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Faith in Action: A Bold Witness

In the final chapters of Acts, we see Paul standing trial before Festus, sharing his story with King Agrippa, surviving a shipwreck, and traveling to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar.  In every situation he encounters, he lives the words of the final verse of Acts, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Charges that could not be substantiated have been brought against Paul, and his accusers seek the death penalty for him. In spite of that, he doesn’t respond with the anger or bitterness that one might expect. The only desperation in his pleas seems to be his desperation to bring others to Christ.  In Acts 26:29, he responds to King Agrippa’s question about Paul trying to convert him to Christianity with, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

As I read through these chapters, I am struck with Paul’s response to those around him. Festus and Agrippa cannot find anything with which to charge Paul. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Festus may have let him walk out a free man. Paul, however, seems less concerned about his own safety than he is with the opportunity to share Christ on a larger platform. He is willing to take the risks involved in being tried by Caesar to have the opportunity to continue to bear witness to Christ to all he could encounter along the way and from the court of the emperor. In fact, I can almost imagine Paul telling his friends who are concerned about him being transported and taken to Rome for trial, “This is awesome!  We don’t have to do any more fundraisers for my next missionary journey. All of my travel and food will be covered by the empire!”

Paul’s response to the crew aboard the ship is equally as notable. He tries to warn them that this trip will be disastrous (Acts 27:9-10), he tries to encourage them and offer them hope in the midst of the storm (Acts 27:21-26), and he provides for their safety (Acts 27:31). This is a prisoner transport, and he is facing a possible execution. Again, though, for Paul, this seems to be just another opportunity to witness. Acts 27:35 tells us that before the crew ate what they could, Paul – “in front of them all” – gave thanks to God. Rather than concoct his own escape plan, Paul points his captors to Christ.  Rather than withhold the good news of hope, comfort, and Jesus himself from those who would readily kill him (Acts 27:42), Paul freely shares all of God’s love that he can in every moment he can. 

Most of us are driven by our own self-preservation. We make decisions based on what is good for us as individuals or as families. Paul, however, has allowed himself to be driven almost solely by the cause of Christ. He withholds the love of Christ from no one, and he seizes every opportunity with which he is presented with both the readiness and boldness to share the gospel. Paul’s life and witness should challenge us to consider how we might allow God to transform us to be ready to bear witness to Christ in all circumstances (the mundane, the joyous, and the challenges), consider others before ourselves, and not withhold the love of God from anyone.

Posted by Sam Oakley

Paul and Eutychus

By the time we get to chapter 20 of Acts, Paul will undertake no new missions.  He is destined for Rome, after a visit to Macedonia and Greece, followed by one more trip to Jerusalem.  Chapter 20:3 reminds us that Paul’s Jewish enemies, so far unsuccessful, have not given up.  His plans must change.  Surrounded by seven companions, Paul sets out for the holy city.  He stops in Troas on the road to his destiny and accomplishes pastoral work there.

On Sunday he offered communion and preached to a community gathered on the third floor story of a house in the city.  But this was no occasion for a few brief remarks by a visiting celebrity.  No, Paul spoke on and on, even until midnight.  Lamps were required to bring lights, heat, smoke, and perhaps a little symbolism.

There was an unfortunate young man who was named Eutychus, which ironically means “Lucky.”  He was perched on the windowsill of the third floor because of the dense crowd, or in order to see and hear all the better, or perhaps to catch a bit of fresh air.  Because Paul continued to preach until midnight, Eutychus grew drowsy and fell asleep (Anyone who has ever dosed off during a long sermon will understand his plight!).  Well, windowsills are not good places for sleeping, so Eutychus fell down to the street to an untimely death.

Not even Paul could preach through that incident. Going down the stairs, he embraced the body and spoke some reassuring words. Then, as if this were all in a night’s work, Paul returned upstairs and resumed his sermon.  The service went on until dawn.  After worship, a meal, and conversation Paul left.  Only after this does the narrator think to tell us that Eutychus was alive after all.

This understatement is quite effective.  As had Jesus (Luke 7:11-17) and Peter (Acts 9:38-41), Paul has brought someone back from the dead.  The power of the Resurrection, fully unleashed at Pentecost, proclaims the defeat of death.  We, too, are fortunate that though we may have drifted off during a few sermons in our lifetime, we have also, like “Lucky” Eutychus, been raised to new life.  And that is good news for congregations and for us preacher types as well!

Posted by Ron Glover

Faith in Action: All Things to All People

All Things to All People  (Acts 17:16-34)

Aside from his conversion (Acts 9), Paul’s speech at the Areopagus is perhaps the most well-known event in his life. As it is described in the book of Acts, Paul is in the city of Athens and he becomes agitated by the number of temples and idols in the city. He can’t stand the idea of so many people worshipping false idols, so he decides to do something about it.

Paul goes to the synagogue in town and talks to them about Jesus. He goes to the marketplace to talk about Jesus. He stopped anyone who would talk with him and had a conversation about Jesus. While he was doing so he ran into some local philosophers. This wasn’t that unusual in Athens. Athens was the one of the centers of learning in the ancient world. It had been the home of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. There were philosophers all over the place.

These philosophers were intrigued by Paul because he was saying something they had never heard before. So, they took him to the Areopagus. The Areopagus was a small hill just to the north of the Acropolis. In earlier days the city elite met on this hill to discuss, debate, and decide the direction of the city-state. By Paul’s time it had become a place for sharing and debating ideas.

When they arrived at the Areopagus, Paul launched into a doosie of a sermon, the longest of Paul’s speeches recorded in scripture. He told them that he knew they were a very religious people because of all the idols they had, they even had an idol dedicated to an unknown God, just in case they had left one out. While the Athenians were religious, they were mistaken. God couldn’t be contained in a temple and no image or idol could be made of God because God is beyond our imagining. God, Paul said, demanded repentance. God demanded that people turn from their wrong-headed ideas and embrace the truth. Paul told them that the resurrection of Jesus was proof of what God was up to.

That’s when he lost them. Some of them began to sneer; they began to giggle. Surely Paul was just babbling now. The truth is often too difficult to hear. But a few of them wanted to hear more. By the end of the day some of them had begun to believe.

Truth be told, it wasn’t the most successful of Paul’s speeches. Not many were convinced that day. What makes this story so interesting is they way that Paul went about talking to people about Jesus. He met the Jewish people at the synagogue. He met others in the marketplace. He went to debate at the Areopagus.

Paul met people wherever they were. He engaged them in their real lives. He spoke the truth about Christ in ways that fit his setting and his audience. This is a real-life example of Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

In what ways are we willing to become all things to all people?

Posted by David Oakley