Acts 19:28-41 – Paul’s Politics – Submission to Authority is Submission to God
Diving Deeper Lesson Outline for a second lesson on Acts 19:28-41
The title is drawn from Paul’s relationship with government authorities as shown in our text and in previous texts in Acts.
We will explore how Romans 13:1-7, written most likely during his 3rd missionary journey while in Corinth (Acts 20:2-3), fleshes out when overlaid on Paul’s (and his fellow apostles) interactions with the political powers that be in Acts.
1) INTERACTIONS WITH THE POWERS THAT BE – GOOD & BAD
First we need to look at several examples that highlight the various interactions Peter and Paul had with the authorities.
Acts 4:1-3 – And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.
Acts 5:17 – But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.
Acts 12:1-6 – About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Acts 13:7 & 12 – He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Acts 16:20-24 – And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Acts 18:12-17 – But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Acts 19:38-41 – If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.
In these examples, we see varied interactions and outcomes.
Underlying all these interactions is a Biblical mandate taught both by Peter and Paul.
This Biblical mandate guided all the decisions they made in their relationship with the authorities.
2) PAUL AND PETER’S CALL TO SUBMIT TO THE POWERS THAT BE
Now we need to look at Peter and Paul’s Biblical mandate.
Titus 3:1a – Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities…
1 Peter 2:13-14 – Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
Romans 13:1-7 – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
When we read these verses, all sorts of questions arise.
It doesn’t take us long to imagine scenarios that have implications that we are very uncomfortable with.
So to get our bearings we will examine more closely Romans 13:1-7.
Understanding Romans 13:1-7:
Acts is a great help to us in understanding these verses.
Peter & Paul were “living Acts” when they made the previous declarations.
In fact, Paul wrote Romans at the end of his 3rd missionary journey.
So because Paul’s 3 journeys in Acts are the physical backdrop of this letter, we will use Acts to “unlock” the meaning Paul and Peter may have had in mind.
Verse 1 – A SOVEREIGN GOD:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
A very big and sovereign God is an essential component of Paul’s theology.
Paul’s sermons and epistles are ripe with a big God.
God is Lord of heaven and earth, creator of earth and everything in it, needs nothing from man, gives life and breath, made from Adam every nation, etc.
So it is no surprise that Paul recognizes that “governing authorities” are instituted by God and not simply a random outworking of the choices of men.
Proverbs 8:15-16 – By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; 16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.
Daniel 2:21 – He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
And for a man who gave his life to Speak the Gospel, the only right response to what God had instituted is obedience.
Submission to authority is a witness strategy that glorifies God.
POI – We must remember that Evil rulers are also ruling under the authority of God.
We know this includes wicked rulers as well as good ones because the Bible tells about wicked kings that God guided into office. For example, Jeroboam was one of the most wicked kings of Israel, and 1 Kings 12:15 describes the intrigue that put him in place like this: “It was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord.”
Piper, J. (2007). Sermons from John Piper (2000-2007). Minneapolis: Desiring God.
Verse 2 – CONSEQUENCES:
Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Paul tells us that there are consequences to resisting the authority God has instituted.
God makes this cause and effect principle clear in Proverbs.
Proverbs 14:35 – A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
A first consequence of disobeying authority is that the disobedience becomes a stumbling block and obstacle to the very people that may need to hear the Gospel.
Paul alludes to this when discussing slavery with Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:1 – Let all who are under a yoke as slaves regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.
The principal applies here; we are to submit to the powers that be so that God and the Gospel “may not be reviled”.
A second consequence is that in resisting and disobeying the authorities, you, in effect, resist and disobey God.
You must now consider the following questions in light of this.
Am I disobeying God when I:
Speed in my car?
Fail to obtain and pay for applicable permits or licenses?
Cheat on my taxes?
Exceed hunting quotas?
The point here is that there is much more to the picture than just you and the authorities.
God is present throughout our decision making process whether we realize it or not.
Paul surrendered his entire life to an obedience to God, and I suspect he would do none of the things just mentioned.
To do so would be all for Paul’s benefit and not God’s and Paul didn’t live his life like that.
Verses 3 & 4 – PURPOSE:
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
Paul speaks with first hand experience when acknowledging the purpose of the powers was to inhibit bad behavior.
In our opening examples, both Gallio and the town clerk diffused bad behavior.
Doing so turned out to be beneficial to Paul and his disciples.
It was fear of a Roman crack down, God’s civil law “avenger”, that motivated the town clerk to resolve the riot peacefully.
POI – These verses, and the 3 below, are used to outline the Biblical case for capital punishment.
Genesis 4:10 – And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
Genesis 9:6 – Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
Numbers 35:33 – You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.
Why did Jesus tell Peter in the garden of Gethsemane to put down his sword?
Verses 5-7 – YOUR CONSCIENCE:
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Paul gives us another reason we our to submit to the powers that be, “for the sake of conscience.”
When we both disobey God and inhibit the spreading of the Gospel through the disobedience of the powers that be, we will suffer spiritually and experience the wrath of God.
Our conscience and by extension our spirit will be burdened and grieved – not a good place to live for a Christian.
This principal also applies to those forms of disobedience we addressed above under verse 2 – CONSEQUENCES.
This is why Paul says the following:
Acts 24:16 – So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.
And Peter tells us that when we suffer injustice we are to do so:
1 Peter 3:16-17 – having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good (being obedient), if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (being disobedient).
It is clear that God’s Word teaches that the Christian has a unique relationship with the powers that be.
We are to understand that:
God installed them and sustains or overthrows them.
They are in power for our good – either directly or indirectly.
They rule under God’s authority, and by submitting to them we submit to God.
In our disobedience to the powers that be, we are to understand that:
We disobey God.
We burden our conscience.
We hinder our ability to speak the Gospel without offence.
We risk experiencing God’s wrath and judgement.
Now that we have a basic idea of why the Bible teaches we are to submit to the powers that be, we will look at a couple of examples of this submission from the Bible.
3) EXAMPLES OF SUBMISSION TO THE POWERS THAT BE
Jeremiah 29:6-7 – But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
1 Samuel 24:5-6 – And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.”
Matthew 22:17-21 – Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Acts 16:25 – About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
Acts 18:2 – And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.
These examples of submission are of but a few that are available.
Yet they demonstrate that this submission exists and is most often at the expense of the one submitting.
If you know your Bible, however, you also know that there are examples that demonstrate the defiance of authority.
So we will explore a few of these as well.
4) EXAMPLES THAT SEEMINGLY CONTRADICT THE CALL TO SUBMISSION TO THE POWERS THAT BE
Acts 4:18-20 – So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 5:19-21 & 25 – But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
Acts 16:35-39 – But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
Daniel 3:16-18 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”I (when told to worship other gods & a golden image.)
The question now arises how do we reconcile a call to submission with these examples of defiance?
We will attempt to address this question next.
How to account for the apparent contradiction:
Acts 5:27-32 – And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 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.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
1 Corinthians 9:16 – Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
1 Corinthians 9:21 – …not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ…
Acts 22:25-27 – But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.”
There seem to be two lines of thought and conviction that led Peter & Paul to disobey the powers that be.
The first way involves the necessity to obey God’s call to Speak the Gospel – to evangelize.
The second way involves holding the authorities accountable to the same laws that you are expected to follow.
And related to the second, when authorities ask us to break their own laws.
The first way:
Speaking the Gospel might be the primary call on the Christian’s life.
It can be argued that how Peter and Paul lived indicates that our obedience to this call is to be done no matter the cost.
This call on our lives (and all of God’s moral law) is to be followed without exception.
Peter & Paul show us that when the powers that be make demands of us that violate this law (God’s law), we are to disobey them.
And the example of Paul, Peter and others show us that we are to disobey them no matter the cost to us – imprisonment, flogging, stoning, etc.
Amazingly, it can also be argued that if we are punished for our disobedience we are, however, to submit to the punishment.
But we, like Daniel or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, should pray for deliverance by God.
The second way:
It is not just us who are accountable to civil law, but also the authorities who live under it.
When the authorities break their own laws, we are expected to hold them accountable.
And if they seek our cooperation in breaking the very laws they made, we are to resist them.
Paul unashamedly pointed out to the authorities that they were unlawful in flogging him because he was a Roman citizen and so resisted his punishment.
(How Paul’s citizenship in this example stacks up to his experience in the jail at Philippi will be discussed in a future lesson.)
We should now have a basic understanding of the nature of the relationship between Paul and the powers that be.
And by extension, we understand this to apply to us as well.
This brief study of the subject certainly raises as many questions as it answers.
But by way of application, I want us to consider a few things.
One of the most priceless freedoms we have as Americans is an ability to Speak the Gospel.
We can speak the Gospel, for the most part, without cost.
And certainly not with the cost Peter and Paul paid.
Do we avenge ourselves of this God-given freedom as we should?
Paul would be licking his chops if he were a missionary to the U.S.
The sad thing is that we are disobedient to God in Speaking the Gospel because we foolishly think it is to OUR BENEFIT to do so.
Interestingly, when we speed, cheat on taxes, kill more game than allowed, don’t pay for permits or licenses, etc., we do so for the same sorry reason – OUR BENEFIT.
We should be ashamed that the same reason we refuse to Speak the Gospel is the same reason we give for so many other ways we disobey God.
Paul has taught us that we are to do nothing “seeking my own advantage.”
Peter and Paul’s primary burden in life was Speaking the Gospel.
It was not family or comfort or food or recreation or a hot shower or sports or children.
As Peter said, they must talk about “what they have seen and heard.”
Because of this, they see hardships as blessings and face them with a clean conscience.
Whether in submission to or disobedient to authorities, they were committed to obeying God and not counting the cost.
If we reject the primacy of this calling – the Gospel, we run the race God has set before us disingenuously.
We justify putting kids, sports, wife or our comfort first.
We begin to count the cost of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
And in so doing, we weaken our resolve and contribution to the cause of Christ.
We become calculating in our decision-making when a sacrifice for Christ is needed.
We might consider, how am I going to make a living; I need to provide for my family; my kids need me to give them what their friends have; I have to have a hot shower, etc.
All of these things weaken our constitution and hinder us from being Peters and Pauls!
And all this begins, in my opinion, by rejecting the primacy in life of Speaking the Gospel.
So if we desire to learn submission to authority, to not count the cost, to not seek our own advantage we must begin to Speak the Gospel – the ultimate act of obedience to authority!