A Joint Effort – Acts 9:19-31

by Roger McCay
22 Sept 2019
Sermon Passage: Acts 19:19-31
Link to Audio Version

You’ve heard the term “lone wolf,” I’m sure. It’s something people are called when they shun others in favor of living or working alone independent of others. The term comes from what we see among wolves, who normally thrive as a pack working together while led by an alpha. The pack system is a marvel. There is a constant communication between the wolves, and a hierarchy, where every wolf has a place with a role and responsibilities towards the good of the whole. They work together in the hunt. They keep each other warm in the cold. They protect one another, and they also play together. A lone wolf is one that is either kicked out of the pack or decides to head off on its own for whatever reason. They lose out on the benefits pack life, and, unsurprisingly, most don’t remain lone wolves forever. They just can’t thrive without a pack.

Examples of similar social behaviors among creatures abound, including Lions, Elk, Canadian Geese, Starlings, Cattle Egrets, Dolphins, Orcas, Ants, and Honeybees, among many others.

Humans are at the top of the list of creatures that are social. As God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So, he created woman, and from there human society came to be. Society wasn’t a new thing either. Society existed from eternity in the very being of God himself. It’s in the very nature of God, and we are created in his image.

Even more, the Bible teaches that Christians are part of the organism that is the body of Christ on this earth. The head of the body is Christ (Col. 1:18). We are each a part of Christ’s body functioning together—1 Cor. 12:27: “You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.” The rest of 1 Cor. 12 explains how this all works, and how the same Spirit indwells each of us. Hence, we are united in the body of Christ as a single organism. Everyone has an important place in the body and we work together and rely on one another.

Yet, despite God’s design, some folks tend to want to be a lone wolf, and ignore the support of the pack. The thing is, lone wolves cannot thrive, and the body loses out due to their absence. Every Christian needs the body, just as the body needs every Christian.

In our passage today, we see this working out in the example of Saul and the church. Saul is the central figure we follow, going from location to location. Luke paints a picture of the Spirit of God working through his church, the body of Christ—working together to assist Saul in his individual calling—to take the name of Jesus, the gospel, to the Gentiles, Kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15).

As a part of this organism that is the body of Christ, every believer has their calling. Saul, of course, gets the most attention in our passage. But we cannot forget that he was carrying out his calling in the midst of other Christians who were carrying out their callings. He was part of “a joint effort,” with the Holy Spirit working through the whole process.

In Acts 9:19-25, we see the events that occurred after Saul’s conversion in Damascus. The timeframe for this is given in fairly vague terms (“For some days” v. 19; and “When many days had passed” – v. 23). In these passages, Luke is just giving a general rundown. Paul elaborates on his time in Damascus a bit more in Gal. 1:17. At some point he went away to Arabia (a time which some have called his “seminary” time), and then he returned to Damascus. Gal. 1:18 explains that it was after three years before he went to Jerusalem. So, vv. 19-25 occur a little over a three-year period.

Concerning the events specified in Acts 9, we see that Saul, while in Damascus spent some time with the body of Christ, the disciples, enjoying their hospitality and fellowship. They would have worshipped the Lord together; examined the scriptures together; and we can imagine the conversations, as they spoke with him at great length about what it meant to follow Jesus, discipling him.

But, Saul was a very special recruit to the cause of the Lord—called to be an apostle. He was exceptionally brilliant and bold. The Lord’s personal revelation to him along with his extensive knowledge of the Scriptures fell together in his mind and he got busy doing. Verse 20:

20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

Despite the incredulity of those who heard him (“Wasn’t this the guy who was supposed to arrest those who called on Jesus’ name?”) … despite their incredulity … v. 22:

22 Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Saul was called by Jesus to proclaim his name—arise, go, and do. So, he jumped to it. And, like his pattern would be in his missionary journeys, the first place he went was to the synagogues—to the Jews. There, at the heart of his message, he proclaimed, “Jesus is the Son of God” and he proved that “Jesus was the Christ.”

It’s important we don’t overlook that Saul increased all the more in strength (v. 22). How do you think he did that? The Spirit of God, of course! The Spirit had filled him (Acts 9:17-18), empowering him for this ministry. That’s how.

The Spirit was working in him, and Saul was going about his designated mission with a passion. He was using the Scriptures to prove that Jesus was the Son of God, the Christ. He had seen the risen Christ, and the Lord was showing him how it all fell in place in a perfectly logical, perfectly wonderful sense. So, Saul explained these things to the Jews, and they could not disprove what he was saying.

Nevertheless, unbelief will make a person obtuse to good sense. Hence, the Jews (a catchall term Luke uses for Jewish people who rejected Christ, as there were lots and lots of Jewish Christians) … the Jews plotted to kill him. Jesus had said that he called Saul to suffer for his name. So, it begins.

Saul, however, found out about the plot (either through the Holy Spirit directly, or by some alert brothers who brought him word about the plot, maybe even a combination of them both). Luke doesn’t elaborate. As it was, Saul needed to get out of Damascus, or be killed.

Taking care of brother Saul, his disciples (Notice it says “his disciples”—Luke is making a point here that Saul’s ministry was effective, and he was in Damascus long enough to have his own band of disciples) … his disciples took decisive action and helped Saul escape. The Jews were watching the gates. So, to bypass them, they lowered him from the walls of the city in a basket.

Now, do you see how Saul was following his individual calling, and the body of Christ assisted him? The church took him in, fed him, helped him get his feet on the ground as a new Christian, was a base of support for him in his ministry, and protected him. All this enabled Saul to follow his individual calling to proclaim the name of Jesus. He was a full and active member of the church.

This pattern continues as he eventually makes his way to Jerusalem. Verse 26 begins that account:

26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

Despite Saul’s unique abilities and calling by the Lord, he wasn’t a lone wolf. The first thing he did coming to Jerusalem was to attempt to join the disciples. The problem was that the disciples in Jerusalem knew exactly who he was. He had been the guy arresting their brothers and sisters in Christ. He was the persecutor of the church. Many of them were likely personally effected by his persecution. Perhaps some of them lost loved ones because of him. It only makes sense they didn’t immediately embrace him. They didn’t believe he was now a disciple. He was a danger to all of them. Surely, it was a ruse to infiltrate their ranks.

But the Lord had Barnabas in place to assist with this problem. Barnabas was the one who sold land and gave all the proceeds to the church, the one who was given the name “Son of Encouragement” by the church (Acts 4:36-37). He helped smooth things over. He vouched for Saul. Barnabas took Saul to the Apostles and shared with them Saul’s testimony of seeing the risen Lord and how Saul was preaching the gospel in Damascus.

Paul later clarifies who it was he talked to in Gal. 1:18-19. He visited with Peter, and saw none of the other apostles except for James, the Lord’s brother. So, it’s not like the twelve gathered to see him. It was Peter and James. And Paul further tells us that he stayed with Peter for 15 days.

During that time Saul went “in and out among them” (v. 28). Thus, in the body of Christ, Saul once again experienced hospitality, fellowship, and worship; also finding a support base from which to go out into Jerusalem and proclaim the name of Jesus. He wasn’t just out there on his own. He was part of the church, and identified with them. As he was staying with the Apostle Peter, his inclusion as a member of the one church of Christ was unmistakable to all who heard.

And to whom did Saul go to proclaim the name of Christ? He went right back to his old synagogue and proclaimed Jesus’ name to the Hellenist Jews, one of which he was. He went directly to the people who knew him best. Yet, they knew him as Saul, the persecutor of those followers of the way. This complete about-face was a total shock to them.

Can you imagine their frustration and bafflement at the change in Saul? The one who so zealously sought to destroy those who proclaimed Jesus’ name, the one whom they sent—their agent—was now back proclaiming the name of Jesus!

It didn’t go over too well. Predictably, they now sought to kill the very man who held their cloaks when they killed Stephen, and to kill him for the same reason. What irony!

Once again, the brothers came to the rescue. Verse 30:

30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Like in Damascus, where the disciples saved Saul from the Jews, now in Jerusalem the disciples did the same thing. They protected him. They got him to safety. He spent a little time with the Christians in Caesarea (probably with Philip) before being shipped way up north to Tarsus, his home town. There the Lord continued to groom him as an apostle (2 Cor. 12:2-4), and there he continued to proclaim the gospel, while suffering for the name (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Eight years will go by before Saul returns in the book of Acts.

Saul would have gotten nowhere without the body of Christ. This theme is repeated throughout the book of Acts. And, think about it. If Saul/Paul, who was so exceptional, so empowered by the Spirit of God, if he needed the body of Christ, so do you.

The Lord calls every Christian to arise, go, and do. We examined that call extensively last week. But no Christian can arise, go, and do as a lone wolf. Rather, we follow Christ Jesus’ together as the body of Christ.

We all have our individual callings we must follow. 1 Cor. 12:4-6:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

Paul goes on to list many of these variety of callings. Then in v. 11 he writes:

11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

The thrust of what we have seen today in Acts (viewed with the lens of the doctrinal teaching in 1 Cor. 12) is that not only must we follow our individual calling, but that, while doing so, we must assist one another, as we all follow our callings together. As the body of Christ, we do his work in the world. All the parts of the body work together towards his purposes: many parts, one organism, and no lone wolves.

As you arise, go, and do, do so in harmony with the body. See how you can help others, and enjoy the help that others provide for you—in worship, fellowship, teaching, discipleship, hospitality, and even protection among other things. You are not alone in your calling. We are all in this together. It’s a joint effort.

Perhaps you heard me tell this one on “The Meat & Potatoes” a few weeks back:

The story is told a man who had suddenly stopped going to church. After some weeks, the pastor went to visit him. It was a chilly evening, and he found the man at home, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for visit, the man welcomed the pastor, led him to a big chair by the fireplace, and waited.

The pastor made himself comfortable and said nothing. In silence, he contemplated the play of the flames around the burning logs. After some time, he took the tongs, picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent. The host watched all this in quiet fascination. As the lone ember’s flame diminished, there was a momentary glow, but then its fire was no more and it was cold and dead. Not a word had been spoken. But as the pastor rose to leave, the host said, “Thank you so much for your visit—and especially for your fiery sermon. I shall be at church next Sunday.”[1]

So, what was the result of the body of Christ working together? Verse 31

31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. …

Brothers & Sisters, we are the body of Christ in this world. Don’t cut yourself off from the body. Rather, let us follow our individual callings from Jesus. And let us assist each other, as we all follow our callings together. Because the Holy Spirit empowers his people to accomplish his purposes, we must work together for his glory.


[1] Michael P. Green, ed., 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 60.