Motivation Meditations in Acts : 20 : Coping with Ungodly Opposition
Acts 5:17-20 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.”
We have, of course, already in previous meditations had to deal with the subject of being in conflict with the Law as a Christian, but here we’ll focus the subject on opposition that comes from other believers. From our perspective this opposition is ungodly. We know the apostles were called and sent by Jesus, the Son of God, and we know they are energised and motivated by the Holy Spirit. Thus anyone positively opposing them is acting in an ungodly way. Indeed we know the opposition here is wrong because we are told it was motivated by jealousy.
Yet there is something here that we tend to forget, and it is that the people opposing the apostles were Sadducees and although we tend to give them a bad press, and although it may well be that among their numbers there were those who acted out of purely political motives, there were surely others who sought to be devout men of God. That we believe they were sincere but sincerely wrong is probably not in dispute; that they thought they had the welfare and best interests of the people of Israel uppermost in their minds is also probably not in dispute – but they are opposing the will of God!
We have already seen the anointed apostles declaring that they must obey God rather than man, but that can be a weapon for what can become unrighteous behaviour. We have also seen them declaring that they can do no more or less than declare what they have seen and heard, and that’s fine. That much is clear.
But how do we respond to such people, those who are against us and at odds with what we believe? This is no mere academic subject for at the time of writing this particular series, in recent days the media has been full of reports about upheavals within the Anglican church in respect of women in leadership and allowing gay men (or women) in positions of leadership. Now this meditation is not about either of those subjects but on how we, as Christians, cope with what we see (from our own individual standpoint) as the ungodly stance of those who disagree with us.
Just within the last few days I was sent a link to a blog where the writer wrote almost belligerently about his particular stance on these matters. What saddened me, apart from his severe lack of handling the word of God properly, was this ungracious, crusading and hostile spirit that came through that clearly declared that anyone who held a view contrary to that which he was espousing was clearly wrong but even more, a bigoted idiot.
I was put in mind of the writings of Dr, Francis Schaeffer (now deceased) who wrote about how he had been involved in schisms in the earlier part of the twentieth century in the USA, when conservative believers had separated off from liberal believers. He observed how there had been great hostility between the opposing parties and, looking back on it, he now deeply regretted his own heart in the matter, saying how we must learn to disagree gracefully. Jesus came, we are told, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) and we would like to think that the Holy Spirit is making us the same. We must remember, therefore, to ensure we balance truth with grace.
Jesus teaching is revolutionary: “I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Mt 5:22) and “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Mt 7:1,2). Each of these verses challenges us about how we think of others and, in this context, especially about those with whom we disagree. We may appear to win an argument, but it can be at the cost of the person we are supposed to be in Christ.
When the apostle Peter said, “Show proper respect to everyone,” (1 Pet 2:17) he didn’t mean just those we agree with, he meant everyone, and that verse follows his call to submit to authorities and is then followed by that incredible instruction to slaves: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh,” (1 Pet 2:18) and goes on to explain that it is commendable to suffer for doing right, even as Christ did. We need to understand, as we’ve said before in this series, that we are not called to respect wrong behaviour, but we are called to respect people for who they are, those made in the image of God and, sometimes, those called to particular roles in society that are worthy of respect.
The apostle Paul had the same ideas in mind when he wrote, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else,” (1 Thess 5:15) and this must apply as much to speech as to actions. In respect of speech, Paul taught, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col 4:6) I like the way the Message version puts it: “The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”
The account of what happened to the apostles is delightful: an angel came at night and let them out. That simple! And he tells them to carry on doing what they have been doing – in public. A closing thought: suppose the apostles had derided and demeaned the authorities, suppose when they were being imprisoned they had shouted threats at them, “God will get you!” Suppose they had acted arrogantly and belligerently; do you think God would have sent an angel to let them out? Do we perhaps fail to see the power of God exercised by the Holy Spirit in and through us, because we do not exhibit the Spirit of Jesus? May we ensure that we are not only full of truth, but also full of grace?