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Wisdom Under Pressure

It is easy to know what to do when things are going well and stress is at a manageable level. I have met very few people who get confused when their most important relationships are going well, they have money in the bank, their health is good, and their careers are satisfying. The time when wisdom is most necessary and hardest to achieve is when circumstances are contrary and a decision is required right now. That is where we find the apostle Paul in Acts 23. He had been arrested by the Roman authorities but they could find no real reason to keep him incarcerated. An influential group of Jewish citizens, however, were stirred up over this man so that the Commander could not just release Paul and ignore the situation. He, therefore, ordered the Sanhedrin (collection of priests and rabbis who gave leadership to the Jewish community) to assemble so Paul could stand before them. I am sure the Roman commander intended to get to the bottom of the argument and had no idea about the contention that would break out. Paul was going to need precise wisdom to navigate through these stormy waters. So, what does wisdom look like under pressure?
Respect for authority. As Paul was giving his defense, “the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.” (v. 2) Paul did not take kindly to this so he reacted with harsh words, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” (v. 3) I believe Paul is referring back to this experience with the Roman authorities in chapter 22. They were getting ready to whip him when he announced he was a Roman citizen by birth. It would have been a violation of the law to flog a citizen who had not been convicted of any crime and the authorities backed off as soon as they realized that. Now he is before the Sanhedrin and he is probably thinking that would a good defense here also. But then he was told he just insulted the high priest and his tone changed immediately. “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’” (v. 5) Despite the mistreatment he was receiving, he held to his conviction that people who have been placed in authority (or at least been allowed to be in leadership positions) by God should be addressed with honor.
Well timed words. Somehow, in the strain of the confrontation, Paul received a remarkable moment of inspiration. It occurred to him that there was a significant division among the members of the Sanhedrin over the issue of the resurrection. It was not just an intellectual disagreement. It was a heartfelt conviction that impacted everything they thought, felt, and acted upon. Paul had this insight within him because he was a dedicated Pharisee for years before his encounter with Jesus so now, under pressure, the Spirit of God brought the information to the surface so it could be strategically applied. “Then Paul . . . called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.” (v. 6-7) Attention now turned to the rift in the leadership rather than the riot about Paul.
Nurtured relationships. Because the entire situation with Paul was driven by hatred and jealousy rather than truth and logic, things just kept getting crazier. “The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot.” (v. 12-13) The plan was to attack him on the road from the jail to the meeting with the Sanhedrin so the “troublemaker” could be removed. People cared about Paul and his mission, however. He had invested time in relationships. He had fostered allegiance to himself and his cause. He had served the needs of others during good times so they watched out for him in the rough times. “When the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (v. 16) The young man’s report to the Commander resulted in Paul’s transfer to Felix, the Governor of the province, and out of harm’s way. This was a good reminder to me of the importance of consistent investment in the lives of those around me so that when the storm hits my life I have people who are willing to help.
Lord, thank you for the example of Paul. Develop in me the wisdom to respect those in authority, time my words purposefully, and invest in healthy relationships so they are fully functional when my life is under pressure.

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