Today’s Reading: Acts 23
My father used to use a phrase when we were about to get spanked when we were kids—The bag is getting full. It meant that a bunch of things we did were adding up, and he couldn’t take anymore. Have you ever just got so full that you could not take anymore and you lose it? Words come flying out. Maybe even a profanity or two. Things are said that if somebody heard you, they wouldn’t know you’re a Christian.
In Slaying the Giants in Your Life, David Jeremiah writes on anger:
Road rage, parking rage, air rage, boat rage, surf rage, fishing rage, river rage, pedestrian rage, pavement rage, jogger rage, biker rage, trucker rage, cell phone rage, shopping rage, grocery cart rage, and checkout line rage. I’m told there’s such a thing as pew rage. . . . What makes anger so elusive and so incredibly dangerous is that it flares suddenly, powerfully, and irrationally. It takes no counsel of the future. It takes no consideration of personal safety.
This kind of stuff would seem like it would hit new converts. And it does. Can it hit mature Christians? It does. The bag can get full, and we lose it. Can it hit super Christians? Big time believers? How about Paul the apostle? Absolutely. We have a time in Acts when Paul lost it, Christian cursing. Read it for yourself:
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:1-5)
It may not read as bad as it sounds. It was bad. Paul got slapped in the face for saying that his conscience was clear before God. It seemed to have a sense of sarcasm in it as he stood before the Council. And then after he was struck in the mouth, Paul lost it. He called Ananias a “whitewashed wall” and then stared him down, saying, “Do you sit to try me . . . and . . . order me to be struck?”
When you call someone a “whitewashed wall,” you are saying that person may dress well and look good on the outside but something stinks on the inside. Everyone in Paul’s presence knew what it meant. It was a common insult; a curse word to call someone, if that would make sense.
He was saying to them, “You stink!” Or, “This stinks!”
Let me tell you about Paul’s week before we get hard on him. It’s not to excuse him but to show you that we all can lose it when our bags get full. To explain better, let me use Charles Swindoll’s words from his Acts commentary:
Let me give you a little reminder of the kind of week that the apostle Paul has just had before entering into the situation of chapter 23 of Acts. So far this week he has been beaten by a mob (21:27-32), bound in chains (21:33), had his death demanded by a group of zealous Jews (22:1-22) and then came within a hairsbreadth of being scourged (22:23- 29). Now he wants to know for certain why he has been accused by the Jews. . . . Having little sleep, food, or physical care, he stands weary and bruised before the highest Jewish court, the Sanhedrin.
All that added up to this moment. The bag got full, and a flood came out of Paul. Controlling himself no longer, he suddenly poured out a scalding stream of contempt directed at his accusers and judges. In effect, Paul called the judge a stinking hypocrite. This was more flesh than spirit. Correction, it was all flesh and no spirit.
He realized his mistake when a bystander rebuked him. Paul had not been part of this council for some twenty years and would not have known who the high priest was at the present time. Whatever the reason, the damage was done. In a heated moment, Paul said the wrong thing to the wrong person and lost his opportunity to receive a fair trial—but more importantly, he blew his opportunity to explain the gospel.
Now he had nothing but a red mark on his face and was sent back to jail, left with only himself and his condemning thoughts. Imagine Paul in his cell, thinking, I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to preach the gospel to the highest Jewish court in the land and I blew it. How stupid it was to lose my temper. Surely God put me there to touch the Jewish elite, and all I could do was curse them out.
That night . . . in a prison cell . . . no angel. He didn’t deserve one. That is why God is a God of mercy.
Who showed up? The Lord. Paul did not need an angel, he needed a Friend:
On the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.” (Acts 23:11)
God said nothing about the failure. Instead He spoke to him about the future. When Paul lost it, God continued to stand at his side. Now that is one incredible God. He stands closest when we blow it the most.
Have you ever felt like your tongue cost you an opportunity? You don’t have plans to lose it, but you know it can happen.
Though our actions can be unpredictable, I am thankful for a God who is very predictable: He is merciful and kind. He is gracious and loving.
Notice one amazing thing about that night. Jesus said to Paul, “So you must witness at Rome also.” He gave him encouragement so Paul would know that God sees future for him. I love these words from Brennan Manning: “God not only loves me as I am, but also knows me as I am. Because of this I don’t need to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to Him.”
God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.