But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.”14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. – Acts 17:12-17
There was a news story some time ago of a woman who was being beaten and worse in a residential neighborhood in a large city. Her cries for help went unheeded and she was eventually killed by her attacker. Such a tragedy! Perhaps you have experienced people turning a blind eye to obvious injustice and evil. Maybe you’ve done it yourself; hopefully not, however, in the manner of rude carelessness of Gallio who paid no attention to the severe mistreatment of Paul and Sosthenes.
What matters most to some people matters little to others. But when even the ruling authorities have no care for justice, or the protection of innocent or weak people, you have the makings of a highly-unjust and dangerously-unstable society. Such was the situation in Achaia. This would not be a good place for the weak and vulnerable people to live. Who knows what kinds of injustice might be ignored by the proconsul!
Suffice it to say, however, such injustice is not overlooked by God. The One who calls his people to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8), watches from heaven and sees the goings-on of life here on this earth. Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from his knowledge. He is not ignorant, impotent, aloof, or uncaring about the plight of the widow or the orphan.
Sometimes we have examples of godly people in the Bible to inspire us to works of sacrificial love and merciful kindness. Sometimes, however, we have examples of evil men who would undercut the word and work of God – which is the case in this encounter. This may highlight people’s faithfulness in the face of suffering, or to show how God’s word does not sugar-coat the world in the Bible.
God stands with the former and is opposed to the proud. James says it well: But God gives more grace. Therefore he says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
I am not certain what became of Sosthenes. Did he give up his faith? It seems unlikely to me. But I do know that God continued to preserve Paul and others, and that their witness had a lasting effect – down to this day. For that we can thank God, and we can assume an attitude of humility with the confidence that God will sustain those who approach him in humility and faith.