Wednesday, September 8, 2010
So the tribune came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" And he said, "Yes." The tribune answered, "I bought this citizenship for a large sum." Paul said, "But I am a citizen by birth."
Paul was not afraid to use tense politics to the advantage of the gospel. In this case, relying on his Roman citizenship kept him from a beating by the Roman police squad sent to break up the disturbance at the temple. Paul had hushed the crowds to share his defense of faith in Christ. But as soon as he stated that God had called him to minister among the gentiles, the crowd turned savage again.
The Roman tribune planned on using "harsh interrogation techniques" (aka a scourging with a Roman whip) to get to Paul's intentions, assuming some evil motive on his part. Just as Paul is stretched and stripped down for the whip, he asks if such treatment is reserved for a Roman citizen. This stops the entire process. A new wrinkle has developed.
Paul had a unique set of freedoms because of his citizenship. Not only could he freely travel the empire, but he also had legal protections that came in handy at moments such as these. Yet this is the first time that Paul has played the citizen card to his advantage. Every other beating he has received (all in territory controlled by Rome) he has endured. Yet at this stage, he claims his legal right.
The centurion in charge of this scene knew well that any officer who beat a Roman citizen without formal charges could expect serious charges being brought against him. The usual plan for dealing with unruly Jews had to be stopped. This was no ordinary rabble-rouser. Paul's citizenship forced a more formal inquiry to be stated. This is what Paul hoped for. His invocation of his citizenship forced a measured response to be brought upon him, rather than the emotion of a mob riot deciding his fate. It was better for Paul to be a prisoner under full protection of the Roman military than to be free man in danger of death by this unruly religious mob.
Paul's birthright as a Roman citizen was what was used by God to spare his life in Jerusalem. It eventually led (after years of bouncing around the legal administration) to his transfer to Rome and a hearing before the emperor himself. This achieved an opportunity for the gospel that was unprecedented. Paul wisely trusted God's providence in the circumstances of his birth. He had born a citizen in a Roman controlled city for a reason. And right now, this deliverance was that reason.
So it does not hurt to be thankful for the circumstances of one's birth and to use them to leverage opportunity for the gospel. This is one reason why the best missions goal is to train national church leaders. They have a birthright that no one else has, and thus more opportunity with the gospel. It also means that those of use born in the prosperous West should consider what God has given us in provisions and protections to advance the gospel, even in difficult places. I know first hand that as a "lower middle class" American, I am wealthier than most of the world by far. God expects me to use this birthright for His glory.
- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.