So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. 6 When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. 7 He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. – Acts 13:4-12
I’ve spoken before about Monty Roberts, the original horse whisperer. His join up videos are inspiring and remarkable. Most notable is his approach of sending horses away for a long period of time until the horse submits to him and ends up following him around the pen. He doesn’t entice with an apple or a sugar cube. He simply makes moves until the horse submits to him under its own will and “joins up.”
We seldom engage in horse whispering in the church, though that almost exactly what Saul-become-Paul is doing here in this encounter. He is not on a Dale Carnegie path of winning friends and influencing people. He isn’t trying to bridge a gap by means of diplomacy. He is seeking to bring the man to Jesus, by means of repentance and faith. This is all based on the grace and truth centered in Jesus.
To that end Paul confronts Elymas almost ruthlessly:
“You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” – Acts 13:10-11
Elymas is struck blind, and the proconsul is struck by the obvious power of God. But Luke tells us something very important about the reason the proconsul is brought to faith: he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord. – Acts 13:12
There is more to bringing a person to faith than undercutting someone’s false faith. It has to do with the power of the love of Jesus and the good news of forgiveness in his name. Paul was not about to allow Elymas to undercut the work of the Holy Spirit, who had begun the work of faith in the proconsul’s heart.
We might be tempted to soften the clear teachings of God’s word, and hold out sugar cubes rather than calling people to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. That approach may make a friend (not necessarily a bad thing), but true faith faces the reality of our great need and God’s great love.
When someone encounters God’s grace and truth, he becomes not only a friend of God, but also a brother or sister in Christ. Getting there may sometimes be challenging, but the blessings of that fellowship are rich and beautiful.