"Showing the way, Teaching the truth,
Experiencing the life in Christ"
Is It Wise to ‘Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide?’
(Acts 23:1, NKJV)
“Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, ‘Men and brethren,
I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.’”
When we last saw Paul he had narrowly escaped death at the hands of an angry Jewish mob, been apprehended by Roman soldiers, and then permitted to speak to the irate Jewish crowd from the steps of the Roman barracks. When the crowd grew even more uncontrollable, the soldiers took him inside and prepared to flog him. Paul then used his Roman citizenship to avoid the flogging. Luke wrote, “The commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’” (Acts 22:24-25, NKJV).
The following day, the commander of the Roman garrison ordered the Jewish court to convene and interrogate Paul under his supervision in an effort to determine why the Jews were so intent on having him executed. Luke wrote, “The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them” (Acts 22:30, NKJV).
Acts chapter twenty-three begins with the opening lines of Paul’s defense before the Jewish high court. Luke wrote, “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, ‘Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day’” (Acts 23:1, NKJV).
An old adage has been quoted for generations as advice for people confronted with difficult choices to make—“Let your conscience be your guide.” The question I want to examine during the course of this sermon is, “Is it wise to ‘let your conscience be your guide?’” But before we begin probing that question, let’s see how Paul’s interrogation before the Jewish court turned out.
II. Paul Before the Jewish Court
Paul’s claim that “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1b, NKJV), prompted the high priest to order him to be slapped in the face. Luke described the scene when he wrote, “The high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth” (Acts 23:2, NKJV).
Paul’s response was one of blunt anger. Luke wrote, “Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?’” (Acts 23:3, NKJV).
When Paul became aware that the one who had ordered him to be slapped was the “high priest,” he was immediately humble and repentant. Luke wrote, “Those who stood by said, ‘Do you revile God’s high priest?’ Then Paul said, ‘I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written: You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:4-5, NKJV).
Paul probably did not recognize Ananias as the high priest, because he had been away from Jerusalem for a number of years. In the meantime the Romans actually sold the privilege of being the Jewish high priest annually to the highest bidder. So it is highly probable that Paul did not know Ananias personally and therefore did not recognize that he was the high priest at the time.
Since the commander of the Roman garrison hastily and unexpectedly “commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear,” it is likely that the high priest did not have time to dress himself in his priestly garments and therefore was not easily distinguished from any of the other priests who sat on the court. Under these circumstances Paul was simply stating an honest fact when he said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest” (Acts 23:5a, NKJV).
In the next moment, Paul perceived that some of the priests on the court were Pharisees and some were Sadducees. He then used his understanding of the theological differences between these two Jewish religious sects to divert their anger from himself and onto one another. Luke wrote, “When Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!’ And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, ‘We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God’ (Acts 23:6-9, NKJV). Paul scheme worked and in the ensuing chaos, the court seems to have forgotten about him and began to engage in a heated religious debate with the Pharisees pitted against the Sadducees.
The resulting “dissension” continued to escalate to the point that Luke described it as a “great dissension.” At that point the commander of the Roman garrison intervened and took Paul back into protective custody again. Luke wrote, “When there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10, NKJV). What a wonderful demonstration of the craziness of blind religious zeal!
III. All Good Conscience
Let’s go back for a few moments and consider the remarkable statement Paul made at the beginning of his defense before the Jewish court. He said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1b, NKJV). When you consider Paul’s past his claim to “have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” is quite remarkable.
After all, he had been personally responsible for persecuting the church, engineering the execution of Christians, and generally being an enemy of Jesus. Notice the portrait Scriptures paint of Paul:
In spite of all of this, Paul could honestly say, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1b, NKJV). Because a “good conscience” is a conscience that is not troubled, undisturbed, by the knowledge that what one is doing is wrong—that it is offensive to God!
Paul’s “conscience” was not troubled because he was ignorant of the fact that his behavior was wrong—that it was sinful. Later he testified, “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (I Timothy 1:13, NKJV). The word “ignorantly” means that he was unaware of the fact that what he was doing was wrong. Therefore, his conscience wasn’t troubled—or as he put it he “lived in all good conscience.”
Sometimes people have difficulty distinguishing whether a particular form of behavior is right or wrong—righteous or sinful—because their conscience is “weak.” Paul wrote to the believers at Corinth, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one…However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled” (I Corinthians 8:4…7, NKJV). Lack of Biblical “knowledge” causes one’s conscience to be “weak”—unable to easily distinguish whether a particular form of behavior is right or wrong.
Some people have a “seared” conscience. Paul warned Timothy that as mankind approaches “the latter times” a significant portion of Earth’s population will have their “consciences seared.” He wrote, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (I Timothy 4:2, NKJV). One’s conscience is “seared” when he knows the truth, yet chooses to believe the Devil’s lies instead. When the conscience is “seared” it becomes unfeeling and calloused—incapable of experiencing guilt or remorse.
It is not wise to let your conscience be your guide, for these three very important reasons:
If the “conscience” isn’t a reliable guide for us, who is? Jesus gave the answer when He said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13a, NKJV).
A New Phase of Paul’s Mission
(Acts 23:11, NKJV)
“The following night the Lord stood by him and said,
‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness at Rome.’”
When we closed our previous lesson from the Book of Acts the commander of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem had hastily summoned the judges who sat on Israel’s high court to interrogate Paul. He wanted to know why the Jews of Jerusalem were so determined to have him executed. Luke described the scene when he wrote, “The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them” (Acts 22:30, NKJV).
During the proceedings the Jewish religionists became such a threat to Paul that the commander ordered his soldiers to rescue Paul from them and return him to protective custody. Luke wrote, “When there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10, NKJV).
Today’s lesson begins with an incident that occurred the following night when Jesus appeared to Paul and explained to him a new phase of his ministry. Luke wrote, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NKJV).
It appears that in the aftermath of the Jews’ slander, their rejection, and their violent opposition to his testimony, Paul had become discouraged. Maybe he thought he had not given a good testimony or had misunderstood what God wanted him to do. He may have even become fearful that he would die in Jerusalem. But just when he needed it most Jesus showed up to encourage him. Read the verse again, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NKJV). In other words Jesus was saying, “Cheer up, Paul! You are right on track, doing exactly what I want you to do…and by the way, you won’t die in Jerusalem. You’re going to Rome!”
From that moment on Paul knew that he would somehow make it to Rome. Nothing could stop him because Jesus had said, “You must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11b, NKJV). The balance of the Book of Acts is the story of how God sovereignly protected Paul as he pursued this new phase of ministry.
II. Paul’s Faithfulness
Let’s talk about Paul’s faithfulness to the Lord. Jesus’ promise that Paul would “also bear witness at Rome,” was the direct result of Paul’s faithfulness. Jesus explained that Paul had “testified for Me in Jerusalem.” Look at the verse again. Jesus said to Paul, “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NKJV).
In spite of the fact that his life was jeopardized by doing so, Paul had testified for Jesus among the Jewish religionists of Jerusalem. He had said, “I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’ And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus. Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there, came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:3-15, NKJV). What a testimony! Paul faithfully testified for Jesus even when his life was endangered by doing so.
Because he was faithful to testify at Jerusalem, Jesus promised to give him the opportunity to testify at Rome, as well. That was the Lord’s message to Paul when He said to him, “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NKJV).
This episode in Paul’s life is in perfect harmony with a lesson Jesus had taught to His disciples several years earlier. He had said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them. So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord’” (Matthew 25:14-23, NKJV). The lesson is clear: “When God’s people are faithful to the mission He assigns them, He will give them even greater opportunities in the future!”
The next part of Jesus’ story teaches another important lesson. Notice what He said, “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’ But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents” (Acts 25:24-28, NKJV). Again the lesson is clear: “When God’s people are not faithful to the mission He assigns them, they will miss future mission opportunities!”
God is quite capable of accomplishing everything He says He will do. He said to Paul, “As you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11, NKJV). And that is exactly what happened. Near the end of the Book of Acts, Luke wrote, “When we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him…Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him (Acts 28:16…30, NKJV). So you see, Paul made it to Rome and he witnessed for Jesus in Rome, just like the Lord said he would!
Paul Experienced God’s Protective Care
(Acts 23:12-13, NIV)
“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy
and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink
until they had killed Paul.
More than forty men were involved in this plot.”
When we last saw Paul he had narrowly escaped death at the hands of an angry mob of Jewish religionists. He had been placed in protective custody by the Roman garrison stationed at Jerusalem, and Jesus had appeared to him explaining to Paul that he would have the opportunity to witness for Him at Rome. Luke wrote, “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:10-11, NIV).
During that dramatic scene from the Book of Acts, Paul obviously experienced God’s protective care when He used Roman soldiers to spare Paul’s life. Luke wrote, “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10, NIV). In this lesson we will see that Paul continues to experience God’s protective care!
II. An Assassination Plot
Since God foiled the Devil’s plan to have Paul killed by the Jewish mob, he wasted no time orchestrating another plan to kill Paul. After all, Satan’s agenda is, among other things, to kill! Jesus said, referring to Satan, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a, NIV).
Luke described Satan’s next plot to have Paul assassinated when he wrote, “The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot” (Acts 23:12-13, NIV). Obviously, the motivation behind the unholy, bizarre behavior of these forty Jewish men was religious extremism! They vowed to continue a mandatory fast until they had accomplished their diabolical plan to kill Paul.
These Jewish extremists also appealed to the extremist element among the leaders of Israel’s high court to recruit the assistance of the court to carry out their assassination plan. Luke wrote, “They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, ‘We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here’” (Acts 23:14-15, NIV).
III. God’s Protective Care
I love it when God proves that He is always one step ahead of the Devil! He had already engineered a plan to defeat Satan’s agenda. Luke wrote, “When the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul” (Acts 23:16, NIV). We don’t know anything about Paul’s nephew other than the fact that he was in Jerusalem at just the precise moment when God needed him to be there, and he was in the right place at the right time to overhear the Jewish assassination plot.
We don’t know if he was there attending one of the Jewish rabbinical school’s as his uncle Paul had done, or if he was there on business, or if he had migrated to the capital city and was a resident there. None of that really matters. The fact is he was there and God used him to provide His protective care for Paul!
When God used Paul’s nephew to inform him that he was the target of an assassination plot, Paul took the initiative to take wise steps of action. Luke wrote, “Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.’ So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, ‘Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.’ The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, ‘What is it you want to tell me?’ He said: ‘Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don’t give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.’ The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: ‘Don’t tell anyone that you have reported this to me’” (Acts 23:17-22, NIV).
When Paul became of the assassination plot he arranged for his nephew to tell the commander, because the commander had the power to prevent his assassination. Luke wrote, “Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him’” (Acts 23:17, NIV).
When the commander heard about the assassination plot targeting Paul, he took immediate action. He was probably motivated by the fact that if Paul was assassinated, while in his custody, he would be held legally responsible by his Roman authorities. So he took action. Luke wrote, “He called two of his centurions and ordered them, ‘Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight [a total of 470 soldiers]. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix’…So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatris. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they…handed Paul over to him…Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod’s palace” (Acts 23:23-24…31-33a…33c…35b, NIV).
The commander of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem probably thought that he was simply doing the intelligent thing by smuggling Paul out of Jerusalem to Caesarea under cover of darkness, not only to spare Paul’s life, but to save his own skin as well. However, the truth is that God was a work through this pagan soldier to extend His protective care to His man who was on mission for Him!
God’s mission for Paul was to witness for Him at Rome, and He was going to protect Paul until he accomplished the mission. Luke wrote, “The Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome’” (Acts 23:10-11b, NIV).
The spiritual principle that God extends His protective care to His people as long as they are on mission for Him was revealed in Scripture long before it was revealed on a practical level in the life of Paul. King David had explained it centuries before Paul’s lifetime. He wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4, NKJV). When King David wrote these words he was following God’s plan for His life. He was on mission for Him! In fact, he began this Psalm with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1, NKJV). I want to say it again--“As long as God’s people are on mission for Him, He will extend His protective care to them!”
Sunday Service Times
Morning Worship: 10:00 a.m.
M*PACT Kidz: 10:00 a.m.
Helping Hands: 6:00 p.m.
ONE WAY Youth: 6:00 p.m.