God’s Word for You
Acts 26:1-3 Respect the gray head
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 11, 2021
26 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “You have permission to speak on your own behalf.” So Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: 2 “I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today, King Agrippa, as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, 3 and especially so because you are so familiar with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Paul’s gesture was not to silence any crowd, but was simply the gesture of a master orator. Paul motions to the royal and ranking officials. It’s probably a mistake to say that Paul’s hand was still bound to a soldier by a chain. When Paul was brought in, it was by the command of the governor, and he wasn’t “led” in chains (Judges 15:13; Mark 15:1) but simply “brought in” (Acts 25:23).
Paul begins by humbly but boldly addressing the king. He didn’t have to; this wasn’t a trial. But Paul had an opportunity and he took it. He was going to take this moment to explain the gospel, and to do it in a very personal way, by showing how Christ had made a difference in his life and changed his life. As he does this, he does not forget to be respectful of the king who sits before him. Abraham was respectful and bowed before the Hittites when he negotiated about Sarah’s tomb (Genesis 23:7), and St. Augustine said, “Mutually honor God in yourselves.” When we give honor to our superiors and parents, we are also giving honor to God. Moses said something similar: “Rise before the gray head, honor the elderly, and fear your God. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32).
“Young people,” Luther said in a sermon, “must be taught to revere their parents as God’s representatives, and to remember that, however lowly, poor, feeble, and eccentric they may be, they are their own father and mother, given them by God. They are not to be deprived of their honor because of their ways or their failings. Therefore, we are not to think of their persons, whatever they are, but of the will of God, who has created and ordained them to be our parents” (Large Catechism, Fourth Commandment, par. 108).
So even though in many ways all people are equal before God, especially in the sense that we are all poor miserable sinners in God’s sight, in need of a Savior, there is also a difference between us; there is an inequality among us. This is the concept of authority and of dignity and respect which is not about race, gender, intelligence, accomplishment or even religion, but simply about age (in the case of family) and authority (in the case of the state). So, for example, between my father and me there is a sense of authority that goes two ways. In spiritual matters I am an ordained pastor, and my father defers to me in matters of the gospel and the Word of God. He asks me questions and even calls me pastor both in public and in private, at such times, although I would never insist on it. But in matters of family and family tradition, he is my father, and I submit and defer to him. I try to always treat him with respect, and I never complain about him when he is not present. I always think of him that way even when I pray for him or have him in my thoughts: he is my dad, I love him, and I thank God for him and his example. If he were, as Luther says, “eccentric” in some way, I would overlook it, but as things are, I find that I imitate him in many ways. He is my model of a godly man, and I hope I am the same for my own sons.
So Paul treated Agrippa with respect and honor, even though Agrippa was a scoundrel, a rascal, and a vile sinner. He and his sister Bernice had played in this very palace as children, but now they were intertwined in an incestuous relationship that so shocked the country that Bernice married the king of Cilicia with a considerable bribe, but she continued to live with her brother as a lover. Paul teaches us a lesson in ministry with his patience. Another man might have spit in this king’s face, slapped his sister, and stormed off, preferring even to suffer martyrdom than be caught in the same room with them. But Paul had a goal in mind: he wanted to use the court of Caesar himself as his pulpit. So in one sense, Paul tolerated the sins of this pair for the sake of the gospel. But is one sin more vile than another in God’s eyes? God anointed Jehu to put an end to the reign of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 9:3, 9-10). But after he accomplished this and obeyed the will of God, he was still held accountable for not turning the Northern Kingdom completely away from their idolatry and for not being careful to keep the law of the Lord “with all his heart” (1 Kings 10:31). So even though Jehu was close to being the only good and godly king the (northern) Kingdom of Israel ever had, he was still held accountable for his sins, and condemned just as Ahab and Jezebel were condemned.
Paul was concerned with the souls of the people before him. They weren’t just a stepping stone on his way to Rome. They were lost souls who needed to learn the truth about their sins and the glory of their Savior. And that was what Paul was about to hold out to them.
Lord God, my God, give me patience and passion for lost souls like Paul had. Forgive my sins of failing to show respect where it is due according to your holy will, and teach me to serve you by serving others, to submit to you by submitting to my elders, and to glorify you by giving glory to your Son, my Savior Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith