so agrippa said to paul, “you have permission to speak for yourself.” then paul stretched out his hand and made his defense:
“i consider myself fortunate that it is before you, king agrippa, i am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the jews. therefore i beg you to listen to me patiently.
[acts 26:1-3]
arguing from shared understanding
so many of our arguments or discussions feel this way: “you think this, but you’re wrong because of this.” how does that usually go for you? maybe you’re just a better adviser than me, but i’ve hardly ever convinced anyone of anything by doing it that way. we see a different strategy modeled here: paul starts with what he and agrippa share—deep familiarity with jewish customs and controversies. if you look, you’ll find this same strategy in the beginning of most of paul’s epistles, and in many of Jesus’ conversations in the gospel. we see three things in this approach: gospel love, gospel patience, and gospel clarity.
gospel love
when paul sees agrippa, he is aware of the generations of murderous intent towards christians that he represents. but knowledge of this doesn’t stop him from looking deeper, to see something they have in common that they can work from—love quells the quick-temper that would have blinded him to see that they share anything in common. loving people who oppose us means taking the time to see what beliefs or experiences we share so that we can communicate the gospel to them more effectively.
gospel patience
this is closely related to gospel love. paul here takes the time to collect his thoughts and think through what he shares with agrippa that he can utilize to better share the gospel. that takes patience: both stress and anger oppose patience, and it would have been easy for paul to be stressed or angry in this conversation, but instead we see him level-headed and patient. patient to think things through, and patient not to rush to the point of his defense.
gospel clarity
third, we see gospel clarity. the gospel does not change: we’re worse than we think, but God loves more than we can imagine. but in paul’s approach to agrippa here, we can see the beginning of a tailored approach of sharing the gospel with him. paul has an understanding of how agrippa thinks, what he knows, and what he believes, and he is preparing to show agrippa in the best way he can how his shared beliefs with agrippa naturally led him to follow Christ, and therefore present a compelling case for agrippa to follow Christ.
just like Jesus knew just how gentle to be with the poor and outcast, and how firm to be with the wealthy and religious elite, so paul shows here, through love and patience, that he has prepared a defense of the gospel tailored to meet agrippa where he is at. Lord, give us patience like that! give us love for our enemies like that! and help us to see clearly how to share the gospel with the people around us, based on who and where they are! make the gospel come alive in our hearts, so we see it all around us and learn new ways to bring it to different people all the time. consume us with awe is your spectacular grace, that you would send your Son to die for wretched sinners like us!
~ stephen hall