Suffering Together for Christ
As the tribune could gain no satisfactory answer to his question of what all the trouble was about between this man and the Jewish crowd, which had now grown only more violent upon hearing Paul’s testimony, he decided to have Paul “examined” in the barracks—with flogging. But as they were “stretching him out for the whips,” Paul resorted to a defense which he rarely used given the recitation of his sufferings as an apostle listed in 2 Corinthians 11:21b-29; that is, his Roman citizenship. Roman citizens could not be interrogated by flogging, and so Paul asked one of his “examiners” if they might so treat a Roman citizen uncondemned, or without trial. The centurion then went post haste to the tribune with this information before such a serious breach of Roman law be committed. As Paul at that moment looked hardly like one of any means, the tribune asserted that he had to pay a large sum for such a boon, indicating his doubt of Paul’s claim. But when Paul responded, “But I am a citizen by birth,” he thereby “one-upped” the tribune, and the rest of the “examiners” withdrew before even receiving the tribune’s order to do so.
Why Paul chose to resort to this means of self-preservation at this place is hard to discover. No doubt, when flogged by the Jews those five times, such a claim would not have mattered. But he also states that he was beaten with rods on three occasions, which would have been by Roman authority. We saw earlier in Acts when Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and imprisoned over night in Philippi that Paul left the matter of their Roman citizenship unspoken until the next day when the now redeemed jailer came with the good news that the magistrates would let them go. It was only then that Paul rather indignantly informed the magistrates of their lawless indiscretion (16:16-40). So it seems that Paul chose rather to suffer for Christ than use his advantage to escape it, perhaps because he knew that so many of his brethren had no recourse to such means. How could the man who wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” choose such an easy means of escape when tested (2 Timothy 3:12)? We can only guess that Paul saw some advantage for the kingdom in using his Roman citizenship at this moment, if only to survive long enough to “finish his course.”
Some foolishly pray for persecution, which Scripture in no place commends. But if we should ever endure it, those with privileges must use them wisely, for if one member suffers, we are called to suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26).