Should We Follow Paul in What Acts 24 Reveals?

November 25, 2013

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?

Rajesh

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3 responses to Should We Follow Paul in What Acts 24 Reveals?

  1. Thank you, brother, for your thoughtful comments. My family will be reading this chapter again in a few days – today we will read Acts 21 – and I look forward to bringing out the application you shared. Just this past Wednesday I was speaking to a guest in our church who was urging us to capitulate to the demands of Caesar for what I consider to be God’s. He said, “Just pay the 100 Euros and be done with it!” I said that there was a principle involved. Bunyan, too, could have walked out of the jail, had he simply capitulated to the government’s demands with regard to obtaining its license to preach (or by refraining from preaching). Here in Germany churches are basically being expected to obtain the government’s permission to sing songs in their meetings. If they were only required to pay royalties on printed and recorded music they purchase, I would see no problem, but they must also pay fees to sing from that music in their public services. For this reason we have announced that we no longer officially hold “public” services. Our services are officially private, and we can deny entrance to anyone we wish at any time, though it is unlikely that we would. In so doing our singing (theoretically) does not fall under the demand for royalties for music in public places. The question is, of course, whether that would hold up in a court of law. People that take on the government don’t tend to win. And so, in this case one wonders whether another principle (Matthäus 17:27) might not take priority, though the details are somewhat different: “However, [even though technically we might be right] (in order) not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” Is it in the best interest of the testimony of Jesus Christ if I squabble with an elected government over a minimal sum? If this were to go public, would the newspapers portray us as common criminals? Would we have brought discredit over the name of Christ? Very likely we would. Now, if the government should demand 1000 times as much, then we would have acknowledged their power to assess such a fee, and they would force us underground. But for now we have the luxury in a once communist country to hold “open” meetings. It bothers me to pay the Lord’s money to a secular agency for permission to do something believers have done for thousands of years – sing God’s praises – but the Scriptures may have shed fresh light on a situation that has been troubling me for some time. I cannot say that my conscience has been entirely free on this issue. Thanks to your blog, I was encouraged to re-open the issue in my mind and reexamine it in the light of a verse I had not previously taken into consideration. And so, thank you for your ministry of the Word, brother.

    • I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, brother Brad. I was just reading through Acts without any intent of looking for something on this subject; the Lord chose to grant me illumination that He had never given me before from this passage. Your sharing what you are facing confirms to me that He wanted me to write about it and let Him use it to help His people.

      I wish I could say that I have it all figured out, but I certainly do not. Thanks for sharing Matthew 17:27 with me; it certainly is additional direction worth pondering and meditating on as we seek direction about how we should live for the Lord in our fallen world.

      May the Lord grant you specific illumination that will guide you and your people in His will. I will pray with you for His leading.

      The Lord bless you.

      Rajesh