Last week we talked about resisting the lies of the enemy that say God has abandoned us. It’s important to maintain confidence that God’s favor rests on us in Christ, and to realize that sometime God’s favor is actually what sends us into adverse circumstances so we can manifest heaven on earth. Today we’ll look at how Paul walked in God’s favor. Paul’s story encourages me because Paul knew God’s favor rested on him even when circumstances were crazy.
A Different Perspective On Favor
Our story starts in Acts 21. The disciples at Tyre warned Paul, through the Spirit, not to go to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:4) He continued on his journey, and a prophet named Agabus prophesied of how the Jews at Jerusalem would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles. The other Christians pleaded with Paul to not go to Jerusalem, but he refused. Paul said “Why are you crying and breaking my heart? I’m ready to be bound and even to die at Jerusalem for Jesus’ sake.” (Acts 21:10-14)
We could debate if Paul was really not supposed to go to Jerusalem, or if that was just the interpretation of the prophets who saw what would happen to him. Many people think it was just the interpretation of the prophets, but verse 4 does say it was “through the Spirit” that they warned Paul not to go.
One thing I notice here is that Paul had a different perspective on God’s favor. He asked the other Christians why they were weeping at the thought of him being bound. But Paul’s perspective was “what if God’s favor is what’s sending me to Jerusalem, where I will be bound and taken to testify of the gospel before kings?” Paul wanted to share the gospel with the emperor, which is why he later kept appealing to go to Rome!
Whether or not God was calling Paul to go to Jerusalem, or it was a mistake, God’s favor continued to rest on him the whole time! There have been tough times when I’ve wondered if I made a mistake. Satan comes with accusations, saying “You missed it, and now what you’re suffering is the consequence.” He tries to get us into a place of hopelessness. But difficulties don’t necessarily mean you missed God’s will. Following a high calling usually leads us right into difficulties.
There have also been times when I know I made a mistake. But God didn’t withdraw his favor or stop being faithful! His favor continued to rest on me.
I can’t say how many times friends in the US have said “It’s time to come home from Brazil.” I’ve had to explain the situation, that to do so would be leaving my aging in-laws with nobody to properly care for them. It would not be cheap or easy to bring them to the US. But aside from that, what if it was God’s favor that sent me to Brazil? God put such a love in my heart when I was a teenager that I wanted nothing more than to go to the nations. I’ve felt this love physically, like a current of electricity flowing through my body. If you have felt such love compelling you, it changes your perspective. It feels like a privilege to be in a difficult place.
Riotors in Jerusalem grabbed Paul and were beating him to death, but they stopped when some Roman soldiers showed up. The soldiers arrested him and put him in chains. (Acts 21) Paul barely escaped flogging by notifying the centurian that he was a Roman citizen. (Acts 22) But none of this made Paul turn inward in self-pity. He continued sharing the gospel.
Then Paul caused a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Sanhedrin, and it became so violent that the Romans had to rescue him by force. Circumstances were crazy! But God’s favor rested on Paul.
Acts 23:11 (NIV) The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
The next morning, more than forty men swore to never eat or drink until they had killed Paul. It’s easy to read this as just a story, like entertainment, watching a movie. But in the last year, someone threatened to kill us and we felt the frustration of the law refusing to lock this guy up and knowing we face legal consequences in Brazil if we do much to protect ourselves. Facing those threats made me imagine what Paul must have felt, with a much more serious threat on his life. And Paul’s story encourages me to keep a right perspective in it all.
Fortunately, someone discovered the plot and the Romans sent him to Governor Felix with 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen, and 200 spearmen to protect him! (Acts 23:23)That’s a great picture of God’s favor in the middle of crazy circumstances!
Injustice, Bureaucracy, Corruption
Five days later, Paul was brought to trial. Felix decided the whole matter could wait, so he adjourned the proceedings and kept procrastinating! But he sent for Paul to talk to him often, hoping for a bribe. After two years of procrastinating, he left Paul in prison with his successor because he “wanted to grant a favor to the Jews.” (Acts 24)
I’ve felt so much anger and frustration over corruption. Christians in many countries face governments that regularly refuse to do their jobs without a bribe to help them on. It can take years to get a simple permit without a bribe. A few months ago, after dealing with an official who refused to do his job without a bribe, I got an email from a reader in India who was frustrated with the corruption in his country. I started a Facebook discussion and heard the stories of other Christian friends who struggle with the same problems in their countries.
I’ve heard of people being imprisoned because they had the same name as somebody else. I feel so angry at the bureaucracy of a government that can’t even realize there are many people who have the same name and we need something more than a name to identify a criminal. The culture in some places seems to be that there is so much bureaucracy that it’s almost impossible to do anything. So almost nobody follows the rules anyway, because it’s very difficult to survive or make progress if you follow the rules. In the end, it’s always about “granting a favor” to someone or giving a kickback, never real justice.
Paul was kept in prison for a few years just because the government wasn’t doing its job and the governor wanted a bribe. When the governor didn’t get a bribe, he ended up “granting a favor” to the people who falsely accused him. I can relate to Paul story in a new way now because I know how much that kind of thing upsets me! And seeing how Paul maintained a right perspective encourages me.
Even then, Paul enjoyed God’s favor. He was allowed unusual freedom, and his friends were allowed to care for his needs. (vs. 23)
The new governor, Festus, also wanted to do the Jew’s a favor (Acts 25:9), but Paul appealed to Caeser. He was in a legal battle against a corrupt system and chose to take his case to the highest court. Soon after that, Festus decided to have Paul speak before King Agrippa.
Paul could have chosen to feel sorry for himself. But God’s favor was bringing him to share the gospel before governors and kings! Paul started “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today…”
In Paul’s perspective, he was fortunate. He was fortunate to be able to share the gospel with a king who had a good background to be able to understand what he was talking about and understand the gospel. So Paul shared the gospel with Agrippa. Paul’s confidence in God’s favor enabled him to do so.
Acts 26:28-29 (NIV) Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
Paul’s response to Agrippa revealed his attitude. Paul wasn’t wallowing in self-pity. He was the one who had God’s favor resting on him, who had eternal hope, abundant life, and the joy of salvation! They needed what he had! They needed to become what he was!
After hearing Paul, Agrippa said “This man could have been freed if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar.” It seems that King Agrippa may have had a better character than Festus and didn’t realize that Festus was more interested in “granting a favor to the Jews” than in justice! I often wonder if Agrippa ever did become a Christian.
Next week we will continue with Paul’s story and look at how God’s favor made him the most influential person on the ship, and then on the island of Malta, even though he was a prisoner.