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"But it wasn't long before reports got back to the Thessalonian hard-line Jews that Paul was at it again, preaching the word of God, this time in Berea. They lost no time responding, creating a mob scene there too. With the help of his friends, Paul gave them the slip -- caught a boat and put out to sea. Silas and Timothy stayed behind. The men who helped Paul escape got him as far as Athens and left him there. Paul sent word back with them to Silas and Timothy, 'Come as quickly as you can!'" Acts 17:13-15 (The Message).
What was it with these Jews? Why were they not content to stir up trouble only in their own city? Why did they pursue Paul to other cities as well?
The battle lines were drawn between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light, and each person had to choose on which side he would stand. The unbelieving Jews represented avowed and all-out opposition to the truth for which Paul and his companions were contending. The difference between the two sides was that the Jews were opposing Paul, while Paul was at war with the spiritual forces of darkness which were holding these Jews and all those who refused to believe, in darkness.
What tactic did the devil employ in his attempt to overcome the representatives of the kingdom of God? Kill them! Stir such murderous hatred in those who represented him that they would stop as nothing to get rid of them! It was not enough to confine the battle to their city. Follow them and stir up so much opposition that they would not be welcome anywhere!
What was Paul's response? Fight back, using their tactics? He knew that the battle was not with the Jews but within himself. How would he react to people who hated him? Would he hate back? Would he become like them, under the influence of the dominion of darkness, bringing dishonour to his Master by behaving like an unbeliever?
Paul was learning to function as a citizen of heaven. Like his Master, Jesus, he did not retaliate. He had a message to deliver and a commission to fulfil. If his message was rejected in one city, he moved on to the next, leaving behind a small but Spirit-energised group of people who would stand as witnesses to the power of Jesus to transform lives.
The vicious persecution of his countrymen got to him. He pleaded with the Lord to intervene (2 Corinthians 12:8-10), but He refused because He had another agenda for His servant. To become like his Master, Paul had to learn to draw strength from Him, not to get out of but to go through the suffering. That was the way of God's kingdom: to display the nature of Jesus by standing firm in the ways of the Master, no matter what people did to him.
Paul was learning that he did not only have a message to share with the world; he also had to live it out in a hostile and anti-God environment without absorbing or displaying the attitudes of those who were antagonistic towards him.
What about us? How unfortunate that many of us have not grasped this truth. The gospel is much more than a free pass to heaven. It brings with it a mandate to display Jesus in the same way as He put his Father on display by His life and death. This is the real proof that we have embraced and been changed by believing who He is and what he did.
"The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 1 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NIV).
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armour of God so that, when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and, after you have done everything, to stand." Ephesians 8:12-13 (NIV),
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