Exodus 21-22 / Matthew 19
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…” Ephesians 3:1
When Paul arrived in Jerusalem after his third missionary journey, the Jewish Christians praised God for bringing many Jews to believe in Jesus, but they challenged Paul for not making new Gentile believers adhere to Jewish customs.
Paul was advised to participate in some of the long established Jewish rituals so as to appease the people by demonstrating his obedience to the law. Along with four other Jews, he engaged in purification rites, paid their expenses and shaved his head. There was no need for Paul to do any of this as salvation is found in Christ alone, but his intent was to remove potential stumbling blocks for other Jewish believers.
Still, there remained Jews vehemently opposed to Paul, and some falsely accused him of bringing a Gentile into the temple, which was forbidden. A mob ensued. They seized Paul and wanted to kill him, but a Roman commander intervened. Paul was arrested, and for his safety, was shipped to Caesarea where he spent two years in prison because he refused to pay a bribe to the governor. Paul claimed his right to appeal to Caesar, and on his way to Rome, his boat was hit by a violent storm. Shipwrecked, he spent the winter months in Malta, healing people and preaching the Gospel. By the time he arrived in Rome, Caesar was not interested in his case, and he spent another two years in prison or under house arrest. This was a total of almost five prime years of his life deprived of freedom.
Paul gallantly stood his ground on behalf of Gentiles, refusing to lessen the intensity of his message or submit to opposing Jewish believers. He would not sacrifice truth under any circumstances, and believed himself to be a prisoner of Christ, not of Roman authorities or of a corrupt judicial system. Despite his plans to travel to Spain, Paul knew he was where Christ had called him to be. The book of Acts ends with Paul continuing to proclaim from confinement “the kingdom of God and [teaching] about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!” (Acts 28:31).
The church today remains under constant pressure to bend to popular opinion on many issues, particularly marriage and morality. We may be tempted to sacrifice truth for a more comfortable and inclusive message, but the Gospel is not to be compromised in any way. Salvation is available for everyone, but the truths revealed in Scripture are not debatable. God calls us to proclaim the Gospel unashamedly, and to be prepared for undesirable consequences. We can be assured God will do the convicting in His time, enabling the growth of His kingdom, especially in the face of persecution.
PRAYER: Father God, in the face of controversy and persecution, thank You for giving me Your Spirit so I can know what is true and for being my strength to stand for that truth. In Jesus’ name.