Topical Studies

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What the Bible says about Paul's Diplomacy
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Acts 17:22

If we read between the lines, Paul may be saying, "You people are better than I am in your devotion to spiritual things."

Instead of "religious," the King James Version uses the word "superstitious," which has undergone what linguists call "semantic drift." In Shakespeare's day and King James' time, this word did not have the negative association as it has now.

From the context of the account in Acts 17, it becomes quite clear that the apostle Paul was not, as some Protestant theologians like to characterize him, a feisty, wrangling, argumentative hothead. If that were the case, the philosophers of Athens, who vastly outnumbered him, could have made short work out of this smart aleck. Obviously, from their attention to his speech, they did not think of him this way.

David F. Maas
Godly Tact and Diplomacy

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

Does this mean that Paul would compromise with God's law under special circumstances? Absolutely not! Does he endorse "situation ethics"? Absolutely not! Does Paul embrace syncretism? Absolutely not!

Paul understands that we need to guard and protect jealously certain core beliefs such as God's laws and statutes, which we hold as non-negotiable. But we find a rather wide variety of marginal beliefs (such as choice of music, automobile, food, clothing, etc.) upon which we can compromise without sin.

The apostle Paul had a keen sense of what part of his belief structure was negotiable and what was not. He had the knack to make things that he and other people agreed upon to seem like mountains and those he and others disagreed upon seem like molehills.

In I Corinthians 6:12, He expresses the realization that just because something was lawful does not mean it is the thing to do—especially if it will offend someone. In Romans 14, Paul sets some guidelines on dealing with marginal issues. If becoming a vegetarian or a teetotaler for a day proves the price of peace and not offending, he considers it a small price to pay.

David F. Maas
Godly Tact and Diplomacy

2 Corinthians 12:6

What Paul is saying is, "I'm going to restrain myself. I will abstain from boasting, but I will tell the truth, that God gave me a vision of the third heaven." He is letting them know that he has superior knowledge and understanding, but he says, "I will refrain from boasting and just give you the truth of it." The application to us is that Paul forebore so that he would not cause offense. He refrained or abstained.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

Galatians 1:10

Here Paul defends his message. He has already stated that there is only one gospel, but he is now forced to answer, "Why should yours be the only one?"

Since there is only one gospel, why could not an entirely different gospel be the right one? Paul's defense is to stress the origin of his message, and verse 10 is a transition that leads into his answer. What he preached was not done to please men at the expense of the message.

We must understand that when Paul traveled into an area, he did not just blast his audiences with everything that he knew. I Corinthians 9:19-23 informs us that he did all that he could to please people, to cultivate their appreciation of him, but even though he did these things, he never equivocated with what is true.

Acts 17 contains a good example of this. Paul began by speaking to the Athenians about their gods, even admitting to them that they were very religious. He noted all the statues around the Areopagusand highlighted that one was inscribed TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. "I see you have a statue here TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Well, I am here to tell you about that unknown God."

Paul never equivocated about the message, but he did approach people in such as way as to catch their ear and begin to get them to assent to what he was saying. He is not saying that he was always successful in doing this, only that he never equivocated about the message. He never preached merely to appeal to people, but the message he gave was always the truth of God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Four)

Philemon 1:8-19

The book of Philemon relates an interesting event in Paul's life in which he calls upon Philemon's sense of gratitude and obligation to him. In verse 8, Paul says he could use his authority to order Philemon to accept the slave Onesimus back, charging any debt he owed Philemon to Paul. However, he appeals to him through other means. In verse 19, he delivers a double-barreled proposition. First, Paul himself writes in his own hand that he will repay any of Onesimus' indebtedness, putting Philemon in greater-than-normal obligation. Then, Paul reminds him that he owes Paul his very life spiritually. He implies that Philemon's spiritual indebtedness to him should more than cover any material debt Onesimus owed to Philemon.

Therefore, Paul suggests that Philemon charge it to his account. What Paul did for Onesimus reflects in a small way what Christ did for us. As Paul laid himself out for Onesimus, Christ did for us in a much greater way to pay our spiritual indebtedness and set us free. As Paul claims Philemon's indebtedness to him, so Christ claims our indebtedness to Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation


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