The word of the day is “unhindered.” In the Divine Liturgy, we pray for our civic leaders “that we in their tranquility may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity” (St-Tikhon’s 1984, 71). In other words, we pray for equilibrium in our lives, free of contention, strife and discord. In such a balanced situation, we can grow in what is godly and holy.[i] Today, in our reading of Acts 28:1-31, Luke, the writer of Acts, closes his early church history with such a sense of stability. He says that Paul lived in a rented house in Rome for two years, “preaching… and teaching…with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (OSB vs. 31).
We might ask, “Is that all?” Since his shipwreck, the apostle survived a bite by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3), healed the sick on the island where he landed, and sailed from Malta, Syracuse, Rhegium, and Puteoli to reach Rome.
He has had his last confrontation with the Jews. For the last time, he has announced that he was taking the Gospel to the Gentiles (vs. 28). Now, in Rome, he is free to preach the Gospel without hindrance. True, he is under house arrest. But he is “receiving,” that is, “welcoming” (OSB vs. 30) (Strong’s #588) all who come to visit him in his rented quarters. And no one is “forbidding him” (OSB vs. 31) to proclaim the Risen Christ. The Greek term means he is “unhindered” (Strong’s #210, 13). No one is restraining his mission to the Gentiles.
Paul is in Chains: The Gospel is Unchained
Thus we find that in Rome Paul is in chains, but the Gospel is now unchained. Paul writes in Philippians, “I want you to know that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the Gospel” (OSB Philippians 1:12). He writes from his house arrest to his congregation in Philippi that the whole palace guard knows that he is incarcerated for the sake of Christ. Moreover, he notes that his fellow believers “have become confident by my chains and much more bold to speak the Word without fear” (OSB Philippians 1:13-14). The Greek text expresses that they preached “more abundantly” (Strong’s #4057). They proclaimed their faith boldly, courageously (Strong’s #5111), and fearlessly (Strong’s #5111).
Thus, Luke ends his history on a triumphant note. All that Paul has endured, all the hardships that he has gone through, all the brutality he has suffered is now behind him—for the moment. The Lord has given him the equilibrium of two years of peace, security, and productivity.
What about what lies ahead of him? We might think that the book is incomplete. Paul writes with the confidence that “I know that this [imprisonment] will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Christ (OSB Philippians 1:19). But we have unanswered questions. What will happen to St. Paul? Will he get to faraway Spain as he hoped (Romans 15:24)? How will he be martyred? Luke does not say. But the writer of Acts is satisfied to tell us that the conditions have been met for the Gospel to be proclaimed “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
A Fitting Ending
From another perspective, Luke provides a fitting end of the Book of Acts. Luke does not tell us what happened to Paul because he intended to tell the story of how the Lord’s Word was fulfilled that “… you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (OSB Acts 1:8).
The proclamation of the Gospel has crossed over from its Jewish foundation to the wider world of the Gentiles (Acts 28:28). The Word of God can now spread from the center of the Empire to its furthest reaches. It can now be proclaimed with unrestrained boldness. And countless numbers of people of all nations throughout the world will believe it and be saved. What a note of absolute confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit!
What seems to be a strange ending is really a description of a new equilibrium, a new status of things. Event by event, proclamation by proclamation, challenge by challenge, the Holy Spirit has worked through the apostles such as Peter and Paul. Through the efforts of the apostles and saints, the Spirit has created a world in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is becoming known to everyone.
The world that Luke describes in the last verse of Acts is where we live and serve God. Without the history that we have studied in Acts, we would be living in a far different universe. We know that countless challenges to the faith and the church lie ahead. The equilibrium of freedom to proclaim the Gospel, the security of believers, and the church’s peace will be disturbed again and again. Yet, in every situation, the Holy Spirit will use faithful believers to meet the challenge and restore the state of affairs to the best condition for proclaiming the Word of God.
St-Tikhon’s. 1984. Service Books of the Orthodox Church. Third ed. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
[i] The literary theory of Tzetal Todorov, a Bulgarian literary professor, suggests today’s discussion. That theory proposes that works of literature begin with the upsetting of a state of equilibrium. A state of disequilibrium follows in which forces clash with one another until a new state of equilibrium is reached..