You’ve probably heard the phrase, “preachin’ to the choir.” It means you’re telling someone something they already know. Well, in the writing world, “preachin’ to the choir” can have another meaning that’s totally positive. It can imply a writer knows her audience and is meeting their edu-tainment needs. (I borrowed that word from my husband…who probably borrowed it from someone else.) Speaking to the knowledge and needs of an audience is a huge factor in any persuasive communication. I’m preparing a book proposal right now—ick! I can’t write it the same way I write my novels. No fun plot twists or ooey-gooey romance. It’s all precision-crafted sentences, business prospectus, and marketing, with only a few sample chapters. Eee-gad! No wonder I gave up accounting my first year of college! But I’m learning to preach to the choir! I know my audience will be business people, sales folks, members of publication and marketing committees. They don’t care about snappy dialogue. They care about my platform and sales figures. So I write to my audience and trust the Lord with the results. I think Paul learned this early in his ministry. He had it down-pat by the time he met King Agrippa.
Acts 26:1 – “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You have permission to speak for yourself.’ So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense…”
Paul has spent two years unjustly imprisoned under the previous governor, and is now given the opportunity to speak in his own defense. What would your first words be? Railing against the injustices you’ve endured? Criticizing the inept leadership of the previous governor? Pleading for mercy with the new governor? As we’ll see later, Paul’s focus remains on his eternal salvation rather than earthly freedom. Whether in chains or free, Paul’s life is unchanged. He is committed to bring lost souls to Christ. Amazing…
Acts 26:2-8 – “King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate to stand before you today as I make my defense against all the accusations of the Jews, and especially so because you are well acquainted with all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore, I beg you to listen to me patiently. The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem. They have known me for a long time and can testify, if they are willing, that according to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. O king, it is because of this hope that the Jews are accusing me. Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?” (emphasis added)
Here are a few things Paul knew about his main audience, King Agrippa:
- He was well-acquainted with Jewish customs and controversies
- He knew the Pharisees were a strict religious sect (and Paul had been one)
- They shared a common Jewish heritage and hope of salvation from Yahweh
- Agrippa didn’t believe in any form of resurrection – Paul knew King Agrippa appointed the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. Agrippa had appointed a Sadducee to that position and therefore surmised that the king, like all Sadducees, denied resurrection from the dead.
Paul considered his audience well—and let Agrippa know he was doing it. Perhaps if we let others know we see them, we hear them, and we understand them BEFORE we launch into our agendas, conversations would be more productive.
Acts 26:9-18 – “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (emphasis added)
Paul tells an abridged version of his testimony, adding a reference to “opening eyes” and turning from “darkness to light.” These very specific phrases would have set off Messiah-alarms in any Jewish mind, harkening back to the oft-read Isaiah prophecies of the coming King. Paul was telling his story in a way that subtly connected him, Jesus, and Agrippa—he was preachin’ to the choir.
Acts 29:19-25 – “‘So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.’ At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane.’ ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable.’” (emphasis added)
By honing our witness to a specific audience, we may confuse others—for a time. Paul had been speaking primarily to and about Jews, and when he switched to Gentiles, Festus interrupted and protested. Notice Paul remained respectful and composed; and most importantly, he left the door open to what the governor valued most: truth and reason. He had assessed the governor well also.
Acts 26:26-32 – “‘The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (emphasis added)
AWKWARD! Paul corners the king, posing a politically impossible question! If Agrippa says, “Yes, I believe the prophets,” he will essentially be agreeing with Paul and must logically confess Jesus as the Christ. If he says “no”—well, how could any Jew say he doesn’t believe the prophets? So the king evades the question with a question, and Paul is left with a chilling irony. His heart is steadfastly committed to winning souls for Christ—and he remains in chains.
Acts 26:30-32 – “The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. They left the room, and while talking with one another, they said, ‘This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.’ Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’” (emphasis added)
These are some of the most interesting verses in Acts. Why? Because I want to know how Luke, the author of Acts, knew what was said in a private conversation between a Roman governor and a Jewish king and the incestuous king’s sister. Neither Paul nor the audience could have heard because the three royals had left the room. Of course, we can only speculate, but who might have been the believer to recite the message to Luke? Was it a Roman official among the royals? Agrippa or Bernice? Perhaps Festus? When Paul was preachin’ to the choir, did someone from the balcony join the singing?
- Lord, thank You for Paul’s example of wisdom and skill in persuasion and debate, evangelism and passion. But thank You also for the reminder that in the end, it’s Your Holy Spirit that works in any given situation to move a heart toward faith. I may offer the perfect speech, but it’s worthless without Your anointing and power. Thank You for Your promised presence. May I rely on You more everyday.