God, the Christian, and Civil Law

MEMORY VERSE: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” —Acts 5:29

ACTS 4:13-20

IN OUR memory verse Peter expresses the proper position of a Christian in his attitude toward those who would interfere with his service to God. Christians are under obligation to obey God rather than men whenever the demands of men are contrary to the will of God. Peter made his declaration of obedience to God to the religious rulers of Israel who had forbidden him and the Apostle John to proclaim the Gospel concerning Jesus.

The controversy over this point constitutes the background of the first portion of our lesson. Peter and John had been instrumental in healing a man who had been lame from birth. (Acts 3:1-11) This miracle resulted in a great deal of excitement among those in and about the temple, and in this situation he preached a sermon to them in which he drew a lesson from the miracle of healing which they had witnessed.—Acts 3:12-26

Peter explained that following the return of Christ there would be times of restitution, or restoration, of all things, and asserted that this had been foretold by the mouth of all God’s holy prophets since the world began. This, Peter indicated, would be in fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the families of the earth through the seed of Abraham; God having “first” given the natural descendants of Abraham to whom he was speaking an opportunity to repent, obey the Gospel, and thereby become a part of the blesser seed.

It was a wonderful sermon, and the “priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees” were “grieved that they [Peter and John] taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.”—Acts 4:1-3

The next day Peter and John were brought forth and set in the midst of an assortment of Jewish religious teachers, leaders, and rulers, for questioning. The first question was by what means they had accomplished the healing of the lame man. To this Peter responded boldly that it was through the name and power of Jesus of Nazareth “whom ye have crucified.”—Acts 4:5-10

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” Jesus was also bold and uncompromising in his ministry of the Gospel. But these religious leaders had not helped their cause. The man who had been healed was on hand, and they could not deny the fact of what had been accomplished.

So, instead of administering further punishment upon the apostles they let them off with a warning and they “commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” But Peter and John made it clear that they had no intention of obeying this command.

I PETER 2:13-17

Here the Apostle Peter is expressing the same thoughts as set forth by Paul in Romans 13:1-7. He is admonishing obedience to civil rulers. This is not in contradiction to Peter’s own course of action as discussed in the first section of the lesson. When Peter said that “we ought to obey God rather than man” he had in mind particularly the efforts of the religious leaders and rulers of Israel to interfere with the preaching of the Gospel.

However, even in the case of civil rulers the true Christian is obligated to obey God rather than men, when the demands of men are contrary to the laws of God.

We are to “honor all men,” Peter wrote. This does not mean to worship them, nor to render blind obedience regardless of conscience, but to respect them for the position they hold. We are to “love the brotherhood” to the full extent of laying down our lives for our brethren. While we are to “honor the king” we must first of all reverence God, and obey him regardless of the cost.


Relate the circumstances which led to the refusal of Peter and John to obey the religious leaders of Israel.

To what extent are we to obey the laws of the civil government under which we live?

Dawn Bible Students Association
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