By Pastor Glenn Pease
The first impeachment trial of a President of the United States began on March 30, 1868. The 54 Senators were at their desks in the Senate Chamber, and at the front was Chief Justice Salmen P. Chase of the Supreme Court, who would preside over the trial. The President himself was not there. He felt it beneath his dignity to honor the trial with his presence, and so he remained in the White House.
It was a complex case. Abraham Lincoln did a strange thing. He asked his Republican Convention to let him choose a Democrat to run as his Vice President. Believe it or not, they nominated Andrew Johnson for the Vice Presidency. Lincoln had appointed Johnson as military Governor of Tenn. Johnson favored Lincoln's plan to unite the North and South after the Civil War, and not seek to punish the rebel South. Many radicals in Lincoln's party wanted revenge, and they wanted the South to be punished. Lincoln won support for his plan for unity, and the result was a Republican-Democrat team won the election. A Republican President with a Democrat Vice President would be strange enough, but it gets even stranger.
When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Andrew Johnson became the President. Our nation went from a Republican to a Democrat President with no votes or election whatever. It was not a ballot, but a bullet that brought about this radical change. The Republicans were not pleased with this turn of events, and they set out to make life miserable for a man they never liked in the first place. To make a long story short, they finally found a way to bring impeachment charges against him when he forced his Secretary of War to resign, who was a Republican. The Republicans controlled the Senate, and all it took was a two-thirds majority of the Senate to impeach him.
It was a 6 weeks long battle with the best lawyers in the country on both sides. When the vote was finally taken on May 16, 1868 Andrew Johnson won by one vote, and survived as President. The only way he could have done it was if his lawyers were clever enough to divide his enemies, and that is precisely what they did. Seven Republicans were persuaded not to vote with the radicals. They paid with their political lives, and they never won another election to office, but Andrew Johnson, thanks to his clever lawyers, not only survived, but after his term ran for the Senate and won. He sat in that very chamber where he narrowly escaped his greatest defeat.
I share this long introduction out of our history because it is a fascinating example of the complexity of life, and of the importance of cleverness for success and survival. The only way a minority can win in a conflict with the majority is by the strategy of divide and conquer. The only way you can win in a court case is to get the jury divided. If they are all united against you, you are sunk. But if you can break that unity and get opposition among them, you have a chance to win. If you are before the Supreme Court and all of the judges are united the battle is lost. But if you can get the judges divided you have hope of winning. The very essence of being a clever lawyer is in having the skill to bring about division in the ranks of your opponents.
The Apostle Paul in all of the trials of his final years never had a lawyer. Jesus was his heavenly advocate, but he represented himself before both Jewish and Gentiles judges. In chapter 24 the Jews brought a lawyer with them in Paul's trial before Governor Felix. One of their reasons for their bringing professional counsel is because of Paul's clever maneuvering here in chapter 23. As his own lawyer he was able to outwit the Supreme Court of the Jews. It was certainly a great embarrassment to them to be outwitted by Paul's cleverness. I suspect it is an embarrassment to many Christians even that Paul was so clever in his escape. The reason is that the Christian is often conditioned to think that being clever is more in tune with following Satan than the Savior.
So much of the cleverness of history has been the cleverness of evil. The cunning serpent was able to deceive Adam and Eve into choosing death for life, and by his cunning he has deceived the majority of mankind. We tend to think of cleverness as the ability to get away with something in a negative sense. Like the clever little boy who was warned by his mother not to take seconds. When his hostess at the party saw how eagerly he gobbled up his ice cream, she asked if he wanted some more? The boy said, "I promised mom I wouldn't except more the second time, but if you ask me the third time I guess it would be alright." Or what of the boy who asked his teacher, "Would you punish someone for something they didn't do?" When she said, "Of course not," he said, "Good, because I didn't do my homework." The whole world of advertising is based on trying to be clever enough to get people to buy your product. Sometimes it is based on deception, but if it is clever enough people will think it humorous and not be offended. A store keeper had a sign in his window that said "Fishing Tickle."A customer called his attention to the spelling mistake and asked,
"Hasn't anyone told you of the mistake before?" "Hundreds," replied the dealer; "But whenever they drop in to tell me, they always spend something." In a world of competition we often need to be clever to stay ahead, or even to keep up. For several years a minister and a professor played golf together. They were evenly matched and it was a keen rivalry. Then one spring the professor’s game improved so much that the minister was regularly beaten. He came up with an idea. He picked out three how to play golf books and sent them to the professor for a birthday present. It was not long before they were evenly matched again. This was funny and acceptable, but the following example, though funny, is also a dirty trick.
Three engineers and three geologists were traveling by train to an oil producers conference. At the station, the geologists bought three tickets and watched as the three engineers bought only one ticket. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" a geologist asked. "Watch and you'll see," said an engineer. They all boarded the train. The geologists took their seats, but the engineers crammed into a restroom. After the train departed, the conductor came by to collect the tickets. He knocked on the restroom door and said "Ticket please!" The door opened just a crack and a single arm emerged with a ticket. The conductor punched it and moved on. The geologists saw this and thought it was great. On the way back home, the geologists, being clever, bought a single home to save money. To their astonishment, the engineers didn't buy a ticket at all. "How are you going to travel without a ticket?" asked one perplexed geologist. "Watch and you'll see," answered an engineer. When they all boarded the train, the three geologists crammed into a restroom, and the engineers into another. Shortly after the train departed, one of the engineers left his restroom and walked over to the geologists restroom. He knocked on the door and said "Ticket please."
We think that cleverness will lead to the con-man mentality that devices sting operations that cleverly rob people legally and ingeniously. And the reason we think this is because it is true. Vincent Teresa in his book My Life In The Mafia tells of all the clever ways he got people to give him money. He didn't need a gun to rob a bank. He would go into cash a ten-dollar check, and when the teller asked for ID he would say he had none. She would send him to the manager to get it okayed. He would go to the manager's desk and show his license and get the manager to initial the check. Then instead of cashing it he would take it and trace the manager's initials on a bogus 4000-dollar check, and then send his accomplice to the bank to do the same thing. He would be sent to get his ten-dollar check okayed by the manager, and when he came back to the teller he would switch to the 4000 dollar check. She would see it initialed and see he just came from the manager and give him the money. They took many banks by this clever scheme. He tells of all kinds of ways they robbed insurance companies of millions. Evil thrives by cleverness, and that it why we tend to think of it as evil.
We see satanic cleverness at its best in his temptation of Jesus. He came to a starving man and urged him to use His power to make bread of stones. He came to a man who was lonely and in need of fellowship seeking to entice Him to jump off the temple and have the cheering crowds at His side. He came to a man who felt weak and powerless, and offered him the kingdoms of the world if he would bow down to him. Satan is a master of cleverness, but we are blind indeed if we think he is the king of cleverness. Jesus outwitted him at every point and takes the throne as king of cleverness.
From that victory in the wilderness Jesus went on to His public ministry where He had to outwit the Scribes, Saducees and Pharisees time and time again. Then He had to outsmart the devil even in death, and gain control of his realm by getting the keys to death and hell. Jesus not only outwitted the best minds of His day, He outwitted the serpent himself and became the greatest example of the power of sanctified cleverness in overcoming the forces of evil. If you are going to win any battle against the forces that promote prejudice, racism, discrimination, and all forms of injustice in the world you must develop the virtue of cleverness.
Cleverness is a skill, and it does not mean anything negative in itself. There are many positive synonyms such as apt, adroit, bright, capable, smart, talented, ingenious, sharp, intelligent and keen. If you don't think it is a virtue for a Christian to be clever, then you just as well cut out all the wisdom literature of your Bible. For the whole point of wisdom is that we might be clever in all areas of life in doing what is good, true and beautiful, and also beneficial to both man and God. If you are anti-clever then you will be promoting the opposite, which is dull, stupid, slow, perverse, clumsy, awkward, senseless, witless, foolish and ignorant. I think it is safe to say that there are no Christian ideals in this list, but there are in the synonyms of cleverness. We can conclude that the Christian is called to be clever, for it is the only way we can win in the conflict with the powers of darkness, or over human authorities who are legalistic. For example: During World War I a Protestant chaplain with the American troops in Italy became a friend of a local Roman Catholic priest. In time, the chaplain who moved on with his unit was killed. The priest heard of his death and asked military authorities if the chaplain could be buried in the cemetery behind his church. Permission was granted. But the priest ran into a problem with his own Catholic Church authorities. They were sympathetic, but they said they could not approve the burial of a non-Catholic in a Catholic cemetery. So the priest buried his friend just outside the cemetery fence. Years later, a war veteran who knew what had happened returned to Italy and visited the old priest. The first thing he did was ask to see the chaplain's grave. To his surprise, he found the grave inside the fence. "Ah," he said, "I see you got permission to move the body." "No," said the priest. "They told me where I couldn't bury the body. But nobody ever told me I couldn't move the fence."
Jesus said that sometimes we don't win because the children of darkness are wiser in their generation than the children of light. They are not wiser in the long run, but for their generation they may win the battle, for they are more clever, and so they outwit the forces of light. Cleverness is one of the chief ingredients in any battle, and to be without it is to face armed opponents without a weapon. Paul had no sword as he stood before his judges, but he was not unarmed. He had the sword of the Spirit, and so he was armed with the weapon of cleverness that enabled him to win in spite of great negative odds.
You may still have more negative feelings about cleverness than positive ones. I needed more assurance that this could really be a biblical virtue, and so I went to my ten volume Kittels Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. I looked up clever, and to my surprise it was there. The Greek word Sophizo is used only twice in the New Testament, but what a revelation those two uses are. They make it clear that cleverness is either good or evil depending on what you use it for. The word is used very negatively by Peter when he says in II Peter 1:16, "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The KJV has cunningly devised fables. Peter is saying that the world is full of clever religious con-games that ensnare people by one psychological trick or another. Evil is clever. If it wasn't we would not have to be very sharp to avoid it.
This is the side of cleverness we have so often stressed that we seldom ever think of the other side of the coin. How are we supposed to win in a world so full of clever evil? How are families supposed to survive in a world with so many clever forces out to destroy them? How can you ever raise children who will escape the clever forces of evil that entice them into every sin and folly that can destroy them? How can Christians outwit the forces that entice them into every kind of immorality and compromise? The answer is that we need to fight fire with fire and develop, as Paul did, Christian cleverness.
Listen to the only other use of this Greek word Sophizo in the New Testament. Paul uses it in II Tim. 3. Let me share some of the context. In verse 13 Paul writes, "While evil men and impostures will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." Paul describes the worldly cleverness that is a vicious circle of folly deception. But then in contrast he goes on in verses 14 and 15, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." The word there for wise is the word we are looking at. The same word to describe the clever and cunning myths of the world is used to describe the clever plan of salvation in Christ.
Do you think God is not clever, or that he is not able to outwit the devil? Of course he is. That is the basis for all our hope. The Christian has to be constantly growing in his knowledge of the Bible in order to be clever or wise in salvation. Paul was saying that Timothy was the sharp Christian he was because he grew up in a home where he learned the Scripture from infancy. Show me a mother and father who teach their children the Word of God and I will show you some clever parents. They are clever because they know they are giving this child a weapon that will enable them to defend themselves from the clever wilds of the devil.
The more you face the forces of evil, the more you need to be armed with the virtue of Christian cleverness. Elizabeth Wordsworth wrote,
If all good people were clever,
And all clever people were good,
The world would be nicer than ever
We thought that it possibly could.
But somehow, tis seldom or never
The two hit it off as they should.
The good are so harsh to the clever,
And the clever so rude to the good.
The poet's ideal is to see good and clever combined in the same person, and that is what we see in Paul as the Apostle of Christian cleverness. Let's look at how he exhibits his cleverness in facing insurmountable odds. And remember, this is the only way the underdog can win, for he has to outsmart the superior opponent. David could not match Goliath in strength, and so in a face to face combat he would be dead in seconds. His only hope was a specialized skill that would help him defeat the giant at a distant. That was David's key to victory. His clever use of the sling enabled him to take Goliath by surprise. God led His people to victory many times by means of clever strategy.
Gideon faced the host of Midiannites that covered the valley like thick locust. They had so many camels they could no more be counted than the sands on the seashore the Bible says. He had only 300 men, but by the clever maneuver of banging jars and blowing 300 trumpets and shouting they threw that vast army into a state of panic. They began fighting each other, and they fled in fear. That was very clever, and God used that kind of cleverness to save Israel time and time again. Paul's escape by means of cleverness reveals that God has not given up on cleverness as a key weapon for His people.
I. THE CLEVERNESS OF PAUL'S APPROACH.
The first thing you have to do in confronting an opponent is to test them and try to find out where their weakness is. This is true in war, sports and politics. Wherever there is a matching of wits, skills or strength you have to approach the battle with some strategy that will give you a clue to your opponent's weakness. Paul does this by approaching the Sanhedrin in such a way that he can test their objectivity. If he can get the high priest to compromise the integrity of the court by revealing that the judges are prejudice against him he has already won a moral victory.
Paul does this by what he knows will be a very offensive approach. His first words before the court are a plea of not guilty. Paul says, "I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day." That was like saying that here you are as the Supreme Court of the land waiting to pounce on a man who is totally innocent, and who has never knowingly broken a single law of Israel. If Paul meant this to get under their skin, if sure worked, for the high priest responded with immediate anger. He ordered Paul struck for such arrogance. Paul had the audacity to imply that the Supreme Court had nothing better to do than harass innocent citizens.
Paul took the slap but he won this opening round, for as is usually the case, the first one to get mad in a conflict is the first one to make a mistake. The high priest was responsible to maintain a high level of objectively in the court, and he has already lost his temper. By his rash action against Paul he has violated the very law he is sworn to uphold. Paul got the high priest to reveal something that he would rather have kept hidden. That put him on the defensive and gave Paul some measure of control in the situation. Getting an opponent to reveal what is hidden is part of what cleverness is all about.
Modern man has electronic devices to help him detect hidden weapons, but it is not a new idea. The ancients had this same cleverness. In ancient China the capital city Siam had its gates made of loadstone, which is a natural magnet. If a would be assassin came through the gate with a concealed dagger the loadstone would pull on the weapon like an invisible hand. Startled, the assassin would grab for his weapon and train guards would grab him.
If you find a way to make your opponent reveal what he is up to, it gives you an advantage. Paul has already established that he is standing before a hanging judge, and that any pretense that he is facing an unbiased court is a farce. This is not only important in the strategy to divide and conquer, it is important for ones own motivation. It is so much easier to be clever when you know for sure that you are facing a real foe who is not going to treat you fairly.
Next we see-
II. THE CLEVERNESS OF PAUL'S APOLOGY.
We can't spend much time on this, for Paul certainly didn't either. When he was accused of insulting the high priest he backed off from his aggressive approach and became apologetic. "I didn't realize he was the high priest," Paul said. Then he shows that he knows the honor he is to give to the leaders of Israel by quoting the Scripture. Paul had just accused the high priest of violating the law, and everyone could see he had just done so, for it was illegal to strike an accused man until proven guilty.
Paul has lost his temper also in firing back with the name-calling. He says, "You white washed wall," and then gives the prophecy that God would strike him. The tension here is very intense, but Paul is clever enough to know that if he is going to get into a one on one duel with the high priest he is signing his own death warrant. He has been provoked into anger, but he is still in control, and so he cools it by submitting to the law, which demands respect for one's ruler. Had he not gained control here, but let his anger go on blazing at the high priest, he would have hung himself before the trial began.
A part of cleverness is the ability to see when your opponent has set you up to destroy yourself. If you play his game he will win, and Ananias almost had Paul right here, but Paul could see where the chain of events was leading, and he refused to follow. He choose the way of strategic retreat where you stop fighting the war your opponent wants you to fight, and you go fight one of your own choosing. That is what Paul does here. He apologizes and closes down this front, and then he immediately opens up a new front where he is in control. He gets the court to focus on their own emotions rather than on him. There is just no question about it that this was clever maneuvering for survival.
One of the reasons that being so clever bothers us is because it seems unlike Jesus who stood before His judges and opened not His mouth. We forget that Jesus was not trying to defend Himself and escape. He was submissively laying down His life for our sin. Paul is not doing that. He couldn't do it if he wanted to. He was fighting for his life, and so he did open his mouth and use every clever trick he could think of to escape an unjust death.
If Paul could see how his death could benefit the church, he probably would have, like his Lord, surrendered to the unjust plot. But Paul had no such revelation. He was fighting evil forces to stay alive in order to do the will of God. Jesus did this same thing time and time again until it was the right time to lay down his life. He would have been killed much earlier if he had not used clever means and even miracles to escape death by violence. Paul's day came too, but until then he was a survivor, and if it meant apology to a tyrant to do it, that was the choice of Christian cleverness. Next we see-
III. THE CLEVERNESS OF PAUL'S APPEAL
The essence of cleverness in court cases is the element of surprise. The surprise witness, or surprise bit of evidence, that is so conclusive, or even better yet, the surprise confession is what makes the world of difference. It blows the case wide open and all is changed. Paul makes a surprise move and appeals to the Pharisees in the court to recognize that he is really on trial for being a Pharisee and believing in the resurrection of the dead.
Everyone was surprised but Paul. He knew exactly what the reaction would be. Cleverness is the ability to get your opponent to play your game. I know whether I am going to win or lose very early when I play tennis. I know if I can get the opponent to play my game I have it won. This is what Paul is doing. Soon there was no order in the court as conflict broke out among the judges. Paul knew the history of the conflict between the Saducees and the Pharisees. He knew they would fight like cats and dogs if their favorite bone of contention was thrown into the ring.
There is humor in this cleverness, for we have to chuckle when we see a large number of his enemies have suddenly become witnesses for his defense. The Pharisees were saying, "We find nothing wrong with this man." It is amazing and amusing that Paul could pull this off and have the Supreme Court judges fighting over him. It would have cost a fortune to hire so many lawyers, but here they are defending Paul for nothing, and that is clever.
A Jew in Russia, who owned a large farm, was arrested and kept in jail. One day he received a frantic letter from his wife, saying, in part, "I'm going crazy-how am I ever going to take care of the farm?" The husband answered the letter, concluding: "P.S.-don't worry; I have taken care of us on the northern 40 acres." A week later the prisoner received a letter from his wife. "What are you thinking of?" she wrote nervously. "How could you write such a thing in a letter? Since it came the Secret Police have dug up the whole 40 acres." To this the husband replied, "Good! Now plant!"
When you enemy is playing your game you are being clever. The cross is the symbol of Christ's cleverness. Satan and all the forces of darkness worked overtime to get Jesus crucified, and in so doing they played right into the hands of Christ, for it was by means of His death that gained the right to redeem all those in bondage to Satan. Just as the Pharisees were working for Paul, and the Secret Police were working for the Jewish prisoner, so Satan was working for Christ. Because of this we can look at the cross and see it as the ultimate symbol of godly cleverness.
All through history clever Christians have been able to get their foes to help them achieve God's plan. One of the cleverest Christian women in history was Evangeline Booth, who was the General of the Salvation Army. The liquor industry organized attacks on her because her ministry was hurting their business. They threw things at her, hollered curses, and just generally harassed her. She approached the ringleader of the gang in the neighborhood and asked for his help by being her bodyguard. He was proud to need his leadership needed, and his gang followed him in protecting her from those who threatened her. She used a segment of the world to protect her from another segment of the world. That is Christian cleverness.
The mother of Moses used the daughter of Pharaoh to raise the child that Pharaoh ordered to be killed. She was using his money to train and educate her son who would be wise enough to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. When you can get your enemies to subsidize the plan for their own defeat, that is clever.
Paul was clever because he knew human nature, and he knew what effect this appeal would have. It is in knowing how what you do will make others react that makes you clever. Eugene Nida, the Christian linguist who has helped thousands translate the Bible into many languages, has always been clever. He tells of how he sold vegetables in the summer as a boy. He would put up a sign across the road saying don't look at the other side. He knew people would look, and by this clever method of getting their attention he sold more vegetables.
A synonym for the word clever is quick or quick-witted. Clever is the man who can come up with a quick solution to a problem. F. W. Boreham tells of a man on a train in England who put his head out the window forgetting he had his top hat on. It, of course, blew off. Quick as lightening he grabbed his leather hatbox and threw it out the window. He was asked, "Why in the world did you do that?" "Well, you see, the hat box has my name and address on it, but the hate doesn't." And sure enough his hat was returned because of his quick thinking.
In Acts 27 the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea. They were about to abandon the ship. Paul had to think quick or all would be lost. He said to the Centurian and Roman soldiers, "Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved." That one sentence motivated them to act, for their own salvation was involved. The next verse says, "So the soldiers cut the rope that held the lifeboat and let it fall away." Paul by his quick wit saved the day again for all of them. Paul had to think fast to save himself many times.
In 1066 when William the Conqueror landed on the English shore with his Normans he boldly led the way. When he stepped ashore, however, he slipped and fell. A great cry of distress went up from his soldiers. It was an evil omen! But the clever William bounced to his feet clutching two handfuls of English soil. This is no evil omen he shouted! "This is a sign from God! See my hands, by the splendor of God I have taken possession of England with both my hands. It is now mine and what is mine is yours." The soldiers were cheered and swarmed ashore eager to possess the land. This fall could have been a disaster, but by his quick wit and cleverness he turned it into an asset, and he marched on to be the last invader to ever conquer England. He created the British Empire, and his blood became the royal bloodline of England.
He had to be clever in battle as well as in psychological warfare. When it looked like there was no way to penetrate the wall of English soldiers he ordered a retreat. The English thought they had them on the run and broke their ranks to pursue them. When William decided that they were thoroughly out of formation he gave the order to halt the retreat and attack. The English were not prepared for this, and were too unorganized to hold them back, and the Normans won the battle and all of England.
This strategy was used very effectively by the Jews in the Old Testament. It is one of the clever tricks of warfare. The very essence of cleverness in any conflict is to gain control, and have the opponent doing what you want him to do. You pretend you are going to hit the ball one way so that he turns that way, but then you hit the opposite way and hit a winner. In warfare it is done all the time. You send you men to build a bridge across a river, and the enemy thinks this is where you plan to invade. They station their army near that place to intercept you. Meanwhile, you have sent your major army to invade in another place while they watch you build a bridge. The classic cleverness that wins wars is making your opponent take actions that serve your purpose. This is just what we see Paul doing, and he was a master at it.
We love to see our team make clever plays that score. We love to see our favorite politician make clever moves that win votes. We love to see winners in all areas of life who succeed by their cleverness. The point is, God also loves to see His children outwit the devil and all of the forces of darkness. He loves to see wisdom in action. He loves to see Christians escape the traps of evil by their cleverness. You may have never asked this of God before, but will you join me now in praying that God would give us the wisdom to develop our skills in Christian cleverness.