Acts 12:25-13:12 (AD 44)
No, sorry, you and I must not declare someone “a child of the devil” if they oppose our Christian work. And can’t strike people dumb just because they start doing Satan’s work in front of us. Paul saw the risen Christ and was directly called by God to be an apostle – which is the Biblical definition of an apostle. That gave him an authority and position that nobody now on earth can match.
But that doesn’t stop some ‘Christians’ using‘Paul did it’, or ‘I’m just telling it like it is’, when they eviscerate somebody for wrong-speak. Such people long to feel brave, or wish that they were perceived as gospel warriors. But rather than soldier on with sharing the love of Jesus, they simply pick up a club and start to thrash about with it, hitting as many people as possible.
I’ve had it done to me online by a real-life friend who then decided not to be my friend any more. And I’ve been accused in a meeting at church, of doing Satan’s work. On the former occasion, I was disagreeing with a purely political viewpoint, and in the latter incident I disagreed with a hiring suggestion. The more we idolise our own opinions, the more other people – it seems – look like Satan. (I’m not innocent here, obviously – I can be arrogant about my views…I’ve just never done that to a brother or sister in Christ.)
Here, Elymas wasn’t merely giving disagreement on a key doctrinal point, he was actively discouraging the Roman proconsul from becoming a Christian (v.7-8). Paul, whom God occasionally invested with miracle-level authority, decreed temporary blindness for the man.
Luke made the point in verse 8 that this was no ordinary event: “…Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit…”. Not merely indwelt, as all Christians are, all of the time, but ‘filled’. It’s why Christians sometimes pray for people in particularly tough situations to be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. We feel that they don’t just need fuel, they need jet fuel. They don’t just need to be acting with godly wisdom, they need to be acting almost as if they were God himself, to come through a situation.
Note that it was a temporary punishment. After the severity of calling Elymas a child of Satan, you’d almost expect a more vengeful curse, but this was never about a punitive response. Rather, Paul displayed God’s holiness and power for the benefit of the interested proconsul, who became a Christian as a result.
The gospel doesn’t consist only of God’s love. His holiness is front and centre, alongside his love. Because of his holiness, heaven is perfect. Because of his holiness, he cannot tolerate sin. Because of his love, he offers that Jesus take the punishment for our sin, instead of us. God’s holiness and justice fills a God-designed need within us. His love and mercy rescues us.
Thank him for both.