That the Apostle Paul was an instrument of God cannot be overstated. Consider his life accomplishments: the Apostle to the Gentiles, writer of at least 13 New Testament epistles, prolific evangelist and church planter, God’s man for the day. And yet God’s use of Saul was as instrumental as His use of Paul.
Allow me to illustrate: Joseph was hated by his brothers, beaten, tossed into a pit, sold into slavery, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit and generally quiet shoddily treated. Yet when his brothers came and fell down before him, begging for his forgiveness his response was “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Gen 50:20).
What Joseph realised was that “God uses the “free will” of man to accomplish His own will” (Archer 2012).
Observe Saul’s “free will” on dreadful display after the stoning of Stephen, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison… …[he] not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death [he] cast [his] vote against them. And [he] punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them [he] persecuted them even to foreign cities” (Acts 8:3; 26:10 – 11).
Yet Saul, rather than thwarting God’s will, is but a pawn to it, as “…those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
“Why were Christians persecuted?” We must answer: because God harnessed the “free will” of man; succeeding precisely what He foreordained.