When Paul is arraigned as a prisoner before king Agrippa (see Acts 25: 23), in the presence of Festus, the chiliarchs and the men of distinction of the city, the sense of the dignity of his place in Christ does not for a single instance fade from his heart and mind. As another would later say, “even as he is, we also are in this world” (1 John 4: 17). Confronted with all the pride and pomp of royalty, the power of authority, the glitter and glamour of a sensual court, and with a charge of inciting the populace to riot hanging over his head, he retains an acute awareness of the high calling in which grace had placed him. To Agrippa’s protest “In a little thou persuadest me to become a Christian” (Acts 26: 28), Paul responds with words which forcibly set before us the way in which his soul had entered into the infinite wealth of blessing that was his in Christ: “I would to God, both in little and in much, that not only thou, but all who have heard me this day, should become such as I also am, except these bonds” (v 29).
It has often been remarked that he does not say ‘Such as I shall be when glorified’ but ‘Such as I am’. He had been dragged out of the temple by a murderous multitude, rescued by the military, bound with two chains, almost torn to pieces by the Pharisees and Sadducees, once more taken out of their violent hands by the soldiers, brought before Felix as a mover of “sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a leader of the sect of the Nazaraeans” (Acts 24: 5) and thrown again into prison where he had lain for two years. To be now brought into the presence of such magnificence and dazzling splendour as shone that day in the court of Agrippa, one might have thought that Paul’s apparently wretched and miserable condition might have so pressed itself upon his spirit that any enthusiasm for his faith would have died in his soul. Not so! The happiness that was his in Christ, the dignity of his heavenly calling, the favour of God, the knowledge of the Father and the Son, the joy of bearing in a small measure he reproach of the Christ—all this and more exalted and maintained him upon an elevation far above the garish circle that surrounded the king.
They might have thought to pity him. He pitied them. And indeed they were to be pitied. Their rank, their glory, their greatness, the honour paid to them by their inferiors—what availed it all with death at their elbow, and a hopeless eternity in front of them? They were now having their “good things” (Luke 16: 25) and Paul his “evil things”. Miserable from a human standpoint was the apostle’s lot. His property, his reputation, his distinction in the flesh, his scholastic training, his easy circumstances, and his liberty—all were gone, and his life was in peril. What more could be added to make the picture of utter desolation complete? And yet his soul’s desire for king and courtier was that they might come to be as he at that moment was! As he says elsewhere, “I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ; and that I may be found in him”. Paul had something better than anything in the circle of man’s world: “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3: 8, 9, my emphasis). The prisoner is in the presence of the king, but it is Paul, and not Agrippa, that has the higher dignity and honour.