God’s Word for You
Acts 23:1-5 Shaky leaders
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 19, 2021
23 Paul looked directly at the Sanhedrin and said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God with a clear conscience up to this day.” 2 But at this, the high priest Ananias ordered those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet you violate the same law by ordering me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Do you dare insult God’s high priest?” 5 And Paul said, “Brothers, I did not know that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
The Sanhedrin must have come and assembled in the Roman fortress. There is no indication at all that either Paul or the Roman Colonel left the building. This was not a formal session of the Jewish Council; they were simply called in to answer questions about Paul. Certainly Paul was not the first one to speak. Neither the Colonel nor the Jewish Council would have permitted this. Therefore, we must gather that after some introductions, Paul was asked to speak on his own behalf. His claim of a clear conscience was the last thing that the High Priest was expecting. He thought Paul would have been groveling, asking for forgiveness. Paul’s bold, honest claim of innocence led to the priest ordering him to be slapped in the face.
Whether or not the slap really occurred (I think it didn’t, and the text is unclear), Paul uses the order itself to point out the sins of the High Priest. Rebuked for it, Paul acts as if he didn’t even realize this was the High Priest (who shouldn’t have acted in such a way), and he reinforces his point by quoting Exodus 22:28, “Do not curse the ruler of your people.” The point of the law was that even if the ruler of a nation commits a sin, the people owe him their respect because he is God’s servant (Romans 13:1-5). That isn’t to say that a sinful ruler cannot be brought to justice if he commits a crime, but it must still be done with respect. David pointed out Saul’s sins to the king, but he never did it with anything but the highest regard for the Lord’s anointed. When he cut the corner from Saul’s robe while hiding in the latrine at the Crag of the Wild Goats, he was conscience-stricken that he did even that much, and said, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6). And he stopped his men from attacking Saul, saying, “I will not lift up my hand against my master” (1 Samuel 24:10). When the leader remembers his duties and is considerate, or at least generous for personal reasons (Daniel 11:24), his people will be more willing to follow him and give him respect. But when he is a tyrant, selfish, ambitious at the expense of his people, then he violates the trust required by the Fourth Commandment and becomes a burden on his people, whether they are a nation, a corporation, a small business, a church, or a family. “Fathers (pastors, presidents, bosses), do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). As for those of us who follow leaders, you and I should remember to obey them “in everything, and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:22-23). What about the leader who crushes his people, stirs up trouble, and commits crimes to the shame of the people he leads? “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (Colossians 3:25). It is the Lord Jesus Christ you are serving, with whatever you do. Follow Paul’s example and God’s holy will. Live a life that gives glory to God. Let past sins be covered by the blood of Jesus, and let go of them like the sinful woman Jesus forgave in the city (John 8:1-11). Step away from the sins of the past and live in whatever role God gives you today. A murderer might be called to lead his people out of Egypt (Exodus 2:12-14). An enemy of the gospel might be called to be the missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 13:2). Someone with a sinful past might become the loving spouse of one of God’s own prophets (Hosea 3:1-3). A pastor who wavered in his faith can be forgiven and brought back to serve with great honor (John 21:15-17). Rejoice in your saving faith, in the forgiveness of sins, in the promise of the resurrection, and the certainty of eternal life in heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith