We read, in the book of Acts, concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, that man who would go on, in time, to be known as the apostle Paul. Saul had, prior to his conversion, been quite zealous to destroy the church of Christ. Concerning this time period, Paul would say of himself, “many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly enraged, I persecuted them even in foreign cities.” (Acts 26:10-11)
Despite his zeal against Christ and His church, the life of Saul changed when, on a journey to the foreign city of Damascus, he encountered the resurrected Christ. Jesus, appearing to Saul, asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To which Saul replied, “Who are You, Lord?” Jesus answered him saying, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (cf. Acts 9:4-5)
Saul in attacking the church, had been attacking Christ Himself. In opposing Christ, Saul was opposing God’s anointed and thus God Himself. He was fighting against the will of God and such a struggle was destined to failure. As, Jesus said, Saul was kicking against the goads, and such “kicking” was hard.
The term, “goad” is not one often used in the American vocabulary, because so few of us are herdsman, accustomed to driving and directing animals, but the word was one that would have been quite familiar to most of the people of Saul’s day. Simply put, a goad was merely a sharp pointy stick, used to encourage animals to go a certain way. A stubborn animal, kicking out against a goad was only going to hurt themselves.
Jesus was saying to Saul that in his fight against God and God’s anointed, Saul was only hurting himself. God had been trying to steer Saul in the way that Saul should go, but Saul was fighting God every step of the way. Until Saul relented, accepted the truth of the gospel of Christ, and changed his course, there would be no easing of the pain that Saul was bringing upon himself. We don’t know the exact nature of Saul’s inner turmoil in his spiritual struggle against Christ. Outwardly he had political power, a good position, and what appeared to be good worldly fortune; but inwardly he must have realized the truth of what Jesus said, for he did not argue, but instead asked what the Lord wanted him to do.
There are many in life that kick against the goads, and as they do so, they find life becoming more and more difficult for them. God, in His word, the Gospel of Christ, lays out a path for men to follow. It is a path of truth and righteousness which leads to heaven through the person of Jesus Christ. (cf. John 14:1-6; 2 Timothy 3:15-17) But men resist this path, trying to chart their own, often not realizing that the path they are on is leading them into further and further condemnation (cf. Matthew 7:13-14). This spiritual struggle against God, God’s anointed and God’s word is hard on men. It is hard on us because we are fighting against our God given nature: that person God created us to be. It is hard on us because we are fighting against the will of God, a fight we are destined to lose. And it is hard on us because sin itself brings unhappiness and misery to those that become ensnared by it (cf. Romans 3:16-17).
How many individuals suffer from addiction, broken homes, destroyed friendships, and a thousand other heartaches because either they, or someone close to them, refused to listen to God and to God’s word? We hurt ourselves when we kick against God’s plan for us.
Instead of being stubborn, each of us should realize that God is simply trying to steer us into being productive, righteous, blessed individuals who are achieving our full spiritual potential. He guides us, sometimes goading us, through His word, but never cruelly, and never with ill intent. Sometimes it takes a great event to make us realize the folly of our ways, such as occurred with Saul on the road to Damascus. But far better is to realize our need and God’s wisdom before such an event occurs.
If today you are kicking against God, recognize that in the end, kicking against the goad only hurts self. If you would like to learn more of God’s plan for you, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.