Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paul - Apostle. Servant. Petulant toddler. - Acts 18

(Click to read Acts 18)
Acts 18:5-7 (ESV)
5  When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue.

Oh Paul.

Certainly this man had a great deal of good to say. Most of the New Testament's epistles were written by Paul. From them we derive a good portion if not a majority of contemporary Christian theology. In his defense against those who criticize him in preference to the teachings of Jesus in the gospels or the epistle of James, I encourage the reader to consider Paul in the context of these other portions of scripture, not in opposition to them. Paul had a targeted mission to reach the Greek world of the 1st century. I believe that Paul's theology is quite harmonious with the rest of the New Testament when one realizes that he is interpreting the same messages through a different culture's lens. Let's give Paul a break on that front.

However, we need not take any of Paul's actions as justified, and certainly not as good Christian example.

So let's call this what it is. Paul is being a child. At best. Really, he's being racist, hateful, manipulative, selfish, and cruel.

I mean, come on. Just imagine for one moment how you would respond if this were to happen in your city. A Christian man enters your neighbourhood from out of town. He goes to a Jewish synagogue to preach to them about Jesus. On that point we can be a little gracious, since Paul is Jewish himself, these are his people, and going to Jews first was from an attitude of respect, not bigotry. But now imagine that person responding to the Jews in the synagogue as Paul does here. Imagine, starting a Bible Study next door to the synagogue, right after speaking and acting this way.

Even if you claim to love Paul's doctrine and writings, and have Romans 1:16 tattooed on your neck, you wouldn't support someone who acted this way in your city. In Canada, he'd likely be charged with hate speech. And it would be a right judgment if he were declared guilty. This is indefensible.

Evidence in the same chapter suggests this is so. 

Acts 18:19  (ESV)
And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

Here Paul is, later in the same chapter, probably less than two years later, reasoning with the Jews in an Ephesian synagogue. I love the use of the word "reason", suggesting a healthy and respectful dialogue, back and forth.

This is the same man who ungraciously rejected John Mark from being among his company. The man made one mistake (in Paul's perception), by leaving Paul and Barnabas during a mission. Paul refuses to rejoin company with John Mark after this, and even breaks relationship with Barnabas over it, possibly his closest friend in Christendom.

Barnabas himself had even been the one to bring Paul into the Jesus Community to begin with, soon after Paul's conversion from a murderer who targeted the church itself. That a man who had been shown so much grace was so unwilling to offer any is astounding.

Back to Acts 18, we must further consider that this was a synagogue of Jews that had likely experienced persecution themselves. In verse three it says that Paul was staying with tentmaker friends Priscilla and Aquila, Jews who had been displaced in Corinth by Rome for their ethnicity. Many of these Jews in the Corinthian synagogue likely found themselves there under similar circumstances. Later in chapter 18, there is an incident with the Jews before a Roman court that shows a blatant disregard by Rome to consider seriously the needs or judgments within the Jewish community (vv12-17). These are a people under persecution and denied justice, treated as second citizens by their government. One can hardly imagine a more insensitive approach than Paul's  when sharing about Jesus, Lord of love.

If we dig even deeper, we can even criticize the timing of Paul's outburst. It seems convenient that he should willingly reason with Jews and Gentiles while dependent on Jewish hospitality, and working as a tentmaker, likely among the Jewish community (vv3-4). But when his friends rejoin him in verse five, he suddenly starts working in ministry full time, probably generously supported by his friend's dime. It isn't until he finds himself financially independent of the Jewish community that he pulls this stunt. I recognize that this last part is taking some leaps, but Paul is hardly less guilty even if I am incorrect.

Still, despite all of this, he end up remaining in the city for over a year and a half (vv11). Verses nine and ten tell us that it was God that leads him to stay. God continues to use this joker in the city of Corinth, even after this episode. I suspect that between the lines some peace may have been made between him and the Jews at Corinth. He did enter the Ephesian synagogue without hesitation, and those Jews even asked him to stay (vv19-20). In verse eighteen, it says Paul had taken a vow. I hope that the details of the vow included some opportunity for him to grow in his demonstration of God's Grace.

This is the end of Paul's second missionary journey. This is the same mission in which he showed remarkable wisdom and cultural sensitivity to the Aropageus, the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens just one chapter ago.

Ministry is hard. Very hard. Speaking about eternity and faith and scripture is a sober and weighty task. Doing so graciously among those with whom one disagrees, as Paul does, is even more difficult. It is my inclination to extend Paul the grace he refuses others when it comes to his attitudes and actions demonstrated here and toward John Mark. It seems this man who at this point in the story has already suffered a beating, imprisonment, stoning, and several arrests, was also quite a bear to be around.

And I relate.

I'm a minister of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And I can be a bear sometimes. I'm not excusing myself, anymore than I excuse Paul. This is confession, not justification. I can get frustrated sometimes when things in community don't go as I expect. Church community is people, so that means things frequently do not go as one might expect. It's an irony that preachers like myself are often people of deep conviction, yet must also be blessed with great patience, grace, and flexibility. It's a tension that sometimes can result in a stumble. I'm sure Paul's experience was many times more difficult than my own. I don't judge Paul, neither do I envy him.

Instead, I am encouraged. Paul is small, weak, and prone to make mistakes, like me. But Paul's God is big. Jesus continues to speak to Paul at the end of this journey, despite his failures. We may even be witnessing Paul's ministry burnout at the end of a long mission. Still, he stays put in Corinth and is used by God, even in his weakness. If God can use a person as messed up as Paul, former murderer, perhaps he can use me as well.

Finally, I want to draw attention to Paul's good friends, Priscilla and Aquila. We have to read between the lines to see it, but I easily imagine this couple as a key to Paul's success at the end of his mission. At the end of chapter 18, these two patiently and graciously correct and teach a zealous young preacher, Apollos, who was preaching in the community half-cocked, needing further instruction in scripture and the person of Jesus (vv24-28). They handle the difficult task of correction well, as Apollos receives from them and continues to preach with their instruction. I imagine these Corinthian believers may have also been a guiding hand in the spitfire Paul's life when he stayed with them in Corinth. Perhaps it was their kind and loving ministry toward Paul in their home that gave him the rest he needed to continue in ministry.

Paul later wrote a letter to the church in the city of Corinth, where he had his outburst and questionable hone ministry. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well known passages of the entire Bible. In it, I hear very little of Paul's example. I imagine that if Paul ever had love demonstrated to him as he describes in 1 Corinthians 13, it may have been in the home of Priscilla and Aquila, displaced Jewish tentmakers.

Love grew Paul up.

Thank God for every Priscilla and Aquila demonstrating love and grace and rest in the life of every Paul ministering Jesus today. Thank God for my Priscillas and Aquilas. You look like Jesus to me. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.

As for prophesies, they will pass away;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.

When I became a man,
I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully,
even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.


v3 – Paul Makes tents with Priscilla and Aquila. They become his dear friends, who he often mentions in his letters later
v4 – Tent maker during the week, reasoning in the synagogue on the Sabbath
v5 – Once his friends arrived, he no longer needed to make tents. They supported him to do full time ministry
v6 – Paul is mad but this is untrue. He’s blowing steam. See v19
v19 – See. He’s back (v6) Paul loves the Jews.
v24 – Apollos is mentioned in 1 Corinthians. Many came to faith by him.
v28 – Apollos was a smart man

(Click to read Acts 18)

No comments:

Post a Comment