When it comes to conflict, most of us know about the “fight or flight” response. But actually, those aren’t the only two possibilities. Recently, I came across the following account of a “reporter [who] was interviewing an old man on his 100th birthday. ‘What are you most proud of?’ he asked. ‘Well,’ said the man, ‘I don't have an enemy in the world.’ ‘What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!’ said the reporter. ‘Yep,’ added the centenarian, ‘outlived every last one of them.’"[i] What’s your go-to response, when it comes to conflict?
In the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, the church is forced to figure out its response to the conflict that Saul delivered to its doors. Instead of fighting, it scatters. Despite the persecution, it continues to grow. In Acts 9:1-19, we read about Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road, and how a Christian named Ananias overcomes his fear in order to minister to the erstwhile persecutor. Now in the second part of the chapter, Saul begins to preach about Christ. Verses 20-22[ii] say:
…Immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.
What would you do, if someone who had always been your enemy all of a sudden turned over a new leaf? Would you give him a chance? This is what the young church has to decide. Saul has tried to obliterate the new faith—are they now supposed to trust him? In 1963, Oscar Brown Jr. sang a song entitled The Snake in which a “tender-hearted woman” finds a half-frozen snake by the side of the road. Picking him up to help him, she takes him home and revives him. When she clutches him to her bosom and he bites her she cries, “I saved you, and you bit me—but why? You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m gonna die.” He replies, “You knew…I was a snake before you took me in.” None of us wants to be in the woman’s position, so our automatic response is to mistrust people like Saul. But Barnabas took a risk. Acts 9:26-28 says:
When [Saul] 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. 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. And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord.
You might be saying to yourself, “I could never do that! I could never take someone like Saul under my wing and give him another chance!” But maybe that’s exactly what God is calling you to do. It seems like a nearly impossible task, but God just might want you to make peace with someone who so far has been nothing but an enemy to you. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27).” It wasn’t a suggestion—it was a command, one you can accomplish through Christ’s love. Joseph B. Modica writes:
In Context, Mary Marty retells a parable from the Eye of the Needle newsletter: "A holy man was engaged in his morning meditation under a tree whose roots stretched out over the riverbank. During his meditation he noticed that the river was rising, and a scorpion caught in the roots was about to drown. He crawled out on the roots and reached down to free the scorpion, but every time he did so, the scorpion struck back at him. "An observer came along and said to the holy man, 'Don't you know that's a scorpion, and it 's in the nature of a scorpion to want to sting?' "To which the holy man replied, 'That may well be, but it is my nature to save, and must I change my nature because the scorpion does not change its nature?"[iii]
Just as it is in Jesus’ nature to save, so it should be in the nature of every Christian to reach out to the scorpions of the world with compassion. Barnabas’ forgiveness, friendship, and sponsorship of Saul resulted in the new believer being accepted at church and eventually becoming the greatest missionary of his generation. I wonder—what plans does God have for the person that you need to forgive, befriend, and even mentor in the faith? How might your willingness to reach out to a scorpion affect millions of people in future generations? You never know what peace and blessing might come about because of your generous love!
Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” This was Barnabas’ calling, and it’s yours, too. I pray that God will give you the courage to be a Barnabas, and that you’ll follow Jesus’ example of blessing your enemies.
[i] Original Source Unknown. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/e/enemies.htm
[ii] All scriptures taken from the NASB.