09 June 2011

"That night the Lord stood near him and said, 'Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.'" (Acts 23:11)


Paul found himself contending with a complex web of religious and political authorities, just as Jesus of Nazareth had before him. The Roman tribune was apparently disturbed to discover, after he had bound him and treated him roughly, that Paul was by birth a Roman citizen. He ordered him instead to appear before the Jewish Council in the presence of the high priest, but in this context a degree of dissension broke out when it was discovered that Paul himself was a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee (verse 7). So Paul was taken, possibly in part for his own safety, into the barracks overnight.

It was here that he received this message of en-couragement from God (verse 11). We note, however, that the exhortation to keep his courage was rapidly followed by the confirmation that there were to be even greater challenges ahead: Paul began to understand that he would in due course find himself testifying to this new Way of Christ not in Jerusalem, already familiar to him, but in Rome, the hub of imperial power. However encouraging this message from God about keeping courage must have been for him, the path ahead was rapidly becoming an even more daunting prospect than he had foreseen or imagined.

It must have seemed to Paul that the whole world was arrayed against him. He faced intransigent opposition of brute force on the one hand (beneath the veneer of Roman civil society) and the scheming of religious leaders on the other. 'Keeping his courage' must have taken all of Paul's strength and resolve. The kind of courage required was not so much a display of macho heroism, but rather the ability to endure; the strength of mind and spirit to stand his ground yet not provoke unduly; the wisdom to know how to answer for himself and to testify to the truth and grace he had received from God.

To Ponder

In what situations recently have you needed to "keep up your courage"?

Are there places in the news today where religious and political powers are entwined in an unholy alliance? Are there other voices that need to be heard? If so, what might they be?

Who might you have the power to en-courage today?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Liz Smith

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