The first scene in Acts 23 is one that makes little sense if you don’t know the background, but is fascinating if you do.
Paul is brought before the High Council, and immediately things start going wrong. Paul begins to give one of his elegant sermons in the hopes of winning over the crowd, but before he is able to say more than a few words, the High Priest himself orders him smacked.
Clearly, Paul is not going to get a fair trial here.
So Paul, thinking quickly, realizes that this huge council of people gathered to decide his fate has a fatal flaw - it is composed of two different political parties that despise each other. He sides with one party - the Pharisees - by declaring that he believes in the resurrection (this is roughly equivalent to running into the US Senate and declaring you are in favor of the 2nd Amendment). The council dissolves into a gaggle of squabbling children, and Paul is spared from an unfair trial.
Sometimes you have to choose your battles. Paul certainly has proven that he’s a fighter - he has risked his life dozens of times throughout his journeys. But in this passage, we see him make a tactical retreat. Knowing that he won’t be listened to, Paul decides to throw a smoke bomb and make his exit. Paul teaches us to be courageous, but he also shows us how to be wise and discerning.
As Christians, we are often called to speak out for our faith and our values. We are called to stand up against injustice and share the gospel without fear. But we also need to know how to choose our moment. We have to be able to recognize when it is time to make the big, impassioned speech and when to bide our time and wait. We are expected to be willing to take risks for God’s kingdom - even to risk our lives - but He doesn’t call us to throw away our lives with no hope of benefit.
Do you find yourself fighting a lot of hopeless battles? Are you the sort who picks every fight, only to realize later that you were doomed from the start? Do you feel like you never make any difference? Perhaps you can learn something from Paul’s example.
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