“Begin Again”: A Weekly Devotional for a New Year, Week 50

‘Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.

When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison.’

Acts 24:24-27

When are you tempted to hedge? to tell a little white lie? to give someone exactly what he wants, and make life easier for yourself? We’ve all done it. We thought it was the wise thing to do. Maybe it was just expedient.

It will not surprise you that pastors deal with this problem often: We are frequently tempted to say, or do, just the right thing, so that we won’t offend. We pastors can be pretty bad “people-pleasers”, because it’s so closely aligned with who God has made us to be (hopefully!): A person who can reflect the Good Shepherd’s love for all of his people – all different kinds/personality types: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

I’ve seen parents do the same “people-pleasing” with their children; bosses with their employees; wives with their husbands; children with their parents. A principle is at stake. The truth is plain as day, but then we start to calculate, and hedge, and negotiate, so that we can just move on and be “happy”. We usually do this when we perceive that we’re confronted by something bigger and stronger than us. But that is just what this episode from the Book of Acts, calls into question.

Paul, who said he was determined to be all things to all people, does not take that to means that the rough edges of the Gospel must be shaved off. Instead, Paul speaks so clearly and forcefully that Felix says: “That’s enough!”. Paul is determined to speak about: how we can be in right relationship with God; what that right relationship means in terms of mastering our emotions and thoughts; and how all of this creates a life, with this end in mind: The day when we will give an account for the life we’ve been given.

Felix must have thought: “Surely, this man Paul knows that I’m in charge. I’m sure he’ll drop this bravado, and pay me, so I can release him….” But Paul doesn’t. And for two more years the conversations carry on in the same way. I wonder what the conversation between Felix and Paul might have been like on Felix’s last day in office? Did Felix think: “This poor fool… This is his last chance. I could free him, today.” Did Paul think: “Well, for two years I’ve tried, and nothing seems to have changed in Felix. Maybe today I should compromise and give him what he wants…” That was not Paul, because that is not the God who Paul knows.

And that is the only way out of people-pleasing: The God we worship is stronger than the pressing circumstances that – or the powerful person who – we think might ruin us. Trust the minutes, hours, days, weeks and years of your life to the One who promises to help you stand upright when compromise seems more promising. Wait with Paul, for the One who promises to redeem us and all that we give.

Prayer: Lord, I sometimes feel like it would just be easier to say Yes. Or to change things just a little bit, so that we can all get along, and move on. But the example of Paul pushes me to say that sometimes that’s just wrong. You want me to take a stand, even if it costs. So, Lord, help me to stand up and stand strong, today. Amen.

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