When the governor motioned to him to speak, Paul replied:
‘I cheerfully make my defence, knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation. As you can find out, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem. They did not find me disputing with anyone in the temple or stirring up a crowd either in the synagogues or throughout the city. Neither can they prove to you the charge that they now bring against me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything laid down according to the law or written in the prophets. I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people. Now after some years I came to bring alms to my nation and to offer sacrifices. While I was doing this, they found me in the temple, completing the rite of purification, without any crowd or disturbance. But there were some Jews from Asia—they ought to be here before you to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or let these men here tell what crime they had found when I stood before the council, unless it was this one sentence that I called out while standing before them, “It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.”’
But Felix, who was rather well informed about the Way, adjourned the hearing with the comment, ‘When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.’ Then he ordered the centurion to keep him in custody, but to let him have some liberty and not to prevent any of his friends from taking care of his needs.
Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgement, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you.’ At the same time he hoped that money would be given to him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him. After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favour, Felix left Paul in prison.
“He is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
Each part of this intention of God, declared through the Damascan Ananias (Acts 9:15-16), is shown again, in today’s episode of Luke’s book of Acts, through Paul’s words and actions to convey the gospel in ways relevant to each cultural group and situation.
Amongst the Jerusalem Jews he joined in a rite of purification linked with sacrifice in the Temple (as guided by James and the elders of the church in Acts 21:20-24). He did this in order to show the Jews that he was rooted in worshipping the God of their ancestors, in accordance with the law and the prophets, while proclaiming that God is fulfilling his plan through the resurrection of the dead.
With the Gentile Roman governor, ‘judge over this nation’, he discussed justice, self-control and the coming judgement (verses 10 & 25) in a way that Felix sensed God’s challenge, yet still wanted to hear more, and kept Paul in protective custody cared for by his friends.
From the new churches in Achaia and Macedonia, Paul gathered a combined offering to be brought by him and representatives of the various groups of contributors, to express gratitude for the gospel and solidarity with each other in time of need. Here he speaks of it as bringing ‘alms to my nation’.
Luke observes that Felix hoped Paul might give him some money too. But Paul would not divert the money to buy release from the next two years in custody. (See also his thinking in 1 Corinthians 9:20-23.) His calling is to be true to the gospel and live the Way of Christ, and speak of this in terms which are relevant and meaningful for the people he is amongst. Is that our calling too?
O God, in our day, amongst people of power and in every community of whatever culture, lifestyle or language, please inspire the good news and the active sharing of your love. In the way and the name of Christ, we pray. Amen
The Rev’d Bernie Collins, retired minister, member of Avenue St Andrew’s URC, Southampton