Agency and Choice

Question: Do we all have the choice to accept or reject the words of God’s servants?

Answer: Throughout his ministry, Paul bore powerful testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Many people accepted his witness, but some did not. Each one had a choice to accept or reject the words of God’s servants.

Felix heard Paul preach for two years, but chose to reject his teachings rather than go against the people. Festus heard Paul preach and rejected his teachings, but realized that Paul had done nothing to merit being held as a prisoner.

Acts 24:1-3, 22-27

1 And after five days Ananias the high priest descended (arrived from Jerusalem) with the elders, and with a certain orator (lawyer) named Tertullus, who informed the governor against Paul (who presented the case against Paul to Governor Felix, Roman leader).

2 And when he was called forth (invited to speak), Tertullus began to accuse him (Paul), saying, Seeing that by thee (Felix) we enjoy great quietness (we enjoy wonderful peace), and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence,

3 We accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness (we accept your leadership always and everywhere with deep gratitude).

Note: Tertullus was a lawyer who presented the case against Paul to Governor Felix. Tertullus attempted to flatter Felix with compliments and pretended loyalty of the Jewish religious leaders. In actuality, the Jews despised their Roman rulers.

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22 And when Felix (Governor Felix) heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way (having a good understanding of the situation), he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain (the Roman commander in Jerusalem) shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter (I will get the details I need to make a decision about your case).

23 And he commanded a centurion (a Roman commander of 100 soldiers) to keep Paul (to keep Paul under guard), and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him (but to allow Paul’s friends to come and go, visiting Paul whenever they wanted to).

24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess (she was a Jew), he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ (Felix asked Paul to teach them about Christ).

25 And as he reasoned (as Paul taught them) of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled (he knew Paul was teaching the truth), and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee (when it is convenient for me, I will have you come and tell us more).

26 He (Felix) hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him (Felix was hoping that Paul would offer to bribe him to let him go free): wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him (Felix sent for Paul quite often).

27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room to take Felix’s place: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound (in order to please the Jews who hated Paul, Felix left Paul under guard rather than releasing him when he left office–and due to that pressure, Felix chose to reject Paul’s teachings).

Note: This went on for two years, after which Felix was replaced by Porcuis Festus. Then the Jewish religious leaders tried to persuade Festus to command that Paul be brought to Jerusalem so they could ambush and murder Paul, but Festus turned down their request. Paul told Festus that he was a Roman citizen and had the right to be tried in a Roman court in Rome. In this way Paul would escape being turned back over to the Jews.

Acts 26:24-25

24 And as he (Paul) thus spake for himself (spoke in his own defense), Festus (the Roman ruler over Judea, the Jerusalem area) said (interrupted) with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad (Paul, you are out of our mind! Too much education has made you crazy).

25 But he (Paul) said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.

Note: Paul testifies of the appearance of Jesus on the Damascus road and bears his testimony to King Agrippa. Festus hears Paul bear this testimony and even though he rejects his message, Festus realizes that Paul has done nothing to justify him being held prisoner.

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Keith K. Hilbig, of the Seventy:

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, Paul admonished the members to act in a manner as becometh Saints. He proceeded to list appropriate attributes and behaviors. In verse 19 Paul counseled with these four simple words: “Quench not the Spirit.”

Interestingly, some 500 years before Paul’s writings, a Book of Mormon prophet named Jacob sought to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to a resistant people. He boldly inquired of them as follows: “Will ye reject the words of the prophets; and will ye … deny the good word of Christ, … and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit?”

In our day, so many centuries after both Paul and Jacob, we too must be careful not to hinder, disregard, or quench the Spirit in our lives. The beckoning invitations of the world attempt to divert our attention from the strait and narrow path. The adversary labors to dull our sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit...

Each of us knew that the journey to exaltation would be long, strenuous, and sometimes lonely, but we also knew that we would not travel alone. Heavenly Father provides all who fulfill the prerequisites of faith, repentance, and baptism with a companion and guide, the Holy Ghost...

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In the Pearl of Great Price, Moses recorded that Adam, having been baptized and having received the Holy Ghost, “became quickened in the inner man.” When we invite the Holy Ghost to fill our minds with light and knowledge, He “quickens” us, that is to say, enlightens and enlivens the inner man or woman. As a result we notice a measurable difference in our soul. We feel strengthened, filled with peace and joy. We possess spiritual energy and enthusiasm, both of which enhance our natural abilities. We can accomplish more than we otherwise could do on our own. We yearn to become a holier person.

Do you wish to know the price to be paid for the privileges that are offered after we have received the Holy Ghost? The price is not a predetermined or fixed amount; rather, it is determined by each of us individually...We determine the level of our current personal contribution by examining our present choices and priorities against questions such as these:

Do I spend more time with sports than Church attendance or callings?

If I have a free day, do I choose to attend the temple or to visit the mall?

Do I resort to computer games or surfing the Internet rather than offering meaningful service to others in my home and community?

Do I read the newspaper religiously but find it difficult to read the scriptures daily?...

Whatever level of spiritual development each of us may presently have, there always exists a higher level within our reach. Time is a most precious asset. Would you consider investing more of your time in the things of eternity in order to merit the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and to benefit more fully from His influence?..

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Our next contribution to this effort will be to immerse ourselves more consistently in the words of Christ and of the prophets. When our study efforts expand, so will the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives increase...Thereafter, let us strive to apply what has been learned to our personal lives. The Spirit will quicken our inner selves; new understanding will come precept upon precept...

As we fast, renew our covenants during the sacrament, and attend the temple, we further access the Spirit. In these settings the Holy Ghost may manifest His influence with great impact...

If we undertake this effort and quench not the Spirit, our inner being is quickened. As we persevere, eternal life awaits us. Thus, we dare not quench the Spirit through disobedience or neglect....

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Sources: Come, Follow Me–For Individuals and Families, p. 119; The New Testament Made Easier, Part 2, Volume 3, by David J. Ridges, 69; Excerpts from General Conference, October 2007, “Quench Not the Spirit Which Quickens the Inner Man,” by Keith K. Hilbig, of the Seventy.