Carrying the Name - Acts 9:15-16
Listen to our most recent Sunday message from “The Way,” a study of the church from Acts 9-20.
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (NRSV)
Questions for Personal Study or Group Discussion
- What do you notice when reading this passage? What did you find interesting or challenging?
- How is Saul being shaped to "carry the name" of Jesus to the places he's called to go?
- Today's sermon discusses the difference between viewing yourself as a "Gospel Beneficiary" and a "Gospel Bearer." Which of these descriptions best describes your mindset?
- How can we discern the ways in which God is shaping us to carry his name? What does that look like?
Additional Study Notes and Observations
Gospel-Bearers: The Vision of Jesus for his Disciples
- When describing Saul’s future as a Christian, God says, “He is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before the Gentiles…and before the people of Israel.”
- The word here for “instrument” is frequently used by Luke in Luke and Acts to describe a “vessel” or “container” (Willimon; cf. Acts 10:11, 16; 27:17; Lk. 8:16; 17:31).
- We can imagine the image as one of Paul being filled with the Gospel and carrying it to the Jews and Gentiles in the places he goes.
- Think back on Paul’s letters. Can you think of times when Paul’s way of talking about his mission looks a lot like this?
- (1) II Cor. 4:7-12 — Paul describes Gospel as “treasure in jars of clay.”
- (2) Phil. 4:17 — Paul describes himself as “poured out” like a “libation over the sacrifice…of your faith.”
- Each of these connects the struggles Paul shares with the image of carrying and dispensing the Gospel to the world in life-giving ways.
- Like Paul, we are called to be God’s instruments, his “Gospel-Bearers” as we live out his mission.
The Shaping of Saul: Past, Present, Future
- Acts 9 describes Saul as a "jar" that is uniquely shaped to carry his name to both Jews and Gentiles. It's helpful to consider the ways in which Saul's past, present, and future have shaped/are shaping him to carry the name.
- Past: Saul's experiences as a devout Pharisaic Jew prepare him to reach Jews. He's well-educated. He's a person of authority and status amongst the Jewish religious leaders.
- Saul is also a Roman citizen, cultured and well-traveled, which prepares him uniquely to reach Gentiles, as well.
- Present: We see in chapter 9 that Saul is also being shaped by his experiences with the church. The people he once persecuted are now his allies (9:23-25) and advocates (9:26-31).
- In other words, Saul begins to learn right away that carrying the name of Jesus is not a solitary task. As Saul carries the name, there are others who carry him and his burdens as well.
- Future: Verse 16 of God's speech about Saul ends on an ominous note, promising suffering to Saul as he carries the name of Jesus. We see, then, that suffering will be part of what shapes Saul to carry the name of Jesus.
- Through these factors--past, present, and future--God is at work forming Saul to be his "jar of clay," carrying the treasure of the Gospel to people, near and far.
The Shaping of You: Past, Present, Future
- As you think about the ways in which God shapes Saul to be his Gospel-bearer, you may also want to think about the way that God has shaped/is shaping you for a similar purpose.
- Think about your past. How has God been working in/through the events and experiences you've had to ready you for his purposes?
- Think about your present. What do you see in your current circumstances as opportunities to carry the name of Jesus to those who need it?
- Think about your future. Where do you feel God is leading you? How are you preparing yourself now to participate in God's work in the weeks and years to come?
- Like Saul, we are all Gospel-bearers. We are all jars of clay. We must pay attention so that we can see the ways that God is shaping us to carry his name--sometimes to places and people much closer than we think.
Credits and Acknowledgements
The cover photo can be accessed here: http://placentiapresbyterian.org/sermon-archive/treasure-in-clay-jars/
The commentary on the book of Acts by William H. Willimon was an indispensable resource to me (see esp. pp. 73-80), and is cited as follows:
Willimon, William H. Acts. Interpretation Commentary Series. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.
Also, the distinction between “beneficiaries” and “bearers” is helpfully delineated in the preface (see esp. pp. xvi-xvii) to N.T. Wright’s expansive work, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, cited as follows:
Wright, N.T. Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 4. Book 1. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013. Print.