First, I want to make certain that you know this if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior and Lord of your life then you are part of the Church.
I could write a book on Acts 4:19-31, but better people than I have already quite adequately addressed this passage of Scripture. However, I do trust the Holy Spirit has given me something to speak to in this powerful passage of the Word of God.
For today’s study, there is a single facet out of this multifaceted text, in which I want to focus, and that is this: Acts 4 gives us an account of the first conflict between the Church and civil authorities. This was new, but it’s not new now.
I’ll say more about how the Church should handle attacks by civil authorities, but first please read the following Scriptures. I’ve just included the salient passages for our specific study. If you have time, it would be better if you read the entire passage of Acts4:19-31.
1: The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.
3: They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.
7 They [priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees] had Peter and John brought before them…
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:
10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
12 “…Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
18 Then they [the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!
20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.
24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.
28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen…”
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
As it says in MacLaren’s Expositions: “This first collision with civil authority gives, as has been already noticed, the main lines on which the relations of the Church to hostile powers have proceeded…The limits of civil obedience are clearly drawn. It is a duty, because the powers that be are ordained of God, and obedience to them is obedience to Him. But if they, transcending their sphere, claim obedience which can only be rendered by disobedience to Him who has appointed them, then they are no longer His ministers, and the duty of allegiance falls away. But there must be a plain conflict of commands, and we must take care lest we substitute whims and fancies of our own for the injunctions of God.”
A note from the Geneva Study Bible regarding the matter raised in verse 28 says, “The wicked execute God’s counsel, even though they think nothing of it, but they are not therefore without fault.” and the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments on verses 28, “God made the passions, which the enemies of Jesus indulged, to be the instruments for working out His will. So men when they suppose they are choosing their own way, have the ends thereof shapen by God rough-hew them how they will. Their misdeeds are made to execute the will of God, yet they are not on that account exempt from blame.”
So, what point am I attempting to make? It is common and often that the Church is placed at odds with civil demands. And, in fact, these civil demands that attack the Church often are what God decided beforehand should happen. Yet, with this said, the attackers are not excused from their actions and the action of the Church should be to thank God, pray and boldly, publicly declare that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [that is Jesus Christ] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
What happened in Acts 4 was new but these actions have continued on throughout the ages. And, these attacks on the Church are quite active in the present world in which we live. So, be strong. Do not fret or fear or become angry when civil authorities align against the Church. Rather, as in Acts 4, rejoice! Praise God, preach the gospel, snatch the lost from eternal destruction. Amen.