22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.
24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. (Acts 24:22-27 (ESV)
“And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming Judgment, Felix was alarmed.” A person can see many similarities between this situation and that situation of John the Baptist with Herod. Paul at this time was more or less a political prisoner. Not in the sense that he was being kept in prison for his politics, but he was being kept in prison for political reasons. Felix, as interested as he might have been in “The way”. Really did not want to upset his political allies the Sadducees. And as long as Paul was in custody he had a bargaining chip. Added to these reasons is the one that Luke gives, Felix was hoping for a bribe. This is the problem when a slave becomes king, the greed gets a hold of them. Felix would not have had the sources of income his peers had. Wealthy as he may have been at this point, he wanted and probably felt he needed more to overcome his poverty stricken past. In the eyes of his peers though, he would never overcome his humble beginnings, and stuff like that mattered then more than it does now. We fool ourselves if we think it doesn’t matter to people today.
Luke tells us Felix was familiar with the teachings of “the Way”. So much so that he all but just dismissed the charges against Paul. His wife being a Jew, from the line of Herod was married to Felix to afford Felix some legitimacy to the position he held. She is most likely the one who had educated Felix on this new development her own education probably being that of rumors and hearsay that reached the court. One wonders how interested she might have been to this new teaching centered on forgiveness given her own past and failed marriages. But Felix isn’t sure he cares for the religion. He has interest for sure, but when Paul starts speaking about the ethics entailed in “love your neighbor as yourself” Felix isn’t sure he wants to give up his ways. This would often prove hard for the upper echelons of Roman government. Even Constatine would put off being baptized till his deathbed. One wonders how much of that had to do with him wanting to carry on with the sexual excesses, and decadence of being emperor and how much that possibly had to do with him knowing how impossible it would be to rule without sin. I’m sure the same thoughts are plaguing Felix. Perhaps that situation is magnified when it comes to rulers and governors, but I can’t say it is any less a conundrum for those of us with less grand vocations. The problem is we are sinners in a sinful world. We will always be tempted to sin in ways that we can avoid, and we will always find that we have failed to avoid sin in many different ways, sometimes in ways that we never would have imagined but can only discern in hindsight. Sometimes it feels as if we can’t but sin being stuck between a rock and a hard place. And Jesus who knows all, knows this, knows us and died for us anyway.
But Paul will not bribe his way out of prison. So Felix favors those who grease his palms and leaves Paul there.