While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, ‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’ Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’ Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.” ’Acts 23: 1-5
I find this one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament.
It is too easy to express anger at the various targeted leaders of our churches because, well, we all know that God should surely strike them, they are doing things contrary to the law, and they are whitewashed walls. (You can read that previous sentence as literal or as tongue in cheek, depending on the day of the week, the particular leader you want to talk about, or your sensitivity to any particualr issue being discussed).
Paul exhibits an extraordinary amount of grace in this episode. Here he is, being treated unjustly by the high priest. Paul knows that the high priest is breaking the law. He knows that the high priest is not on "his side". So how does Paul respond?
...it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.”
I suppose there are really only two options. First, I can say that Paul was being sarcastic; he didn't really mean what he was saying. So of course this is not an example to follow. Surely leaders who are in "violation of the law" need to be called out as "whitewashed walls". The well being of their flocks is at stake. Secondly, I can say that he actually means it.
I am confronted by Paul's response. If he really means it, well, that shows an extraordinary amount of grace. Perhaps Paul really does have the Spirit of Christ in him.
It seems to be a course in miniature for church anger management. I'm just sayin', that's all.
That night the Lord stood near him... 23:11