by: Jeff Schrage
But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
Last month we looked at Philippians 4:13 and what misinterpreting that passage could mean for the Christian. Several years ago that t-shirt has illustrated the need for people to embrace a deeper understanding of Scripture. More recently a new image kept popping up on my social media referencing Acts 5:29. It reads, “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”” This passage is calling Christians to rely on the truth of the Gospel, the sovereign plan of God, and to live lives that reflect obedience to God and not man. In the face of tough choices and even opposition we are to do as God would have us do even if it offends or enrages those around us. Not that we go looking to offend, but that if obedience to God causes offense, we should be prepared for what comes our way. This carries with it some meager semblance of defiance. But, we should consider that the biblical response to opposition by believers is often a calm and stable reliance on God to see us through any circumstance.
In this passage the Apostles are being rebuked and threatened because they were told not to teach Christ. While the Apostles have indeed defied an instruction given to them, they were being told to defy the calling of God on their lives. “Don’t Preach Christ.” But, how did they respond in their defiance? In the passage, we find them standing before their accusers awaiting their punishment. They certainly appeared slightly defiant, but they have an obedient, calm, and stable demeanor. They also stand their ready to accept the penalty for their actions. These men on trial are at peace with God because they know that obeying God and preaching Christ is what they were called to do. Therefore the only response was to keep preaching Christ. If they were to be mocked, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed for their obedience, so be it.
The purpose of telling you about this is to illustrate and warn us about the danger of taking this passage out of context. Like Philippians 4:13, we can exaggerate or twist what is written to get a message that satisfies an earthly desire in our heart to stand up in angry defiance of those that are vehemently opposed to Christ.
The t-shirt pictured is the reason for writing this article. It is found at a site called “Reformed Sage” and most of their merchandise is wonderful. I support purchasing from this website. As I looked at the graphic nature of this popular logo, I loved its boldness. However, I want to ask, does it properly communicate the message of Acts 5:29? The image of a knife penetrating the eye socket of a kingly skull is saying something far different than “Teach Christ always while preparing to suffer physically and/or reputationally.” What we communicate about the church of Christ and how we apply it to our own age will affect the direction of the church and the receptivity of those around us. The image communicates a return to the Crusades rather than the humble yearning for hearts changed by the Holy Spirit. If we stand in angry defiance to opposition we communicate a fear of man and thwart the message of the Gospel. But, if we stand proclaiming the truth, assured of our faith, willing to pay any price to speak the name of Christ and to tell of His work on our behalf, only then will people see the power of the Gospel.
The gospel means leaning on Christ for absolutely everything. Our calling, if this is true, is simply to make Him known. If we take out swords and act in angry defiance, we become like Peter as soldiers sought to arrest Jesus. But in our circumstance, we can’t reattach ears, we can’t stop the bleeding, and we can’t prevent the rest of the mob rejecting the truth because of our anger. We nullify the gospel message when we respond like the world. It proves ourselves no different from those who wish to compel people to submit to a worldview.
Christian, if we do have unfailing, eternal peace with God through Christ, we need not fear the most wicked plans of men. For even if they unsheathe their swords and threaten us with suffering beyond anything that we could hope to endure, we know the plan of redemption and that no matter what men may do to us, we will be in eternity with Jesus Christ in His kingdom forever. As we seem to be moving beyond the golden age of the church in America and face increasing opposition, we must remember the gospel message for the glory of God alone. In light of even the most brutal of earthly suffering, we need to be at peace, obey God, and accept the consequences of obedience to God above man. We don’t go out looking for a fight, but when it comes we need to remember what Paul taught, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”