And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men. (Acts 24:16 KJV)
It was not long afterwards that Paul was escorted away from Jerusalem to the capital city to stand trial before the Governor Felix. The High priest and some leading Jews went down to the capital city to bring their accusations against Paul. They took with them an orator called Tertullus. In those days (as it is in our world today), the law was not as important as your ability to twist words and bring compelling arguments in order to win your case. So, one of the major trainings of a lawyer was in oratory. They learnt more oratory than the laws of the land; for in the final analysis, it was not about how much law of the land you knew, but how you can win the heart of the king to your favour that matters.
True to his stock-in-trade, Tertullus brought a lot of incoherent charges against the Apostle Paul. His speech to the Governor was laced with much flattery as he sought to move the king’s heart to bring a sentence against Paul. He accused Paul of being a “pest” (and actually in a sense, he was a pest), and a mover of seditions. He accused Paul of causing trouble in Jerusalem and of profaning the temple. He even accused the Roman commander Lysias of obstructing justice. His speech was laden with lies which he told with a straight face, and even the high priests and the other Jews there present approved of his lies that they were true. But how did Paul handle all these?
When Paul was asked to defend himself, he did not resort to flattery or to exchanging words with the Jews or with Tertullus. He did not even try to find wonderful words to move the king’s heart. In fact, in his opening speech, he simply said, “I know that you have been a judge over this nation for many years, and so I am happy to defend myself before you.” (Acts 24:10 GNB) No flatteries, no oversized praise of the king. He simply stuck to the issues on ground. Line upon line, he dismantled all of Tertullus’ accusations; stating where he was at each point in time, and what he was doing. His speech went thus:
“As you can find out for yourself, it was no more than twelve days ago that I went to Jerusalem to worship. The Jews did not find me arguing with anyone in the Temple, nor did they find me stirring up the people, either in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. Nor can they give you proof of the accusations they now bring against me. I do admit this to you: I worship the God of our ancestors by following that Way which they say is false. But I also believe in everything written in the Law of Moses and the books of the prophets. I have the same hope in God that these themselves have, namely, that all people, both the good and the bad, will rise from death. And so I do my best always to have a clear conscience before God and people. “After being away from Jerusalem for several years, I went there to take some money to my own people and to offer sacrifices. It was while I was doing this that they found me in the Temple after I had completed the ceremony of purification. There was no crowd with me and no disorder. But some Jews from the province of Asia were there; they themselves ought to come before you and make their accusations if they have anything against me. Or let these who are here tell what crime they found me guilty of when I stood before the Council— except for the one thing I called out when I stood before them: ‘I am being tried by you today for believing that the dead will rise to life.’ “(Acts 24:11-21 GNB)
At the end of his defense, it would have been clear to Governor Felix that the Jews had no case against Paul; but he hid under the excuse that since Commander Lysias was accused of obstructing justice, Paul should be remanded in prison until the commander arrives so that he can give his defense too. Though to soothe his conscience, he gave Paul some liberty even in prison, but there was no record that he ever heard the case again. Either that Commander Lysias was never sent for, or the Governor lost interest in the case.
Like many African politicians and security personnel would do today, he kept calling Paul to talk with him hoping that Paul would give him some ‘bribe’ so that he can release him, but that was never to be. The Apostle was a pure soul, who had always done his best to have a pure conscience. He would not bring himself low to join in Governor Felix’s guilty conscience. For whatever reason, the Governor and his wife kept sending for Paul in order to hear him talk; and true to his person, Paul never failed to preach the whole truth. Though the truth shook the Governor, but he never repented or turned away from his path of sin. He kept the Apostle in prison custody until he was removed from office and another man took over the seat, and over Apostle Paul’s case. His name was Festus -a man who would prove to be more sincere and honest than Governor Felix.
AND SO? If you are to stand trial today in a court of law, would you be able to say like the Apostle Paul that your conscience is clear? In a world full of lies, flatteries and half-truths, will you be a beacon of truth shinning out into the darkness? As a preacher of the Gospel, do you preach the whole truth in such a manner that men tremble at your words; or are you words simply soothing and comforting even to those who are lost in their evil ways? As a Christian in your society, how have you suffered injustice simply because you refused to “bribe” your way out, or to join the multitude to do evil?
I pray that God will help us to walk daily, from this day forward with a conscience void of offense towards God and men: a conscience that is clear and yielded to God. It is our weapon in this Dark Age, and it is our victory.