We should always be ready to tell our story.
Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for Acts 22
Paul found an opportunity to share his testimony with a hostile audience. This is a good model for how we might put together our testimony today—it explains salvation in terms his audience would have understood. Of course, they rejected him severely. We should take courage and inspiration to boldly share our story, too!
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city, (22:3)
Getting Started: Things to Think About
Little White Lies, Giant Fish Stories.
Have you ever embellished a story about yourself to make yourself look a little better? We love to make fun of fishermen with their “the one that got away” stories, or the minnow that’s turned into a mako by the 30th telling. Golfers also get a bad rep from their “19th hole” stories. What’s a story you’ve ever told someone that wasn't true? Or how about a favorite story someone told you that you know couldn’t have been true?
You might remember these statistics from however long ago it was that I shared them. Humans are lied to as many as 200 times a day. On average, people tell 2-3 lies in a 10-minute conversation. About 80% of lies go undetected. Only 25% of our lies are told for another person’s benefit (the rest are for our own benefit). Children begin lying/deceiving by as early as 6 months. (these stats are from the book liespotting by Pamela Meyer)
As humorous and depressing (and convicting!) as this little exercise can be, I think it’s really important when talking about sharing our testimony. People tend to lie when talking about ourselves! We tend to embellish or fudge the details to make ourselves look better. In the case of sharing our testimony, we might be tempted to change some details to “connect” better with the person we’re talking to. Don’t do that! One, it’s a sin. But two, the truth—our actual life experience with Jesus—is what God has given us to share. We can’t improve on God.
When Our Story Gets Us into Trouble.
As we will see, when Paul told his story to the Jews, they wanted to kill him. Why? Because his story demonstrated how he had abandoned former priorities. There are lots of ways that happens to us. The UGA grad who admits that he encouraged his kid to go to Tech. The Democrat who admits voting Republican in the local elections. The vegan who admits to a weakness for a cheesesteak. Or (more seriously) the teenager who admits to informing on his drug-using uncle. The Muslim who admits to converting to Christianity. Or even the person in an interracial relationship who admits to coming from a racist family. All of those admissions can be hard—some of them can be dangerous. The question is always: how much do we share? My recommendations: don’t share more than you need to, but don’t dance around information that is already public. Pray for the people you know whose testimonies put them in awkward or dangerous situations, and be a good supporting friend!
Famous Converts to Christianity.
If you would rather just do something fun to start off your class, you might ask your class about “famous” converts. Paul becoming a Christian—someone who was a rising Jew and who imprisoned Christians—was a huge deal. Here’s a short list to start the conversation: Norma McCorvey, the “Roe” of Roe v. Wade, found Jesus and became a pro-life Roman Catholic in 1994. Tonya Flynt, daughter of Hustler founder Larry Flynt, is a Christian anti-porn activist. Alice Cooper believe it or not has been a born-again Christian for a while, but didn’t think he was a good messenger due to his bizarre lifestyle. Bob Marley became an Anglican shortly before his death. Bob Dylan became a Christian in the 1970s. Stephen Baldwin was born-again in 2001 and has struggled with the role of being an evangelist in an industry (entertainment) that doesn’t want to hear it. Josh McDowell, the famous Christian apologist, grew up atheist. Ran Yunfei, a famous-in-China Chinese author, very controversially became a Christian in 2013. Ask your class about examples from around here, or maybe in their family. Becoming a Christian makes people take notice. And it reminds us that God is still at work.
This Week's Big Idea: Your Personal Testimony
I think it would be fantastic if your group came away from this lesson with a clear understanding of how they can share their testimony. David gave out the “Life Conversations” resource in church last month (see back). Here is another potentially helpful resource from Campus Crusade for Christ (cru.org):
Our Story is His Story
Your story — regardless of how “spectacular” or “ordinary” you think it is — is a story about God’s character. It is your eyewitness account of how God rescued you from sin and death through Christ, and changed your life as a result. When we share our story with others we help them get to know what God is like and what He can do.
Whether you are in line at the grocery store, sitting with a family member or standing in front of a group of people, the Bible calls us to “always be ready” to explain our hope in Christ with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16, NLT). Sometimes we like to think that because it’s our story, we don’t have to do anything to be ready to tell it. Yet we can get nervous, become side-tracked or forget things when sharing our testimonies, which can be confusing or distracting for those listening. This is why a little preparation and practice can be so valuable.
Put it Together
There are five basic parts to your story: the opening, your life before Christ, how you came to Christ, your life after Christ, and the closing.
The Opening. Identify a theme you can use to frame your story. What did your life revolve around (e.g. relationships, your reputation, money) that God used to help bring you to Him? Briefly illustrate how that influenced your life.
Your Life Before Christ. Paint a picture of what your life was like before you came to Christ. Don’t dwell too much on, or brag about, past sin struggles. Share only the details that relate to your theme –– just enough to show your need for Christ.
How You Came to Christ. Give the details about why and how you became a Christian. Communicate in such a way that the person you are talking with, and anyone who overhears you, can understand how they can become a Christian, too. Even if your listeners are not ready for that, God could use your story and explanation of the gospel to draw them to Himself in the future.
Your Life After Coming to Christ. Share some of the changes that Christ has made in your life as they relate to your theme. Emphasize the changes in your character, attitude or perspective, not just mere changes in behavior. Be realistic. We still struggle as Christians. Life is far from perfect, but what's different about your life now?
The Closing. End with a statement that summarizes your story and connects everything back to your theme. If you want, close with a Bible verse that relates to your experience.
Tips from cru.org
Questions to help you create your “my life before Christ” section:
What about my life before Christ will relate most to the non-Christians I know?
What did my life revolve around?
Where did I get my security, identity or happiness from?
How did those things begin to let me down?
Questions to help you create your “how I came to Christ” section”:
When was the first time I heard the gospel?
What were my initial reactions?
When and why did my perspective begin to change toward Christ?
What were the final struggles that went through my mind just before I accepted Him?
Why did I finally decide to accept Christ (or give Him complete control of my life)?
Questions to help you create your “my life after coming to Christ” section:
How is my life different now?
List some specific changes in your character, attitude and perspective on life.
What motivates me now?
What do I live for?
Even though my life still isn’t perfect, how does knowing Christ help me deal with that fact?
Pray before you write out and share your story.
Write the way you speak.
Don’t be overly negative or positive. Be honest.
Don’t criticize or name any church, denomination, organization, etc.
Think about your listener(s). Avoid overly-religious terms.
Keep it short. Aim to tell your story in three to five minutes.
Practice telling your story until it becomes natural.
Where We Are in the Book of Acts / the Life of Paul
As you know, Paul’s Third Missionary Journey ended with him travelling to Jerusalem to deliver that relief offering he had been collecting. But he knew that trouble awaited him there. Why? Because Jews were asserting the Paul was telling Jews to abandon the law of Moses and reject their Jewish heritage. When he got there, he tried to demonstrate his commitment to Judaism by making a serious purification vow in the Temple (Acts 21). But his enemies stirred up the crowd, creating a riot. This attracted the attention of the Roman garrison who intervened. They had bound Paul in chains (this again) and were about to lug him to the barracks likely for torturing. Unlike in Philippi, Paul told them he was a Roman citizen and asked permission to address the crowd (our passage this week).
Why did Paul use his “Roman citizen card” this time and not the previous time? Maybe he learned his lesson! Or, and I think this is more likely, Paul knew he had nothing to gain from incarceration. Everyone in Jerusalem knew who he was (except the Romans). It would serve nothing to drag this out. Paul had this one chance to talk to the mob while “the iron was hot”.
Part 1: Former Life (Acts 22:3-5)
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the law of our ancestors. I was zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, arresting and putting both men and women in jail, as both the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. After I received letters from them to the brothers, I traveled to Damascus to arrest those who were there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.”
You can tell that Campus Crusade used Paul’s own testimony as their template. Note that everything Paul said would have been very familiar to his audience; there’s nothing in here that he would have to explain. That’s a good rule for us—talk about your life in terms your audience can understand. And note that Paul isn’t sugarcoating anything. He’s tackling the truth head-on. I recommend going through Paul’s entire testimony before doing any exercises with your class.
A Biography of Paul
Paul regularly reminded his hearers of his history. This was not to brag—it was to make sure that his credibility was established. If I told you the world was ending in 2 months, you would call me a kook. If Stephen Hawking told you that, you would listen. And then probably call him a kook. Our background matters.
Paul was born to the tribe of Benjamin and named for their most famous member: Saul. He was born in Tarsus where his family were successful tentmakers (tradition has it that his parents were taken there as POWs and had to earn their citizenship; citizenship requirements in Tarsus were appx. a year-and-a-half’s wages). Paul was wealthy enough to grow up in Jerusalem and be educated there—not influenced by Gentiles at all. Tradition says he started training in the Bible at 5, the Mishnah at 10, the Talmud at 15, apprentice at 20, leader at 30. The Mishnah and Talmud were schools of interpretation. Paul studied under Gamaliel, who was renowned for being ultra-conservative and having incredibly high moral standards. As a zealous Pharisee, Paul would have been an active Jewish missionary. It was in that service that he probably realized just how “dangerous” this new Jesus sect was going to be to Judaism.
All of this to say—based on his history, Paul grew up as the “perfect Jew”. His opponents spoke as if he did not have the right to speak as he did—not enough “skins on the wall” to have credibility. Wrong. Paul was “more of a Jew” than they were.
Part 2: Life-Changing Encounter (Acts 22:6-16)
“And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, because I did not avoid declaring to you the whole plan of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears.”
My personal opinion here is that Paul might have put in too much detail (and boy is it hard to criticize the Apostle Paul). I just “hit the high points” when I tell my story. Of course, I might feel different if I had an encounter like Paul’s . . . Do what is most natural for you; tell the parts of your story that would help you connect with your audience. Note that Paul still only uses words his audience would understand. He also clearly identifies Jesus. And he gives a curious description of salvation: “get up and be baptized”. The verb form literally means “have yourself baptized”. So here’s the thing: his audience knew all about baptism from the hubbub with folk legend John. They also had experience with Peter’s message at Pentecost. Being baptized in the name of Jesus meant identifying yourself with Him for forgiveness of sins and salvation—you only did it if you really thought you were saved. (Remember, this crowd wanted to kill Paul for his association with Jesus.) In our world today, I think there’s too much confusion about what it means to be saved, so we need to give a bit more detail on how we came to Christ.
The Greek word for “testimony” is where we get our English word “martyr”. Its older Hebrew equivalent is rooted in the courtroom: to give testimony is to give certifiable, objective facts. One witness’s testimony is insufficient for judgment. The Ten Commandments are called the “Testimony” because they reveal God’s person, work, and expectations. The New Testament uses this idea of the word because establishing the truth about Jesus is the central “job” of the church. The written Gospels are a “testimony” about the facts of Jesus. Christian lifestyle is also called a “testimony” because by it the outside world derives what we really believe about Jesus. When Christians shared verbally their experience with and belief in Jesus, that too would be called a “testimony”. It is critical that Christians share the truth (and only the truth) in their testimony because by our words the outside world learns how to be saved. We must be truthful and factual.
Part 3: New Purpose (Acts 22:17-21)
“After I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him telling me, ‘Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ “But I said, ‘Lord, they know that in synagogue after synagogue I had those who believed in you imprisoned and beaten. And when the blood of your witness Stephen was being shed, I stood there giving approval and guarding the clothes of those who killed him.’ “He said to me, ‘Go, because I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”
Luke does not mention this event in Acts 9. In Galatians 1, Paul says he actually went to Arabia and didn’t go to Jerusalem until three years after his conversion. This is an example of Paul picking details he thinks important to his testimony in this setting—”I am a good Jew doing good Jew things, but it is dangerous for me in Jerusalem”. This was confusing to Paul because he thought he would be safer in Jerusalem where people would be sympathetic to his former behavior rather than “out there” where everyone knew him as a brutal beast.
[Throw this fun question in: name people in the Bible who argued with God/doubted God. Here’s some people who come to mind: Abraham/Sarah, Moses, Gideon, Elijah, Job, Habakkuk, Zechariah. How’d that go for them?]
Note that God was not stopping Paul from connecting with his own people. Rather, God was opening Paul’s mission to something much larger. The word choice is very careful! This is why just about everyone recommends that you practice sharing your testimony out loud to other people. Have you ever said the wrong thing or said it the wrong way? We all have. But a little practice and a little care will help keep those mistakes down. Of course, all of that careful wording didn’t make any difference: the Jews still wanted to kill him. We can’t control the response to our testimony; we can only make sure we have shared the truth with grace and have a clear conscience before God.
Part 4: Rejection (Acts 22:22)
They listened to him up to this point. Then they raised their voices, shouting, “Wipe this man off the face of the earth! He should not be allowed to live!”
This reaction seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it? It just shows how far gone the Jews were from God’s plan.
They didn’t want to believe that God would save the Gentiles. We’re going to have similar responses—people who don’t want to believe that there’s only one way to heaven, or that Jesus had to die, or that God punishes sin, or that anyone goes to hell. And sometimes their reactions will be strong (even violent). We cannot be afraid of how people might respond to our testimony!
Your Sunday School class is a unique combination of experiences, circumstances, and interests. Together, you can reach/connect with a wide range of our community. This week, ask you class to encourage you to have that conversation about Jesus you’ve been meaning to—enlist some help if you need to! Pray together in gratitude for your experience with Jesus, then ask for opportunities and abilities to share that experience with someone around you.
Closing Thoughts: Life Conversations
David gave out the “3 Circles: Life Conversation Guide” a few weeks ago. It is a very compelling gospel presentation. Essentially, any time you're talking with someone, and they bring up a problem they’re having in life, or a hurt they have, you turn that into an opportunity to share hope in Jesus. If you’re using a Campus Crusade approach, that “problem” becomes your theme. We have these life conversation guides in the office—feel free to take some.