We Must Obey God Rather than Men

Summary Acts 5:1-18 ESV

I am reading this morning in the book of Acts (Acts of the Apostles), chapter five. The chapter begins with the story of a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira who lied to the apostles with regard to a piece of property that they had sold, apparently claiming that they were giving away all of the proceeds while they secretly held some back. So God struck both of them dead, for they had not lied just to man but to the Holy Spirit. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Then many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.

Acts 5:19-21 ESV

“But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.’ And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.”

Now, I love this! Don’t you? Why? Because it shows us that our God is absolutely sovereign over all and that nothing can stop his work if he wants it to go on. The apostles were arrested for doing the work of the Lord, but God freed them. Yet Paul spent many years in prison for preaching the gospel, so this is not to say that the Lord will always remove us from our difficult circumstances, but that if he wants his word to go forth, it will go forth despite all human opposition and human attempts to stop it. Amen!

Other humans thought they were able to stop the work of God, but they can’t unless God allows it for a time and for a purpose, but even then I believe the work of God still goes forth. So, we should never allow apparent setbacks to keep us from doing the will of God for our lives. We should never allow other humans’ treatment of us nor their opinions of us to keep us from doing the will of God for our lives, but we should keep on in doing the work of the Lord, for our God is absolutely sovereign over all things.

Now there was a time in my life when I did not fully grasp this. Although intellectually I believed in the sovereignty of God, when “push came to shove” (an idiom), I learned that I did not really believe in God’s sovereignty over my life. In fact, I believed that God was limited and that man had power over me that God could do nothing about. Now I believe my mind came to accept that as truth because I lived with an abusive father for twenty-one years of my life and God did not physically rescue me from him.

So, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Over and over again I would face difficult circumstances where I was rejected by other humans and where I was mistreated by them, and sometimes I eventually caved to the pressure of it all and I ran from God instead of to God. In fact, this one time I said to the Lord, “But God, you don’t understand!” Honestly I believed that in my heart even though intellectually I would reject such a notion. So, even if our circumstances appear bleak, we must know that God is still in control.

Acts 5:27-32 ESV

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.’”

Oh, I could tell story after story of all those (including many preachers) who tried to stop me from sharing the truths of the Scriptures over the course of my 72 years of life. The first one rejected me because he felt that I spoke with too much authority, but which was the authority of the Scriptures. He told me I should wait until there were gray hairs on my head, and then people would listen to me. And he told me I should just sit in the back “at church” until I was called upon to serve God by the church leaders.

Many years later I had a similar experience where another preacher told me that in his training he was warned about people like me, i.e. “people with strong convictions,” which were the convictions of God and of the Scriptures. He was warned that he should discourage my participation in “his church,” and so he told me I should just sit in the back “at church” and that I was just to let him be God’s voice to me. Wow! No man is God’s voice to me. Only God is God’s voice to me, and only the word of God, the Scriptures.

Now in both of these situations, and I have faced many more, I was not out of order. I was not out of line. I was totally in submission to the authorities and I only spoke as I was given permission to speak by the church leadership. And when they spoke against me, I did not try to take matters into my own hands, but I surrendered to the will of God and I submitted to the pastors’ authority, and I did what they requested of me. But the second pastor said I should go somewhere else, so I did.

And when I think back over my life, and when I am reminiscent of all the various trials and tribulations the Lord Jesus took me through, I see God’s hand in my life in preparing me for the ministry to which he called me eighteen years ago. And I also think of God’s words to Jeremiah when he called him into the ministry. He told him that he was to say to whomever everything God commanded him to say, but that he was to not be terrified by them, lest the Lord should terrify Jeremiah before them.

Well, over the first fifty some years of my life, I did have multiple times when I was terrified by people in positions of authority and when I did retreat and when I did not do the will of God out of fear of others’ treatment of me and out of fear of their opinions of me. But over the course of those some fifty years I was also getting stronger in my faith and in my determination to obey the Lord despite all opposition against me, and that has made me who I am so I will do God’s will despite all opposition.

So now I can honestly say with the apostles that I must obey God rather than men, especially if other humans are trying to discourage me from obeying the Lord Jesus. I must hold true to the word of the Lord despite all attempts to move me away from the Scriptures to follow after the lies. I must remain strong in holding on to the convictions of the Scriptures and to holy living and to sharing the whole counsel of God, and I must not ever compromise with the world just so people will like and accept me.

And I must continue to speak the gospel of our salvation as the Lord Jesus taught it, and as his New Testament apostles taught it, despite all opposition against me and against the truth of the gospel (the whole counsel of God). I must persevere in teaching the critical nature of God’s requirements that we repent of (turn away from) our sins and that we walk in obedience to his commands, if we want to have life in Jesus Christ, salvation from sin, and the hope of eternal life with God (see vv. 31-32 here).

The Longer I Serve Him

William J. Gaither

Since I started for the Kingdom,
Since my life He controls,
Since I gave my heart to Jesus,
The longer I serve Him,
The sweeter He grows.

The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows,
The more that I love Him, more love He bestows;
Each day is like heaven, my heart overflows,
The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.

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