Paul’s Respect (Acts 20-28)
Despite Paul’s utter conviction that he is in the right about both his beliefs and his conduct, he shows respect for everyone he encounters. This is so disarming, especially to those who are his enemies and captors, that it gives him an unimpeachable opportunity as a witness of God’s kingdom. When he arrives in Jerusalem, he respects the Jewish Christian leaders there and complies with their odd request to demonstrate his continued faithfulness to the Jewish Law (Acts 21:17-26). He speaks respectfully to a crowd that has just beaten him (Acts 21:30-22:21), to a soldier who is about to flog him (Acts 22:25-29), to the Jewish council that accuses him in a Roman court of law—even to the point of apologizing for inadvertently insulting the high priest—(Acts 23:1-10), to the Roman governor Felix and his wife Drusilla (Acts 24:10-26), to Felix’s successor Festus (Acts 25:8-11; 26:24-26), and to King Agrippa and his wife Bernice (Acts 26:2-29) who imprison him. On his journey there, he treats with respect the centurion Julius (Acts 27:3), the governor of Malta (Acts 28:7-10), and the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome (Acts 28:17-28).
We should not confuse the respect Paul shows with timidity about his message. Paul never shrinks from boldly proclaiming the truth, wherever the chips may fall. After being beaten by a Jewish crowd in Jerusalem who falsely suspect him of bringing a Gentile into the temple, he preaches a sermon to them that concludes with the Lord Jesus commissioning him to preach salvation to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21). He tells the Jewish council in Acts 23:1-8, “I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). He proclaims the gospel to Felix (Acts 24:14-16) and proclaims to Festus, Agrippa and Bernice, “I stand here on trial on account of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors” (Acts 26:6). He warns the soldiers and sailors on the boat to Rome that “the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives” (Acts 27:10). The book of Acts ends with Paul “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30–31).
Paul’s respect for others often wins a hearing for him and even turns enemies into friends, notwithstanding the boldness of his words. The centurion about to flog him intervenes with the Roman tribune, who orders him released (Acts 22:26-29). The Pharisees conclude, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:9). Felix determines that Paul “was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment” (Acts 23:29) and becomes an avid listener who “used to send for him very often and converse with him” (Acts 24:26). Agrippa, Bernice, and Festus come to see that Paul is innocent, and Agrippa begins to be persuaded by Paul’s preaching. “Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?” he asks (Acts 26:28). By the end of the voyage to Rome, Paul has become the de facto leader of the ship, issuing orders that the captain and centurion are happy to obey (Acts 27:42-44). On Malta, the governor welcomes and entertains Paul and his companions, and later provisions their ship and sends them away with honor (Acts 28:10).
Not everyone returns Paul’s respect with respect, of course. Some vilify, reject, threaten, and abuse him. But, in general, he receives far more respect from people than do the masters of the Roman patronage system among whom he operates. The exercise of power may command the appearance of respect, but the exercise of true respect is much more likely to earn a response of true respect.