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man giving a defense December 10 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading: Acts 23:12- 26:32

How To Respond To Unfair Treatment; Presenting a Defense

What actions might make us feel like we are being unfairly treated? Perhaps someone accuses us of something we did not do. Perhaps someone gossips against us. Perhaps someone cheats us. Perhaps someone is mean to us. Some typical responses or attitudes from unfair treatment are anger, bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. Today we will look at what Paul did when he was unfairly treated as an example of what we can do.

At this time in church history Paul was in Jerusalem. He came to bring a contribution for the poor, which he had collected from the churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He had just completed his third missionary journey. While he was in Jerusalem, some Jews from Asia Minor came up for the Feast of Pentecost to worship. They saw Paul and his companions and stirred up the Jews against them. Paul was accused of bringing a Gentile into the temple, so Paul was dragged out of the temple, and they tried to kill him. After a couple of foiled attempts on Paul’s life, for his own safety, the Roman commander in Jerusalem orders that he be taken by 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen to Caesarea so that he might get a fair trial. That is a lot of protection! God foiled the plot of the Jews.

After five days, Jewish leaders and a well-spoken lawyer, Tertullus, come to Caesarea to convince Governor Felix of Paul’s guilt and have him condemned. Tertullus accuses Paul of being a troublemaker or pest, stirring up the Jewish people around the world. The Romans liked order. They certainly would not like to hear this. He also accuses Paul of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Rome did not like new religions, and the Nazarenes had a bad reputation. Last, he accuses Paul of trying to desecrate the temple. This was a religious offense, punishable by death.

How does Paul answer these charges? Does he express outrage, bitterness, revenge, or self-pity? No, Paul answers with respect. Paul maintains his integrity and calmly gives a defense. He welcomes Felix to check out the validity of his story. Paul did not have time to cause a riot – he was only there for twelve days, and his activities were closely monitored. His accusers could not prove their charges, and the ones from Asia Minor who started these accusations are conspicuously absent. The first thing we can learn about how to handle unfair treatment is to give a calm explanation and defense and to do it with respect.

In his defense, Paul highlights points of agreement between him and his adversaries. He agrees with the Pharisees about everything that was written in the Law and the Prophets (Acts 24:14). The Pharisees and Paul also have the same hope that there will be a future resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. “In view of this [Paul says], I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men,” (Acts 24:15-16, NIV). The second thing we can learn about responding to injustice is to be blameless and present your defense with humility without hostility.

Paul continues in his defense by laying out the whole story as honestly and forthrightly as he can. Third, we may learn that an honest testimony engenders respect and believability.

Why was Paul really on trial? Paul said, “‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today,’” (Acts 24:21, NIV). The Sanhedrin was mostly made up of Sadducees, which did not believe in the resurrection (that was why they were sad, you see), but neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees want Paul to preach Jesus being resurrected from the dead. They do not want Jesus accepted as the Messiah, nor do they want Gentiles in their religion. They think if they accept Jesus or the Gentiles, they will pollute their religion and lose their place of prestige in the Jewish community and the Roman world.

Felix hopes to profit from Paul’s imprisonment, but it never materializes. As a governor, Felix had a reputation for being cruel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the N.T. by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p.422). Though Felix knew that Paul did not deserve imprisonment, he keeps Paul locked up in prison for two more years to please the Jews.

Governor Festus succeeds Governor Felix. Little is known of Governor Festus, but apparently he had a reputation for fairness (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the N.T. by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p.422). Knowing the volatile situation with Paul and the Jews, Festus went to Jerusalem to hear about the case from the Jews. Even after Paul’s two-year imprisonment, the Jews still hold a grudge against him and want to kill him. Festus invites the Jewish leaders to Caesarea for another trial.

At the trial in Caesarea, Festus tries to please the Jews and asks Paul if he would like to be tried in Jerusalem. The Jews want Paul tried in Jerusalem because they are planning an ambush to kill him. Paul knows of their true intent and makes his appeal to be tried in Caesars’ court. In today’s world, his appeal to Caesar could be likened to someone appealing to the Supreme Court. Because Paul appeals to Caesar, he will be sent to Rome, the place of Caesar’s throne. From Paul’s example we can learn to be wise and astute in our defense.

While Paul awaits transport as a prisoner to Rome, King Agrippa II, who rules in northeast Palestine and is a son of King Agrippa I (Acts 12:1) and a great-grandson of King Herod the Great, and Bernice (his sister) come to visit with Festus (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the N.T., by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p.423). Governor Festus knows that Paul did not do anything worthy of death. Festus wants King Agrippa’s perspective so that Festus will have some legal accusation to present to Caesar concerning Paul’s crimes.

Before King Agrippa and governor Festus, Paul once more gives his defense. However, instead of defending his actions, Paul gives the testimony of his conversion, from being a zealous Pharisee to becoming a Christian. Seeking to take advantage of the opportunity that God gives him, he tries to persuade Festus and King Agrippa to become Christians (more...). Though this does not work, they come to a conclusion, saying, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.” Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar,” (Acts 26:31-32, NIV).

In the end, God uses the unfair treatment of Paul and the court trials to allow Paul to give a reasonable defense and testimony of his faith and actions, and to give him an all expense paid trip to Rome. He will not go first class, however; he will be taken to Rome as a prisoner.

Lessons to live by: How to respond to unfair treatment:

  • Stay calm and be respectful.
  • Be blameless and present your case with humility, not hostility.
  • Be honest and forthright in your testimony.
  • Be wise and astute in your defense.
  • Use the opportunities that God gives you to give testimony of God’s saving grace in your life.
  • Trust the Lord that, though your ways may prove difficult, he will bring you through them and accomplish the his purposes.
  • Do you want God's help when you are unfairly treated? Pray for him to help you. If you do not know him, here is how you may have hope and help (more...).

Today’s Bible Memory Verses: 1Peter 3:15-16

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (NIV)

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