The Apostle Paul took a bold, strong, uncompromising stand for the Lord Jesus and yet did so with a sweet and gracious spirit. In Acts 16, Timothy joined Paul and Silas on their missionary endeavor. He submitted to the rite of circumcision in order to be a good testimony to the Jews, to whom they would preach the Gospel. He, as well as Paul and Silas, must have been disappointed when their first two efforts after Timothy had joined their team were thwarted by the Holy Spirit. First, He forbade them “to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6), then He “suffered them not” to go into Bithynia (Acts 16:7). Then a vision appeared to Paul. A man said, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9).
After several days in Philippi, Paul discovered that there was a group of God-fearing people gathered beside a river to pray. There, after preaching the Gospel, he found his first European convert, a woman named Lydia, who became a supporter of their ministry.
Shortly after this experience, Paul and his team found themselves engaged in a conflict. A demon-possessed young lady whose divination brought significant revenues to her masters began to follow Paul and his companions, saying, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.”Although Paul was patient, eventually he felt constrained to confront this demonic influence and said, “I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18). Of course, when this happened, the young lady was no longer profitable to her masters. They brought Paul and Silas before the authorities, bore false witness against them, and stirred up the crowd who tore their clothes and beat their backs with “many stripes.” Paul and Silas had taken a stand and suffered as a result.
How easy it is for us to fall into the “prosperity Gospel” philosophy that if we do right, we will have no difficulties in life. How quickly we forget that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12) and forget that we are to “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1 Peter 4:12).
Paul and Silas have suffered an intensely painful beating. Now they are not only incarcerated, but find their feet in stocks so that it is virtually impossible for them to find a comfortable position or get any rest. How will they respond? With a concert. “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25). It seems as if Paul and Silas, having determined that sleep would not be available to them that evening because of their painful condition and the awkward posture forced upon them by their bonds, said, “Well, we might as well praise God.” No complaining. No arguing. No threatening the authorities. (It is not until much later in the story that Paul even mentions the fact that he is a Roman citizen. He could have invoked that right immediately but he chose not to do so.) They simply prayed and sang praises to God.
A strong stand with the wrong spirit makes our faith seem sour. A sweet spirit with a weak stand makes our faith seem soft. But the right stand with the right spirit demonstrates that our faith is both strong and sweet. The consequence of their right stand accompanied by a right spirit is that there was a marvelous conversion. After God sent an earthquake and the jailer was about to take his life, Paul, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to “get even” with his captor, first encouraged the jailer to do himself no harm and then led him to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. This conversion is the result of both the strong stand and the sweet spirit of the Apostle Paul.
I once had the opportunity to ask Dr. Jim Vineyard how he got saved. Dr. Vineyard is a former Green Beret, a man noted for his toughness both as a soldier in the United States Armed Services and as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. His answer to me was, “My wife was a Christian, and she had such a sweet spirit that it drew me to Christ.” How amazing that even a combat-tested, hardened veteran could be attracted by the right stand with the right spirit!
One of my college friends had, for a time, run with a tough motorcycle gang called “The Association” in the Chicago area. To join the gang, you had to take a six-shot revolver, put a bullet in one chamber of the cylinder, spin the cylinder, point the gun to your head and pull the trigger. You then repeated this twice more until you had risked death three times.
My friend, Dave Hammers, observed three of his friends do just that. The leader of the gang was a man called “The Sun.” He stood about six foot, six inches tall and weighed about 240 pounds. One summer, Dave went to camp and got thoroughly right with God. When he came back, he said, “Sun, I’ve yielded my life to the Lord Jesus and I can’t ride with the gang anymore.” A ham-like hand shot out, smashing Dave in the mouth and permanently knocking out his two front teeth. “Get out of here,” the Sun said. “I don’t ever want to see your face again.”
Years later, when Dave was a youth pastor in Alabama, he received a phone call from a strangely familiar voice, “This is The Sun. I’m in jail, but I wanted you to know that I never forgot your stand for Christ. Your testimony is part of the reason that I’ve trusted the Lord as my Saviour since I’ve been in jail. Since then, I’ve memorized over two hundred verses of Scripture and led over forty men to Christ.”
May God help us to take a strong stand with a sweet spirit.