God and Government

The Book of Acts contains a gallery of portraits of Christians responding to government. Early on we see attempts to oppress the Gospel, and the Apostles resisting commands to be silent.

The pressure mounts with the stoning of Steven and the persecution of Saul (soon to be Paul), who ravaged the church. This served only to spread the message faster and farther (chapters seven and eight).

But this persecution came, not from the Roman government, but Jewish religious authorities, which the Apostles recognized as the fallen world intruding into God’s affairs. We know this because somewhat ironically, they quote Psalm Two about the “Gentiles” raging (Acts 4:25, 26).

A key principle unfolds in the narrative as Paul claims his rights as a Roman citizen, takes refuge in armed guards, and then appeals to Caesar. He even says that he is willing to die if he has committed a capital offense (Acts 25:11). It’s high political drama! He is living out Romans 13:1-7, obeying authority because it is “established by God.” He says it six times, this during the reign of the vile emperor Nero.

Today our government is imposing guidelines and restrictions and even laws that pertain, not to our freedom to proclaim the Gospel, but our rights as citizens. Let’s be careful not to confuse the two. These rules are not Gospel oppression, though they may call for a response.

Paul’s actions show us that citizens of a republic have not only rights, but duties to be aware and to speak up. He does not merely assent as a passive observer to whatever is happening. But whether invoking his citizenship or accepting imprisonment, his aim was to preach Christ.

“Father, we take seriously our duty and responsibility to proclaim Christ. Help us also to take seriously our duty to participate in the republic of which we are citizens. And when we need to disagree, help us do so with love for the lost and respect for the rule of law. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

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