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Paul shows that wisdom, not outrage, is the smart response to persecution

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Candles for prayer. |

In my last column, I argued that anger has to be managed carefully to prevent it from (among other things) undermining our political endeavors. I think we have an example of how anger can and should be rejected in the story of the Apostle Paul before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-11).

Paul was on trial and he took the situation seriously. He began with an honest and heart-felt declaration of his innocence, making eye-contact with his audience.

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.”

Acts 23:1

Whether one believed Paul or not, he obviously was supposed to defend himself in a trial. The proper response for any one who wanted to prosecute Paul was to present evidence and witnesses that contradicted Paul’s testimony about himself.

But that’s not what Paul’s opponents did.

And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?”

Acts 23:3

The same earnestness that led Paul to defend himself also led to understandable outrage and anger in response to this plainly illegal violence. Paul’s statement is right on principle and his outrage is understandable. No one remains calm when he is punched in the face. And since an important person had just ordered him to be viciously assaulted, he had an opportunity to show the Sanhedrin that they should not trust their leader.

But the response from the Council was completely different.

Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?”

Acts 23:4

So the high priest orders an assault for the “crime” of speaking in his defense and when Paul calls it out, a group of them is ready to rule Paul is guilty rather than Ananias. They make rebuking Ananias’s illegal behavior an excuse the charge Paul with a crime.

And that is the last time Paul is straightforward with the Sanhedrin. He doesn’t rebuke his accusers. He simply agrees with them and offers an excuse in order to move on.

And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

Acts 23:5

There is no way the text that Paul quotes means it is wrong to appeal to God against criminal behavior by a high priest. Yet Paul quotes it as if he agrees with his accusers, and claims he didn’t know the high priest was the one who ordered the assault.

I find Paul’s claim implausible. I wonder if this is a case, like the Hebrew midwives lying to Pharaoh (Exodus 1:19-21), or Rahab telling the Jericho authorities that the Israelite spies had fled from the city (Joshua 2:3-7; James 2:25; Hebrews 11:31). In any case, Paul was done with trying to honestly confront and challenge the Sanhedrin. His objective was to be rescued from them.

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

Acts 23:6-10

Paul was on trial for a lot more than teaching the generic Jewish doctrine of the future resurrection of the dead. But what he said got the job done.

So I suggest that, when we are outraged and angered by horrible behavior and abuse, often the best thing we can do, is quench our anger and think rationally about how we can best neutralize our enemies. Speaking the truth is important, but when people are not listening, we need to re-evaluate out strategy and tactics.

“A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory."

Proverbs 24:5-6

Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.

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