And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to whip a man that is a Roman…
This subject is suggested by the fact that, although the apostle's plea of his Roman birthright would have always stood him in good stead, he only used it occasionally; from which fact we may assume that he sometimes felt it was his duty to submit to suffering, and that, at other times, he equally felt it his duty to resist suffering. Probably a careful estimate of the circumstances connected with each case led to his decisions. Here we may see that no special testimony could be made by his patient enduring of suffering, seeing that he was among strangers, who knew nothing of him or his mission, so he felt at liberty to secure relief from indignity and pain, and appealed for his rights as a Roman citizen. The apostle spoke as they were preparing to scourge him. According to the Roman custom, he was stripped to the waist, and tied with leather thongs to the column, or whipping-post, which was used within the fortress for this kind of torture. "It was unlawful to scourge a Roman citizen in any case; it was an aggravation so to torture him as slaves were tortured only as a means of inquiry" (see Acts 16:37). Remember the familiar passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
I. CHRIST'S CALL TO SUFFER. Of St. Paul Christ had said, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my Name's sake" So to his early disciples Christ spoke of persecution and suffering as part of his disciples' necessary lot. Compare his teachings in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:10-12) with John 15:18-21.
1. As an historical fact, the earlier apostles found, suffering attend on fulfilling Christ's mission; and the Apostle Paul had a life full of peril and of pain.
2. As a fact of present observation, suffering is very largely the Christian's lot. It comes partly by reason of his conflict with evil in himself and in the world, and partly as a Divine arrangement for his moral testing and training.
3. As a doctrine of the Divine Word, suffering is
(1) a means of sanctifying to the believer," Tribulation worketh patience," etc.;
(2) a means of witnessing to the world the power of God's sustaining grace and the beauty of the Christian virtues. God has such witnesses in his great sufferers, in every age and in every sphere of life.
II. CHRIST'S CALL TO AVOID SUFFERING. See his instructions as given to the apostles and the "seventy," when he sent them on their trial mission. If persecuted in one city, they were to flee to another. Nay, in this avoidance of suffering, our Lord set us his own example; for, on more than one occasion he went away from a neighborhood which had become perilous, and escaped from those who would cast him from the hill-top. So St. Paul, in connection with our text, felt justified in avoiding and resisting suffering. The practical difficulty we find is to know when we should bear and when we should resist; and the following suggestions may be fully illustrated: -
1. When we can recognize an immediate good in our sufferings, either a blessing of men or the glory of God, we should be prepared cheerfully to bear.
2. When the suffering plainly comes in the orderings of God's providence, we ought to bear it.
3. When we find that we can, by patient suffering, make a needed witness for the Christian truth or the Christian spirit, we should be willing to suffer.
4. When we find ourselves among strangers and enemies we may use our influence to avoid suffering.
5. And when our suffering plainly comes from the mere willfulness or the pure ignorance of men, we do right to resist. It may also be urged that we must always follow along the line of "conscience" and "duty," whatever consequences may follow. Therefore the "three Hebrew youths" dare not shrink from the fiery furnace, nor Daniel from the den of lions. Impress that we have an inward leading of God's Spirit, even as St. Paul had; and that, if we will follow the lead in all simplicity, we shall be able to decide, in the circumstances of life that arise, whether it is our duty to suffer or to avoid suffering. Whether we bear or whether we refuse to bear, we must seek to glorify Christ, and do all things as part of our loving life-service rendered to him. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?