Human Authority vs Divine Authority

Human Authority

vs Divine Authority

Acts 5:29

  • “Peter and the apostles answered and said, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”

At the first reading of this statement, it does appear to be radical indeed. When are we to obey God rather than man? Why are we to obey God rather than man? Must God be obeyed rather than all men? We will remember that Jesus commanded His disciples before His departure: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18-19). He likewise said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15; cf. Luke 24:44-49). On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, the apostles began to carry out this divine mandate to proclaim the gospel to all people (Acts 2:22-41). This proclamation of Christ and His resurrection continued in the city, with many responding to this good news by repenting of their sins and being baptized (2:42-47; 4:1-4).

The Pharisees and Sadducees bitterly opposed this message of Christ and attempted to put a stop to it. The temple guard arrested Peter and John and brought them before the Jewish council (Acts 4:5ff), commanding them “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (v. 18). What did these apostles do? Did they allow fear to overwhelm them and promise to remain silent in the future? No, they boldly answered, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (vv. 19-20). They were faced with two alternatives: (1) they could obey the Jewish authorities and cease teaching and preaching Christ and His resurrection to the people, or (2) they could refuse to obey the council, choosing rather to obey the instructions of the Lord to preach His gospel to all. They chose the latter!

In the next chapter of Acts, the Sadducees had all of the apostles arrested, but an angel released them during the night (5:17-19), giving them this command, “Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life” (v. 20). Again they were faced with two alternatives: (1) they could obey the governing religious authorities, or (2) they could obey the command of God, given by His angel. What were they to do? They chose to continue to teach the people in the temple (v. 21-25). Once more, they were arrested and brought before the council. This is the occasion when Peter and the other apostles boldly stated, “We must obey God rather than men” (v. 29).

The apostles knew that when there is a conflict between human authority and requirements on the one hand, and God’s authority and requirements on the other hand, God must always come first! He must have the priority! This is true in the different authority relationships of life. When the civil government requires a sin (e.g., killing one’s unborn baby in China) and God requires righteousness (loving and protecting one’s child), we must obey God rather than man (cf. Dan 3:1-30; 6:1-28). When a person’s employer requires a sin (e.g., telling a lie) and God requires righteousness (telling the truth), we must obey God rather than man (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-23). When a person’s parent requires a sin (e.g., buying cigarettes in a store or viewing ungodly television programs), and God requires righteousness, we must obey God rather than man (cf. 1 Samuel 20:30-34, 41-42). When a woman’s husband requires a sin (e.g., viewing pornography, wearing immodest clothing, or cutting her hair) and God requires righteousness, we must obey God rather than man (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-6; 1 Samuel 25).

Let us illustrate. If an Army sergeant requires a private to obey an order, the private must obey. However, if an Army general should give a different order, the private must obey this higher authority even if this offends the sergeant. Likewise, if a lower authority (e.g., a husband, a father, an employer, etc.) requires something different from our highest authority (God), we must always choose the supreme authority. We must obey God rather than man! There are some today, even religious people, who teach that one should obey the government, an employer, one’s parent, and one’s husband even if these authority figures should require one to sin or should forbid obedience to God. Peter and the apostles would respond by saying that we must obey God rather than any man or woman!

Richard Hollerman

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