Monday, September 13, 2010

two years of going nowhere

When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.
Acts 24:27

This is an interesting juncture in Paul's ministry story. He is under the care of a corrupt Roman governor who is more interested in deciding his case through the persuasion of a bribe (Acts 24:26) than with understanding and doing the right thing. The Jewish leaders cannot have the opportunity to carry out their death threat against him while he is under Roman guard. They try to secure Rome's willingness to see Paul as a threat to the state with the charges they bring about him (Acts 24:5-9). They even go so far to lie about the character of Felix, flattering him overtly in the hopes of achieving this ends (Acts 24:2-3). Felix was no reformer, as they flattered him with being. He was a corrupt man who wanted to use his office to build his own future. He cared nothing for the welfare of the nation.

Felix is a corrupt political appointee. He is just serving his term and trying to fill his coffers. And that puts Paul in a predicament because he has no means ethically or actually to give the governor a secret bribe. What it creates is regular opportunity for Paul to reason the Christian faith with Felix (Acts 24:22). It would seem that for some reason Felix found these conversations interesting and regularly called for Paul to talk with him, though his monetary motives were also in view (Acts 24:25-26). So greed would pull him to Paul, where he would hear the gospel, and then alarm would cause him to carefully push Paul away. It was an odd season, and it lasted for two years.

What looked like two years of stalled opportunity for Paul was exactly what God was carefully crafting him to experience. Felix may have been a minor Roman appointee, but he was nonetheless one more step in the journey to preach the gospel to the very center of the First Century Roman world. So Paul had plenty of time to craft his message and arguments in a Roman context. And we do not see the text telling us any apprehensions or complaining from Paul at this time. He just faithfully endured with grace and conviction whatever God decreed for him. Even if it was two years of going nowhere.

The text is not real clear about WHY two years in Felix's custody was necessary. We just know that the next governor, Festus, moved Paul's case along the legal route. And maybe it was nothing more than that. Felix protected Paul in a Roman prison so that the plots against him by the Jews did not succeed. And then, in God's providence, another politician emerged who would start Paul's journey to Rome. The real test of character just might be times where we feel like nothing is happening. It is then that we question God. It is then that we are tempted to push forward in our own strength. But sometimes God has us there for reasons we may never know.

- Posted with my iPad. The Apple Kool-Aide tastes fine.

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