By Christina Crumbliss
In a scene that has become all too familiar, Paul finds himself once again being taken out of prison and given the chance to speak to defend himself in Acts 26. He has spent two whole years in prison basically in a holding pattern until a new ruler comes along.
What I love about this account is that Paul is given a blank slate to defend himself and Christ before King Agrippa, the great-grandson of Herod the Great. Verse 1 tells us that “Agrippa said to Paul, 'You have permission to speak for yourself.’” In that moment, I find myself catching my breath and wondering what Paul will say. What would I say? “How could you leave me in prison for two years? That’s not fair.” “What do you want to hear to set me free?” Or maybe even a nuanced defense of who Jesus was and an explanation of the gospel.
But Paul does none of those things. Instead, Paul recounts his story. He begins with talking about his strict upbringing; how he started life as a Pharisee and was “convinced that [he] ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus” (v 9). He admits and owns his past of persecuting the church (v 10-11), but then he tells his story. Beginning in verse 12 he talks about how Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and touched him personally, radically changing his life.
Imagine that room. Here Festus and King Agrippa have come in “great pomp” (25:23) to listen to Paul speak. I can picture these fancy kings with their robes, swords, and servants, listening to a bedraggled Paul who has been in prison for over two years. He must have looked a little worse for the wear. He must have seemed a little crazy. Indeed, Festus interrupts at one point and says, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind” (26:24). And yet, King Agrippa is unable to argue. “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment” (v 31).
I think that in large part the reason King Agrippa has this response is that Paul is simply telling his own story. When I was recently struggling with how to share my faith with someone, my brother wisely told me, “Begin with your story. That is not confrontational and no one can argue with it because it’s yours.” As it turns out, my brother must have learned that from Paul because that is exactly what we see him doing.
In our culture today where absolute truth has gone out of vogue, I believe our own stories of how Christ has changed our lives remain the most powerful tool we have in our personal witness. I would encourage us to reflect on Paul’s example. May we regularly reflect on the transforming work of Christ in our own lives and be prepared to share from a place of humility and authenticity. Nothing dramatic. Nothing over-rehearsed. Not a thesis for seminary. Just our story.