Reputation. It’s one of the only things in life that we get from others. And once it’s damaged, it’s hard to repair.
Reputation is part of the reason it’s becoming so difficult to be a person of faith in the public square. You call yourself a Christian? Then be prepared to be labeled and shunned. Our world sees Christianity as an exchange of reason and compassion for superstition, intolerance, hypocrisy, and repression.
But this is nothing compared to the life of Paul. In this phase of our story, Paul becomes the focus of a high-profile court case.
THE PEOPLE’S COURT
Acts 24:1 Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor.
The charges against Paul were simple: he was falsely accused of violating Jewish law by bringing a Gentile into the temple. Previously, Felix had refused to decide Paul’s case until his accusers arrived. In this chapter, they arrive, and their appearance takes the form of a courtroom drama before Felix.
Acts 24:2-92 When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: “We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. 3 Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. 4 But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly. 5 “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect 6 and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. 78 By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.” 9 The Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true.
Riots had broken out, and Paul was accused of being the “ringleader.” Why would the government care about this? Riots were a threat to political and social order. The Jews were tolerated by the Romans, but Christianity threatened to upset this delicate balance. Rome had previously allowed the Jews to execute those who violated the temple, and now the Jews wanted to cash in their chips.
Acts 24:10-21 10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. 17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin– 21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'”
Paul could only respond to the charges by countering them with the truth. His defense was twofold:
- Lack of motive. He had not been in Jerusalem long enough to cause any riots (24:11), but had rather come for the Feast of Pentecost (cf. 20:16) and to worship. In verses 17-18 he makes mention of bringing an offering from Gentile churches.
- Lack of evidence. None of his accusers had evidence or witnesses to verify that Paul had started any riots in Jerusalem. (24:12-13)
Paul’s “counterclaim” was that his accusers were really the ones who had stirred up a disturbance (cf. v. 12).
PAUL AND FELIX (Acts 24:22-27)
Acts 24:22-27 22 Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. “When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.” 23 He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
24 Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” 26 At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. 27 When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.
Felix gives no indication that he leans one way or the other. He is familiar with Christianity (“the way”)—could it be that he empathizes with Paul? But he can’t risk his political career by upsetting Paul’s accusers. So what does he do? He stalls. He waits until the commander, Lysias comes to decide.
But we never hear of Lysias again.
Maybe out of guilt, maybe because he knew of Paul’s innocence, Felix allows Paul a lot more freedom than usual, including visits from friends. Felix even has conversations with Paul. Unfortunately for Paul, these conversations proved too convicting. Drusilla, his wife, was Felix’s third marriage and he had to break up another marriage just to have her. All this talk of “righteousness” must have made him sweat. So he left Paul in prison, calling for him only on occasion out of hope for a bribe.
This went on for two years. Felix eventually got replaced—he had been too cruel in squashing a Jewish and Gentile conflict and replaced by Festus. But, to keep the Jews happy, Paul was left in prison.
There are times and places when faith will earn you more foes than friends. The temptation we face is to try and change our reputation. How might we do this?
- Fight back. The best way to build ourselves up is to tear others down. We can attack others for their political views, their moral views, or even spiritual views. But this only deepens the cultural divide.
- Distance ourselves. Chances are, you’ve probably said something like this: “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” For some, this is a great way to remember the truth of the gospel. But for others, this statement does more to comfort followers than convert skeptics. It’s a convenient way to distance ourselves from “those” kind of Christians.
If the gospel is true, than my reputation is built on the righteousness of Christ. I don’t need to leverage my reputation in the eyes of others. I have God’s approval—who else’s do I need? Our prayer is that we learn to shed the shackles of focusing on our own reputation, and learn instead to live in His.