It is interesting to see how God dealt with the problem of compromise we looked at in yesterday’s study. If we read the story carefully, we find that there were seven days of purification and that it was at the end of these seven days that the offering that would have compromised Paul and his Gospel was to have been made. Paul seems to have proceeded on his way unhindered for six of those seven days. But notice verse 27: “When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him.” Before Paul could participate in the sacrifice there was a riot, and Paul was carried away by the Roman authorities and was imprisoned.
God is the God of circumstances. So God was certainly active in these circumstances. It was God’s way of saying, “This is the point beyond which I will not let Paul go.” Paul may have been willing to compromise the Gospel, though he wouldn’t have called it that, but God was not willing to have him do it. God will not be compromised. So God would not allow Paul to go to the temple and present a blood sacrifice for his sins, when Jesus had already died for his sins and taken them away.
Yet I want to add this. In spite of the fact that this is what we would have to call a low point in Paul’s life, it nevertheless did not end Paul’s usefulness. Some people have pointed out, I think quite rightly, that if Paul had not been arrested, he would not have had many of the opportunities he did have to testify to the grace of God in Christ. In fact, from this point on we find Paul testifying in one high setting after another: first, to the Sanhedrin (and the Sanhedrin would never have heard him unless he had been arrested); second, to Governor Felix; third, to Governor Festus; fourth, to King Agrippa; and finally at the end of the letter, to the imperial Roman guard. Paul witnessed to soldiers who, as we know from Philippians, in turn eventually spread the Gospel in the palace.
And there is this, too. If we look at Acts 23:11, we find that in spite of all that had happened, Paul received a vision one night in which the Lord stood by him and said: “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” I love that because it shows that in spite of Paul’s disobedience the Lord did not throw his failure up to him to taunt him with it, but rather appeared to him to say, “Cheer up, Paul. I have many things for you to do yet.”
That takes me back to those other biblical characters I mentioned at the start of the message. It is interesting to note that, as in Paul’s case, in spite of their sin and failures—in most cases failures that were far greater and more extensive than those of Paul—God did not end their usefulness, either. But rather, He worked again to bless not only them but those to whom they ministered.
Each paid a price for his mistake. Moses spent forty years in the desert as an alien. Samson lost his sight. Jonah was thrown overboard and was swallowed by a whale. David’s family suffered. Peter was humiliated. But each was also used of God again, and greatly. Moses led the people for an additional forty years. Samson destroyed Dagon’s temple. Jonah preached to Nineveh. David ruled for years. Peter evangelized widely.
You and I also fall into sin. We are as stubborn, disobedient and willful as these biblical characters seem to have been. But we should be encouraged by their stories. They teach us that the fact that we have sinned does not mean that we have been eliminated from God’s service or have lost our chance for usefulness. Rather our failures give renewed opportunity for God to display His great grace.
Whenever we have to deal with others who have been trapped in sin or who have failed for one reason or another, we should not approach them in a spirit of superiority, because we know that we are not superior in any way. But rather, we should approach them in a spirit of humility and helpfulness in order to strengthen them.
There are times when one is strong and another is weak, when one is off the path but another is on it. But that can always be reversed. We can ourselves always stumble and fall, like others. We need to be humble. We need to know that we also always need each other, just as we also always need the Lord.