Today read Acts 23.
Let’s tie some threads together as we jump into Acts 23:
- Paul was in Jerusalem. He went there to deliver the offering collected by the Gentile churches for the Jewish believers struggling in poverty.
- Before he went there, he was told repeatedly that he would face persecution, be bound and handed over to human authorities.
- Also before he went there, he sent a letter to the Romans expressing his desire to come to see them after his visit to Jerusalem.
At the end of Acts 22, which we read yesterday, Paul gave his personal testimony before the crowd that had rioted due to his presence in the temple. The crowd settled down and listened until Paul spoke of his commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles. At that point, the crowd called for his execution (22:22). The Roman soldiers who had arrested him (21:31-32) prepared to interrogate him which would have begun by whipping him (22:24). Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen (vv. 25b-29). At that point, the Roman commander arranged for Paul to meet with the Jewish religious ruling council called the Sanhedrin (22:30). That’s where we found Paul today in Acts 23.
As Paul addressed the Sanhedrin, his speech did not begin well (vv. 1-5) so he used his knowledge about the doctrinal conflicts between the Pharisees and Sadducees to create a division with the Sanhedrin (vv. 6-9). The Roman authorities took Paul back into protective custody (v. 10) where the Lord revealed to him that he would be going to Rome to testify for Christ (v. 11). Although it is not spelled out directly, I think this is where we learn why Paul went to Jerusalem despite the many prophesies he received about his imprisonment there. Paul had told the Romans that his desire was to come to them (Rom 15:23-33). At the end of that section in Romans, Paul asked for the believers in Rome to pray for him. Note the specifics of his request: “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea... so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed” (vv. 31-32). In Acts 22, Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen to protect his health and his life and, as we’ll see, he later used them to appeal to Caesar. Appealing to Caesar required a trip to Rome, so Paul used the prophesied persecution plus his rights as a Roman citizen to gain free passage to Rome where he could (eventually) meet the church there and prepare for his next missionary journey.
Luke recorded all of this so that we would see how the gospel eventually infiltrated the entire Roman world. But we can learn a lesson by example from Paul’s craftiness in this passage. He was willing to use whatever resources available to him--doctrinal division in the Sanhedrin, his Roman citizenship, whatever--to reach the goals he had set for the spread of the gospel and the glory of God. There was nothing dishonest or unethical in what Paul did; he used wisdom to make the most of the situation in front of him. His purpose was to glorify God but he did not wait around passively for God to work. Instead, he asked for believers to pray for his safety, then did what he could to wisely move toward the godly goal he had set.
Do we do this? Do we use the excuse of “waiting on God” to do nothing or do we use whatever is at our disposal to attempt things for God while asking for his blessing and protection? What kind of godly goals have you set for this year? How are you using the tools at your disposal to move toward those goals?