And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14, NKJV).
Paul rehearsed the events of Christ’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 26:14-18). He was persecuting Christians when the Lord appeared (Acts 26:9-12). Christ described Paul’s futility with an example from everyday life. Saul was only hurting himself. A goad is a pointed stick used to prod oxen along the way. When an animal kicks against the nudging of the prod, it causes more pain to the animal. So it was with Saul of Tarsus. His misdirected zeal against the name of Jesus of Nazareth was pointless (Acts 29:9; 5:39). The afflicter was afflicting himself, adding sin upon sin in his rage against the saints (1 Tim. 1:12-13). Our lesson becomes obvious. We will not succeed in fighting against the word and will of God. Arrogantly denying God by pursuing personal freedom enslaves us to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). Arguing against and rejecting the word of Christ exposes a selfish, unrepentant, and corrupt heart (Acts 7:51-53). Professing oneself to be wise and refusing to honor God leads to the pain and foolishness of unbelief (Rom. 1:27, 20-26). When we proudly resist the Lord, He resists us (James 4:6-10). We must humble our hearts before the Lord. Do we think we can fight against God now and survive the day of His wrath (Rev. 6:17)? Those who kick against His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering will not (Rom. 2:4-6). Are you kicking against God’s will? If so, stop hurting yourself. Like Saul, repent and obey Jesus. Christ forgives our self-defeating sins when we turn to Him and follow His will (Matt. 11:28-30; Acts 22:16).
1 Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), 2 and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:” (Galatians 1:1–2, NKJV)
Neither human proclamation nor physical lineage approved and appointed Paul to be an apostle (v. 1). How unlike the assertions and attestations of the churches, councils, and synods that install men to be popes, prophets, presidents, and priests. Jesus Christ chose and commissioned His apostles (Mark 3:13-19; Acts 22:14-15; 26:16-17). Under His authority, He sent them into the world to teach His gospel (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-20). God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead, approved of the appointment and commission of the apostles, including Paul (v. 1). Heaven’s approval did not mean the apostles were above sin. Peter was rebuked for hypocrisy and influencing others to join him (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s explanation of heaven’s endorsement of his apostleship laid the foundation of authority by which the churches of Galatia (and thus, all the churches) were to receive and follow his instructions (Gal. 1:6-10). Just as Paul’s apostleship was “not from men nor through man,” neither was the gospel he preached (Gal. 1:11). How unlike the assertions and attestations of the churches, councils, and synods. These religious bodies convene to approve and codify their self-defined “orthodoxy” and bind it on adherents. What an affront to Christ, His gospel, and the apostles He commissioned to preach His gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)! What to believe and obey has been revealed by Christ through His apostles (Gal. 1:12; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:1, 4). Straying from apostolic doctrine amounts to departing from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-3, 6).
I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren (1 Thessalonians 5:27, NKJV).
Bible reading is essential to salvation from sins and living faithfully to the Lord. The Bible is the inspired word of God, His truth delivered in this last age by His Son, Jesus Christ (John 16:13; 17:17; Heb. 1:2; 2:3-4; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jude 3). By it, faith is produced and strengthened in us (Rom. 10:17; Acts 20:32). Christians read the Bible! We read it to increase in knowledge of God’s will and wisdom to apply it to our lives (Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-11). It is little wonder the apostle Paul closes his letter to the Thessalonians with a charge to read it to all the holy brethren. His writings are the “commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul’s “charge” (“to cause someone to swear,” TDNT, V:462) put them under oath to do so. It was not optional but mandatory that they read his epistle. Even so, we are under oath to read the Scriptures. Public Bible reading and teaching please God and should please us (Neh. 8:1-3, 7-9; 1 Tim. 4:13). The saints circulated the apostolic letters for all to read (Col. 4:16). We should never think there is “too much” Scripture in a gospel sermon. Private Bible reading allows quiet time for meditation, examination, and correction of personal spiritual needs (Acts 8:29-35; 1 Tim. 4:15-16; Phil. 4:8). The Holy Scriptures will make us “wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” when we read and learn them (2 Tim. 3:14-15; 2 Pet. 3:15-16). Have you read your Bible today?
28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:28–29, NKJV).
Roman authorities had already imprisoned Paul for more than two years (Acts 24:27). Now, before the Roman governor Festus and King Herod Agrippa II, Paul defended his faith and the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 25:21-26:23). His compelling rehearsal of Christ’s appearance, appointment, and commission of Paul as an apostle, coupled with his obedient preaching to the Gentiles, supported his conclusion that the gospel fulfilled Moses and the prophets. Festus rejected the gospel out of hand, but Herod, who believed the prophets and had witnessed the events of which Paul spoke, was almost persuaded by the apostle’s words of “truth and reason” (Acts 26:24-28). Although imprisoned, Paul was genuinely free while his audience was in sin’s bondage (John 8:32, 34, 36). Paul was not vindictive, bitter, and hateful over his false imprisonment. He did not rail at Festus and Agrippa. Instead, he desired their salvation. Paul’s defense became an opportunity to preach the saving gospel for their benefit. Even so, may we not be blinded by the injustices of others. Our desire must ever be their salvation in Christ. We must continue to “speak the truth in love” as Paul did that day (Eph. 4:15). Some will be persuaded, obey the gospel, and be saved from sin (Acts 28:30-31; Phil. 1:13; 4:22).
3 And he said to them, “Into what then were you baptized?” So they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:3–5, NKJV).
Paul asked these disciples of John a simple, probing, and informative question: “Into what then were you baptized?” Their answer (“into John’s baptism”) gave Paul the opening to explain the prerequisite and outcome of John’s baptism and help them become Christ’s disciples. First, repentance was necessary to receive John’s baptism, without which his baptism “for the remission of sins” was useless (Luke 3:3, 7-8; Matt. 3:5-8). Second, John’s preaching and baptism prepared people to believe on the Messiah (whom Paul tells them is Christ Jesus, Acts 19:4; Luke 3:3-6). John’s baptism served its purpose and ran its course. Convinced that Jesus is the Christ (in whom John prepared them to put their faith), John’s disciples became disciples of Jesus by being “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (by His authority, Acts 19:5). They were not disciples of Jesus before and until they were baptized in His name. Christ’s baptism remains how believers become disciples of Jesus. Faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, prepares the sinner to repent and be baptized in His name to be saved and become His disciple (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:36-41; 10:48; Gal. 3:26-27).
“For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11, NKJV).
Paul had been falsely accused of sedition against Rome and crimes against the Jews and kept imprisoned by an unscrupulous governor (Acts 24:5-6, 22-27). Two years later, he is before another Roman governor (Festus) answering these false charges (Acts 25:7-10). His appeal to Caesar’s court for judgment indicates several things worthy of our consideration and practice. (1) Paul put himself under the authority of civil government. We do not see Paul arguing against the government’s authority to adjudicate disputes of its citizens. Although the government was suppressing his rights (as Felix detained him, hoping for a bribe), Paul did not become violate. Neither should we when those in authority oppress us (1 Pet. 2:14-20). (2) It is right to seek justice from civil authorities. God ordained civil government to address the primary purpose of protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty (Rom. 13:1-4). Paul’s “appeal to Caesar” was the exercise of a legal avenue for justice and protection from the Jews who were trying to kill him (Acts 25:2-3). (3) If we violate the law, we should accept our punishment without objection. Paul was willing to be executed if he “committed anything worthy of death.” If we are guilty of violating the law, we ought to admit it, accept our punishment, and repent of our transgression against the Lord (Rom. 13:4-5). While our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be honorable citizens of society (Phil. 3:20; 2 Cor. 8:21).
16 At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 18 And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16–18, NKJV)!
Paul could have been bitter as he surveyed his situation. He was now aged, and life was nearing its end (Philem. 9; 2 Tim. 4:6). Demas had forsaken him for this present evil age (2 Tim. 4:10). Alexander, the coppersmith, had done him much harm and resisted the gospel Paul taught (2 Tim. 4:14-15). No one stood with him when he defended himself before the Roman authorities (v. 16). But Paul was not weakened in faith. The Lord rescued Paul from inevitable demise (the lion’s mouth). The Lord would certainly deliver him even though death was near. His faith was in the Lord, not people (v. 17). Paul fixed his faith on the everlasting, heavenly kingdom and deliverance from the evils of this world (v. 18; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). Do not become embittered when people let you down, hurt you, and forsake you. The Lord will not fail you (Heb. 13:5-6). Wouldn’t it have been tragic if Paul had become a bitter, cynical old man at the end of his life? His example of steadfast faith continues to strengthen aged ones whose faith is in the Lord.
14 Now for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be burdensome to you; for I do not seek yours, but you. For the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. 15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. But be that as it may, I did not burden you. (2 Corinthians 12:14–16, NKJV)
Paul laid up spiritual treasures for his children in the faith by diligently teaching, admonishing, and equipping the Corinthians Christians to live faithfully. Paul had delayed his plans to return to Corinth, which was all his detractors needed to think and say the worst about him (1 Cor. 16:5-7; 2 Cor. 1:15-18; 2:1). Despite being loved less, he would continue to “spend and be spent” for their souls. Here is a word of exhortation to gospel preachers. Do not be deterred when others criticize you for preaching the word of God (2 Tim. 3:10-12). Do not be distracted when you are assigned improper motives for proclaiming the gospel. Preach God’s word with the urgency that truth and its power to save demands (2 Tim. 4:2; Rom. 1:15-16). Some will not accept the sting of sound doctrine and charge you with wrongdoing when you deliver God’s truth. Some may even lie in wait and try to catch you in something you say (Lk. 11:53-54). They may try to make you the problem. Do not be silenced (2 Tim. 2:9-10). Always be motivated by love for the saints and the lost. Incur the cost (“spend and be spent”), bear the burden, and declare the whole counsel of God without fear or favor (Acts 20:27; 2 Tim. 4:5).
Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11, NKJV)
Paul’s patient love for Mark compels us to ponder the breadth and depth of our love for brethren. Paul had not always considered Mark useful (good and profitable) for the service of the gospel. About 20 years earlier, John Mark had joined Paul and Barnabas on a preaching journey into Gentile regions, only to leave them and return to Jerusalem shortly after it began (Acts 13:4-5, 13). This failure to continue with them caused Paul to insist Mark would not be on his next preaching trip despite disagreeing with Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41). We should note that Paul did not “write off” Barnabas or Mark as unworthy Christians who did not love the Lord. The rest of the story makes this apparent. Paul was associated with Mark during his first Roman imprisonment (AD 60-62), sending greetings from him to the Colossian church and instructing them to welcome Mark if he came to them (Col. 4:10). Now, during his final days of life, Paul asked for Mark. The man he had refused to take with him roughly two decades earlier was now useful for the gospel’s service (2 Tim. 4:11). A great lesson of love’s patient endurance is staring us in the face (1 Cor. 13:4-7). Mark’s faith had matured, and Paul respected that. Paul loved Mark. Indeed, “love suffers long and is kind” as it rejoices in the truth. Love keeps on bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things, both in our attitudes and treatment of others. Love did not fail Paul and Mark. It will not fail us, either.
3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3–5, NKJV)
Tears and joy. Timothy shed tears as his beloved father in the faith was imprisoned in Rome. Death was near (2 Tim. 4:6, 17-18). Would Timothy arrive in time to see Paul one last time (2 Tim. 4:9)? We do not know. Yet, Paul did not dwell on his departure except to say it was near, he was ready, and the Lord would deliver him (2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-18). He focused on the joy of seeing Timothy’s face again and on the deep faith that sustained his companion, brother, and friend. Comforted by knowing Paul prayed continually for him, we are sure Timothy went to Rome as quickly as possible (2 Tim. 4:9, 21). Life brings times of sadness, pain, loss, and sorrow. Prayers and memories of lives lived faithfully see us through the vale of tears and sustain us with a joy no one can take from us (Jno. 16:22). Remembering the faith of Timothy, Eunice, and Lois comforted Paul. No doubt, Timothy remembered Paul’s pure conscience and faithful service. So it is between fellow-Christians when life fades and eternity’s light grows brighter. Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 with tears and joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psa. 126:5). As when God restored the captivity of Zion, so it will be when He gathers His faithful ones to glory (Psa. 126:1-4). Tears will be replaced with joy forevermore.