Genesis describes the start of the world as good (Ge 1:31): a place where early humanity could live in innocence and peace (Ge 2:25). Society today is rather different! Sin has created division, disharmony and violence. The Lord has promised his people, however, a future remaking of the world to restore what is good (Re 21:1-5). But as we await that hope, how do Christians behave? We must pursue the right ways of God (Mt 5:20) and seek loving unity in the Spirit amongst his people (Ep 4:1-6). However, our relationship with the broken world requires us to be shrewd (Mt 10:16,17). Though we must still live lives of love to all (Mt 5:44,45), we are also not naive about the sins of human hearts, including our own, and so must take great care.
In our verses we meet three issues which a sinful world throws up, and the first is self-promotion. Paul is being held at the Jerusalem army barracks for his own safety (Ac 23:10). Due to a plot on his life, the Roman tribune is planning on sending Paul to the governor at Caesarea under a heavy guard (Ac 23:19-24), so he writes a letter to that effect (v25). After standard greetings (v26), the commander then summarises the background (v27). He does so, however, in a way which puts him in a good light, claiming he knew Paul was a Roman citizen from the start (cf Ac 22:25)! Such spinning of the truth is very common and so we aren’t surprised. Through social media, within the celebrity culture, and certainly within politics, people seek to present themselves in the best light. Such self-preservation is there in everyday thinking too, when we put ourselves first. Of course, the instinct is natural and, in some ways, right. But sin quickly distorts it into ugly self-promotion which will twist the truth, or put others down, for its own benefit.
What should Christians do about this? In ourselves, we must resist the sin by following Christ’s example of humility (Ph 2:3-5), seeking to serve others rather than be served (Mk 10: 45). In dealing with the world, we must remember that self-promotion is typical. Thank the Lord: we will still meet kindness. But we should not be naive about the twists of the human heart.
Next, in our verses, we meet disinterest. In his letter, Lysias says he investigated the complaint against Paul with the Jewish leaders, but found it was just about their law (v28,29). Actually, Paul had raised the matter of resurrection – life beyond death (Ac 23:6). But, apparently, such an important topic did not capture the commander’s interest! The reason for this could be one of a number but the main point is this: the world is often disinterested in God and his plans (Ro 3:9-12). Even when some concern is shown, there is also a tendency for it to wear off (Mt 13:1-23). This should remind Christians not to be surprised by evangelistic failure, and not to panic that the faults lies with us. It also warns churches not to imagine that if we only gave the world more of what it wants, then people would come to Christ. That’s not the way it works. However, we also do not have to despair. As happened in the Paul’s life, the Lord by his Spirit can turn people completely around and transform them (Ac 22:3-10). So we have every cause for hope.
Finally, our verses includes power plays. Though the commander found Paul guilty of no wrong still he didn’t release him (v29). Though he discovered a plot to kill Paul, he allowed the enemies continued access (v30). It’s not clear why he took this route, but it is clear that rival groups are battling for power in the land and Paul is being pushed around by that. Lysias shows his own power with the strong bodyguard he uses to deliver Paul safely to Felix (v31-33). In this world it is often the strongest and loudest who make the running. The world is a wrestling match for power. Christians are to take care with that. If we try to play the same game, we will find that it turns out badly for us (Mt 26:50-54 – see also the book of Esther). If we try to win the world over by giving it what it wants, we will soon find that it demands much more than we can give. So rather than get involved in the power plays, we should submit ourselves into the hands of our Lord. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (Jo 18:36); we are to live differently.
Paul remains in the hands of the authorities at the end of the chapter (v34,35) but his life is in the care of the Lord. The world controls his freedom; the Lord controls his destiny. This is the Christian hope. So churches are to live differently from the world. Lives of humble and generous love. We are not to be naive. But we are to be full of faith, in the Lord who cares for us.