A blinded and humbled man fell before the voice of the Author of life. The soul-piercing question echoes through the ages, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Saul’s persecutions had begun with the violent stoning of Stephen, and resulted in the scattering of Christians (Acts 8:1-3).
Saul wasn’t satisfied with mere intimidation, he ravaged the church. Later, he would reveal that it was his intent to destroy the church of God through violence (Galatians 1:13). Not content with dispersing believers, in his raging fury, he persecuted Christians to foreign cities (Acts 26:11). It is here, on the road to Damascus, that his pursuit of violence led to a pursuit of peace.
“Persecute” and “pursue” both find their origins in the same Greek term, διώκω (dioko). Forty-three of its 58 occurrences are clearly negative, referring to some form of persecution. But 10 times it is used positively. Four times the Christian is told to pursue peace (Romans 14:19; 2 Timothy 2:22; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11). Three times we are instructed to pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). Two times we are commanded to pursue righteousness (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). Faith or faithfulness is also mentioned twice in those same passages. Steadfastness, gentleness, hospitality, holiness, and doing good also are to be sought.
It is clear that the Christian lifestyle is not a passive one. We cannot hope to become like Christ while putting forth minimal effort. BDAG describes διώκω in part, “to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective.”/1 We are to seek these Christ-like qualities with the same decisiveness and devotion as Saul had toward the destruction of the Way.
It is also clear that these pursuits are life-long and essential. Notice how the Holy Spirit encourages the faint-hearted Hebrews, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 ESV).
Following Paul’s encounter with Jesus, and his calling upon the Lord’s name (Acts 22:16), the apostle’s life changed. Instead of heeding the call of violence in persecution, Paul pursued “the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
What is it that you are pursuing?
1/ William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 254.