Paul’s Sermon Before Felix
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
"And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee."—Acts 24:25.
Those whose hearts are devoted to the gospel, display its power when they are subjected to trouble, persecution, and sorrow. The power of the gospel that entered into the heart of the apostle Paul must have been extremely strong because it could never be driven out of him. He suffered greatly for the gospel; he lost all he had, but he considered it as nothing so that he might win some for Christ. He spread the gospel, but it cost him; he suffered hardships, shipwrecks, danger on land, and hazards at sea, but none of these things affected him, and neither did he hold his life dear to him, because his desire was to win Christ and to be found in Him.
Persecution followed persecution; he was beaten by the Jews with rods; he was dragged from one court to another; there was hardly a city where restraints and imprisonment weren't waiting for him. He was attacked in his own country; he was accused at Jerusalem, and arraigned at Cesarea; he was taken from one court to another to be tried for his life. He proclaimed the gospel before his judges, and he preached it in prison. One day, when he stood before the Sanhedrin, he shouted, “You are judging me today because I believe that people will rise from the dead!” When he is made to appear before King Agrippa, he spoke so sweetly of the grace of God, that the king himself said, “You have almost persuaded me to be a Christian.”
Here in our text, when he stands before Felix, the Roman official, to be tried for his life, instead of making a defense for himself, he preaches about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, until Felix trembled and sends him away. Once a man believes the gospel and determines to spread it, it makes him an impressive man. He may lack power, intelligence, and talent, but God will bless his conscientious desire to serve Christ in what little measure he can do it. But if he is a gifted man, the gospel will set his soul on fire, bring out all of his power, develop everything that lies hidden, bring all his intellectual abilities to the surface, displaying it all to the honor of Christ, who bought it all with his blood.
We could stay a little while and expand on this thought, and show you how, down through the ages, this has been the truth, that the power of the gospel has amply showed its influence over men's hearts, proving the truth of that declaration by Paul, when he said, that neither tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, shall separate them from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ their Lord. But instead, I invite you to look at the text more closely.
Here in Paul’s words is a picture containing three characters: Felix and Drusilla sitting side by side on the judgment-seat; and Paul, the prisoner, brought in chains, to explain to Felix and Drusilla the doctrines of the Christian faith; and he will either be acquitted or put to death. Felix was a judge who was extremely willing to put him to death because he wanted to please the Jews. On the other hand, there is Paul, a prisoner, unashamed, who comes before the judge, and without and deliberation begins to preach the gospel. The judge trembles hastily dismisses the prisoner, and promises to meet with him again, when it is more convenient.
Note with me, first, the appropriate sermon; second, the affected audience because the audience was certainly moved-“Felix trembled!” Then third, note that there was a regrettable disappointment. Instead of receiving the message, all Paul got was, “Go thy way.”
First, then, let’s consider that there was an APPROPRIATE SERMON. But before we hear the sermon, let’s look at the life of Felix.
Felix began life as a slave; he was freed by a man named Claudius, and he became one of the emperor’s favorites. Of course, in that capacity, he catered to his master’s vices and was always prepared to indulge every lustful wish of his evil heart. His faithful service led to promotions through the ranks of the Roman government, until he was finally appointed Governor of Judea. As governor, he committed every act of extortion that it was possible for him to commit. He went so far that the emperor Nero was obliged to recall him, and he would have been severely punished for his crimes if it wasn’t for the influence of his brother Pallas. The preaching of Paul, about righteousness, was very appropriate, considering the immorality of Felix. Felix had been an unjust extortioner, and Paul purposely selected righteousness to be a topic of his sermon. Drusilla set by Felix’s side, and in the verse preceding out text, she is called his wife. She was described as a Jewess. She was the daughter of Herod Agrippa, and she was noted for her charms and beauty. At one time she had been engaged to a man named Antioch, who refused to marry her. After that, she was married to Azizus, The king of Amesenes, who although he was a heathen, submitted to the rights of the Jewish religion in order to marry her. Drusilla didn’t return his love because shortly after their marriage, she left him for Felix. It’s understandable then, why Paul looked at her sternly when he spoke about self-control. He publicly reprimanded both Felix and Drusilla for their shameless lust. And then, wasn’t it appropriate that in this court, where Felix is the judge and Paul the prisoner, that the last theme of his sermon was the judgment to come.
Paul must have handled the subject of the judgment to come very well because I can’t imagine that he would do otherwise. I believe that Felix expected to have a dissertation on some of the obscure themes of the gospel. He may have thought that Paul would argue concerning the resurrection of the dead. He thought that perhaps predestination, election or free will would be the topics of the apostle’s speech. “Surely”, he thought, “he will tell me how the gospel of Jesus differs from Judaism.” But that wasn’t the case. On another occasion, on Mar’s Hill, the apostle would speak of the resurrection; in another place, he would speak of election. This was not the time for that, and this was not the place for such subjects; this was the time for preaching the simple principles of the gospel, and for dealing sternly with a wicked man who sat in the seat of power.
Picture the piercing manner of his opening statements-How he would speak to Felix concerning righteousness. I can imagine how he would bring up to Felix, the widow who had been swindled out of her inheritance, the fatherless children, who were made to beg for bread. I imagine that he brought up the many bribes that he had taken when he sat upon his judgment-seat. He would mention to him the false decisions he had rendered; he would remind him how the Jews, as a nation, had been oppressed by heavy taxes. He would bring to him one scene after another, where greed had overridden fairness, and give a picture of the exact character of the man; and then, at the end, declaring that such men could have no inheritance in the kingdom of God—asking him to repent of this his wickedness, so that his sins might be forgiven him. Then he turned to the other subject and I can imagine how he fixed his eyes on Drusilla, reminding her that she had lost everything that a woman should live for; and then turning to Felix to remind him that adulterers, fornicators, and unclean persons, have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
I think that for a moment, Felix bit his lips. But Paul didn’t give him any time to express his anger because he began next to speak passionately about the judgment to come. He made Felix think he saw the great white throne, the books opened, and himself standing before a judge: he made him hear the voice of Christ say-“Come ye blessed”-and “Depart ye cursed.” He petrified him, opened his ears and made him listen, while he reprimanded him by preaching the gospel, even though his hands were bound with chains. It was then that Felix began to tremble. Although he had been corrupt, and cruel, and deceitful, he trembled like the coward that he really was; and although he was sitting on a throne, he pictured himself already damned. It’s hard telling what he would have done next if the devil had not at that moment suggested to him that it was time to leave; and he and Drusilla left the throne after telling Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
Listen. Every minister should do what the apostle Paul did. He selected a topic that was appropriate for his audience. But how many ministers tone down their message today, so they don’t step on anyone’s toes; they make it pleasing to their audience so that no one will get upset and leave. But what is to be gained by pleasing men? If we love others, we should tell them about Christ, and it is our sacred duty to give them the gospel and to plead with them to turn from sin and repent. The Day of Judgment and thoughts of hell should be enough to scare men into accepting Christ. However, it is much better to come to Him by receiving the gospel with faith and asking Jesus to be your Savior and Lord.