TODAY’S READING: ACTS 18-19
“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.” – Acts 18:5
Paul was occupied with the word.
A simple statement.
But, it is a statement with a depth of meaning that belies the simple declaration of it.
What is the word Paul was occupied with?
In “Why Were the Bereans Examining the Scriptures Daily?“, I wrote that the word is that Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. Acts 17:2-3 says, “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”
Jesus, the man who was crucified, is the Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited king. He had to suffer. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ had to suffer. God had to suffer.
He does not cause suffering.
It cannot be stressed enough that the Christ died. God had to die.
He does not cause dying.
But, the Christ rose from the dead. “I am the resurrection and the life.” God is the living God.
God resurrects and gives life.
He does not condemn to death.
This is the word, the essential word, the only word, for Paul. This is the word that Paul testified to the Jews, “that the Christ was Jesus.” Paul was testifying to the Jews that their long awaited king was a king that suffered and died but was resurrected.
That’s quite a word for a people who were being oppressed and afflicted by the Roman empire, one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.
Yet, Paul was occupied with this word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.
To say that Paul was “occupied” with the word almost sounds to soft for the Greek word used here. Occupied is the Greek word synecho. Synecho has a range of meanings all tied to the same idea. This is evidenced in that the synecho is used 12 times in the New Testament and the ESV translates it with 12 different English words.
Eleven of the uses are:
- “oppressed” by demons
- the greatness of Jesus’ “distress” until the baptism of the cross was complete
- “hemmed” in on every side by enemies
- Jesus being “held” in custody waiting to be crucified
- Simon’s mother-in-law was “ill”
- “seized” by fear
- “surrounded” by crowds
- “occupied” with the word
- sick “with” fever and dysentery
- ears that were “stopped”
- “pressed” between two choices
Synecho literally means to hold together, to compress, to arrest. Figuratively, it means to compel, perplex, afflict, or preoccupy. These figuratively meanings lead to 12th use of synecho.
“For the love of Christ controls [synecho] us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” – 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Paul says that he is controlled, seized, compelled by the love of Christ. We could even say that Paul was preoccupied, afflicted, or oppressed by the love of Christ.
We could even say that Paul was perplexed by the love of Christ. To be perplexed is to be made unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something. Paul was perplexed, or occupied, with the word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – that it was the only thing he could think about.
So, we have the word that Paul was occupied with linked with the love of Christ that controlled Paul.
The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead – is the same thing as the love of Christ.
Because this word was how the love of Christ, the love of God, was manifested to us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” – 1 John 4:7-11
Love was made manifest in that Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead.
For the forgiveness of sins.
So that we live through Jesus, through God.
That Paul was occupied with this word, which is the love of Christ, should give new meaning to 2 Corinthians 4:7-12.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.”
When we read Paul say he was afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down, our minds immediately turn to his enemies doing these things to him.
But, is Paul talking about his enemies?
Or, is it possible that Paul is saying the word, the love of Christ, that occupied and controlled him was in some spiritual sense afflicting, perplexing, persecuting, and striking him down?
Was Paul perplexed by his enemies?
I doubt it. He was once that enemy. He understand the thinking of his enemy.
Or, was Paul perplexed by the word, the love of Christ?
The word – that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead – is the love of Christ.
The love of Christ “afflicts” us but does not crush us.
The love of Christ “perplexes” us but does not drive us to despair.
The love of Christ “persecutes” us but does not forsake us.
The love of Christ “strikes us down” but does not destroy us.
Therefore, Paul links afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down with “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” But, this is none other than the word – it was necessary for the Christ to suffer (the death of Jesus) and to rise from the dead (the life of Jesus) – that compelled Paul to testify, or be a channel of witness, that Jesus was the Christ.
What a word that Paul was occupied with. What a word that Paul testified to the Jews in Corinth.
But, the Jews opposed and reviled Paul because of this word. They rejected that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead. And, this helps to explain Paul’s answer to the Jews.
Paul said, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent.”
To preach the word that the Christ suffered and died but rose from the dead is to say that the way to life is suffering and dying, picking up your cross. The way to life is not taking vengeance. The way to life is not violence.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
The Jews rejected this word. They wanted to reach life through a Messiah that was violent and took vengeance upon their enemies not one that suffered and died.
However, as Jesus said, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
Paul is telling the Jews that by rejecting the suffering and dying Christ they are rejecting the non-violent way to life that God has revealed. Therefore, their own violence is going to come back on their own heads. As Psalm 7:14-16 says, “Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”
While the Jews rejected the word, many of the Corinthians believed that Paul that Jesus was the Christ who had to suffer and rise from the dead so that their sins might be forgiven and that they might live through him.
“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal [the bema, the judgment seat – see “What is the Judgment Seat?“], saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.'”
What did the Jews mean that Paul was persuading people to worship God contrary to the law?
The Jews’ view of God in the law was that God was good and evil. God did both. God would save the Jew but destroy their enemies. God took Israel into the promised land, saving them, but told them devote to destruction the men, women, and children of the nations already in the land. On the other hand God gave and protected life, but on the other hand God took and destroyed life. This was how the Jews read the Old Testament, the law.
But, Paul did not teach that God did these things. He taught that instead causing suffering, God suffered. Instead of causing death, God died. This was not how the Jews interpreted the law or the prophets, the Old Testament. And, this was why the Jews said that Paul was teaching contrary to the law.
However, Paul did teach the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, just as Jesus himself taught it.
“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” – Luke 24:44-47
This is the word that occupied Paul.
This is the word that should occupy us.