by Kevin Phipps
Lately, I have been thinking about the end of the book of Acts. The Jews are seeking to condemn Paul to death, but because of his Roman citizenship, the Roman legal system comes into play. Beginning in chapter 23, Paul gets handed from one official to another. In several encounters, Luke shares the true intent behind the officials’ decision as Paul’s case comes before them.
First, we learn that the governor of Judea, Felix kept Paul in custody for two years because “he hoped money would be given him (Acts 24:26.)” Paul was still in custody when Festus succeeded Felix. As Festus reviewed the case, he recognized that the accusations against Paul would not stand in a courtroom but “wishing to do the Jews a favor (Acts 25:9)” Festus suggested that Paul go back to Jerusalem to stand trial. Paul knew that would most likely lead to his death, so it forces him to appeal his case to Caesar in Rome. For a man so committed to his mission, this had to be frustrating. But as the drama plays out, we see that it is all part of the Lord’s winding path to get Paul to Rome so He will testify about Jesus in the most important city in the world at that time (Acts 23:11.)
One official seeks a bribe. Another seeks a political win with a certain constituency. Neither are interested in seeking justice for Paul because they don’t see how it will be for their benefit. In bringing these motives into the light, Luke subtly reminds us to not place our trust in earthly political officials. On the other hand, for our comfort and encouragement, Luke is overtly reminding us that the ill motives of God-ordained governing authorities cannot thwart the Lord’s agenda for his people and his church. The providence of God in Paul’s journey is one illustration of Christ’s promise to keep and protect his Church (Matthew 16:18; Psalm 27:1).
Paul will get to Rome to preach the Gospel there. As we can see in the life of Joseph (Genesis 45:5, 8, 50:20), in Jesus’ crucifixion (Acts 2:23, 4:27), and here in Paul’s journey to Rome, even the twisted plots of sinners are under God’s governance to accomplish his purposes. Paul calls us to submit to, pay taxes to, respect, and even honor governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7) but we are not to trust in them. Our submitting, respecting, and honoring is not done naively. We do so confidently, trusting in the Lord because ultimately he is governing every governing authority.
Thank God that he has placed some Christians to serve in the political realm. We should pray that they will do so in a manner worthy of their calling as disciples of Jesus. How should we respond when governing authorities show that they are unworthy of submission, respect, and honor? After what happens at the end of Acts, with time to reflect on the journey to his first imprisonment in Rome Paul urges Christians to intercede on behalf of “kings and all who are who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly in and dignified and every way (1 Timothy 2:1-4.)” He explains that God can save all kinds of people, including pagan politicians (2 Timothy 2:3-4.) A man who had suffered injustice from governing authorities was sincerely praying for the salvation of the likes of Felix, Festus, and Caesar. Let us follow Paul’s example and urging by not trusting in, but praying for the governing authorities over us today and tomorrow.