Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said,My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him,God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!Those who were standing near Paul said,How dare you insult God's high priest!Paul replied,Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written:Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.Acts 23:1-5
What a left-footed beginning! There is a noticeable kind of reckless audacity about the apostle in his introduction. He seems to be careless, almost, of the consequences of what he says — like a man burning his bridges behind him. I rather suspect that he is aware, by now, that he has blundered into a very untenable situation and so he is trying to bull his way through, no matter what.
He does not begin with his usual courtesy. The customary address to the Sanhedrin was a standardized form which began,
Rulers of Israel, and elders of the people... Paul does not employ that, but instead puts himself right on a level with these rulers, and he addresses them simply with the familiar term,
Brothers. That was an offense to these Jews. He also implies that there is no possible ground of complaint against him. This was certainly true. Yet it seemed to imply that there was no reason for this meeting at all, that it was absurd to have called this council together.
So, for this seeming impudence and impertinence, the high priest commands that he be slapped across the mouth. That was an unusually degrading form of insult to an Israelite and Paul's anger flashes out at this offense. He whips back this sharp, caustic retort:
God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! That was a typically Judaistic way of calling him a bloody hypocrite. It certainly is not the most tactful way for a prisoner to address a judge. It is very likely that Paul recognized who Ananias was, but what he did not know was that Ananias had recently been appointed high priest. The moment it is pointed out to him that Ananias is indeed the high priest, Paul is instantly repentant, for he recognizes that he is in the wrong. He apologizes, for the law says that the office deserves respect, even if the man does not.
This should not surprise us. The apostle has gone to Jerusalem in direct disobedience to the Holy Spirit. He is thereby a man who has put himself in the position of being mastered and controlled by the flesh, that principle of evil inherent in every one of us. Remember that the Apostle Paul himself is the one who tells us, in his letter to the Romans, that if we yield ourselves as servants to the flesh, we become the servant of that which we obey (Romans 6:16). In other words, if we give way to the flesh in one area, then other areas of our life will be affected. If we give way, the flesh always carries us farther than we want to go. It sits at the controls of our life and rules us, whether we like it or not. No matter what we try to do, it all comes out fleshly.
Father, reveal to me the areas in which I have allowed the flesh to be in control. Teach me to walk not in the flesh but in the Spirit.
Are we acknowledging the reality of lifelong encounters with 'the flesh', that 'inherent principle of evil'? Are we learning to recognize its subtleties, invoking and submitting to the indwelling power of Christ's indwelling Life?