Week of February 21

How Long is Your Gospel Rope?

Read: Leviticus 26-27; Acts 23
“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”
Acts 23:11, ESV


People, power, and principles are interwoven to create a rope that may be used to help or harm people. Hopefully, the previous sentence sounds intriguing and causes you to wonder what it may mean. I wrote it so that we would consider the impact of our everyday life encounters. It should cause us to reflect upon the ways that our beliefs and actions may be used in God’s grander purpose to advance the kingdom. We represent a rope, so to speak, and it may be thrown to people in order to rescue them or used instead to bind further those who are hurting.

Let's See What the Bible Says

Our focal passage is the nail upon which the entire chapter hangs (see 23:11). We will want to notice quickly that God, through the Spirit, controls the issues in Paul’s life—and, indeed, in the life of every sincere believer. Paul lived and taught in a tumultuous era, where the central facts of the resurrection of Christ and his divine authority were hotly contested. His total witness was a crucial thread in the cord of God’s kingdom purpose.

Character Counts

First, let’s consider two people in Luke’s narrative about Paul’s appearance before the Jewish Sanhedrin. On the one hand, Paul stands before that council as an accused man and claims boldly that he has nothing in his mind or heart that would condemn him (23:1). Even in his response to the High Priest, he quotes scripture (23:5; Exodus 22:28; cf. 1 Peter 2:23). He had been faithful to God in every way. His words are more than a testimony to his character. While it is important to be “salt” and “light,” he has something more in mind. More on that in a minute.

On the other hand, the High Priest, Ananias, was the one who ordered Paul to be slapped on the mouth, which was ironically a violation of the law he was charged to uphold! Ananias was the embodiment of what I have termed “consecrated carnality” (23:2). Paul accused him of being a “whitewashed wall,” meaning he was a hypocrite (cf. Matthew 23:27). Who was this person? Ananias, who ruled from A.D. 48 to 58/59, was not your ordinary high priest. Josephus, the Jewish historian, wrote that he was the very worst in that office because he was known for his pro-Roman sentiments, extreme cruelty, and greed. Keep the moral idea of character in mind as we expand our examination of the Bible passage.

Power May Construct or Obstruct Human Flourishing

Secondly, power may be used to benefit or add greater burdens to people. The character of both these men was evident in how they used their authority. We know quite well that Paul, once he became a believer, never used his authority to oppress others or to enrich himself (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). Ananias, on the other hand, was infamous for his abuse of power. The Jewish Talmud lampoons his plundering and greed: “The temple court cried out, ‘Lift up your heads, O you gates’, and let Yohanan, the son of Narbai and disciple of Pinqai, enter and fill his stomach with the divine sacrifices.” Yohanan is a mixing of the letters in the Hebrew name Hananiah (Ananias in Greek), and the two following names are used ironically and satirically. Narbai meant “generous one,” which the High Priest surely was not, and Pinqai meant “to pamper,” which he often did! Paul was up against an evil opponent dressed in priestly attire. Luke does not tell us, but we may imagine, how many lives were ruined by Ananias’ abuses.

Principles Hold Deep Moral Significance

Paul’s testimony was really a powerful apologetic that set the stage for the challenge that would soon follow. If Paul, as a Christian, was innocent in every way, then the Council, who did not share his commitment to Christ, was guilty. Furthermore, Paul knew firsthand the importance of defending the Gospel and persuading people to follow Jesus Christ. He knew that he was truly on trial for his “hope in the resurrection of the dead” (23:6).

A number of Bible scholars and preachers (I have even shared previously this view) see the fact that Paul raised the issue of the resurrection as a masterful stroke of reasoning because he knew that the Pharisee believed “conceptually” in a resurrection, but not the Sadducees (cf. 23:7-8). This apparent tactic may actually have been unintentional, but many of us know what it feels like to live quietly a life of commitment to Christ, yet still fall under the scorn of others who deny him (cf. Matthew 5:10-12)! We must expect such treatment.

Luke has allowed actual historical events throughout his gospel and Acts to demonstrate the fact that Jesus is God’s Son, the Savior of the entire world. Paul was simply being true to the call of Christ to be an eyewitness to the resurrection hope. He spent his life throwing a rope to people in distress and not even a trial, where his life hung in the balance, would stop him from giving witness to Christ. This convicts me. How about you?

Let's Deepen Our Walk

Many years ago, some children were playing near a swollen bayou following a rainstorm in the city of Pasadena, which lies adjacent to Houston. The children had been instructed by their father not to go near the water, but they disobeyed and built a make-shift raft in order to float on the water. Their handmade craft failed, and one of the children began to drown. The father was notified, grabbed a rope, and raced to rescue his son. Tragically, he threw the rope to the boy, but it was too short, and the child perished. The grief of that father was beyond imagination. His efforts were valiant, but the rescue fell short because the tool was not sufficient.

Here is a thought for our spiritual formation. We know that the Bible teaches us that the day and hour of Christ’s return is imminent and that we are to warn people to flee the coming judgment of God (cf. Acts 2:22-24, 32-33; see esp. 2:36-38). Our knowledgeable witness is a lifeline in this regard. Many believers today fall well short of this essential ingredient because they remain as infants in their Christian growth. Their “rescue line” is inadequate (Hebrews 5:11-14). Christian growth in character will lead to a genuine concern for people, and it will be based upon resurrection truth.

Let's Think and Discuss

1. Consider the three areas of Paul’s life and witness and how all three enabled him to be an effective witness. How would you evaluate your witness in these three areas? Write down steps you will take to grow steadily in your Christian life.

2. For families: It is important for your children to know how power, and their decisions to be a witness for Christ, can help or hurt other people. To begin the discussion, open a copy of your daily newspaper and pass out sections, or look up news artiles on your favorite media feed. Ask your children to find the places where someone “in charge” of something helped or hurt another person (find such articles in advance and choose the ones you wish to use as examples).

Let your children point out the people “in authority” in these stories and how they used their responsibility. How could an abuse of power have turned out differently had a better decision been made? Encourage them to speak about their love of Jesus openly in their daily lives, knowing that sometimes other people will say negative things to them. Paul is an example of one who lived faithfully, was a strong witness, and brought many others to know Christ Jesus. He used his authority in ways that helped others. Your children can make good choices that do the same thing both now, with their own areas of responsibility, and later when they are “in charge” of more.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock