Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. (Acts 26:14-15)
I want you to picture Saul (soon to become the Apostle Paul) on the road to Damascus, and in particular, I want you to consider the interaction above. Here’s my embellishment of conversation:
Jesus: Saul, why are you persecuting me?
Saul: err…. I’m not.
Jesus: Yes you are and let me tell you, that road only leads to pain, like stubbing your toe or standing on a drawing pin.
Saul: Ok… help me out here. Who are you?
Jesus: I’m Jesus whom you are persecuting
Saul: err … still confused
The reason we find it easier to follow my embellishment of the story, rather than the simple unadjusted facts that are laid out in Acts 26, is that we struggle to put the wonderful and beautiful Jesus together in our mind with … the church. Yet that is what Jesus was doing here! Jesus was teaching Saul and us a massive lesson! The church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Col 1:18, 24; Eph 5:23). When Saul was dragging men and women out of houses and into prison for belonging to local churches, he was in effect persecuting … Jesus (ouch!). Why, because the church is the body of Christ here on earth!
So here’s a thought. Do we ever “kick against the goads” by persecuting the church? Don’t be so ridiculous, I hear you shout! I’ve never dragged someone from their house for being a Christian. Yet, I want to suggest to you that it is possible to weaken and endanger the body of Christ (which is a kind of persecution) in some very everyday ways:
Friends, I cannot overestimate the powerfully ingrained nature of individualism within our culture. The mantras of individualism in our day are “you be you”, “be true to yourself”, “follow your heart”, “find yourself”. From the very opening pages of scripture, community, not individualism, is shown to be inherent in how God works. Adam and Eve were ‘together’ commissioned and entrusted with the good stewardship of this planet. When we then look at Jesus (the new Adam), we don’t see someone living in blissful isolation, but rather someone who modelled sacrificial and other-person-preferring love. The cross needs to stand tall in our hearts and imagination showing us that individualism is not the way of Jesus!
One of the easiest ways for you and me to weaken or ‘persecute’ the body of Christ is to live with a worldview that is focused on me and my gifts and my rights and my need for opportunity. In fact, one of the things that concerns me most, is when I meet someone and within a few minutes they are filling me in on all the things they can do and that they have been called to do. I sometimes want to call a timeout and say, “hey what about Jesus and his bride?” What about Jesus’ challenge “if you want to be great in this kingdom, do whatever is needed in that moment to help the whole body mature?” What about the Psalmist’s cry “I want to be a door keeper, in the house of the Lord”? In short, let me serve in whatever way possible so that many will find a way to know the Lord.”
Rugged individualism will always weaken and ‘persecute’ the church!
I think it is important that I mention this because I know of a number of conversations with people who have been hurt and let down in the past, either in church or in other environments and that has really affected them. In that kind of context with that type of experience in your past, cynicism, which manifests itself as disillusionment, distrust and frustration is often directed towards those who have been given leadership responsibility and is a massive danger. Here’s the thing. Cynicism will always weaken and ‘persecute’ the church because we’ve been called to live heartfelt, devoted, and committed lives, not lives of suspicion and being ‘sat on the terraces’ evaluating (judging) others. No, we are called to live with our sleeves rolled up and our hearts engaged!
So how can I ensure I’m not ‘persecuting’ the church by rugged individualism or cynicism?
My suggestion is that you embrace covenant community life! What does this mean? It means to embrace membership of a local church as the joyful commitment to serve God and one another in a biblically-shaped community. This means we relate to one another based on an agreed set of promises (or covenant).
Here at Kingsgate we’ve written a covenant or set of promises which we make to one another and to God. My suggestion is that you read through these promises and ask yourself, can I honestly (hand on heart) pray and live these promises? And then I would encourage you to pray them.
Together we commit ourselves to making much of Jesus! He is our only hope in life and death and we look to display his glory and fame in all we do!
Together we commit to being people shaped by the Bible. Scripture is our supreme authority!
Together we commit to loving one another sacrificially. Even when it inconveniences us, we will choose to love this way because this honours God. We will resist the destructive habit of gossip and slander and always look to speak well of one another because love cherishes and prefers other people.
Together we commit to regularly pray for one another and for vibrant unity in the church family. Unity is precious but also delicate and needs God’s divine help to maintain it. We should therefore ask for forgiveness when we have wronged or upset someone and also forgive unconditionally when we have been hurt by another’s actions. We choose to do this quickly and bravely so that love does not get fractured or damaged.
Together we commit to regularly meeting together. We recognise that when we neglect to meet, the body is poorer for it because we are not bringing our gifts and contributions for the strengthening of the church.
Together we commit to praying for our Elders and Deacons who are God’s precious gift to the body of Christ. We also commit ourselves to playing our full part by praying, sharing ideas and bringing forth all that God has placed in us so that we might together be a glorious expression of what it means to be a priesthood of all believers.
Together we commit ourselves to the ongoing mission of Kingsgate through prayer and the sacrificial contribution of our time, talents and treasure. To work together to make much of Jesus, His glory and His fame is our first and greatest calling and commitment!
To find out how you can become a member at Kingsgate, please visit our website: