Monday, February 15, 2016

For Believers: A Time for Silence, a Time to Speak

Today for my Quiet Time with God, I read Acts 18. Acts, as I've mentioned before, is Luke the Evangelist's account of the early history of the Church, from the ascension of Jesus through the next several decades.

Acts 18 tells a little about the apostle Paul's time in the Greek city of Corinth.

Acts 18:9-11 says: "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.'  So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God."

Paul was understandably emboldened by this vision from God and he did preach and teach about the new life that can belong to all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ as God in the flesh and Savior.

There were both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Corinth, but Acts 18:12-13, says that Jews who had not come to faith in Christ went to the Roman proconsul and said of Paul: "This man is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”

Paul, it seems, was about to mount a defense, when he was cut off by the proconsul, Gallio:
Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “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 drove them off.
God had told Paul to speak. So, why did God allow Gallio to speak before Paul had said his peace?

I can't say that I can answer that question definitively, though I think it's sort of funny how God allowed Paul to be cut off and have a guess as to why.

Earlier in the chapter, we see Paul speaking in the synagogue about how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament promises of God for a Messiah who would bring salvation to all the world. It was the habit of Paul, an itinerant preacher of the Gospel about Jesus, on entering a new community to always go first to his fellow Jews at a local synagogue in order to share Jesus. He did the same thing when he arrived in Corinth. That evidently went well for a while, but verse 6 says:
...when they [his fellow Jews] opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, 'Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'”
Paul's action here is consonant with Jesus' instructions to a group of His disciples He sent out to proclaim the Gospel during His earthly ministry. Jesus said:
"If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5)
So, Paul had decided that his ministry at that time was done with the Jews in Corinth. Instead, he would focus his attention on the Gentiles there. The moment had passed for Paul to try to persuade his fellow Jews in Corinth to follow Jesus. He had shaken himself of them. That isn't to say that at some later time, God might send others with the same message about Jesus that Paul brought. But for now, Paul's attempts to persuade his fellow Jews in Corinth was done.

Paul understood this. In the next verse, we're told that Paul left the synagogue and went to the home of a Gentile believer in the God of Israel and in Jesus. Parenthetically, in Acts 18:8, we're told that Paul's mission to his fellow Jews hadn't been completely in vain either, because the leader of the Corinthian synagogue and his household had also come to faith in Christ.

It's after these events that Paul receives the vision. 

So, to me it seems clear why God allowed Paul to be interrupted by Gallio. Paul was to speak boldly, but he was to speak to the right people at the right time. The right time had passed for Paul to speak to his fellow Jews in Corinth. For now, God wanted Paul to speak boldly to more receptive people, the Gentiles in Corinth. 

Verse 18 says that, "Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time." 

For me, the takeaway is simple: There are times to speak and times to remain silent. And, if we're prayerful, I believe that God will save us (and others) from our futile speeches, thus amping up the impact of the words God gives us to speak for Jesus when the time is right. 

Jesus says that he will give Christians who earnestly desire to be His witnesses the words they need when He calls them to speak:
When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities [or, maybe also before criticall friends, coworkers, family members], do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. (Luke 12:11-12)
As we get to know Jesus and the Bible better, we can trust that promise. 

We can trust too, that as our connection with Christ and the Word grow, God will also help us be silent until the time is right for witnessing. 

And when the time for witnessing comes, we must not be silent. As the apostle Peter writes: your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Peter 3:15-16)



For me, an inspiring experience was standing at the Bema in Corinth...the actual place of St. Paul's judgement. It challenged and stimulated me to make my life one of witness to the transformational Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The right message to the right people is--as you point out--very important. I am reminded of an itinerant evangelist I saw in Ghana. His ministry consisted of preaching on buses going to the north. There he had a captive audience for an hour or so of preaching before the driver would put him out. Once, upon actually making it into the heavily Muslim north of Ghana he tried his bus preaching with the line: "You can wash your anus five times a day but it won't help you with God." I later heard that he had been beaten to death on one of his ministry journeys.

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you for sharing all of that. God bless you.