Paul’s encounter with Felix gives us further evidence of the courage of the resurrected Lord. The apostle makes his bold witness to the governor and is sustained both by his own message and the impact it had on the Roman leader.
Some background on Felix is helpful. He was a complicated, strange mixture of Roman training and spiritual intrigue. His brother Pallos was a favorite of Nero. Through his family influence, Felix had risen from being a slave to becoming a Roman governor. His quest for power was never completely satisfied. It had propelled him through three social and political-climbing marriages. At the time of his encounter with Paul, he was married to Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa the first. Intrigue, greed, and obsession for advancement had made him a feared individual of any who got in his way.
Luke presents us with several conflicting dimensions of Felix’s character. We feel an almost imperious control of his affairs. He was not manipulated by the Jews nor swayed by solicitous compliments. Felix obviously was taken with what Paul said. In verse 22 Luke tells us that he had a “more accurate knowledge of the Way.” He probably had encountered the followers of Jesus before. What is implied is that he knew more about Christianity than the Jews had supposed. But Luke also displays him true to his greedy nature when he tells us that he had hoped to get money from Paul in exchange for his release in verse 26.
The Jews came to Caesarea well prepared to make their charges against the apostle Paul. They brought with them an eloquent and clever trial lawyer from Jerusalem named Tertullus. He began his case against Paul by trying to win Felix’s favor with flattery, however it wasn’t enough of a charge to alarm Felix. Every possible inflammatory and emotional trick was employed to turn Felix against Paul. When the apostle was given an opportunity to speak, his defense was brilliant. He established all that he had in common with his accusers and his love for his nation of Israel. Then he carefully pointed out that he worshiped the God of their fathers, “believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (v. 14). He believed only what had been clearly predicted. The point, however, was that the promises had been fulfilled. The Resurrection did happen. Paul flatly stated his case: it was concerning the resurrection of the dead that he was being tried.
Note what Paul had done. He shifted the emphasis off the charges of insurrection and focused the issue on a difference of theology. That matter did not concern the Roman court. By sticking to his central message of the risen Lord he won the day.
Felix was obviously impressed with Paul. He showed his partiality by allowing the apostle’s friends to visit him. If he had sided with the Jews, Felix would have been much more severe with Paul. He put off a decision, saying he would rule on the case when Lysias came down to Caesarea. The governor was basically bargaining for more time. In the mean time, he and his wife listened to Paul “concerning the faith in Christ” (v. 24). Paul shared the essentials of the faith: righteousness in Christ, the new person created in those who trust Him (self-control), and the urgency of making a response because of the judgment of those who hear but reject the gospel (v. 25).
Felix and Drusilla had thought hearing Paul would be an entertaining experience. What they had not anticipated was that moral implications and judgment would follow Paul’s explanation of righteousness in Christ. The governor and his wife were alarmed by the penetrating power of the gospel Paul preached. Like so many who toy with Christianity as one more set of ideas, they suddenly saw the personal cost of commitment to Christ. Felix did not want his morals messed with or his motives questioned. But the real issue was that his lust for money was more urgent than the pull within him to respond to Paul’s message. He wanted an under-the-table exchange of money from Paul for his release. The tragedy was that the Roman and his wife missed the opportunity to come alive in Christ. The irony was that two years later Felix was deposed and transferred. He left Caesarea stripped of political power, and, because he rejected Christ, he was left without any meaning or hope in his life.
Felix’s words in verse 25, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you,” are expressed in a variety of different ways by people outside and even inside the church. It is the timeless “don’t-call-me, I’ll-call-you” attitude to the communicator—really to God.
Felix called for Paul, not in order to hear more of the gospel, but to make a deal for money.
Consider the ways we say “go away for now” to the call of Christ or the claims of the gospel. A character study of what prompted Felix to say that should call us to reflect on ways we put off the Lord. F. W. Boreham, the great Australian preacher, said, “We make our decisions, and then our decisions turn around and make us.” Another way to say it would be—we refuse to choose and our indecisiveness shapes us. There’s always a next step in growth in fellowship with Christ. Some obedience is demanded, some restitution required.
Joel described life as a valley of decisions. In Joel 3:14 it says: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision”. The Lord is pressing some of us to become more contagious in communicating love; others He is challenging to be bolder in sharing our faith; and others He has on the very edge of responding to an opportunity of leadership. And unfortunately sometimes the response is… “Go away, Lord! Later … Lord.”
Augustine put the Lord off for a long time. “I could give no reply except a lazy and drowsy, ‘Yes, Lord, yes, I’ll get around to it right away; just don’t bother me for a little while.’ But ‘right away’ didn’t happen right away; and a ‘little while’ turned out to be a very long while.” The frightening thing is that we can express that not only before becoming a Christian, but at each new opportunity of discipleship. Etienne de Grellet, ( think I said that right) a French American quaker missionary said this, “I shall pass through this world but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do, let me do it now; let me not defer it or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Felix is a classic study in procrastination. The result of his indecision was that he missed his opportunity to allow the Lord to fill the emptiness of his things-oriented, power-hungry, money-grasping heart. He couldn’t decide about Paul, Christ, or himself.
In moments of conviction, of Holy Spirit promptings, it’s in our best interest not to delay or put off until we feel ready, convenient, or comfortable. It’s in those moments that God is calling us deeper, closer and into His perfect will and purpose.