Thursday, June 28, 2012

Acts 16 – Citizens of the Kingdom vs Authorities of the Empire

(Click to read Acts 16)

Acts 16:19-23 (ESV)
When her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practise.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

Paul has embarked on his second missionary journey, joined this time by Silas as a partner in the place of Barnabas. Together the two men travel to visit some of the churches that had started as a result of Paul's first mission with Barnabas. On their journey they acquire two more comrades, both of them Greek. Timothy is the first to join them, a young man of good reputation who has become part of these new churches.

Acts 16:3-4 (ESV)
3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.


The irony of verses three and four illustrate a tension of cultural sensitivity in missions. Part of Paul's purpose in traveling is to deliver a letter about circumcision from the Jerusalem church to the churches abroad. Together they had decided that it should be made official that Christians should never require new community members to follow any religious code of covenant, including circumcision. Anyone, anywhere, from any background or ethnicity would be welcome in the Kingdom of God, without restriction. This decision opened the door for the new churches to be alive with diversity. Much of the New Testament deals with the challenges that face these new churches because of this diversity, and their conviction to include.

So, while Paul carries the letter condemning required ritual circumcision for which he personally advocated so strongly, he also has Timothy the Greek circumcised so as not to offend the people to whom he carries the letter. Contemporary Christians would be wise to consider seriously the lengths that Paul and Timothy are both willing to take in order to preserve unity and smooth the way for their message to be received.

Timothy would later become a pastor under Paul's mentorship, and the recipient of two of Paul's letters - the pastoral letters Timothy 1 and 2.

The other new comrade is Luke himself, the writer of both this book (Acts), and the Gospel that bears his name (Luke).

Luke's entrance into his own book is far more subtle than Timothy's, first appearing in the tiny word "us" in the tenth verse.

Acts 16:10 (ESV)
And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Luke was a Greek doctor who likely had joined the churches that sprang from Paul's first mission. He becomes a witness to Paul's work, and continues to appear in the "us" and "we" verses that come up in the rest of the book.

These four, and possibly others, travel until they come to Philippi, a colony city of the Roman empire. Paul had received a vision that they should travel this way, after being led by the Spirit away from other cities he'd planned to visit. In Philippi they first have some success as a woman they share with quickly accepts their message and then provides them with lodging.

But fortunes change when the missionaries collide with the spirit of the corrupt empire of Rome. A slave woman doubly oppressed begins following Paul and Silas everywhere they go. She is first oppressed and bound demonically, and it is this demonic influence that leads her to be an annoyance and distraction to the missionaries. But this demonic influence has also given her some unnatural revelation ability, which is being manipulated by her slaveowners for their financial gain. Very little could be more contrary to the Spirit of the Kingdom of God that Paul and his comrades preach. Citizens of the Kingdom are freed from all oppressive powers, spiritual, legal, financial, and otherwise. In the Kingdom all citizens live in complete equality, sharing generously what they have with others. No one takes advantage of another for their own gain, and no one can claim ownership or superiority under the flag of the cross of Jesus.

Later, Paul will write these radical words to the believers in this very city:

Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  

It is in this Spirit that Paul and Timothy were willing to endure the personal physical and philosophical compromise of circumcision for the sake of the Jewish believers to whom they ministered. Even to Timothy's own pain and against Paul's own zealously held convictions they were willing, in love and unity, to act according to the interests of their brothers. This is the Spirit of God's Kingdom, and the love that binds its citizens.

In the authority of Jesus' name Paul commands that the demonic oppression of this woman be lifted. She is freed completely as her life manifests Kingdom reality. When her owners realize the personal financial consequence that their slave can no longer make them money, their control and racism are stoked. In their anger, they drag Paul and Silas before the authorities and demand revenge.In the spirit of empire, they appeal to fear and racism, using Silas and Paul's Jewish ethnicity as evidence against them. That both the Greek Luke and Timothy are spared is quite telling. Paul and Silas are thrown beaten and thrown in prison without a trial.

It is in chains, at its weakest and most vulnerable, that the spirit of the Kingdom of God is able to be seen most clearly. Just as Jesus had taught in Luke 12, Paul and Silas are without anxiety, even when locked away. They sing hymns in the prison, praising their King and living as free citizens though in shackles.

Just as the Kingdom was manifest in the doubly oppressed slave woman, it is manifest again here for Paul and Silas as they sing. An earthquake shakes the prison, and the doors are opened. Still, the missionaries remain to encourage the frightened jailer not to harm himself. Kingdom love is large enough to reach even an enemy. The jailer responds to the love of Paul and Silas by receiving their words and believing in Jesus as his King. The jailer brings the men to his house where he washes the wounds of his newly adopted brothers, and all of his family is baptized.

Such is it in the Kingdom of God. In this Upside-Down Kingdom, slaves are freed and enemies become brothers. All are equal, and each considers others even before themselves.

In the final act, Paul and Silas receive a free pass from the racist Roman authorities to leave the city. Still, Paul does not receive the injustice inflicted upon him without calling for an appeal. In their rush to condemn these Jewish resistors, the Roman authorities had not thought to even consider their citizenship. Both Paul and Silas were citizens of Rome. Their beating and imprisonment had been illegal.

Paul knew his standing as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. But as a free citizen of that eternal Kingdom, he lived in resistance to the empires of the world. Paul knew the legal rights offered him as a citizen of this temporary empire as well, and freely used its legal system for his advantage. The corrupt authorities would not submit to the Law of true justice, but Paul held them accountable to their own.

Paul and Silas receive a personal apology from the Roman magistrates themselves before being reunited with Luke and Timothy. They leave the city strengthened and encouraged, with freedom, justice, and loving community in their wake.


Acts 16:37-40 (ESV)
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.



v1 Paul meets TIMOTHY
v1 – Timothy is HALF GREEK and UNCIRCUMCISED, but Paul ministers with him anyway
v3 – Paul circumcises Timothy even though he clearly does not believe it is necessary for Salvation (15:10)
The author is using the pronouns “US” and “WE” now.
v17 – Paul and his company; Paul and the rest of us. Clearly, there are a few people working together on this ministry team.
v33 – No miraculous jailbreak. The miracle was the Salvation of the jailer.
v39 - awkward

(Click to read Acts 16)

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