Then Paul said [to the mob that had tried to kill him], "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today."
— Acts 22:3 NLT
Like many of the people he addressed, Paul had been "zealous for God, but... not based on knowledge" (Romans 10:2 NIV) in his earlier life. He had zealously persecuted Christians and had presided over the execution of Stephen by stoning.* Paul had pursued his training as a rabbi with vigor and passion, but God had redirected him from opposing Jesus to being the apostle to the Gentiles.** In his his heart, however, he deeply loved these people in Jerusalem who now opposed him. His passion for his fellow zealous Jewish brothers and sisters to know Jesus was so great that he was willing to be cut off from Christ and cursed if it meant they would come to Christ (Romans 9:1-5). His words to the mob about being zealous were not just nice-sounding ways to begin his defense; they were his heart's yearning for them to know Jesus. His example challenges me to ask this important question: Do I love those who despise me like Paul did those who opposed him? I pray that I — and that you — do!
O Father, I know you promised to pour love into my heart through the Holy Spirit and that Jesus called on me to love my enemies and pray for those who mistreat me because of my faith.* I do long to follow the examples of Jesus and Paul, who had such deep love for those who treated them as enemies and despised their existence. Help my words to be kind and wise as I face mistreatment and abuse. Guide me to be the kind of person whose faith and grace speak through the hatred of those who oppose me so I can touch their hearts. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.