When brought before representatives of the state, described in the Book of Acts, Paul showed great respect without timidity. From the following analysis it is hoped that some rules of engagement with unbelievers, especially atheists, will emerge.
In the latter part of the Book of Acts Luke tells us of instances when Paul makes a defense before a crowd and state authorities. His defense is in response to being accused of desecrating the Temple and false teaching. To the crowd he told of his life including his involvement against those who follow the Way (Christians) and his conversion and call. The crowd would hear no more and grew violent. The next day Paul spoke before the Jewish Council, where he defended his belief in the resurrection from the dead, a matter of contention between Pharisees and Sadducees, and the reason for his troubles.
In protective custody Paul is taken to Caesarea where he speaks before the Roman governor, Felix, and, two years later before King Herod Agrippa II and Festus, the Roman governor. In the first instance he defends himself against the accusations of the high priest and one Tertullus, representing the elders. Paul says that he cheerfully makes his defense, a description that shows that rancor and bitterness were not found in his demeanor or words. The apostle claims that he worships God according to the Way (Christians) and the Law and Prophets. He does this with a clear conscience. Then, he describes what happened that led to his imprisonment. Paul claims that it is because of the doctrine of the resurrection that he has been accused. Days later Paul witnesses to Jesus Christ before the governor. We can take from the speech that Paul showed great respect for authority and witnessed to the Christian faith.
Two years later Festus became governor. During these years Paul remained in jail. Serious accusations were brought against him as before so that he again made his defense in a judicial setting. Festus briefed King Agrippa about the case. The king wanted to speak to Paul himself, the occasion for the apostle making another defense. In his defense before Agrippa, Paul mentions again that the controversy pertains to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. He tells of his persecution of Christians and of his conversion to Christ and call to proclaim the Gospel. He has witnessed to Jews and Gentiles about Jesus Christ and also witnesses to Festus and Agrippa. Both the king and governor agreed that Paul had done nothing wrong.
Paul shows respect, clearly explains the situation that led to his imprisonment, and uses his predicament to confess Christ without timidity. In our own defense with those who are unbelievers and atheists we should remember these characteristics.
Some principles to apply:
- Do not call people, Christians or pagans, abusive names, but honestly apprise them of their situation with accurate nomenclature. Names that describe accurately their views or the consequences of those views are acceptable.
- Use your defense as an opportunity for witness to Jesus Christ.
- Be prepared to describe the church’s doctrine. If you are inadequate to this task, join a Bible or theology study or study on your own. Participating in a group is preferable.
- Pray for those you might encounter and ask the Lord for the self-control not to get angry.
- Always wish for the other’s spiritual welfare that involves confession of Christ as Lord.
- Know your own faults and limitations to the extent that it is possible and repent of them so that you may not become prideful.
- Observe the culture closely and read up on what is going on around you. Be a close observer of human nature.
- Follow rules of politeness: do not interrupt someone with whom you are conversing; listen carefully, try to understand where the other person is coming from and where you might help that person re-think his position; do not show contempt or disdain for the other; and do not claim intellectual or any other kind of superiority.
- Do not fear. The Lord is with you.
Michael G. Tavella
June 6, 2019