Final assignment

Paul’s appearance before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem bore remarkable resemblance to Jesus’ appearance before the Jewish authorities on the night of his crucifixion. It says in John 18:19-23, “The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. Jesus answered him, ‘I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said.’ And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, ‘Do You answer the high priest like that?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?'” (NKJV).

Paul’s situation was similar, but when the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to strike Paul on the mouth, he responded, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3, NKJV). Paul’s feisty response may have gained him some respect with the council because he was able to convince the scribes of the Pharisees to listen to what he had to say. Afterward, they responded, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (Acts 23:9). Paul’s reprieve from judgment may actually have been the result of a divine intervention. It says in Acts 23:11, “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.'”

Paul understood his final assignment from Jesus to be that he was to share his personal testimony with the Roman emperor. When Paul later appeared before the governor Festus and was told his trial would be conducted in Jerusalem, Paul responded, “I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

Paul’s determination to reach Rome was hindered by many natural and spiritual disasters. His first obstacle was a conspiracy to kill him before he could be taken out of Jerusalem (Acts 23:12-13). Paul’s sister’s son heard about this plot and informed Paul he was in danger (Acts 23:16). In an amazing rescue effort, Paul was smuggled out of the city of Jerusalem by the Roman chief captain that was responsible for guarding him (Acts 23:23-24). Paul was taken to a military post 30 miles from Jerusalem between Samaria and Judea where he remained for the next two years. During that time, Paul prepared himself for his final assignment of appearing before Nero by repeatedly sharing his testimony with the various Roman officials he came in contact with.

Self defense

Paul’s attempt to fit in with the Jews in Jerusalem resulted in him being arrested in the temple where he was trying to fulfill a purification vow. It says in Acts 21:27-28, “And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” The false accusations that were made against Paul were probably meant to deter him from speaking publicly in Jerusalem. Instead, Paul was given the opportunity to defend himself and capitalized on the opportunity to share his testimony in front of a large crowd of people.

Paul began his defense by stating, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous towards God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3). Paul identified himself with the Jews and let them know that he had always been a faithful supporter of the Mosaic Law. He went on to say, “And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4). The way Paul was talking about was Christianity and his mention of his role in persecuting the early church was probably intended to gain the confidence of the Jews who thought he was involved in Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of Christians had most likely been forgotten since he had been involved in preaching the gospel for almost 20 years.

Paul’s detailed account of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was the centerpiece of his self-defense. Paul wanted the Jews in Jerusalem to understand that he had been appointed to preach the gospel by Jesus of Nazareth, a man that he had been fervently persecuting up to that point. Paul told them:

“Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’” (Acts 22:6-10, NKJV)

Paul argued that he had been ordained by God to do a specific work and he could not avoid his responsibilities. Paul added that he had even tried to relinquish his commission because of his previous involvement in persecuting Christians (Acts 22:19-20), but the Lord told him, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21, NKJV). In spite of his fervent explanation of how he had been involuntary recruited into Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s audience was enraged by his admission that Jesus expected him to preach to the Gentiles and so they condemned him to death (Acts 22:22).

Saying goodbye

Paul’s third missionary journey concluded with a series of sad goodbyes that escalated into a gut wrenching, heart breaking standoff between Paul and a prophet named Agubus who foretold of his arrest in Jerusalem. It says in Acts 21:13, “Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus'” (NKJV). Paul’s determination to fulfill his ministry’s objective of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the whole world caused him to ignore the counsel of his own elders and to separate himself from the people he dearly loved. The only explanation for his irrational behavior was that Paul was convinced that God expected him to eventually end up in Rome.

The final weeks, days, and even hours of Paul’s last missionary journey were choreographed around the collection and delivery of an offering to the Christians in Jerusalem that were suffering financial hardship as a result of their faith in Christ. After a riot in Ephesus, Paul went to Macedonia and Greece, then to Philippi and Troas. “Although Paul was in a hurry to arrive at Jerusalem by Pentecost, he remained seven days at Troas. This might have been because of a ship schedule, but more than likely the delay was in order to meet with the believers on the first day of the week to break bread” (Note on Acts 20:6).

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him. When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. (Acts 21:7-11)

The miracle Paul performed of raising Eutychus from the dead, not only confirmed his apostleship, but also seemed to testify to the fact that Paul was at the height of his ministerial career when he was arrested in Jerusalem. Like Jesus, who suffered the greatest persecution during the final days of his ministry, Paul was considered an extreme threat and hated by the Jews in Jerusalem. It was his staunch commitment to preaching the gospel that put Paul in danger of losing his life when he returned to the city where Jesus was crucified.

Paul told the Ephesians, “And now behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of grace of God. And now behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (Acts 21:22-24).

A network of believers

Paul’s ministry of preaching the gospel resulted in a vast network of believers that supported one another in an effort to go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). Paul took time at the end of his letter to the Romans to acknowledge some of the faithful saints that had been by his side throughout his work in Asia. Paul started by mentioning a woman that lived in Cenchrea, a port located about six miles east of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf. Paul said, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also. ” (Romans 16:1-2, NKJV).

Phoebe’s prominent role in the church in Cenchrea and Paul’s mention of her first in his acknowledgment of people that had helped him suggests that Phoebe was a key member of Paul’s ministry team. It seems likely that men and women served side by side in their positions of serving Christ. The Greek word Paul used that is translated servant in Romans 16:1, diakonos (dee-ak’-on-os) specifically refers to a Christian teacher or pastor (G1249). Diakonos is also translated as minister. Phoebe was most likely a deaconness in the church at Cenchrea and held the highest position a woman could be appointed to in the first century churches.

Next on Paul’s list of acknowledgments was a couple, Priscilla and Aquila. It was likely an intentional effort on Paul’s part to mention the wife first in order to display his respect and admiration for her work and to show that she was at least an equal if not superior contributor in his ministry. Paul obviously wanted people to know that women were just as important to his ministry’s success as were their male counterparts. One of the things that Paul said about Priscilla and Aquila was that they risked their lives for him (Romans 16:4). This may have been why Paul gave Priscilla first place in his mention of the couple. She may have taken the lead role in getting Paul safely out of Corinth (Acts 18:6). Priscilla and Aquila traveled with Paul at the end of his second missionary journey and most likely played an important role in continuing his work after he was imprisoned in Rome.

Paul concluded his salutation to his fellow believers with a benediction that may have been the inspiration that kept his network of believers going long after his death. Paul declared, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandments of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27). Paul made it clear that it was God’s power and his intentional effort to spread the gospel that made it possible for his network of believers to accomplish their work. That is why Paul’s death didn’t put an end to his ministry.

Likeminded

Paul’s understanding of the mind of Christ was that it operated like the central processing unit of a computer that executed a program he referred to as the perfect will of God. Paul told the Roman believers, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). Paul considered Jesus’ life to be the only example that believers needed to follow. He instructed the Philippians to , “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

The Greek word translated fashion in Philippians 2:8, schema (skhay’-mah) means a figure as a mode or circumstance. “Men saw in Christ a human form, bearing, language, action, mode of life…in general the state and relations of a human being, so that in the entire mode of His appearance He made Himself known and was recognized as a man” (G4976). Paul identified the primary objective of a life that is conformed to the will of God as edification (Romans 15:2). The Greek word translated edification in Romans 15:2, oikodome (oy-kod-om-ay’) is a compound of the words oikos (oy’-kos), which means a dwelling and by implication a family or household (G3624), and doma (do’-mah) which means an edifice or rooftop (G1430). Together these two words convey the idea of architecture or a structure that meets the needs of its household members. Within the concept of edification lies the hidden meaning of connectedness, a characteristic that should permeate the lives of believers.

Paul said, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). What Paul was intending was that the mature Christians would support those who were new in their faith so that they could be integrated into the church without fear of condemnation because they might still be involved in a sinful lifestyle. Paul told the Romans, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6). Paul’s description of God as patient and merciful was probably intended to reframe the Roman believers attitudes around appropriate Christian behavior. Paul concluded by stating, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).

The key point Paul was trying to make was that likemindedness should result in a positive attitude. Paul’s use of the title, “the God of hope” (Romans 15:13) was most likely his way of saying that God is known for his optimism or you might say that he has a can do attitude. In order to remind the Roman believers that they were filled with the Holy Spirit and equally able to discern the will of God, Paul told them, “And I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Romans 15:14). The words Paul used that are translated full and filled suggest that he was talking about the living water that Jesus referred to in his conversation with a woman he met at a Samaritan well (John 4:14). Eluding to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Jesus told the woman, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth ” (John 4:14, NKJV).

Lord of all

Jesus’ death and resurrection completed the necessary requirements for him to be appointed judge of all mankind. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Another way of stating “the dead and the living” would be the unsaved and the saved. Paul was referring to people that have not accepted Jesus as their savior as well those that have. The reason why Paul made this distinction was so that the Romans would understand that everyone falls under the same criteria of judgment. Jesus as the executor of God’s plan of salvation has been given the authority to determine what the will of God is when it comes to acts of faith. Paul emphasized this point when he declared, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

In addition to the free gift of salvation, there are additional benefits that believers may receive as a result of their acts of faith. Speaking of the foundation he had laid by preaching the gospel, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Paul basically told the Romans believers to mind their own business when he stated, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10, NKJV).

Unbelievers that think they can escape God’s judgment by denying Jesus’ lordship over their lives might be surprised to find out that they will be held accountable for their acts of unbelief. Paul told the Romans, “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12). The Greek word Paul used that is translated confess, exomologeo (ex-om-ol-og-eh’-o) has to do with the public acknowledgment or confession of sins (G1843). When Paul stated that every one shall give an account of himself, he was talking about a verbal assent to the lordship of Jesus Christ, an acknowledgment that he died for everyone’s sins and his substitutionary death on the cross was rejected by unbelievers. In other words, unbelievers will eventually have to admit that they were wrong, lacking in faith by not acknowledging Jesus as their savior.

Love your neighbor

Christian living goes against the grain of our natural human tendencies. Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies and said, “bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45, NKJV). Paul expanded on this teaching by instructing Christians to “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17, NKJV). By this Paul meant that “Christian conduct should never betray the high moral standards of the gospel, or it will provoke the disdain of unbelievers and bring the gospel into disrepute” (note on Romans 12:17). Paul concluded his argument by stating, “Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Romans 12:20, NKJV).

Paul made it clear that the goal of Christian living is to conquer evil by doing good to those that don’t deserve it (Romans 12:21). One of the ways that Paul suggested we can do this is by submitting to the authorities that exist because they are ordained by God (Romans 13:1). This was particularly relevant to the first century Roman Christians because they were constantly being harassed because of their faith in Christ. The Roman emperors used their power to unjustly punish Christians and are known for burning them alive and letting wild animals tear them to pieces. “Even the possibility of a persecuting state did not shake Paul’ conviction that civil government is ordained by God (note on Romans 13:1). Paul stated, For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil” (Romans 13:3).

Paul summarized his argument in favor of submission to authority by stating that we should, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8, NKJV). Paul compared the Christian’s responsibility to love others to a debt that can never be repaid. “No matter how much one has loved, he is under obligation to keep on loving” (note on Romans 13:8). Paul went on to say, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Romans 13:9, NKJV). The point Paul was trying to make was that loving our neighbor encompasses all of our Christian social responsibilities” (note on Romans 13:9) and therefore makes it impossible for Satan to condemn us.

Paul seemed to anticipate that things would get worse for Christians as the return of Christ got closer. He stated, ” The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12, NKJV). The Greek word translated armor, hoplon was used by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians where he stated, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). The weapons or armor that Paul was referring to was most likely submission to the will of God. Even though Christians may be mistreated because of their meekness and gentleness towards others, Satan cannot do any spiritual damage to our lives if we submit ourselves to the will of God (Ephesians 6:10),