In the final chapters of Acts, we see Paul standing trial before Festus, sharing his story with King Agrippa, surviving a shipwreck, and traveling to Rome to appeal his case to Caesar. In every situation he encounters, he lives the words of the final verse of Acts, “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31). Charges that could not be substantiated have been brought against Paul, and his accusers seek the death penalty for him. In spite of that, he doesn’t respond with the anger or bitterness that one might expect. The only desperation in his pleas seems to be his desperation to bring others to Christ. In Acts 26:29, he responds to King Agrippa’s question about Paul trying to convert him to Christianity with, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
As I read through these chapters, I am struck with Paul’s response to those around him. Festus and Agrippa cannot find anything with which to charge Paul. If Paul had not appealed to Caesar, Festus may have let him walk out a free man. Paul, however, seems less concerned about his own safety than he is with the opportunity to share Christ on a larger platform. He is willing to take the risks involved in being tried by Caesar to have the opportunity to continue to bear witness to Christ to all he could encounter along the way and from the court of the emperor. In fact, I can almost imagine Paul telling his friends who are concerned about him being transported and taken to Rome for trial, “This is awesome! We don’t have to do any more fundraisers for my next missionary journey. All of my travel and food will be covered by the empire!”
Paul’s response to the crew aboard the ship is equally as notable. He tries to warn them that this trip will be disastrous (Acts 27:9-10), he tries to encourage them and offer them hope in the midst of the storm (Acts 27:21-26), and he provides for their safety (Acts 27:31). This is a prisoner transport, and he is facing a possible execution. Again, though, for Paul, this seems to be just another opportunity to witness. Acts 27:35 tells us that before the crew ate what they could, Paul – “in front of them all” – gave thanks to God. Rather than concoct his own escape plan, Paul points his captors to Christ. Rather than withhold the good news of hope, comfort, and Jesus himself from those who would readily kill him (Acts 27:42), Paul freely shares all of God’s love that he can in every moment he can.
Most of us are driven by our own self-preservation. We make decisions based on what is good for us as individuals or as families. Paul, however, has allowed himself to be driven almost solely by the cause of Christ. He withholds the love of Christ from no one, and he seizes every opportunity with which he is presented with both the readiness and boldness to share the gospel. Paul’s life and witness should challenge us to consider how we might allow God to transform us to be ready to bear witness to Christ in all circumstances (the mundane, the joyous, and the challenges), consider others before ourselves, and not withhold the love of God from anyone.