The Apostle Paul led an amazing life. It seems that everything he did somehow advanced the gospel. Even when he persecuted the church, dragging men and women into prison, and oversaw the martyrdom of Stephen, we learn that “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4)!
Today, however, I want to look at how the Apostle Paul intentionally spread the good news about Jesus. In particular, I want to give specific attention to the time he was on trial before Festus the Governor of Judea, King Herod Agrippa II, and Bernice the sister of King Agrippa. Also present for this speech were the military tribunes and the prominent city leaders.
Given the audience, this was a major moment for Paul to explain the meaning of his life and the nature of his message. And since Paul has been imprisoned for the past two years, he has had plenty of time to prepare his message (Acts 24:27).
(The background context for this trial is found in Acts 25:1-27. Paul’s defense, and the court’s response, can be found in Acts 26:1-32).
Point #1: Paul’s life made him a credible evangelist
First, notice how Paul gained such a grand audience: his willingness to be jailed for his faith in Christ and the gospel message. How nice it was that all the most important people in the government got dressed up for him and came to hear him speak in Caesarea! We are told they all entered “with great pomp” (Acts 25:23)! Paul rolls out of bed in his jail clothes, probably doesn’t even have to shave, and gets the speaking opportunity of a lifetime handed to him.
So when Paul speaks, he speaks with integrity. This is no fraud or con, but the testimony of a man who truly believes in his cause. The previous two years in jail prove his sincerity. His suffering lends enormous credibility to his speech.
But it is more than just the past two years: it is the whole of his life. Paul grew up Jewish, according to the strictest version, and freely admits that he used to harshly persecute and even vote to execute Christians:
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 (Acts 26:9-11, emphasis added).
To recap: Paul established his credibility through the very nature of his life. Paul’s actions contain a powerful message.
Point #2: Paul’s experience of God made him a powerful evangelist
In Acts 26:12-21, Paul shares the most amazing experience of his life: a personal encounter with Jesus. There was a bright light, a voice from heaven, and a clear mission: to go to all people as “a servant and witness” of Jesus.
Remember: this vision occurred when Paul was on the way to persecute the followers of Jesus!
He was certainly not expecting to have Jesus personally reveal himself and so radically redirect Paul’s life.
So it was an incredibly powerful vision, because it led to a total, 180 degree turnaround for Paul.
From persecutor to preacher, from heresy-hunter to gospel-proclaimer, from hating the followers of Jesus to becoming one of them.
Key point: When Paul did evangelism, he gave a personal testimony about his experience of God.
Point #3: Paul’s prayers made him a powerful evangelist
As he shares the good news, Paul frankly states that “to this day I have had the help that comes from God” (Acts 26:22). He does take credit for the nature of his exemplary life. He speaks of his prayers before God (Acts 26:29).
The Apostle Paul had an integrated life. Action and prayer. Boldness of work and humble dependence upon God.
Prayer appears in the margins of Paul’s speech, but we know it was at the foundation of his life (Col. 1:9, 1 Thess. 4:17, 2 Thess 1:11, etc.).
Point #4: Paul’s reasoning made him a powerful evangelist
Paul’s speech is well ordered. It has a logical flow. The points are relevant to his audience. The details build together into a larger narrative. He tells stories – his own story, the story of the Old Testament, and the story of Jesus.
Overall, his careful use of good rhetoric and tight reasoning makes his speech persuasive even today.
For instance, he speaks of how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament (Acts 26:6, 22, 27). This is an argument: ‘here are the prophecies, here is the life of Jesus. See how they match? Jesus is the one that God promised to send.’
We only have a compression of this argument in Luke’s recording of it, but that nevertheless demonstrates Paul’s deliberate use of reason in his evangelistic efforts.
Paul also argues that Jesus bodily rose from the dead by referring to publicly available eyewitness testimony (Acts 26:23, 26).
By reasoning with his audience, even Governor Festus is forced to acknowledge Paul’s “great learning” (v. 24). Admittedly, Festus thinks that Paul is out of his mind, but that says more about Festus than Paul. Paul calmly responds:
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. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner (Acts 26:25-26).
Paul believed that God used human reason to commend the gospel. And so Paul studied in order to thoughtfully persuade others to believe the gospel is true.
The Apostle Paul brought together what has become divided in our day. He shared the gospel by:
- Living a transformed life.
- Sharing his spiritual experiences.
- Actively praying for the salvation of others.
- Carefully reasoning for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus and the gospel message.
Too often in the modern American church, these ways are somehow considered to be at odds with one another. The Apostle Paul did them all.
By God’s grace, and the power of the Holy Spirit, may we imitate the example of the Apostle Paul, for the renewal of our evangelistic practice, that our friends might “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 Jesus” (Acts 26:18).