Paul Imprisoned: Part 2 of 3 (series: Lessons on Acts)
by John Lowe
25 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.
“And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (24:25a)
During the meeting between Paul and Felix (24:24), there was a discussion of “righteousness,” no doubt along the lines of Romans 1-4, seeing that it is the divine standard by which human conduct is tested and the attribute of God that led Him to put humanity right with Himself. What a sermon that must have been. We can picture Paul earnestly setting before this couple the nature of “righteousness.” “Righteousness” of course is the great theme of the epistle to the Romans righteousness required, righteousness revealed, righteousness received, righteousness reproduced. Paul could have preached Christ at that point as the One who’s flawless righteousness enabled him to die, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18), and His glorious righteousness is imparted to the believer by faith when trust his placed in Him. But a holy God demands righteousness; that’s the bad news. Yet the good news is that this same holy God provides His own righteousness to those who trust Jesus Christ (9Romans 3:21-26). We can never be saved by our own righteousness of good works. We can be saved only through Christ’s righteousness made available by his finished work of salvation on the cross.
History would show how far short Felix came of that benchmark, and the presence of Priscilla at his side was evidence that they both lacked the “self-control” (“temperance”) of which Paul also spoke. We picture Paul setting before his audience the need for temperance, for self-control. Here was a couple who knew nothing of such self-control—a young girl, the pawn of politics, following her passions into a sinful union with her lover; a worldly-wise man used to getting his own way at all costs by the ruthless exercise of power.
We picture Paul, too, setting before Felix and Drusilla the nearness of “judgment.” Perhaps Paul told Felix and Drusilla what he told the Greek philosophers: God has “appointed a day, in which He will judge the world in righteousness” by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31; NKJV). Jesus Christ is either your Savior or your Judge? How do we know that Jesus Christ is the Judge? “He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31; NKJV). Once again, the Resurrection! What were a few fleeting years of sin and self-indulgence compared with the eternity of all that awaited the unrepentant, the great white throne lay ahead. There was no escape, except by way of Calvary. They might be able to flout and manipulate, scorn or evade the judgment of men, but there awaited them the judgment of God. There remained the supreme court of the universe and Jesus who must be faced—if not as Savior, then certainly as judge.
“Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee” (24:25b)
Paul’s words went like an arrow to the conscience of Felix, though what effect it had on Drusilla is not recorded. Never had he heard such preaching. Never had he been so pierced by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. For Felix, it was his moment of decision. Eternity swung in the balance. “Felix trembled.” The word literally means “was terrified.” Roman leaders prided themselves in their ability to be stoical and restrain their emotions under all circumstances, but a conviction from God gripped Felix’s heart, and he could not hide it. Paul had diagnosed the case and offered the remedy. It was up to Felix to receive it. “Felix trembled,”but that was all. Many are startled by the word of God, who are not changed by it. Many fear the consequences of sin yet continue in the love and practice of sin. In the meantime, we do not find Drusilla, a Jewess, nearly as alarmed as Felix. She had become accustomed to hearing about a future judgment: perhaps too she trusted in being a daughter of Abraham, or to the justice of the law.
But he let the moment pass and made the common excuse: “Some other time.” There never was another time. He procrastinated! “When I have a convenient season, I will call for thee,” he said. The most “convenient season” for a lost sinner to be saved is right now. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Felix perfectly illustrates the principle put forward by the Holy Spirit in one of several devastating warnings in Hebrews: “There are those who have known the truth. They have received the gift from heaven. They have shared the Holy Spirit. They know how good the Word of God is. They know of the powers of the world to come. But if they turn away, they cannot be sorry for their sins and turn from them again. It is because they are nailing the Son of God on a cross again. They are holding Him up in shame in front of all people” (Hebrews 6:4-6; NLV). Evidently what they heard brought conviction, for when Paul was done speaking of the “judgment to come,” Felix became afraid and brought the interview to a close. How very foolish; Felix and Drusilla needed to be warned concerning “the judgment to come,”because unless their sins were pardoned through the blood of Christ they would perish in the lake of fire.
Think for a moment about Felix’s foolish attitudes. He had a foolish attitude toward God’s Word, thinking that he could “take it or leave it.” But God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30; NKJV). When God speaks, men and women had better listen and obey.
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.
One reason for these repeated meetings was Felix’s hope of receiving a bribe; they were in no way an indication that his heart was interested in spiritual things. Felix had a choice, he could either keep Paul in prison indefinitely or, if he chose, could speed up the process of justice and have him acquitted (there was no way that Paul could be justly condemned). But before he would set him free, he wanted it made worth his while. The taking of bribes was forbidden by Roman law, but provincial governors were better at the breaking of it than in the observance. But Felix was fishing for a bribe—as though Paul, having preached to him of righteousness, would do anything as unrighteous as to help further corrupt this unrighteous man by buying his way out of prison.
Paul’s mention, in his defense, of the money that he had brought to Jerusalem (24:17) may have suggested to Felix that his prisoner was not without means, and the fact that he had the support of loyal friends may only have encouraged the governor in the hope that Paul would purchase his freedom. However, his hope was never fulfilled, and Paul remained a prisoner in Caesarea.
Be that as it may, Felix lost no opportunity to talk with Paul. He did not even bother to conceal his ulterior motive. His conscience, stimulated by Paul’s sermon, was now callous and unresponsive. Still, he found Paul fascinating and never gave up hope that Paul would weaken, grease his palm, and so secure his release. That Felix would not release him as a simple matter of justice was in keeping with his character.