Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

When cataloging all of the help that Paul had while he remained in Corinth preaching the gospel, there is one person who doesn’t quite fit with the rest. Among Paul’s partners in the gospel, Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, is the odd man out. Why? Because his role is not to positively partner with Paul but to restrain the schemes of those who were trying to oppose Paul’s preaching ministry. He was a sort of anti-partner; the enemy of the gospel’s enemies.

Briefly, let’s review what Luke tells us in Acts 18:12-17 about Gallio before we spend some time considering what this might mean for us. In v12, Luke sets up the challenge to Paul’s gospel ministry: Paul is brought before the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, by the Jews in order to stop him from industriously spreading the gospel. Now, this really was a big deal, especially in comparison with the other times in the book of Acts that Paul was hauled before the civil government.

Before, Paul had been brought before city administrators, but Gallio is a provincial administrator, and an important one at that. F.F. Bruce suggests that if Gallio had sided in favor of the Jews, he may have set a precedent to be followed by other provincial administrators in the Roman Empire.[1] And that would have seriously harmed Paul’s gospel ministry.

But, as it stands, Gallio did not side with the Jews. In vv13-15, after hearing the charge against Paul, he determined that this was an intramural theological debate about which he was neither competent to judge nor did he have a desire to consider. But this decision to do nothing was a decision in favor of Paul and his gospel ministry. When Gallio drove them all away from the tribunal, he denied Paul’s opponents the power of the state to hinder the spread of the gospel. And, to put a point on Gallio’s utter apathy—maybe even antipathy—towards Paul’s opponents, Luke tells us in v17 that the local citizens seized on this opportunity to abuse the Jews—“But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.” Thus, the enemy of the gospel’s enemies was, in a sense, a friend of Paul because he did not hinder Paul’s work in Corinth.

Now, to be clear, Gallio is not good; he’s not an ally of the gospel; he is not really a friend of Paul. But he is a partner in the gospel simply because he restrained evil intentions and attempted hindrances to the spread of the gospel in Achaia, and potentially beyond.

From these observations, we can draw three conclusions. First, Christ is always in control. To think that Gallio operated independently of the promise that the Lord Jesus gave to Paul in vv9-11 is to misunderstand the relationship between Christ’s kingship and civil authority. Christ sovereignly directed this anti-partnership so that his own purposes would come to pass in Achaia and beyond.

Second, the state is not inherently evil. The devil is inherently evil, and he can use corrupt civil authority to persecute the church, but the state is not inherently evil. To be sure, earlier state interventions in the book of Acts have resulted in serious opposition to the spread of the gospel, but Gallio is, in a sense, the balance to those earlier episodes that keeps us from dismissing the state as hopelessly corrupt and prompts us to give due honor to the emperor.

Third, this event gives us a strong impetus to make a practice of what Paul encourages Timothy and the Ephesian church to do: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1-2). Since the state is not inherently evil or hopelessly corrupt, those in civil government are proper subjects of our prayers. Moreover, since Christ is always in control, we sincerely pray that he would restrain evil—even turn the hearts of civil authorities toward him—so that we, too, might be able to diligently labor for Christ just like Paul was able to do when Christ gave Gallio a complete disinterest in the opposition to the gospel.

In the end, the enemy of your enemy is not really your friend, but the sovereign Lord can make him a co-belligerent in the advance of the gospel. Therefore, we pray for all people, even for kings and all who are in high positions, knowing that Christ can use anyone and any circumstance to further the cause of the gospel.

[1] Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Book of the Acts, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 352.

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