Acts 4:19-20

‘“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you
rather than to God, judge for yourselves,
for we can’t help telling the things which we saw and heard.”’
(Acts 4:19-20)

As a general rule, Christians should be model citizens, obedient to ‘governors’(1 Peter 2:14) and the like, even ‘masters’(1 Timothy 6:1) of every kind. Ultimately it’s God who ‘“removes… and sets up”’(Daniel 2:21) such people, whether good or bad, under His mysterious purposes. We’re called to attempt ‘peace with all’(Romans 12:18), including such authorities, praying for ‘a tranquil and quiet life’(1 Timothy 2:2) under their rule. However, some surprising things are ‘ordained by God’(Romans 13:1) for a reason. As Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, ‘“You would have no power… unless it were given to you from above”’(John 19:11).

So we should always recognize God as the supreme authority, never any subordinate ‘evil’(1 John 5:19) given temporary ‘“power”’(Job 1:12) over our lives. Hostile powers will arise, as Jesus warned: ‘“‘If they persecuted me, they will… persecute you’”’(John 15:20) as well, but He also said: ‘“All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples…”’(Matthew 28:18-19). Obedience to that charge is precisely why we see Peter and John standing their ground here, in defiance of the authorities, saying: ‘“Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves…”’. Then, despite being ‘further threatened’(Acts 4:21) and put ‘in public custody’(Acts 5:18) etc., they continued to insist on obeying ‘“God rather than men”’(Acts 5:29), and ‘never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ’(Acts 5:42).

We should note also that these particular authorities weren’t secular, but ‘the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests’(Acts 5:24, c.f. v21), those in charge of the Jewish ‘temple’(Acts 2:46) where the early believers met, being Jews. Again, as a general rule, we should ‘submit’(Hebrews 13:17) to such religious leaders, and ‘to everyone who helps in the work’(1 Corinthians 16:16) alongside them. However, as with authorities more generally, even within the church we can expect ‘“shepherd… wolves… speaking perverse things”’(Acts 20:28-30) or less extreme genuine yet erroneous ‘teachers… who… stumble in word’(James 3:1-2), and even ‘“false prophets”’(Matthew 7:15), ‘false apostles’(2 Corinthians 11:13) and ‘“false christs”’(Matthew 24:24)! We certainly must ‘turn away’(Romans 16:17) from anything erroneous or false, in defiance if necessary, rather than offering our obedience.

Peter and John were confident to do that, even though not long before they’d been simple ‘fishermen… mending their nets’(Matthew 4:18-21), ‘unlearned’(Acts 4:13) by clerical standards. Interestingly, even the religious leaders recognized where this confidence had come from, that they’d ‘been with Jesus’(Acts 4:13). In fact He was still with them, just as He’d promised after having risen from the dead, ‘“always, even to the end of the age”(Matthew 28:20), as He’d promised earlier in His ministry too: ‘“they will… persecute you, delivering you up to synagogues and prisons… kings and governors… I will give you a mouth and wisdom”’(Luke 21:12-15), through ‘“the Holy Spirit”’(Mark 13:11). So Peter spoke with the confidence of someone who’d been with Jesus, spurred on by and ‘filled with the Holy Spirit”’(Acts 4:8). Likewise, after Peter and John’s release, all the believers prayed, ‘“Lord, look at their threats, and grant… your servants to speak your word with… boldness”’(Acts 4:29). Then they were ‘all filled with the Holy Spirit, and… spoke the word of God with boldness’(Acts 4:31). We can pray and expect the same, though noting that sometimes hostile situations are best ‘answered’(Luke 20:3ff., cf. v19ff.) with Jesus’ boldly evasive wisdom, or a decision to ‘“depart”’(Luke 9:5) from the vicinity and speak boldly ‘next door’(Acts 18:7) instead.

However, all of this requires that we’re properly aligned with true ‘wisdom and the Spirit’(Acts 6:10). For us, this comes through alignment with the scriptures, the ‘pattern of sound words’(2 Timothy 1:13) that we’ve been given, which record the words of ‘those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word’(Luke 1:2), the ‘God-breathed’(2 Timothy 3:16) words of ‘“spirit, and… life”’(John 6:63), aligned with ‘the Word’(John 1:1) Himself. We’re ‘spiritually’(1 Corinthians 2:14) to breathe in and absorb such words before attempting to breathe out anything in His name. It’s hearts and minds oxygenated with such truths that become fit to discern ‘the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God’(Romans 12:2), and to question anything dubious, from wherever it might arise.

Nevertheless, once filled in this way, in line with and even grafted into ‘“the vine”’(John 15:5), we’ll find our spiritual sap rising like the early believers here, confident to proclaim the same truths, with the same ‘“power”’(Acts 1:8) and ‘“authority”’(Matthew 28:18ff.) as them.

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