The Trials of the Apostle Paul - Part 1

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

For three days, in 480 BC, only 300 Spartans (and approximately 7,000 other Greeks) fought against overwhelming odds: the entirety of Persia’s armies (likely between 70,000 and 300,000). Xerxes I of Persia intended to invade and conquer all of Greece with his enormous army, yet his superior numbers amounted to nothing when King Leonidas I of Sparta met him at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae.

Xerxes dispatched a messenger to one of Leonidas’ generals, threatening, “Our arrows will block out the sun.” The general replied, “Then we shall have our battle in the shade.”

Spartans were some of the most fearless warriors in history. When compelled by Persia’s forces to surrender their weapons, Leonidas uttered a classical expression of defiance: “Molon labe” (“Come and take [them]”). Ephialtes (a Milian Greek) betrayed his country by leading a Persian detachment to the rear of the Hellenic force. At that point, Leonidas dismissed the majority of the army to form a rearguard. All died in battle (except 400 Thebans who surrendered to Xerxes without a fight), yet their sacrifice allowed the greater part of the army to retreat and regroup. Over the heroes’ burial mound, an amphictyony (“league of neighbors”) inscribed this epitaph: “Stranger, report this word, we pray, to the Spartans, that lying here in this spot we remain, faithfully keeping their laws.”

Subsequent to Paul’s emotional farewell to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38), the book of Acts next reveals the apostle’s faithfulness in keeping God’s laws and heeding the Word of the Lord to the very end of his life. Similar to Leonidas, the apostle Paul fought his battles with only a few companions, and he could be said to have lived in like manner as a Spartan (i.e. living a frugal, minimalist, simple lifestyle). The final chapters of Acts depict Paul at a “narrow pass,” offering a defense before kings and governors. Not only was he battling for his life, but also he strived to testify regarding the good news of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

The courage and steadfastness exemplified in the final chapters of Acts tend to be fleeting virtues in modern society. Jesus said, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:35-36). Although belief is the primary command, Jesus is not seeking mere believers. The Lord calls for those who are believing to follow, obey, and serve Him—even to “take up his cross” as His disciples (v. 34). The servant is not greater than his master. Those who seek full satisfaction in this life will never attain it, and those who demand their best life now will forfeit life with Christ. Churchianity is the degeneration of Christianity, wherein mere believers are more interested in saving their lives than denying self for the sake of the Lord God.

What is your legacy? What do you want your epitaph to be? Paul never sullied his integrity, even as he returned to Jerusalem in tense circumstances to offer a defense before his enemies. Courage is always crucial, yet even more so when fidelity to God and His Word, the Holy Bible, may lead to the ultimate sacrifice.

RESOLUTE FAITH

(Acts 20:17—22:2) In his farewell message to the elders (20:17-38), Paul reviewed his past ministry (vv. 18-21), his present concerns (vv. 22-27), warned concerning future dangers (vv. 28-31), and encouraged them in their commitment to God (vv. 32-35). Biblical fidelity in life and doctrine is the bond of mutual affection among those called to spiritual leadership (vv. 36-38). Leaders ought to be examples of good judgment, humility, and wisdom (vv. 18-21), and should never avoid declaring anything that is beneficial, both publically and privately (vv. 20, 25-27). Paul was cognizant of difficulties awaiting him, yet he proves the fundamental goal for a spiritual leader is serving Christ entirely (vv. 22-24). Leadership is not merely a “job.”

Having established his own credentials and illustrated his own example, Paul next instructed how the Ephesian elders should accomplish their duties: “be on guard” (vv. 28-30) and “be on the alert” (v. 31). As he concluded, Paul commended all the leaders to God and “the word of His grace” (v. 32). Notice what is most important for those called to spiritual leadership: God and the Bible! God helps through His Word, the Holy Bible!

In closing, Paul urged the leaders to follow his example of industry as opposed to being dependent on others (vv. 33-35). One day, your earthly life will be near its end. Will you have regret, or be able to look ahead without anxiety? Determine to be a faithful steward with the Lord’s gifts (vv. 20-24), for it is an awesome responsibility to be a servant of God.

The farewell journey from Miletus resulted in joy and sorrow, which is typical of life experiences. The Bible is based on history, and thus Acts 21:1-9 describe the journey to the Phoenician coast with some detail. Faithfulness to God necessitates going and doing what the Lord requires, no matter the personal challenges involved.

Agabus from Judea is reintroduced (cf. 11:27-30), who, upon his arrival, took Paul’s belt (with behavior characteristic of the prophet Ezekiel) and bound himself in a manner that simulated Paul’s imminent binding and then imprisonment (21:10-11). The Holy Spirit is the unmistakable source of the prophecy. Similarities can be made with Jesus’ return to Jerusalem (Matt 20:18-19; Luke 18:32). The immediate response was the plea “not to go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:12), to which Paul verbalized a readiness for death (v. 13; cf. 20:24).

When none could convince Paul otherwise, the believers simply remarked, “The will of the Lord be done!” (21:14; cf. Luke 22:42; James 4:15). Paul was “bound by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22). When someone knows God’s will from the Bible, he or she must not be deterred from pursuing the biblical stipulation. Always pursue obedience to God, even when those who are well-meaning attempt to convince you otherwise. Paul departed and was well-received by the believers in Jerusalem (21:15-17). When you have determined to “become all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22), that resolve may lead you into unusual actions that assuredly will be criticized by some and praised by others (Acts 21:17-26).

Scripture certainly does not give approval for totalitarianism, yet does reveal the harshest criticism for anarchy, wherein persons refuse to heed authority and laws and give themselves over to lawless rebellion (vv. 27-32). Government is ordained by God (Rom 13:1), and even though its excesses and imperfections can be frustrating, the Bible affirms that it exists to protect law-abiding citizens and to punish law-breakers (v. 4; 1 Pet 2:14): to promote peace and order in society (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Claudius Lysias (named in Acts 23:26) was a military tribune (chiliarch), and thus his responsibility was to stop the lawless rebellion, which he did immediately by arresting Paul without concern for his guilt or innocence. Paul was chained (as Agabus predicted, 21:11), and only then did Lysias ask the crowd for an explanation. A mob of anarchists is hardly a reliable source for a coherent response; hence, the tribune brought Paul into the barracks (21:33-36). What is your response in difficult situations? Why not adopt the example of Paul by giving yourself wholly to the Lord to accomplish His will, regardless of the outcome?

Although he was under false arrest, God would use all of Paul’s circumstances to accomplish His perfect will. With polite and refined Greek, Paul asked for permission to speak. The commander was surprised that Paul was not the Egyptian who had previously incited a revolt, and thus granted him permission to address the people in the Hebrew dialect (21:37—22:2). Loyalty to Christ not only involves willingness, but also wittiness. How you respond in difficulties is crucial. Know what to accomplish and also how to do it!

DEFENDING ONE’S FAITH

(Acts 22:3-30) In the book of Acts, more emphasis is upon defense speeches than missionary messages. While noting a few additions, the account in Acts 22:3-21 is essentially the same as chapter 9. The worst enemy of the church may become the most vocal advocate, once God brings him or her to salvation (vv. 3-5). Moreover, people may doubt your beliefs, yet a testimony of personal conversion is most convincing when it is backed up by life transformation as evident in godly living (vv. 6-13).

Paul’s defense was his identification with the Jews (vv. 1-16). He associated his conversion with “Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law” (v. 12). Paul was tactful, which is often necessary to convey one’s message. When someone is saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus, the Lord already knows how He will use that person for His glory and service; yet sometimes that individual might be slow to understand God’s will and may even resist it (vv. 14-21).

The people listened until Paul said the word “Gentiles,” and then the crowd became frenzied (vv. 22-23). This, of course, brought an abrupt end to the speech. Similarly, in contemporary society, there are ideas, phrases, and words that elicit violent responses, and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. When such expressions are vital, attempt to convey the most principal ideas prior to the reaction occurring. Paul mentioned the martyr Stephen, who also was able to proclaim the gospel message prior to an abrupt end (v. 20). The point is to say what is most fundamental prior to what may be contentious.

Paul’s defense ended with a threat of scourging, which he avoided by declaring his Roman citizenship (vv. 22-29). His release led to him appearing before the Jewish Council (v. 30), with that account continuing into chapter 23. When everything appears contrary and there is no apparent end in sight, God’s servant may know that the Lord is working His perfect will and never forsakes those who belong to Him (Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5).

Midnight Call - 01/2019

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