Petty jealousy is a pernicious thing. Paul experienced it, directed against him by those Jews who were jealous of Paul’s effective preaching and suspicious of the Christian Way. In their fear and jealousy, they appeal to Gallio, a Roman official, complaining that Paul stirred up the people to worship God contrary to the law. By this they did not mean that Paul and the others were worshipping in a way they didn’t like – although that was certainly true. What they were trying to do was get Paul and the others arrested for worshipping God at all, in violation of Roman law.
The Romans were a pagan people, with their own gods, and it was required that all citizens worshipped these gods and not the God of Israel or certainly Jesus Christ. Sometimes this was not enforced so rigorously, as was the case with Gallio. So those troublemakers among the Jews were guilty of it too. But these troublemakers were trying to get Gallio to enforce it against Paul and his followers, and not against themselves of course. Gallio sees through their very thinly veiled patriotism and throws them all out, turning a blind eye as they beat a synagogue official who was a supporter of Paul.
What a horrible mess, isn’t it? Neither those troublemakers nor Gallio were at all virtuous. The troublemakers weren’t so much concerned about the laws of the land as they were quibbling about following Jesus. And Gallio wasn’t so concerned about defending the Christians as much as he wanted them all to go away and leave him alone. Through it all, Paul was able to see the fulfillment of God’s promise in the vision he had: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. No one will attack and harm you.” And that’s exactly what Paul did.
It is up to us to witness to our faith courageously too. We might face opposition, and even petty jealousy. But the message is too important to bury for fear of what might happen. We must trust that the Lord will preserve us too, in the same way he guarded Paul in his efforts to proclaim the Gospel.