, he discriminated against believers, treated them with hostility, dehumanized them, and even contributed to their deaths (see Acts 8:3; 9:1; 26:11). He was moved with rage to extinguish the spreading flame of Christianity. However, one encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was all it took for Saul’s heart to be emptied of rage and hatred and filled instead with a deep love for the Church he had so horribly persecuted and humiliated in the past.
In a split second of time, this man who had been such an enemy of God and the Church was converted to Christ and totally transformed. When people heard that he had come to Christ, it was hard for them to believe at first, because he had been such an ardent persecutor of the Church (see Acts 9:21). But his conversion was real — and it proved that if God could save Paul, then God could save and change absolutely anyone! If there was ever a situation where it seemed impossible for someone to be saved, it would have been Saul of Tarsus — but one encounter with Christ changed everything in a split second.
So what about your friend, acquaintance, relative, coworker, and so forth, who seem so distant from God? Are they so far that they cannot be reached and changed? No, Paul’s testimony affirms that God can reach any heart, regardless of how hard it is or how far that person has wandered from God. So don’t give up hope! Keep praying and believing for your lost loved ones to come to a saving experience with Jesus Christ. If it can happen to Paul, it can happen to anyone!
11 Cleon L. Rogers, Jr. and Cleon L. Rogers III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), p. 488|
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Heavenly Father, I thank You that Your saving power can reach any person, regardless of how deep they are in sin, how hardhearted they are, or how far from You they may have wandered. Your mercy extends to every person, and Your salvation was meant to save every person! I thank You for giving me hope for my friends and loved ones through the testimony of the apostle Paul. Today I pray for my friends, acquaintances, and relatives who are far from God. I pray that the Holy Spirit will direct their paths into an encounter with the living Christ that will suddenly transform their lives for eternity!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I boldly confess that my friends, acquaintances, and relatives are on a collision course with Jesus Christ — and that they are going to be saved and changed in a split-second experience with Him. Although they are not walking with God and seem hardhearted right now, God is working mightily to invade their lives and to bring His saving power into their spirits. They may not know it, but they are on the verge of salvation! By faith I call them out of darkness and into the light of God’s Kingdom, where His righteousness, peace, and joy will cause them to increasingly yield to the Lordship of Jesus Christ until their lives fully manifest His glory on the earth.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Whom are you praying for to receive salvation? Do you have a prayer list of people that you believe will come to faith in Christ? How often do you pray for these people?
- When you read of the salvation of the apostle Paul, do you think of others who are now in Christ, who had once been far from God? Who are those people? Is one of them you? Can you say that if you could be saved, anyone can be saved?
- How long has it been since you’ve shared your testimony with someone who does not know the Lord? Can you think of people who would be open to hear your story? Is there a reason you haven’t shared your testimony with them? Do you realize that your story could be the final stroke that brings them into the kingdom of God?