Today’s reading: Acts 24
Today we read about Paul who is a “guest” of the Roman governor Felix for two years. Felix is an interesting character. He is a Roman governor but also married to a Jew. We read this about him:
But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs. After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”
Felix, having a Jewish wife, means he would have likely been familiar with the basic of the Old Testament and Jewish beliefs and practice. The text also says that he had accurate knowledge of the “the way” (an early name of Christianity). Felix seems to have more than a passing interest in what Paul is saying and the text implies that his discussions with Paul take place over a period of time. Certainly, Paul, the greatest evangelist, could keep his attention and would never grow tired of discussing the subject.
Why then doesn’t Felix convert?
I think the answer must lie in where all sins begin – pride. Felix is Roman, his citizenship gives him privilege. He’s also a governor; he has status and is likely wealth. His relatives are probably upper-class Roman’s as well, perhaps his position had originally been obtained through his family’s political connections. Like most Roman governors he is probably hoping to one day return to Rome and to continue to climb the political ladder. On his wife’s side of the family, he has Jewish relatives. Again, it is also fair to speculate that if their daughter married a Roman they are at least upper-class Jews. We see from the last two chapters the growing divide between the Jews and the Christians with the traditional Jewish people referring to Christians as the “sect of Nazarenes”. Recall the attitude that was common at the time, “nothing good ever came from Nazareth”. (John 1:46)
If Felix had converted what would have likely happened. His Roman relatives would have likely been mortified. To be a Roman governor you would be expected to do Roman things. He would have been expected to make sacrifices to Roman gods and to consider the emperor a god on earth. As a Christian, he would have been prohibited from doing those things. As a governor, he was bound to enforce Roman justice with an iron fist and a firm resolve but Christianity calls us to love our enemies and to show mercy. Felix’s political career, everything he had planned for since childhood, everything he had trained for, all the sacrifices he had made to obtain his high position, and everything he had believed and valued up until then would be gone, vanished overnight simply by accepting the Christian faith.
His Jewish in-laws would likely have ostracized him as well. Having their daughter married to a powerful politically connected Roman pagan was one thing but having her married to a disgraced ex-roman official who followed the embarrassing sect that worshiped a crucified carpenter who promised to destroy the temple would be something else. His wife would have likely divorced him or been hidden away by her family.
This is the crux of the dilemma that remains for many people even to this day. To convert, to accept the truth that you have come to know means that in some way you must admit that previously you were wrong. You have to admit to your family and friends that you’ve made mistakes. It might cost you your job or your opportunity at advancement. It might offend your friends or relatives. It might even cost you your identity, who you defined yourself as. That’s a hard thing to do even under the best circumstances. Through pride in the mix and the stumbling blocks might seem too great.
Of course, intellectually we all know we are all called to do this. To turn away from what we think, what we want, and how we define ourselves and to turn to a deeper relationship with truth, who is the Lord.
Tomorrow: Acts 25