David C. Grabbe: Beginning with the Feast of Pentecost in AD 31, God opened salvation to those of any human language He chose to call. The miracle of languages seen in the apostles demonstrates ...
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
Ted Bowling, recollecting a conversation with his late mother about the identity of Philip, the individual who ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, affirmed that this same Philip was one of the first seven deacons chosen to serve the neglected Grecian widows, providing sorely needed administrative relief. These men were chosen not only for their administrative savvy, but for their good reputation, character, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and humility to serve in lowly and thankless positions. Philip served with Stephen, the first New Testament martyr, whose example was evidently instrumental in the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul. With the death of Stephen, Philip stepped in to fill the gap, preaching and serving the needs of the congregation in Samaria, evidently swelling the size of the fellowship with his dynamic preaching, providing Peter with a large number of candidates for baptism. At the peak of this accomplishment, he was removed from this responsibility and sent on another assignment, involving more uncertainty and arduous travel; Philip accepted this charge without complaining or grumbling, being willing to serve in any assigned capacity. When he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, an official of Queen Candace, he approached the task of helping this single individual to understand with the same alacrity as teaching a multitude, leading to the baptism and conversion of this man. Philip teaches us that we do not have to preach to multitudes in order to be used by God; we never know in what capacity God may use us. As long as we humbly are willing to serve in any capacity, being willing to wash feet, God will find a use for us.
John Ritenbaugh explores the conversion of Cornelius, a Gentile. This event is nearly as pivotal a benchmark as the original Pentecost because the Gentiles at this point are given the same portal of salvation (repentance, belief in Christ, and receipt of God's Holy Spirit) originally offered to Israel. This portion of Acts highlights: (1) The church's initial resistance to Gentiles fellowshipping in the church, (2) God's leading the church into the right understanding of Gentile conversion, (3) God's using Peter (originally relatively rigid and unyielding in his scruples) instead of Paul (more cosmopolitan), and (4) Jerusalem's acceptance of Gentiles (originally considered ceremonially unclean from the Jewish point of view) apart from the influence of Judaism. Peter's vision about the unclean beasts is to be interpreted metaphorically or symbolically rather than literally: Gentiles are not to be regarded as impure or ceremonially unclean.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the martyrdom of Stephen, largely instigated by Hellenistic Jews, actually had the paradoxical dramatic effect of spreading the Gospel into Gentile venues, enabling individuals like Cornelius and the Ethiopian Eunuch, upon repentance, belief, and baptism to be added to the fellowship. Even more remarkable in this section of Acts was the miraculous dramatic conversion of the zealous learned Pharisee Saul (virtually handpicked by Jesus Christ and rigorously trained in Arabia for three years) into Paul the Apostle, fashioned (his intense zeal redirected or refocused) for great accomplishment as well as great suffering. Like Jeremiah and John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul was sanctified in his mother's womb, set apart for a specific purpose. At the conclusion of the chapter we find the account of the resurrection of Tabitha (or Dorcas) following Peter's fervent prayer.