All my life as I have studied Paul, I have always seen him as bold and fearless. How else could he have moved so confidently from one city to the next after being treated so badly in each location? It has always seemed a bit intimidating to me because, to be honest, I am a scaredy-cat over so many things, especially when the unknown or the definitely hazardous is ahead of me! I freeze up, lock up, and have to be literally forced to move forward. It has always seemed to me that Paul just moved right on ahead with such boldness that he couldn’t have been afraid. Each city had to just be a new challenge! It was almost as if it was his goal to make the city leaders mad everywhere he went!
But, in reading Acts 18, I see a slightly more realistic picture. It’s an image of a real man. Not a man who shies away from what God has called him to do, but a man who, bold though he may be, still experiences fear. We know this because Jesus does not lie, and if Jesus – who knows the hearts of all men – has to tell Paul to no longer be afraid (Acts 18:9-10), then Paul has been afraid. Suddenly he seems less of a superman and more of a human being who acted in obedience to his Savior despite his fears. Suddenly the stories become more real – and more relevant.
But, I’ve mentioned much of this before. What is new is that it doesn’t stop there.
Jesus Himself has just informed Paul in a vision that he doesn’t have to be afraid, that no one is going to attack and harm him, that Jesus has many followers in Athens, and that he should just go on preaching without fear. So, you’d think that everything would be smooth sailing from there on out, right?
Along comes Acts 18:12 in which we find the Jews doing nothing less than making a united attack on Paul and dragging him before the proconsul Gallio.
Can you just hear the thoughts that must have been going through Paul’s head?
“Okay, Lord, I thought you said this wasn’t going to happen! You said I didn’t have to be afraid, yet here I am again! I know that everything is under Your control, and I just don’t understand what’s going on here!”
And so, Paul prepares to defend himself as he’s always done. He prepares to give his big speech. And, I can just imagine the battle going on in his mind as he struggles to trust that God is going to keep His word while the warning bells are going off – the alarm that reminds him that this situation is very similar to the times he’s been flogged, stoned, or run out of town.
And then we get to verse 14.
Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things." So he had them ejected from the court. (Acts 18:14-16)
Is that not absolutely awesome? Before Paul could even speak, God moved through a pagan proconsul to keep His word – Paul was dragged into court but he was not physically attacked nor was he even instructed to stop preaching! His accusers were silenced, and he went right back to his work.
How would I have responded? Would I have believed that God was going to do what He said, or would I have felt that He had failed me?
God keeps His word. Period. It may not be in the way or in the time that I expect or desire, but He does it, nonetheless. Will I trust Him?