Monday, June 11, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Acts Chapter 24

Although an attempt was made on Paul's life by some zealous Jews aided by the Jewish religious leaders (The Sanhedrin), God orchestrated events so that Paul would be moved to Caesarea to have his case put before the governor.

The High Priest and some of the elders of the Sanhedrin came to present their case against Paul before the governor, and brought a trained spokesman to represent them. (v.1-2)

The spokesman's praise of governor Felix was exaggerated, as Felix's record as a governor in history is one of corruption and his "reforms" are difficult to substantiate. The spokesman also exaggerated, even fabricated accusations against Paul, saying that he stirred up riots among Jews "all around the world" and "tried to profane the temple".

Although we can understand today the problem any government would have with riots, it might seem odd that the Jewish leaders bothered charging Paul with an offense against the temple in a secular, Roman court. But Roman law at this time protected the Jewish religion in many ways and prohibited activities that would be harmful to the free practice of the Jewish religion. So it was important for Paul to defend himself against both of these charges. (v.3-9)

As Paul began to speak, his opening praise of the governor was positive, though much more honest, and as a result, shorter. He simply remarked on the governor's experience and therefore his assumed capability to rightly judge the facts. And in Roman courts, judgment was based on logic and probability.

Therefore Paul simply appeals to the facts, which Felix could investigate and verify given his position of authority. Paul points out that the Sanhedrin has no proof of him starting any riots or attempting to profane the temple. He clarifies his reasons for being at the temple. He acknowledges that he follows The Way, a name used by the early Christians to refer to their beliefs and lifestyle. But he points out that it is not in conflict with Jewish scripture, which he still values. In fact he worships the same God described in Jewish scripture. (v.10-15)

Paul emphasizes that he makes every effort not to offend anyone, and that when he was seized he had been delivering money to Jewish people in need (highlighting his loyalty to his own people) and had been purified in complete compliance with temple laws. Paul then refers to the Jews from Asia who initially accused Paul and started the riot (see chapter 21:27-29) and says that they should be present to provide evidence of their claim. Paul states that the only thing he ever said that set off an argument in this whole mess was a statement regarding the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, which he spoke in his own defense in a private meeting with the Sanhedrin, as opposed to a place where he might have stirred up controversy publicly. (v.16-21)

Watching Paul defend himself in this moment is both humbling and inspiring to me. When I feel like someone is judging or accusing me of something, that surge of emotion fills my core, brewing and bubbling faster and stronger until I feel like I'm going to explode in response. I want to pounce back with counter-accusations and point out the hypocrisy in their words. It takes everything in me to wrestle down visions of verbally "tearing them a new one" and quietly listen instead.

Heated arguments tend to obscure truth rather than reveal it. Aside from following the proper procedure for a Roman hearing, I think Paul knew that as well. Rather than become angry or emotionally reactive, he simply listened to his accuser and then put the facts out on the table for examination in response.

I'm a little jealous of Paul, because he had been trained in rhetoric and so knew how to handle himself in a situation like this. But it occurs to me that I can get "training" in how to respond better to others simply by choosing to regularly engage in relationships, rather than pursue the life of solitary geekery that I so often prefer. Interacting with others will inevitably mean some awkward or intense moments, but that's all part of learning how to connect with others more deeply and lovingly. I'm convinced more and more that the better I become at relationships, the better I can convey truth to others and benefit from the truth they bring into my life. But back to the text in front of us...

Evidently, governor Felix had some knowledge of the Christian faith. And he was curious enough to hear more. He delayed the trial, giving the arrival of the tribune who witnessed the whole thing as his reason for doing so. But this was likely just a stalling tactic in service to Felix's own agenda.
It was popular for Roman officials of this time to keep a philosopher around to dialogue with and it seems that Felix enjoyed talking with Paul enough not to hurry his trial. He also hoped to get a bribe from Paul, who had permission to see visitors who could potentially raise and bring money to assist him.

Unfortunately for Felix, Paul was not going to be bribing him any time soon. And once Paul started explaining and reasoning through the ramifications of who Jesus is and what he has done for humanity, including our NEED for what Jesus has done because of the judgment that will eventually come to all, Felix became uncomfortable. He sent for Paul a number of times to talk with him, but it seems the novelty of conversing with Paul was the most he was interested in. As a result, Paul waited in house arrest for two years before anything else happened regarding his case. (v.22-27)

If I'm not careful, I can find myself enjoying the analysis of truth without actually letting that truth engage my heart and my life. I've met some people and encountered some churches over the years that seem to live life in this mode. We can nod and smile while the man at the pulpit shares a series of nice ideas for 20 minutes. We can furrow our brows with "conviction" and say "mmm" as we hear a passage from the Bible. But if we don't allow truth to actually effect the way we perceive ourselves, our priorities and our purpose, we can just as easily spend two years actively going nowhere, and missing out on the amazing, wonderful things God wants to do in our lives.

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