This sermon was delivered at the Beijing Gangwashi Christian Church on May 22, 2011. Gangwashi Church is one of largest Three-Self Churches in Beijing. Established in 1863 by the London Missionary Society, it is also the oldest Protestant Church in the city.
Text: Acts 4:13-22, Romans 13:1-3, Responsive Reading Psalm 94
Pastor Zhang Shuqiang
The issue of obedience to God and obedience to man often becomes an issue of choosing one or the other, touching upon choices such as faith versus life or religion versus government. Let us ask God to lead us in distinguishing right from wrong, obtaining wisdom, and being Christians that both glorify God and benefit people.
I. Keeping the faith Obeying God The Choice of the Apostles (Acts 4:13-22)
This passage of Acts tells us that Peter and John were performing miracles in the temple. To those who had gathered in the temple, they were preaching the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is Gods plan for salvation. The high priest and the captain of the temple guard arrested them, and the next day they were judged by the Sanhedrin, who forbad them to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In facing the decision of the Sanhedrin, they had to make a choice:
If they accepted the decision of the Sanhedrin, it would be against Gods will. They wouldnt be able to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
If they refused the decision of the Sanhedrin, they would be in opposition to the decision of the officials. This would be an obstacle to the preaching of the gospel. The apostles decided to obey God.
In the fifth chapter of Acts, it is recorded that the apostles were again teaching in the temple and again brought before the Sanhedrin. The high priest told them, We strictly charged you not to teach in his name. The apostles replied, We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:17-29) The apostles were whipped and kicked out of the Sanhedrin but Gods disciples were filled with joy because suffering persecution and shame for Jesus Christ was their glory.
How can we understand obedience to God rather than to man?
1. Perspectives from their environment
The chief priests wanted to limit the freedom of the apostles to share the gospel by using the authority of the Sanhedrin. The apostles didnt obey them because the chief priests couldnt force the disciples to give up their faith. Freedom in the faith is something that the power of authorities cannot control or prevent, but rather something that we ourselves guard and maintain in the presence of God.
All of the disciples of Jesus, except for John, were martyred. In the period after the Roman era, Christians continued to suffer 300 years of persecution.
In a life of keeping the faith, we must obey God and not man.
2. Obeying God and obeying man are not necessarily in conflict
If it werent this way, we wouldnt be able to use this sentence to oppose men or even those people that God uses. In the Old Testament, God worked through prophets, priests and kings. In the New Testament, the gospel was spread throughout the world by means of the apostles and the church. In these times, obeying God and obeying man were merged.
II. Obeying Authority Pauls Exhortation (Romans 13:1-3)
In Romans 13:1-3, Paul exhorts the church to obey the government. Should Christians obey earthly governments? The answer is certainly.
1. The root of governmental authority
The source of authority is God. There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1). Speaking from this perspective, defying authority is defying Gods ordinance. Therefore Paul tells us to obey. But the supreme authority rests with God. He created the heavens and the earth, designated the national boundaries, and he controls the rise and fall of nations.So when Christians face authority, we must recognize that the highest authority belongs to God. When we face earthly authorities, well be able to face them with confidence.
2. The nature of authority
The basic nature of authority is to reward virtue and punish evil thereby upholding social justice. (Romans 13:3) If the nature of authority changed so that kindness wasnt received with encouragement and protection, and evil wasnt limited and punished, the nation and its citizens would be destroyed. God will rise up and judge all evil just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. (Hebrews 9:27)
Some brothers and sisters may still have doubts but the Bible says that spiritual warfare is fought against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness not against flesh and blood. We fight against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Other than obeying authority, the Bible also has another positive teaching, that is, to pray for the authorities. First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2) This is the embodiment of the priestly duty of Christians, and it also brings blessings.
Perhaps we have envy or complaints in our hearts. But Paul says that we must not let our hearts hold onto these things. Instead, we must have a heart that prays for people. We are the ones who have received salvation and know the meaning of life, value, eternity and judgment. The world, however, does not know. We do not learn spiritual truth by acquiring knowledge from society. The place and role of spirituality is also something that earthly powers cannot bestow. The goal of prayer is to establish a just and righteous society where people including Christians can live peacefully.
The Bible teaches that the church and state should be separaterender to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods. (Matthew 22:21). The difficulty, however, lies in ascribing position.
III. A model of obedience
She was the matriarch of a large family, yet still considered Abraham to be the head of the household. She obeyed her husband in all things including their journey to Canaan as they traversed the road of faith together and overcame difficulties. Even when Abraham made the mistake of claiming Sarah as his sister and allowed her to be taken into the palace of the Pharaoh, she still obeyed her husband. This was her obedience to man, but the root of her obedience to man was obedience to God.
Peter commented on Sarah when he said, Do not let your adorning be externalthe braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wearbut let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in Gods sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:3-6)
Daniel played a significant role during the period of Israels history when the kings faith moved towards a fall. Yet, Daniel pursued a godly life and obedience to God. He kept his own faith, and was later captured and sent to Babylon. Because of his talents, he was placed in an important position in the court of the Babylonian king. He obeyed the ruler, whose regime had destroyed and pillaged his country and exiled his fellow countrymen. But this stemmed from obedience to God.
Afterwards, Daniel was ensnared in a situation involving jealousy. Those jealous of Daniel urged King Darius to issue an order forbidding everyone from praying to their own gods for thirty days. Daniel, however, still knelt in prayer before God three times each day in his home. Daniel was therefore in violation of the kings decree.
At work, Daniel obeyed the king, but obeyed God in matters of faith.
3. Jesus Christ
The Son of God coming to this world through his incarnation was in itself an act obedience to his Heavenly Father. During his time on earth, Jesus Christ had great compassion. He also faced much humiliation and had great patience. He was sold, whipped and nailed on a cross but had neither any words of grievance nor inspiration. All he said was, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) This is the obedience of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, Jesus Christ condemned sin, forgave sinners, exposed false prophets and their distorted consciences. He referred to his generation as being crooked, depraved, sinister and promiscuous. Jesus Christ, nevertheless, submitted himself to that generation. He claimed that his kingdom didn't belong to this world (John 18:36) and that he had come to bear witness to the truth. (John 18:37)
The Lord Jesus Christ is the root and model of all our obedience.
Obeying God is the primary choice that Christians must make. Revering God is being obedient to Gods Word, and it joyfully accepting the path that God has prepared for us.
"I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it." (Psalm 39:9)
If you take into consideration the root of obeying man, the reasons stem from obedience to God. We should "give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all." (Romans 12:17)
The most significant aspect of obedience is hope because God will open up a way for us.
Image credti: Joann Pittman
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