Our lesson this week in Tentmakers came from … You guessed it! … Acts 18. Before I get all fired up, I want you to go there and read verses 9-17. While you do, please allow me to pray for our time together.
Father God, we come to You in Jesus’ name, asking Your blessing on our time together. Lord, that our minds will be fixed on You and that nothing (phones and family alike) will divide our attention. Give us understanding that we may learn... (Ps 119:73). Amen.
Okay! Now that you’ve read Acts 18:9-17, I want you to look back at the passage and make a list of the cast of characters found in this clip. Try picturing it in your mind. (Please realize that, even though we may use some movie/theater terms to help us connect to the passage, Acts is an historical book. The events Luke depicts here really happened!)
Verse 9-10: We see Paul asleep in bed, then …
Verse 11: Paul settled down in Corinth. What does “settling down” look like? What would he be doing?
Verse 12-13: Who’s the new guy? What do the Jews do to feel him out (typical when under new authority)?
Verse 14-16: How does each participant in the scene (Paul, Gallio, the Jews) react to this testing?
Verse 17 … finally (exclamation of excitement not exhaustion)! If you think we reached the climax of the scene with Gallio putting the Jews in their place, you now see otherwise. Describe the activity in the scene, but also look at each person still in the courtroom. Can you see the looks on their faces? Mob of Greeks? Gallio (I like KJV for Gallio)? Sosthenes? Paul?
I don’t know how you pictured Paul’s face, but what I see is a look of uncomfortable familiarity. This wasn’t Paul’s first time with a front-row seat to an undeserved beating. In his previous life as ‘Saul the Pharisee,’ he was usually the one doing the dragging (see Acts 8:3, 9:1-2). I imagine this as a full-circle moment for Paul.
We might have initially wondered (at least I did) if Paul appreciated (at the least) or encouraged (at the most) Sosthenes’ beating … After all, Luke does say that “the Jews unitedly made an attack upon Paul and brought him before the judge’s seat” (Acts 18:12). Unitedly must have included Sosthenes, the leader of their synagogue, right? (This is not a trick question.) I think instead that what happened in that courtroom (Acts 18:12-17) took Paul back to a place he regretted he had ever been. To distance himself further from that place, Paul didn’t respond with an attitude of satisfaction; instead he reached out to Sosthenes with a compassion that could only come from one who had been there.
If you continued reading in Acts 18 – even only into verse 18 – you may wonder where I’m getting the idea that Paul reached out to Sosthenes, and you would be right to ask that question! For those of you who haven’t read it, please do. Sosthenes is never again mentioned in the book of Acts. So where is he mentioned? Well, I’m glad you asked. A few years after leaving Corinth, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, and guess who Paul includes in his opening greeting. That’s right … Sosthenes! Don’t take my word for it; read 1 Corinthians 1:1 to see for yourself.
In reading and re-reading this week’s passage from Acts 18:9-17, the term “judgment seat” kept jumping out at me. I think that’s because, when God gave instructions to Moses for the Tabernacle, there was no judgment seat; instead there was a mercy seat (Exodus 25:17-22). That day in Gallio’s courtroom, God showed mercy to Sosthenes by specially positioning Paul to minister to him. When we feel we’ve been wronged by someone and then the tables are turned and that person is the one under fire, don’t we sometimes respond from a judgment seat – instead of a mercy seat?
Now what? Today, when you see someone hurting, ask yourself if God has strategically positioned you to minister to their needs. Using the backdrop of Paul and Sosthenes, I’ll give you two questions to consider with your situation in mind: (1) Is it a person who has wronged you? (2) Have you been where s/he is? If either one of these is a ‘yes,’ then prayerfully consider reaching out. You may be the only one who can.