Governor Felix was a mixed bag. He was familiar with Christian teaching before Paul spoke to him, but was not, himself, yet a believer (Acts 24.22).
When the Jews arrested Paul and brought their charges against him before Felix, the Governor likely understood that their case was legally bogus (cf. Acts 24.22; 23.29). Yet, he “adjourned the proceedings” (lit., ‘tossed them up’ in the air), refusing to render a verdict either way, leaving Paul in custody for more than two years (v. 27). Still, he treated Paul with courtesy (v. 23).
It is possible that Felix even enjoyed Paul’s company (for they frequently met together in friendly conversation), and, perhaps on some level, the man was impressed by Paul’s rectitude (v. 26b, 24).
Yet, not only was Felix engaged in an adulterous relationship with Drusilla, the rightful wife of Aziz, king of Emesa (Josephus, Antiquities 20.7.1 137-144), but he also “hoped that” Paul would give him a bribe, in exchange for his release (v. 26a).
Here, then, is a portrait of a man who keeps dithering between good and evil.
When Paul “reasoned” (lit., a protracted dialogue) with Felix “about righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come,” Felix “trembled” at the message (v. 25).
The word, “trembled” (emphobeo), evinces one who is gripped or locked in a state of fear. The prospect of being judged for his lack of righteousness and self-control terrified the man. This insight tells us that Paul’s message was getting through to Felix, at least in theory.
His actions tell a different story, however. Though convinced, Felix procrastinated, ostensibly waiting for a better time in the future for him to commit his life to God (v. 25c).
Our ancestors told the story of the gathering mice and the pouncing cat. It goes something like this:
A cat was wreaking havoc on a nest of mice. One day, the mice gathered together to resolve the crisis. One of them, a young, imaginative soul, stood up and proposed that if the cat were to have a bell around its neck, the mice could hear him approaching and flee before it pounced. The assembly profusely nodded and clamored their assent. However, as the assembly quieted down, an elderly fellow, with wise old whiskers, stood up cheerfully, complemented the young mouse on the ingenuity of his proposal, and then asked: “Now who will bell the cat?”
Easier said than done.
Felix may have been convinced by Paul’s message in theory — even to the point of becoming emotionally agitated by its veracity, and expressing a willingness to change later, when it was more “convenient” for him. But so long as he neglected to “bell the cat” (i.e., obey the gospel), he would have to remain in his terrified state until the judgment consumed his soul.
In short, as long as Felix failed to practice what he so evidently accepted in theory, he was just another dead man walking (cf. Jn. 12.42-43). As James put it:
“Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jms. 2.17; cf. Jms. 2.14-26).