Acts 19:30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him.
In Henry IV, Part One, William Shakespeare had his comic character Falstaff declare the following words: 'The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.' Ever since then, the phrase has been commonly used by people in the midst of conflict to apply common sense, in order to avoid escalating any further trouble. To some people, this seems cowardly and ineffective, but to those who have the gift of discernment, this is really the best choice in potentially high risk conflagrations.
The apostle Paul had to be taught this lesson the hard way. His zeal was almost his downfall when riots began in Ephesus over his teaching. An ugly mob began protesting about the success of his ministry which directly affected silversmiths and other tradesmen. At the height of the riot, Paul wanted to stand before the crowd and possibly preach a message about Christ, but his friends and the other disciples in Ephesus would not let him do this. Unlike Paul, they knew that the crowd would have killed him. They decided to restrain the apostle and prevent him from going anywhere near the hostile mob. Discretion was, indeed, the better part of valor, and it certainly saved his life at this moment in time.
There have been moments in my ministry when I have allowed zeal and self-righteousness to cloud my vision as a preacher and teacher. However, the older I get, the more I understand that being passionate about Christ is not the same as being pastoral for Christ. Discernment and discretion connect more with seekers and servants of Christ than religious self-righteousness. It’s taken me years to understand this, but hopefully it’s not too late to live what I have learned.
I wonder if Paul was initially outraged by his friends’ intervention? Probably so, but perhaps he also learned the greater lesson that self-righteous zeal was detrimental to the very cause he was preaching and espousing. As Christians, we all need to be aware of the effect that our words and actions, ways and deeds have on the world and society. If we are too full of zeal and self-righteous indignation, we will weaken our witness. If, however, we decide to be discreet, either by turning the other cheek, or displaying humility, we may reach out to a rising generation that has been largely been turned off to self-centered, navel-gazing, and constantly affronted Christianity.
Questions for personal reflection
Have I sometimes allowed my religious zeal to overcome my faithful witness? What has Christ still to teach me about being with other people?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You could have destroyed the world but instead You died for the world. You could have condemned the people of Your time, but instead You allowed them to crucify You. Your humility healed humanity. Your sacrifice saved our souls. Teach us these truths and help us to share them honestly, prayerfully, and discreetly. In Your Holy Name, we pray. Amen.
John Stuart is the pastor of Erin Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. If you would like to comment or ask questions about today’s message, please send him an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s image is one of John’s 2013 Pentecost series of drawings. It’s called “Pentecost Dawn.” If you would like to view a larger version, please click on the following link: http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8086/8499310448_1dfb37c6fc_b.jpg