God’s Word for You
Acts 226:29-32 Law and Gospel in Acts 26
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 22, 2021
29 Paul said: “I pray to God that in a rush and to a great degree, not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these bonds.”
Paul knew he was soon to be on his way; he had no time to waste on trivial matters. In Gentile cities he had converted people like Lydia and the jailer at Philippi with just a few words. He had presented more than a few words to these rulers. Agrippa at least was acquainted with the teachings already (he knew the word “Christian” which had first been used in Syrian Antioch, Acts 11:26). Paul was inviting everyone in the room to put their faith in Christ. What a congregation it would have been! Here in Caesarea there was already a Christian church attended by the Roman Centurion Cornelius and others (Acts 10:1, 19:22) and probably served by Philip the evangelist as pastor (Acts 21:8). But the Roman rulers and Jewish nobles did not take their Savior’s invitation through Paul.
Paul’s words in this verse could well be used by a pastor entering the pulpit on Sunday morning or when a missionary sets out on his door to door work, “I pray to God that in a rush and to a great degree, all who are listening to me may become what I am.” He might even modify Paul’s concluding words, “Except for my sins.” The minister’s goal is to save souls by changing hearts, turning people to Jesus, and to correctly explain the word of God as God intended it.
When Paul says “except these bonds,” was he saying that he was at this time bound with heavy, clanking chains? It was illegal to bind a Roman with chains. He may have been bound in some way, such as with a rope, but I agree with Balge and Lenski and others that there is no call to describe Paul as making some dramatic Clank! with his chains at this point.
30 The king rose, as did the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 They withdrew and were saying to one another, “Neither death nor imprisonment is worth what this man has done.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
This meeting had been called for Agrippa’s sake, but the real idea had been for Festus to find out something useful for his report. He didn’t learn anything new. Everyone who had been there agreed privately that Paul wasn’t guilty of anything, but neither Festus nor Herod Agrippa possessed the courage to say so as a public verdict.
This passage (indeed, this whole chapter) leaves us with a clear message about our faith. There will be times when we are persecuted because of our faith. This is both a comfort and a guide for Christian living. We should view this chapter from Paul’s point of view in terms of law and gospel. Of course, from the standpoint of Festus and Agrippa, it is law, a judgment on their unbelief in the face of clear gospel preaching. But here is also law and gospel proclaimed for Paul and for us. There is law here in its third use, which is the law as a guide for sanctified living. This is because persecution due to our Christian faith is not a chastisement for a sin, but something that comes especially when we are showing our faith with a clear message to the world. It serves as a guide to give us clear examples from the Bible (such as Paul) as to the way we handle this kind of persecution. Should I become upset or angry or depressed? By no means! I should praise God that I have good examples in people like Peter and Paul and ask for God’s help in bearing up. But then we need to remember that this whole mismanaged trial was foreseen by God. This is where the gospel plays a pivotal role. Jesus had appeared to Paul and had already assured him that all of this was in God’s plan. Paul was heading to Rome because the Lord had work for him there. So even though there was going to be physical suffering, it would be for the good of the kingdom, and Paul had the special revelation of God’s presence with him as he carried out this task. As we will see, it was not only Paul’s arrival in Rome and his labor there that were in the Lord’s plan, but the journey itself that was also part of the plan. Paul’s voyage across the Mediterranean was about to begin.
A Christian’s sanctified living is brought about by the Holy Spirit. When the Scripture tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10), this doesn’t mean that there is one and only one good work to do. Some of God’s examples involve two or more good choices, and the Lord allows us to make the choice: Will I serve God doing this, or doing that? A young woman has two suitors: Should she marry George or should she marry Rupert? If both of her suitors are Christian men, both treat her well, and both want to marry her, then she will need to choose for herself which will make a good husband, but either would be a choice which God would bless as having been a fine Christian choice. If she decides to choose Rupert over George, she does not need to wonder whether she was doing the right thing. God will bless her choice and their marriage. Or take Abigail. When her husband insulted David and his men, she hurried out to placate David. She chose to take along two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, a bushel of roasted grain, a hundred raisin cakes and two hundred fig cakes (1 Samuel 25:18). There was no rule or law about that, or even any suggestion. It was just what she had available. And so it is with how we live out our lives. We make choices and we trust that God will bless our choices. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Pastor Timothy Smith