man giving a defense December 10 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): Acts 23:12–26:32

How To Respond To Unfair Treatment; Presenting a Defense

What actions make us feel like we are being unfairly treated? Being accused us of something we did not do? Innocent but being hurt by gossip or slander? Being Cheated? Meanness or bullying? 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 collected from the churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He 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 (a non-Jewish person) into the temple, so he was dragged out of it, 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 ordered 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen to take him to Caesarea so 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, came 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 like order; they would not like to hear this. He also accuses Paul of being a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Rome does not like new religions, and the Nazarenes have a bad reputation. Last, he accuses Paul of trying to desecrate the temple. This is 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. He maintains his integrity and calmly gives a defense. Then, 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 were notably absent. The first thing we can learn about how to handle unfair treatment is to give a calm explanation for our defense and do it with respect.

In his defense, Paul highlights points of agreement between him and his adversaries. He agrees with the Pharisees about everything which is 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 our defense with humility without hostility.

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

Why is Paul really on trial? He says to Governor Felix, “‘For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today’” (Acts 24:21, NIV). The Sanhedrin is mostly made up of Sadducees, which do not believe in the resurrection (that is why they are 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 has a reputation for being cruel (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the N.T. edited by Walvoord and Zuck, © 1985, p.422). Although Felix knows Paul does not deserve imprisonment, he keeps him locked up in prison for two more years to please the Jews.

Governor Festus succeeds Governor Felix. Little is known of Governor Festus, but he has a reputation for fairness (The Bible Knowledge Commentary of the N.T., p.422). Knowing the volatile situation with Paul and the Jews, Festus goes to Jerusalem to hear about the case from the Jews. Even after Paul’s two-year imprisonment, they 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 the apostle 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 he 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 clever in our defense.

While the Paul awaits transport as a prisoner to Rome, King Agrippa II (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., p.423). King Agrippa II rules in north-east Palestine. Governor Festus knows Paul has not done anything worthy of death. Festus wants King Agrippa’s perspective so that he will have some legal accusation to present to Caesar concerning Paul’s crimes.

Before King Agrippa and Governor Festus, the Apostle 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 which God gives him, he tries to persuade Festus and King Agrippa to become Christians (more...). Although 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 him 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 clever in your defense.
  • Use the opportunities which God gives you to give testimony of God’s saving grace in your life.
  • Trust the Lord that, although your ways may prove difficult, he will bring you through them and accomplish 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...).

Focus Verses

1Peter 3:15-16 (NIV)

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.

Watch a video of today's Bible lesson here. Start at 2:36:15 and end at 2:55:32

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A Look Ahead: Paul's life was not always easy, as it is not always easy for us. How do we Navigate the Storms of Life? Find out in our Next Lesson.

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