Acts 24 provides revelation about an aspect of Paul’s life that has major bearing on how believers should conduct themselves in a fallen world. Should we follow Paul in what Acts 24 reveals about him?
Unjustly Arrested and Imprisoned for His Faith in Christ
Although he had not done anything wrong (Acts 23:29; 24:12-13, 19; 26:31-32), Paul was unjustly apprehended (Acts 21:27), beaten (Acts 21:32), bound with chains (Acts 21:33) and imprisoned (Acts 22:24f.) for his faith in Christ. He endured much unjust suffering at the hands of various authorities over a period of several years (cf. Acts 24:27).
Extended Contact with a Corrupt Governmental Authority
One of those authorities was Felix the governor (Acts 23:24, 33). Paul plainly testified to him of his need for faith in Christ (Acts 24:24), but Felix did not receive the message properly (Acts 24:25).
Not only does the Spirit see fit to record that Felix rejected the gospel, but He also deemed it worth to note explicitly another dimension of his interaction with Paul:
Act 24:26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
This telling remark makes known that Felix was a corrupt governmental authority who often sent for Paul and met with him because he was hoping that Paul would give him money so that he might be set free. These meetings continued for two years (Acts 24:27), showing that Paul had extended personal contact with this corrupt governor.
The Stellar Ethical Standards of Paul and Other Believers
Paul was suffering unjustly for an extended period. Had he or the other believers who interacted freely with him during his time of imprisonment under Felix (Acts 24:23) been willing to pay off Felix, Paul would have been set free and would have been able to resume his apostolic gospel ministry that had resulted in multitudes coming to salvation (cf. Acts 13:48; 14:21; 17:4, 12; 18:8) and a vast number of believers being discipled at length (e.g., Acts 14:27-28; 15:35, 41).
Neither Paul nor any of the other believers, however, were willing to pay Felix the money that he hoped for; they all apparently believed that it would be unethical for them to do so. Even though Paul was innocent and had been suffering unjustly for a long time, he would not pay a bribe to this corrupt official to secure his release.
The Contemporary Importance of the Example of Paul and These Other Believers
Faced with the opportunity to pay off a corrupt official to secure his freedom, Paul chose to remain imprisoned rather than to do what was wrong. The other believers who ministered freely to him likewise refused to pay off this corrupt official to free Paul.
Believers today often face situations in which corrupt officials demand that they pay money in exchange for permission to conduct ministry or to be able to go in and out of various countries for various purposes. Many believers go along with these demands so that these officials will not trouble them and will allow them to minister without further hindrance.
Given what the Holy Spirit has chosen to reveal to us about the stellar ethical standards of Paul and other believers when the life and ministry of the apostle Paul was on the line, is it right for contemporary believers to continue to go along with such demands? Should we not rather follow Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1) in what Acts 24 reveals and refuse such demands regardless of the consequences?