Governed By Principle - Acts 25:6-26:32
On Sunday, Pastor Stacey Severance preached from Acts 25:6-26:32. In Acts 25:6-26:32 we learn four things:
I. Being governed by principle means doing what is right. (vv. 6-12)
II. Being governed by principle means admitting your mistakes (vv. 13-27)
III. Being governed by principle means being honest about your past. (vv.1-18)
IV. Being governed by principle means saying what is true. (vv.19-32)
You can listen to the sermon below, or keep scrolling to read the sermon notes:
It’s difficult to live according to our principles when it will likely cost us something.
Think about the story we hear over and over in the news in which some kind of abuse is revealed, where one person has victimized another or many others, and along with the issue of the crime committed, is the issue of those who knew about the crime and yet they said nothing.
And so by remaining quiet, the person was able to continue to victimize others. We see it happening when the criminal is in a position of power. People are afraid to speak out and expose the truth.
Or think about the accountant whose career is predicated on keeping honest records, and then one day the boss ask him or her to “cook the books,” to falsify financial information in order to cover up fraud.
Or think about your own daily life. How often do you compromise your principles? When are you tempted to lay your values aside in order to avoid conflict or trouble? It’s not hard to understand why all of us struggle with this: It’s hard to stick to what we believe to be fundamentally true when it’s no longer easy to do so.
And so we find ourselves tempted to abandon principle when it’s not convenient.
We’ve all done it. And so, as it says in Romans 3, we fall short of the glory of God. We sin. However, when we look at the life of Jesus, we see the opposite.
He was governed by principle not to protect himself, but in order to bring us to God.
Thought it wasn’t easy; though it wasn’t convenient. But in being governed by principle, Jesus saved his people from sin and death. And because Jesus was governed by principle, we should be governed by principle in all that we do.
So what does it mean to be governed by principle?
On page 6 and 7 of your worship guide is an outline of how this passage in Acts answers that question for us. Being governed by principle means:
Doing what is right
Admitting your mistakes
Being honest about your past
And saying what is true
First, it means doing what is right (v.6-12)
Which is to say: regardless of the outcome, you do what is right. Here, Paul is dealing with two sources of authority in the first century Roman Empire: first, the Jewish religious council called the Sanhedrin and second, the Roman government. The Romans tried not to interfere with the religious practices of various groups, so long as they didn’t break Roman laws.
It’s clear that both sources of authority have their own interests in mind. The Jewish council is angry with Paul because the gospel of Jesus contradicts what they teach and many Jews are beginning to believe in Jesus. So they argue that what Paul is doing deserves the death penalty. The Roman governors want to make the Jewish council happy, like political officers often do, but they also must answer to higher Roman authorities and they don’t want to get in trouble. Paul is stuck in the middle, and he sits in jail for a long time – two whole years and longer – because the governors, who are supposed to enforce the laws, won’t do what is right.
We saw it first with Felix at the end of chapter 24. He was hoping Paul would offer him a bribe in exchange for his freedom. Paul doesn’t. So verse 27 says, “When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.” We learn from other historical documents that Felix was removed by the emperor Nero because some Jews had complained about him.
Felix couldn’t give the Jews what they wanted – the Roman law prevented it. Why is this a favor to the Jews? Well, maybe the next governor will give them what they want. So he left Paul in jail to gain back some favor with the Jewish people.
And now Festus is in charge. And with a new leader in place, the Jewish council wants to make their case again. Chapter 25, Verse 3, “they urged him, asking as a favor against Paul that he summon him to Jerusalem—because they were planning an ambush to kill him on the way.”
When Festus hears both sides, he knows the Jews have no case against Paul. Notice verse 9, “But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?”
But Paul realizes what is going on. There are multiple ways he can lose here. He may be killed on the way; he may be set free in Jerusalem and then killed, or Festus may side with the Jews. And so Paul does the only thing he can do – he appeals to a higher court, the highest Roman court actually – to Caesar. Paul sees that when you boil it down, Festus is like Felix.
In an article in Psychology Today, a Stanford professor considers why it is that, over and over, we see people of influence doing the wrong thing. The title of the article sums it up: Doing the Right Thing Is Often Much Harder Than You Think. People are simply happy to do the right thing when it’s the easier thing, or the more profitable thing. When it nets them more glory, power, fame, or comfort. It would be nice if doing the right thing was easy or if it was always rewarded. Listen to these words from James 4, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Are you willing to do what is right regardless of the outcome, regardless of what you may lose or how you may be viewed? Are you governed by principle or are you governed by the opinions of others? Notice in this passage that both Felix and Festus are governors. They should be doing what is right. What about Christians? Should Christians be doing what is right? We should be governed by principle in our private lives, our marriages, our homes, at work, and with our money.
Next, being governed by principle means admitting your mistakes (v.13-27)
The Jews still had a king. It was Roman practice to leave figureheads like Agrippa in place and to let them operate with a measure of authority. Festus seems to think that Agrippa can help him here. Notice throughout this section how Festus attempts to cover himself in this mess. Verse 14, he blames Felix, “there is a man left prisoner by Felix.” That’s fair. It’s true. It’s not Festus’ fault that he has to deal with Paul’s case. And Festus didn’t automatically give the Jews the guilty verdict they wanted. He’s trying to keep the law.
But don’t forget that he wanted to do the Jews a favor by changing the venue. Festus lacked the courage to stand up to the Jews. And he conveniently withholds that information from Agrippa. That implies that he could have ruled on the matter and set Paul free. And now Paul has appealed to Caesar, and Festus doesn’t know how to explain this to Caesar. Notice verse 26, he says, “But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him.” Festus has to cover himself by explaining to the emperor, and he thinks Agrippa can help him.
Festus is backed in a corner. He isn’t being entirely forthright about his mistakes. It was his decision to make, and he didn’t do it. So Paul appealed to Caesar, and as a Roman citizen, Paul had a right for the Roman government to decide his case Festus should have let Paul go. And now he basically can’t let him go. Which is why, in verse 32, after hearing Paul’s case, “Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of a software company called Red Hat, wrote an article for The Harvard Business Review called Be a Leader Who Can Admit Mistakes. He writes, “Being a leader doesn’t mean that you’re always right or that you won’t err. What being a leader does mean is airing the reasons for why you did something and then making yourself accountable for the results.”
That reflects the truth of Proverbs 28, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Are you willing to admit your mistakes, rather than cover them up? Rather that side-stepping the truth? This is relevant to every facet of your life. Why not come clean and deal with the consequences, rather than trying to either outsmart the people around you or to maintain the false appearance of being righteous? Can you admit to your boss, your co-workers, your spouse, to your kids, that you made a mistake? Can you ask them to forgiven you?
Next, Being governed by principle means being honest about your past (v.1-18)
We’ve looked at Paul’s testimony before. We won’t revisit the whole thing again here. But notice specifically his honesty about his past starting in verse 9, “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
He’s compelled to tell Agrippa, and everyone else who hears, about who he was before God did this transforming work in his soul. He then tells them about the blinding light he saw on the Damascus road, about the words Jesus spoke to him, about the command of Jesus that he go to the non-Jewish people to tell them the good news about Jesus. It was good news that he needed, and all people need. He describes what God was doing through the ministry of Paul, verse 18, “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”
That was Paul’s past – darkness, the power of Satan, dead in sin, separated from God.
Listen to the language Paul would later use in Ephesians 2 describing himself
and all people before being born again:
“you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked”
“by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”
“we were dead in our trespasses”
So then he can say with confidence that he was
“made us alive together with Christ”
“by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Why be honest about your past? First of all, for the glory of God. To say, “look at what I’ve done, yet God forgave me.” Look at what God overcame in my life. Often, we are ashamed of things in our past. Or we feel a lingering sense of guilt. I’m not saying you have to broadcast your past, or spill it on Facebook, but this is essential to being governed by principle as a follower of Jesus: the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was enough to remove your shame and guilt over your past.
To live like the guilt and shame must remain is to allow yourself to be governed by the opinions of others and even by your own self-pity and self-righteousness.
We love stories of time travel. Movies like “Back to the Future” where someone goes into the past and makes changes that fix problems in the present. Wouldn’t we all like to go back and change some things?
Of course we can’t do that, but we can be honest about the past. That’s the way forward. Are you able to be honest about your past? Can you think about and talk about the shameful things while resting in what Jesus has done for you? Do you know Jesus in this way? Have you admitting that you are a sinner and you need the redemption that is in Jesus? Because when you know Jesus in this way, God can receive glory in the present that far overshadows anything in your past.
And finally, Being governed by principle means saying what is true (v.19-32)
In this last portion of chapter 26, Paul talks about the gospel message. Verse 20, Paul says that he “declared…that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” People don’t like it – verse 21, “For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” People say he’s wrong or even crazy – Verse 24, And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” It’s hard to say what is true. Notice Paul’s response to Festus in verse 25, “But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words.  For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly.”
No doubt you’ve been in a situation where it was difficult to speak the truth. Someone is deceived about something, or they are saying something false, and it’s easier to just nod your head and remain silent. But how can we, as the church, say we are a community governed by principle, governed by truth, and yet be unwilling to utter the truth? Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Colossians 4 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Are you willing to say what is true even if it not popular? And are you willing to say it in a kind and loving way, that doesn’t condescend, doesn’t aim to put people in their place, doesn’t de-value the person to whom you speak? Are you willing to do what Paul describes in Ephesians 4 as “speaking the truth in love?”
In his classic book of daily devotional reading, preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon talks about the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego in Daniel chapter 3 in the OT. Everyone had been instructed to fall down and worship the golden idol set up by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. These three men would not, and so they were threatened. The king said, “if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
They replied to the king, “we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” And so they were thrown in the furnace, but amazingly, they were not burned. About this Spurgeon writes, “When you see no present advantage, walk by faith and not by sight. Do God the honor to trust Him when it comes to matters of loss for the sake of principle.”
We can be strengthened to do this when we look at Jesus. By grace we can come to God because Jesus was governed by principle in our place. This table reminds us of that.