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.
Two Herod Agrippas, father and son, ruled parts of Palestine during the period of the early church, touching the ministries of James, Peter, and Paul. While they won over many first-century Jews, they had far less success with Christians, whom they persecuted from time to time to curry favor. Their history fills gaps in the Bible's depiction of this critical period.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that the self-indulgent, immoral culture of Corinth parallels today's America and the current fractured state of the church. Paul, before he gives the Corinthians a corrective message on factions and party spirit, reminds them that they are sanctified members of Christ's body, which should not be divided by schism. He pleads with them to present a united front, all adhering to the same doctrines. Getting rid of pride and selfish ambition makes attaining unity as genuine Christians very difficult. Ironically, fractures or schisms in the church serve as a litmus test, distinguishing those faithful who really belong to Christ. Our ultimate responsibility is to zig and zag with Christ in faith, and not become deceived or distracted by human reason. A true, godly minister does not draw people to himself, but instead to Jesus Christ and the Father. Not placing Christ at the forefront will lead to carnal-mindedness and retardation of spiritual growth and maturity.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the messages in I Corinthians, especially those dealing with Christian living and character development, are particularly relevant to us today, answering the question, 'How is a Christian supposed to live and conduct himself in a desperately evil society?' Corinth was at the crossroads, both commercially and culturally, of the Mediterranean trade routes, making it wealthy, cosmopolitan, and abounding in religious diversity and syncretism. In Corinth, Paul's modus operandi was to approach this new community with stealth and diplomacy, finding bridges of commonality before introducing them to the truth of Christianity. Observing the consequences of appealing to the legal institutions of Rome, Paul insisted that conflicts be resolved internally within the fellowship rather than be made subject to stern and sometimes brutal Roman law.
Some of us cannot seem to realize a blessing if it slaps us across the face! Mark Schindler, in recounting a personal story, shows how ingratitude can hold us back in our relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh gives us empathy for the apostle Paul, graphically portraying his physical hardships involving more than 6,500 miles of perilous foot- and sea-travel. Through the eyes of various secular, contemporary histories, we vicariously experience his difficulties working his trade, problems with lawless communities, frequent inclement weather, unsanitary inn accommodations, dangers from wild animals, hazardous ship travel, overbearing treatment from Roman soldiers, etc. The study then shifts to an introduction to the book of Lamentations, focusing on grim hardships (similar to Paul's perils) Christians may face in the future.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of self-defense, examining the scriptural instructions for proactively avoiding or resolving dangerous conflicts. At the beginning of Acts 22, Paul, after clearing himself of a spurious charge (of taking a gentile into the temple), establishes his identity and credentials as a Jew (a zealous disciple of Gamaliel) in order to build a foundation from which to provide a logical defense of his 'apostasy' and testimony of his miraculous conversion (at the hand of God) on the road to Damascus, showing the continuity between Paul's revelation (from Jesus Christ) and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Paul suggested that the gentiles could approach God independently from Jewish tradition, the crowd became riotous again. Paul saves himself from a certain scourging by establishing his identity as a natural born Roman citizen, giving him the protection of Roman law. Paul extricates himself from another dangerous situation (the convening of the Sanhedrin by the corrupt high priest Ananias) by proclaiming himself a Pharisee (hoping for a resurrection), creating another dissension (between the Pharisees and Saduccees), forcing the Roman soldiers to rescue him.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Sabbath Command (as well as all of the Ten Commandments) was made for both Jews and Gentiles (all of mankind). Throughout the book of Acts, Gentiles are faithfully keeping the Sabbath along with the Jews. Paul's insistence that a relationship with God could not be established by keeping the law did not lead to the fallacious conclusion that the law (including the Sabbath command) had been done away. Following Paul's tearful and poignant farewell to the Ephesian elders, one finds startling parallels between Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and Christ's final journey to Jerusalem, including their awareness of plots on the part of zealous Jews to kill them, their being handed over to Gentiles for sentencing, their receiving multiple predictions and warnings that they would be apprehended, their demonstrating a resolute determination to do God's will regardless of the consequences and resigning themselves to suffer death. Paul, like Christ, was accused and tried on totally fabricated charges of being antinomian and defiling the temple. As with Christ, the Gentile officials recognized that the charges made against Paul were baseless, but felt coerced by mob influence to carry out the sentence anyway. Paul, through the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, times his arrival in Jerusalem to coincide with the pilgrim crowds arriving for Pentecost, when his testimony would have the greatest impact. Before his apprehension and imprisonment, Paul delivers the love offering collected from Gentile converts for the Jerusalem church after undergoing a purification rite demonstrating his respect for law and custom.
John Ritenbaugh explores the several contexts in which the "first day of the week" (the word "Sunday" never appears) is used in scripture, observing that none of these scriptures (8 in all) does away with the Sabbath nor establishes Sunday as the 'Lords Day,' but invariably portrays the first day as a common work day. Because the days begin at sundown, the meeting Paul conducts at Troas in Acts 20 (on the first day of week) actually occurs Saturday night, having continued from the Sabbath. The miraculous resurrection of Eutychus occurs at this event. Paul, feeling pressed for time (feeling a compulsion to go to Jerusalem), decides (realizing he would have difficulty saying Good bye) not to go back to Ephesus, but gives final (Paul would never see them again) admonitory instructions to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, transferring responsibility for the care of the congregation over to them. Paul perceived that his work in the eastern part of the Mediterranean was coming to a close.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's work in Ephesus, during his third evangelist campaign, where he entered the stronghold of worship of the mythological multi-breasted goddess of fertility or providence — Diana or Artemis- whose statue supposedly had fallen from heaven by the hand of Zeus. Initially Paul had to augment the understanding of new converts to Christianity who had received the baptism of John, but who were ignorant of the function of God's Holy Spirit. For several years, Paul used the school of Tyrannus to continue his evangelistic teaching. From this venue, the precedent of anointed cloths for the healing of the sick had its origin. Paul's success at promoting the Way started to undermine the prosperity of vendors promoting the worship of Diana, leading to a riotous assembly (actually a hastily called 'union meeting') in the Temple of Diana, a tumult which the city clerk was able to diplomatically quell, giving Paul and his companions room to breathe and regroup.
At the beginning of chapter 18, Paul arrives in Corinth, befriended by Roman expatriates Priscilla and Aquila, devout individuals very important in Paul's ministry, both economically and spiritually. Paul's spirits are additionally revived and energized at receiving good news from Silas and Timothy, leading him to be more aggressive and bold. With this new-found energy, Paul encountered some new persecution but also saw his work bear fruit; he was driven from the synagogue, but paradoxically won over the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, to Christianity. A potential problem and source of persecution is quickly resolved by the new Roman consul, Gallio, who, upon refusing to get involved in what he considers an intramural squabble in the Jewish church, gives Christianity legal status in the Roman empire. At the conclusion of the chapter, we become acquainted with the eloquent new convert Apollos, whose deficit in knowledge and understanding is filled in by Priscilla and Aquila.
John Ritenbaugh explores the connection between feelings or emotions (specifically controlling temper) and health, suggesting that the scriptures are seemingly light years ahead of scientific inquiry. Also the inextricable connection between ceremonial sacrifices and new moons preclude any current obligations to religiously observe new moons. At the beginning of Acts 16, we notice that Paul, by circumcising Timothy, demonstrates a reluctance to flaunt his religious liberty, preferring instead to exercise cautious conservative expediency. The first European convert to Christianity was Lydia, a generous, hospitable woman. The beating and false imprisonment of Paul and Silas (for casting out a demon- upsetting local customs) followed by their miraculous release (when an earthquake shook the prison to its foundations) brought about several positive outcomes: (1) The conversion of the bewildered jailer and his family, (2) Protection for local converts to Christianity,(3) Protection for future evangelists coming through the region, and (4)Correction of local authorities for rushing to judgment, having imprisoned a Roman citizen (a punishable offense in the Roman colony of Philippi). This dramatic episode underscores God's proclivity for turning something initially evil into something good in the long run.
John Ritenbaugh spends some time explaining the phenomena of lying wonders and visions (such as those seen at Lourdes and Fatima) predicted to become more frequent at the end times. This kind of spiritism involves the deceptive work of lying demons rather than disembodied "souls." In chapter 13, the first time Saul is called Paul, the false prophet Elymas is cursed with blindness, providing the witness prompting the Proconsul Sergius Paulus to become converted. It was Paul's custom to initially seek out the Jewish populations in Greek- populated Cyprus, attempting to connect their history, prophecies and tradition to Jesus Christ's Messiahship. Paul declares that Jesus Christ's death and resurrection did not occur in a vacuum, but attended with an overwhelming number of witnesses. Paul and Barnabus make the case that the sacrifice of Christ provides the justification which animal sacrifices could never accomplish. Paul's success with the crowds (both Jew and Gentile) inflamed the rulers of the synagogue with jealousy, leading to persecution and banishment.
John Ritenbaugh initially explores the work of Paul and Barnabas developing the church in the cosmopolitan city of Antioch, the location from where the term Christian originated. The twelfth chapter, an apparent flashback, focuses upon the execution of James (at the hands of mad Herod Agrippa), Peter's miraculous escape from prison followed by the dramatic death of Herod as a result of blasphemy, an episode showing the relationship between prayer and God's response. The episode also had the effect of driving Peter from Jerusalem. Chapter 13 begins a concentrated effort on the part of the Antioch church to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles through the efforts of Barnabas and Saul.