Paul had been arrested, taken first to the Roman barracks then to the seat of Roman government in Caesarea. He had been tried and accused of serious charges but was not declared guilty or innocent. Paul made the most of his enforced period of inactivity, including having discussions ith Felix, the Roman governor during this era.
Although Felix knew something of the Jewish faith (his wife was Jewish) and the Christian faith, he didn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior. In this final message in the Go Thy Way Series, we can notice a few things. First, this is the last time the phrase appears in Scripture; it’s the only time Paul ever heard the phrase, and it’s the only time a pagan used the term.
The text comes from Acts chapter 24, beginning at verse 22: “And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter. And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him. And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 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. 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. But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.”
In the context, which stretches from Acts 21 through this chapter, Paul had returned to Jerusalem after a missionary journey. Certain Jews found him in the Temple, then accused him of bringing a Gentile into the Temple grounds (see Acts 21). The Romans rescued Paul and brought him into their barracks (castle, Acts 22:24) after Paul spoke to the Jewish mob, giving part of his testimony (Acts 23). One of Paul’s nephews heard about a plot to kill Paul and informed him about it. Paul then asked him to share this with the commander. The commander then sent him on to Caesarea (Acts 23) with 470 soldiers for protection. Then Paul stood trial before Felix, with Tertullus and other officials bringing charges against him (Acts 24).
Seldom has any trial been left undecided! Either the accused was declared guilty of the crimes or was declared not guilty. Logically, there is no other choice unless perhaps the case was dismissed. That didn’t happen here, as Felix made no decision except to delay his judgment. Suppose a baseball umpire sees a play but doesn’t make a call. What happens then? Is the player safe or out? The umpire is supposed to make a judgment, but suppose the umpire calls, “Time out!” What kind of judgment was that?
So, he’s held in some kind of protective custody in Caesarea and has proved he did nothing wrong or worthy of punishment. The opponents couldn’t prove their case, but he wasn’t yet set free. However, Felix allowed him to have some liberties, and he had the privilege of open access. His friends (acquaintances, v. 23) also could come and minister to him, but one wonders what kind of true comfort that was for Paul. I don’t read where he ever had been in a situation such as this one in any of his journeys before.
Yet, while Paul was in an odd situation, not guilty but not free and having liberty but still supervised by a Roman centurion, the Lord still had a plan for Paul. There were people who had not heard the message of the gospel clearly.
The Lord had just that person, in just that situation.
Luke tells us in verse 24 that “after certain days,” Felix himself sent for Paul! More interestingly, he was married to a Jewish woman, Drusilla, whose ancestry included King Herod. Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews and several commentaries, gives her pedigree. That she wanted to hear Paul at all is something I’ve wondered about for some time.
So what happened?
Felix and Drusilla, at least once, spoke with Paul about the “faith in Christ” (v. 24): That would have been something to observe, with Paul explaining his journey from a persecutor of the believers to a preacher or proclaimer of the gospel! He could have told them about his background at Jerusalem, his education under Gamaliel’s training, and how he had met Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus. He could have explained his time alone with God, it seems, when he was in Arabia (Gal. 1) and any number of things he had experienced.
Did he mention any of these?
We don’t read that he did. Luke only says that Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (v. 25). Certainly there could have been more, but the Holy Spirit has drawn the curtain, so to speak, over what happened in these meetings.
The Final Status
When Felix heard the message from God, through Paul, he trembled! Some other renderings include: [he] was terrified (American Standard Version); “having become afraid (Young’s Literal Translation)”; and, “Felix, being filled with fear…(John N, Darby’s translation).” All of these hold the idea that Felix displayed a much different personality than when Paul stood before him on trial. Then, Felix listened to both sides and decided not to decide. Now, he’s hearing the very words of God as spoken (“reasoned” v. 25), and maybe other times, too. Verse 26 says Felix asked to speak with Paul “the oftener” but maybe not just to hear the gospel?
Paul surely didn’t expect such a response! Think about the times when he had gone and preached the gospel: Sometimes, a number believed and became Christians; other times, the listeners rejected the message (as at Thessalonica, Lystra, etc.); at Athens, he was given a polite hearing and a polite non-response. (We’ll be glad to hear you again about this some other time, Acts 17:32). I don’t read anywhere that anyone heard the gospel, then trembled but did nothing about it!
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Felix gave a perhaps, political answer, saying, “Go thy way (Paul couldn’t go anywhere! He was still a prisoner of Felix!), and then some of the saddest words in Scripture: “When I have a convenient season, I’ll call for you” (v. 25).
Call for Paul, Felix did, but as noted, he may have had a different motive in mind. In fact, verse 26 says Felix basically was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe!
Just think, Paul could have been set free and could have done so much more on the road than in prison, couldn’t he? It’s a testimony to Paul that he never took the bait and stayed in Felix’s custody though he was innocent. In fact, Paul couldn’t have given Felix a bribe, because Paul didn’t have any money! Remember that earlier in the chapter, he had been given a military escort from Jerusalem to Caesarea, but did Felix think Paul had paid for his protection? Felix had a letter from Claudius Lysias, the commander of Fort Jerusalem or the Roman garrison there, but did Felix expect Paul to give money to Lysias? Perhaps he pounced on Paul’s words that he had brought alms (v. 17); some commentators also note this (David Guzik, for one); but would Paul have kept any of the alms he had brought with him for himself? If he had, it’s a pretty good guess that this would have been one of the charges lodged or filed against him!
So let’s pull it all together. Paul’s situation wasn’t anything he had experienced before, being held but also having liberty; not guilty but not released; reasonable doubt, perhaps, as to whether he was guilty but still held in captivity. Even there, we don’t read that Paul lost hope or renounced his Christian faith. God’s grace extends to those in prisons of any kind. Then, Felix may have genuinely been seeking for, at least, more information about the Christian faith. His wife, being Jewish, may have wanted to hear Paul, also. At worst, maybe he thought Paul was going to contradict himself or condemn himself. Sadly, when Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, temperance and judgment to come, Felix dodged the issue by saying, “Go thy way,” though Paul couldn’t have gone far!
Felix waited for a convenient season, but we don’t read anywhere that a convenient season ever came. Was he really looking or watching for one? When the Lord speaks to us, to me, I hope each of us responds immediately. There never may be a better time or another time to respond. Felix had the chance to respond, but didn’t. How about you?