by Ken Idleman
Do you remember the scene at the beginning of Acts 23? Paul had just been taken into Roman custody after the riot in Jerusalem in chapter 22. The morning after the riot (Acts 22:30), the commander delivered Paul to the Sanhedrin to get a sense of what all the drama was about. The high priest Ananias ordered one of his henchmen to strike the apostle Paul on the mouth for saying something politically unpopular to the ears of the self-important rulers. Paul might have turned the other cheek, but he also said, “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!” When a bystander pointed out Paul had insulted the high priest, Paul retorted with what I can only imagine was biting sarcasm: “I wasn’t aware, brothers, that he was the high priest; for it is written ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler…’”
Whoa Paul! That is ‘leadership backbone!’
But that wasn’t new for him. It was a character trait he used and developed throughout his life. In Acts 13, he looked a sorcerer squarely in the eye, interrupting his conversation with the governor of Paphos: “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil!…” The sorcerer was struck blind on the spot. Only a few lines later, in Acts 14, Paul was stoned by a crowd! But that wasn’t enough for him. Thinking him dead, some number of believers gathered around his body, at which point he revived – and went back into the city (verses 19-20)!
Occasionally, we see similar courage displayed by political or business leaders, though not often. One example that immediately comes to mind is Ronald Reagan. He demanded, on the world’s stage, that Soviet Secretary Gorbachev “tear down this wall” as he stood mere feet away from the Berlin Wall. He called the bluff of air traffic controllers when they threatened a labor strike. He declared 1983 “the Year of the Bible” at the National Prayer Breakfast in February of that year.
As Christ-followers, we extend grace toward the socially and politically anti-Christian, toward the incarcerated and convicted, even toward the totalitarian and inhumane. At the same time, John 1:17 reminds us “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” I am taking the position today that we need at least as much truth as grace in our culture.
Pray with me … Father, the Psalmist declared that “strength and beauty are in your sanctuary.” We want to reflect both your strength and your beauty in our character because we, your people, are your sanctuary. So, give us wisdom about when we should bow our heads in quiet submission and humility, and when we should lift our heads to shout with conviction what is right and true. Jesus is our model as we aspire to “speak the truth in love.” Give us your mind to know when we need to show your heart and when we need to stand firm with a backbone. In the Name of Jesus we pray, amen.