They Did Jehovah’s Will
Paul Boldly Witnesses Before Dignitaries
THE contrast between the two men could not have been more pronounced. One wore a crown while the other wore chains. One was a king; the other, a prisoner. After two years in jail, the apostle Paul now stood before the ruler of the Jews, Herod Agrippa II. The king and his consort, Bernice, had come “with much pompous show and entered into the audience chamber together with military commanders as well as men of eminence in the city.” (Acts 25:23) One reference work says: “There were probably several hundred people present.”
The newly appointed governor, Festus, had arranged for the meeting. The governor who preceded him, Felix, had been content to let Paul languish in prison. But Festus questioned the validity of the charges against Paul. Why, Paul was so insistent on his innocence that he had demanded to present his case to Caesar! Paul’s case stirred King Agrippa’s curiosity. “I myself would also like to hear the man,” he said. Festus quickly made arrangements, likely wondering what the king would think of this unique prisoner.—Acts 24:27–25:22.
The next day, Paul found himself standing before a large crowd of dignitaries. “I count myself happy that it is before you I am to make my defense this day,” he said to Agrippa, “especially as you are expert on all the customs as well as the controversies among Jews. Therefore I beg you to hear me patiently.”—Acts 26:2, 3.
Paul’s Bold Defense
First, Paul told Agrippa about his past as a persecutor of Christians. “I tried to force them to make a recantation,” he said. “I went so far as to persecuting them even in outside cities.” Paul went on to relate how he received a striking vision in which the resurrected Jesus asked him: “Why are you persecuting me? To keep kicking against the goads makes it hard for you.”*—Acts 26:4-14.
Jesus then commissioned Saul to witness to people of all nations “both of things you have seen and things I shall make you see respecting me.” Paul related that he diligently strove to fulfill his assignment. Yet, “on account of these things,” he told Agrippa, “Jews seized me in the temple and attempted to slay me.” Appealing to Agrippa’s interest in Judaism, Paul stressed that his witnessing really involved “saying nothing except things the Prophets as well as Moses stated were going to take place” regarding the Messiah’s death and resurrection.—Acts 26:15-23.
Festus interrupted. “Great learning is driving you into madness!” he exclaimed. Paul replied: “I am not going mad, Your Excellency Festus, but I am uttering sayings of truth and of soundness of mind.” Paul then said of Agrippa: “The king to whom I am speaking with freeness of speech well knows about these things; for I am persuaded that not one of these things escapes his notice, for this thing has not been done in a corner.”—Acts 26:24-26.
Then Paul addressed Agrippa directly. “Do you, King Agrippa, believe the Prophets?” The question undoubtedly made Agrippa uncomfortable. After all, he had an image to maintain, and to agree with Paul would be siding with what Festus called “madness.” Perhaps sensing Agrippa’s hesitancy, Paul answered his own question. “I know you believe,” he said. Agrippa now spoke, but he kept his words noncommittal. “In a short time,” he said to Paul, “you would persuade me to become a Christian.”—Acts 26:27, 28.
Paul skillfully used Agrippa’s evasive statement to make a powerful point. “I could wish to God,” he said, “that whether in a short time or in a long time not only you but also all those who hear me today would become men such as I also am, with the exception of these bonds.”—Acts 26:29.
Agrippa and Festus saw nothing in Paul deserving of death or imprisonment. Still, his request to present his case to Caesar could not be rescinded. That is why Agrippa said to Festus: “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.”—Acts 26:30-32.
Lesson for Us
Paul’s method of witnessing before dignitaries provides an outstanding example for us. In speaking to King Agrippa, Paul used discretion. He was no doubt aware of the scandal surrounding Agrippa and Bernice. Theirs was an incestuous relationship, for Bernice was actually Agrippa’s sister. But on this occasion Paul did not choose to lecture on morality. Instead, he emphasized points that he and Agrippa held in common. Furthermore, although Paul was instructed by the learned Pharisee Gamaliel, he acknowledged that Agrippa was an expert in Jewish customs. (Acts 22:3) Despite Agrippa’s personal ethics, Paul spoke to him with respect because Agrippa held a position of authority.—Romans 13:7.
While we boldly witness about our beliefs, it is not our goal to expose or condemn the unclean practices of our listeners. Rather, in order to make it easier for them to accept the truth, we should stress the positive aspects of the good news, emphasizing hopes we hold in common. When speaking to those who are older or who are in authority, we should acknowledge their position. (Leviticus 19:32) In this way, we can imitate Paul, who said: “I have become all things to people of all sorts, that I might by all means save some.”—1 Corinthians 9:22.
The expression “kicking against the goads” describes the action of a bull that injures itself while kicking the sharp rod that is designed to drive and guide the animal. Similarly, by persecuting Christians, Saul would only bring harm to himself, as he was fighting a people who had God’s support.