“It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.’ And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” Paul had just been allowed to speak to the mob. He attempted to justify himself and his message to this riotous crowd by giving his personal testimony of his experience of salvation on the road to Damascus. Now Paul will attempt to impress them by recounting the story from Acts 9 where he returned to Jerusalem after going to Damascus and his conversation with the Lord.
After Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus he returned to Jerusalem. While in Jerusalem, God warned Paul to depart because of a plot to kill him. Instead of listening to the Lord and saying he would obey, Paul argued with the Lord. He attempted to rationalize his argument by saying the Jews would accept him because of his past with them. Paul even brought up the murder of Stephen. But the Jews now hated Paul because he had become a Christian. Paul’s love for the Jews sometimes crowded out everything else, even rational thinking. Even when God told him to get out of the city because they would kill him, he stood there arguing. God’s message could not have been clearer to Paul, “Get up and get out of here.”
Verse 22 “They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!” Up to this point in his speech Paul avoided the fatal word “Gentiles.” This one word immediately aroused the mob again and brought about a second outburst. Bringing up this one word ended Paul’s message, antagonized the mob of religious Jews and stirred them up once again to violence. These religious Jews thought that being a Jew by birth, being circumcised, keeping the Mosaic Law, observing Jewish traditions and customs was what was required to earn salvation. And they believed that Gentiles were excluded from salvation. They were angry that Paul, a Jew, had the audacity to preach grace and not Law and go to the Gentiles with his message.
“And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air, the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.” Fortunately, Paul was totally under the protection of Rome and the mob was totally ineffectual. Their reaction was typical of religious, legalistic people. The mob was dispersed and the source of their antagonism, Paul, was removed from their sight.
With all that going on, the commander almost made a mistake. To examine a man by scourging was to assume that he was not a Roman. This was a normal procedure for the Romans. Non-Romans were allowed to be beaten until they told the truth, but not so for Roman citizens. Paul looked like a Jew, spoke like a Jew, and the commander made a decision that would be assumed to be correct due to the fact that Paul was a man who appeared to be a Jew. Since he spoke Aramaic the commander assumed correctly that Paul was a Jew. What he did not realize and what he did not know was that Paul was also a Roman citizen. The commander was trying to determine why the mob formed. He wanted to ascertain the facts.
“But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned? When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman.” The commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” And he said, “Yes.”The commander answered, “I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money.” And Paul said, “But I was actually born a citizen. Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.” It was not lawful to examine a Roman citizen by whipping, and this commander could actually lose his rank for doing so. The commander was not born a Roman citizen. The Romans took a certain number of people, who were non-citizens and a portion of their pay could be taken every month and put into the treasury, and they were given credit for it. When they reached a certain sum they could purchase a citizenship. This man had done that. Paul didn’t pay anything for his citizenship, he was born a citizen. Paul’s father or grandfather was a Roman citizen. The commander had overstepped his authority. Rough treatment of Roman citizens was never tolerated and therefore he recognized that his decision to whip Paul was a mistake. So Paul was set free immediately.
“But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.” Since the matter was not yet resolved, the commander did what was required of him in order to resolve it: he called the opposing parties together to make an investigation. He called in the Sanhedrin and Paul to give testimony. You’ll notice that Paul kept his composure throughout this entire ordeal. He did not become angry or irate, but by means of the doctrine in his soul and the filling of the Holy Spirit he was able to remain calm. Paul was obviously sharing the happiness of God throughout this entire event.
Anger is a mental attitude sin that is often expressed overtly as wrath. Like all other mental attitude sins, anger produces its own misery. (Proverbs 19:19) Anger is a destroyer of marriages, families, children and friendships, not to mention self. (Ephesians 6:4) This is why the Word of God commands us to put away anger and not allow it to produce other sins in our lives. (Ephesians 4:26; Colossians 3:8) Anger can be controlled. (Proverbs 19:11) Being slow to anger is a virtue reserved for those who learn how to control their emotions by applying Bible doctrine. (Proverbs 16:32; James 1:19-20) Learning how to control your emotions can come only from consistently being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Anger is an emotional response to a particular situation in life. The angry mob who wanted to kill Paul could have easily caused him to become angry and lash out at them. But Paul was already back in fellowship with God and filled with the Holy Spirit. There are those who make emotion their god. We are told by Paul in Philippians 3:17-19 that these people are destroying their lives and have actually become the enemies of the Cross of Christ. Emotion is a wonderful thing, given to us by God. However, emotion without the proper devotion (following God’s instructions) is destructive. Emotion is how we are able to appreciate all the things that we have received from God. However, God does not want us to live our lives based on how we feel (emotion) at any given moment. He wants us to live our lives based on the truth we find in His Word.
We have a perfect illustration in the Old Testament of the destruction that anger can produce. It’s the story of King Saul of Israel and David. We find this story in the book of I Samuel. Israel, as a nation, had existed without an earthly king from the day it was formed by Abraham, under the direction of God. Typical of the Israelites, they were not satisfied with the theocracy that God had provided as a way of life. Therefore, through the prophet Samuel, they talked God into permitting them to have an earthly king. God chose Saul as their king. His arrogance in ignoring the mandates of God finally resulted in God choosing a new king. This new king was David.
When Saul became aware that David had been chosen to succeed him as king, he became angry and did everything in his power to kill David, though David remained loyal to Saul throughout the entire ordeal. Saul’s anger of course was a sin against God, but it also led to dissension between him and his son Jonathan. This dissension was because of the relationship that existed between David and Jonathan (they were like brothers). Saul’s anger also brought misery upon the entire nation to the point that Saul became involved in witchcraft. The story ends with Saul’s sons being killed by the Philistines and Saul killing himself. All this due to arrogance and anger!
So how do we control anger in our lives? The answer is in learning to share the happiness of God. Happy people rarely allow themselves to get angry. When they do, they recognize it as a mental attitude sin, confess it and move on. Sharing God’s happiness comes as a result of obeying God’s Word. (John 13:17) Happiness comes when the believer has developed virtue through truth in the soul, which translates into good decision-making (wisdom). (Proverbs 3:13-18) Consistent good decisions create an environment for happiness. A believer with virtue in his soul realizes that circumstances, material wealth or other people cannot make him happy. (John 15:11; I John 1:4) This means that we must think our way to happiness, it doesn’t just happen.
Happiness or joy is produced in the life of the believer under the filling of the Holy Spirit according to Galatians 5:22-23. We are literally commanded to “rejoice always” (be full of happiness) in Philippians 4:4. It is, therefore, God’s desire for all of us to be full of His happiness. (John 17:13) This inner happiness is a part of the character of Jesus Christ being formed in us. This happiness is to be exhibited by us towards circumstances and towards others. (John 15:10-12)
Being happy as a Christian is learning to accept what life brings our way as part of a growth process. A part of this is learning to be grateful regardless of our circumstances. Gratitude can go a long way to producing happiness because it takes away those negative thoughts of complaining and grumbling. Paul the Apostle learned this concept we are told in Philippians 4:11-13. In this passage, he states that he had learned to be content in the midst of any circumstance. This means that happiness or contentment did not come naturally to Paul, it had to be learned. Paul spent a lot of time in prison, being persecuted and on the run. Humanly speaking, it would be very difficult to be happy under those circumstances.
Sometimes Paul suffered adversity and sometimes prosperity. But in both circumstances Paul learned that he could do all things through Christ who was strengthening him. So Paul had to learn how to deal with adversity and with prosperity (both can be a distraction to the execution of God’s plan for us). Often adversity is not the greatest test for the believer. During adversity most of us (believer and unbeliever) turn to God for help. However, during times of prosperity it is very easy to forget the source of our prosperity. This, of course, eventually brings misery.
Paul wrote to the believers in Colossae which is recorded in Colossians 1:9-11. In verse 9, Paul prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom (application of doctrine). In verse 10, his prayer was that these factors would cause these believers to please the Lord by being fruitful (divine production) and by learning more about Him (intake of the Word of God). In verse 11, Paul prayed for the power of Christ to strengthen these believers by giving them patience (persistence) in the execution of the Christian Way of Life with happiness (joyfulness). Therefore the more time we spend in the study and application of God’s Word the more time we will spend sharing the happiness of God.