We Must Obey God…Rather than Man

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“We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). This seemingly simple phrase has profound importance in our Christian lives. The setting for these words is a trial before the Sanhedrin. The Apostles had been arrested and put in jail by the high priest and the Sadducees the night before, but the angel of the Lord had opened the doors of the prison in the middle of the night and told them to go to the Temple to, “Tell the people everything about this life.” Which they did.

The next morning the high priest and he Sadducees sent to the jail to have them brought in, but they were not there. Indeed the word came to them that the Apostles were again preaching in Temple area. When the officers of the court went to bring them in again they did so “without force” because they saw how the crowds listening to Apostles were very much taken by them and their teaching. The court officers were afraid of being stoned by the crowds. Once again, though, the Apostles were brought before the court.

The high priest and the Sadducees were about to get a lesson themselves. Their frustration was uncontainable. They thought that they had solved the “Jesus problem” when they crucified him. They were confronted here by the Apostles who had only recently received the Holy Spirit in the upper room and their faith was afire with their love of Jesus and their knowledge of who he really was. They are unafraid of temporal punishments. They knew the truth and were not going to abandon it because of the threats of these temporal authorities. And you can see, too, that the high priest and the Sadducees fear the name of Jesus. They had ordered the Apostles to never again teach in that man’s name. Somewhere deep down they feared the guilt of Jesus’ blood coming down upon them and, in their human thinking, they thought that they could “fix” the problem by intimidation and fear, abolishing the use of Jesus’ name in all of Jerusalem. The Apostles’ response? “We must obey God rather than man. They knew who Jesus was. The high priest and the Sadducees refused, out of human pride, to accept the fact that the Messiah had come, had walked amongst them, and they had crucified him. They did not know God, or God’s infinite capacity for forgiveness. They simply feared the challenge to their power and imagined authority.

So it is with us today in our own times. As Christians we know that God is love. We know that his law of love is supreme over that of men. When the laws of man are just and cooperate with the law of God, they are righteous and are to be obeyed. But when the laws of man do not agree with the law of God, or defy the law of God, they are unjust, and we are not obliged to obey them. Indeed, we are to disobey them. On the other hand, we are always charged with obeying God’s law. Like the Apostles, we must do this with respect and grace. In order to do this, it is imperative for a Christian to know what God’s law is. We find that law in the scriptures and in the teaching of the Church. But more than knowing is required too. We must endeavor always to live in accord with God’s law in our daily lives. To do so is to be, like the Apostles, God’s true disciples, “telling people everything about this life” with our words and our deeds. God’s law is never served in violence, or in hatred. It never looks down on the other, nor is there any room in it for revenge. We are always to abide by his law of love knowing that the powers that rule the world may take exception to that teaching and seek to silence us. Like the Apostles, we can trust and take courage in the fact that God is with us in his Holy Spirit and will never abandon us. He will give us the courage to suffer the consequences as Jesus and the Apostles did for loving in a world that often misunderstands or even hates that love.

Lord, Deepen our prayer lives and our love of scripture so that we can not only come to know your law, but have the courage to obey it in our daily lives, especially when others try to force us to accept laws that are contrary to yours. Help us to confront unjust laws by teaching the power and the righteousness of your law of love and to do so always with just and loving words and deeds alone. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.