One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.” ~ Acts 18:9-10
Paul departs Athens and makes his way to Corinth. Following his familiar pattern, he preaches Jesus the Messiah in the synagogue. The Jews became abusive, frustrating Paul to the point of saying he would no longer preach to the Jews; from now on he was going to the Gentiles. That clearly was not aligned with God’s plan, for God spoke to Paul in a dream, encouraging Paul to continue speaking and reassuring Paul that no harm would come to him. With God’s reassurance Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, preaching the word of God.
In a parallel to Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate, some angry Jews brought Paul before Gallio the proconsul, accusing Paul of “persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law” (verse 13). Pilate tried to remove himself from Jesus’ situation without success; Gallio told the Jews that this was not a matter of law but of religion and that they should deal with Paul themselves. In response the crowd turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue leader and beat him.
This is an historically important exchange. By refusing to hear the Jews’ charges against Paul, Gallio in essence elevated Christianity to a “recognized religion” status – a status enjoyed by the Jews. With this status the Roman government would take no action on charges emanating from a religious dispute. But also, we once again see God true to His Word: although the Jews rose up against Paul, God protected him and preserved his ministry.
So why did the Jews beat Sosthenes? At every stop on the apostles’ missionary journeys, Scripture records the frustration and anger felt by many Jews concerning their message. Instead of seeing God’s promise fulfilled, they clearly perceived a threatened way of life. Paul’s witness to the Gospel was fed by the Holy Spirit, and with that nourishment, his witness was very effective. Sosthenes, the synagogue leader, responded to the Gospel by coming to faith in Christ. Since the angry Jews couldn’t touch Paul, they beat their leader. Faith in Christ sometimes comes with an earthly price; but that price is negligible in comparison to the eternal glory we will know when our Lord calls us home.
Persecution is evidence of a resonating message. In many parts of the world, Christians are beaten and killed because of their witness to Christ. When we stand firmly on God’s Word and speak His Truth in these United States we may be laughed at, scorned, ridiculed, or shunned. We may have falsehoods told about us, or we might even be dismissed from a Christian church. Such persecution will often come from other Christians, just as Paul experienced with fellow Jews. When we are persecuted for our faith and for our witness, let us be encouraged, knowing that God is working through us.
Ponder this: When have I been persecuted for standing on God’s Word? How did I respond?
My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, thank you for using me to further Your kingdom. Help me to always stand grounded in Your Word, and help me to always speak Your Truth, even in the face of persecution. Let me serve You according to Your good and perfect will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.