10/10/2021 [Thematic Message 135] www.lifechurchmissions.com
Is It Right to Obey Man rather than God? <Ac 4:13-20>
Prelude: Our aim in the Christian faith is to obey God. There is nothing to be said against this. But when people get together, the definition of obeying God is not clear, and when the contents we hear are inconsistent, what exactly is meant by obeying God? In this pandemic, we have seen such disagreements appear. How others obey God may be completely different from how I obey God. Some people claim to obey God rather than man, and therefore refuse to be vaccinated. Then we ask, “What does taking vaccination got to do with obeying God?” Such people may use what they have analysed and scientific theories that fit their own intentions to explain themselves, and some are also biased toward certain conspiracy theories and use them to reiterate their points of view. But let us not forget that there is another group of people who also say at the same time, “Vaccination is God's will, and we believers should not resist it.” In between these two differences, some believers have a neutral point of view, “Whether to take the vaccine is a matter between us and the Lord. Therefore, neither of us should judge the other.” It is like what <Ro 14: 1> mentioned, not to quarrel over disputable matters. Maybe we can say so, but not everything can have such a definite position. For example, “Should we attend church when the pandemic spreads?” Or when the challenge intensifies, like how last week, the government strongly discouraged those over 60 years old from going out and participating in various religious activities, what then should the church’s position be? When the family members of our brethren heard this news, they strongly urged their parents not to go to church, how then should parents respond to this matter? Sometimes, it is not just non-believing children who suggested this. Even children who are Christians also forbid their parents from going to church. They may even take out the Bible and say, “God tells us to subject ourselves to the governing authorities.” If we do not think deeply, we will easily accept that to be God’s perfect will but it is definitely not the truth. The teaching of the Bible is not so imprudent, neither is it so superficial. Of course, we know that every situation that people encounter has a complex side. But we must reject God’s perfect will that is derived without basis and has not been tested by prayer. When we declare, “We obey God”, this sentence carries significant weight. What we must be most cautious about is not to take our own will as God’s will. We cannot deny the deceit in our hearts. Sometimes we may say things we do not mean, or sometimes the motives in our heart are impure, yet we respond with false words, or with words from the Bible. We have to be accountable to God for all these. Because some people do not have the faith to attend church during the pandemic, they use some fictitious dialectics to say, “Just as we do not need to go to Jerusalem to worship God now, it is enough for us to worship God in spirit and in truth.” They simply abolish the importance of physical gatherings based on such hypocritical truths. If such a truth can be established, we can also say, “Because we no longer need to be baptised at the Jordan River now, it is enough for New Testament believers to repent in their hearts.” Can we use this sentence to abolish baptism? If not, in the same way, how can we use fictional truths to make saints look down upon physical meetings? Of course, we may be fearful because of the pandemic, or worry about the possibility that the elderly in the church may be infected by the virus, or feel pressurised because the government has stricter regulations, but a church that obeys the Lord does not succumb to such pressures by making “easy” decisions. With regard to the government’s policy, the church must have countermeasures. Why is this so? Because the church not only needs to account to the state, but also to the Lord. The church should not only consider the physical safety of believers, but also the spiritual life of believers. If the church does not give a clear direction here, but merely follows the trend and sees what the government says, and then completely complies, what this will eventually bring about is the saints themselves will be confused, and the church will bear its own consequences, and watch helplessly, as the flock of sheep that the Lord has entrusted them to take care of, go astray.
1. Peter and John obeyed God rather than men
1）Peter and John were bold, but they were uneducated and common men
Many believers today are opposite to this. They are educated, yet lacking boldness. In this pandemic, we see many educated people whose hearts were intimidated by various information from news and experts’ opinions. Does that mean we should be someone uneducated so that we can have some irrational boldness? Definitely not! The boldness of the apostles was not because of their lack of education, but rather, it was because of their clear conscience before God. Boldness is not due to the fact that “the less we know, the less we fear”. Instead, when we submit to the word of God, with clear conscience in our hearts, we will be greatly strengthened by the Holy Spirit such that our hearts can transcend the things that people generally are fearful of. Today, despite that many believers have obeyed the various suggestions and regulations from the government, they are still unsettled. They are constantly worried about themselves and their family members, or they are worried that the asymptomatic infected people beside them will pass the virus to them. If we say this is just human nature, that is also not completely right. This is because even in pandemic, God has not allowed His people to be as fearful as the people of the world. If believers constantly live in fear, there can be only one reason, i.e. they have not submitted to the Lord with a clear conscience during the entire pandemic. They have stopped going to church, they have stopped spreading the gospel, putting their focus only on their safety. When they hear any information, their hearts will be shaken by those news. Then, we ought to ask, do believers need the knowledge of the world? Definitely! We believers need to have knowledge and understanding, but if we are entirely dependent on them and not seek God’s guidance, it is only natural for us to sink into fear.
2）What should we do when we are threatened by people as we submit to God?
When Peter and John obeyed the Lord and spread the gospel, they suffered great interrogation and persecution from the council. Yet they were fearless, because what they said were reasonable before God, and they had true evidences with them, for the man who was healed was standing beside them. In this pandemic, most people’s fears come not from the danger of the virus but from the pressure given by people. Some believers stopped coming to church because of the pressure from their families and companies, some churches do not open because they are afraid that they cannot meet the regulations of the government. Think about it: Is this being afraid of man? Indeed, God has presented a circumstance before us, that is, man has become the hindrance for us to submit to God. <1 Pe 3:15> tells us, “Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” We truly need to defend our own faith. When people ask us, “Why do you still go to church at such a time?” We cannot escape this question with a smile. We might do that in the beginning, but when the pandemic persists to about 2 years, can we not plainly say that we need to worship and have communion of saints? Can we not tell others that our faith is strengthened when we go to church? When we are faced with pressure from others, we may occasionally withdraw gently, but at times we do need to make a defense so that the people around us (especially the believers) are awakened and be brought to understand that one needs to persevere in faith.
3）But the ultimate conclusion is to obey God
Many believers do not even have the concept of obeying God. Or some assume that by obeying those in power (keeping the laws) is obeying God. Some think that by not fighting with family members (harmony at home) is obeying God. Some may be bold outwardly in claiming to obey God, but they are actually obeying their own desires. When they make decisions and judgment on all things, it is not based on glorifying Christ and pursuing the benefits of God’s Kingdom. In fact, they cannot receive peace in their hearts, neither can they be Christ’s witnesses. Perhaps, they may be comforted for not being infected, but they can never receive the approval of God. Today, there are too many believers and church leaders who are like this. They affirm one another, which is actually misleading one another, and they have not properly considered about edifying the spirituality of the saints during this pandemic period.
2. Only obey God, not obey man
1）What does it mean to not obey man?
Does the Bible ask us to submit to authorities? Are children told to obey their parents? Should patients listen to doctors? Does it command wives to submit to their husbands? Are believers asked to submit to pastors? Yes! This is the authority system that God has set in the world, so that people are protected. But we must know that all such obedience and submission is centered on our obedience to God. Whether it is our family or government, if the command is to: ① encourage us to do what God has forbidden us to do; ② forbid us to do what God has commanded us to do, we cannot obey. This is like when the Chinese government banned the meetings of house churches, the believers in China continue to gather boldly, foreign missionaries also disobey the authorities by going to China to evangelize. Why do we choose to retreat in this pandemic? Isn’t this double standard?
2）The will of man will never exalt the Gospel, neither will it benefit the church
Sometimes, the words of man sound convincing and reasonable and seem to be for the greater good. However, over time, we will discover that the will of man will not bring any benefit to the church, nor will man enable others to see the great power of the Gospel, and give glory to God. In the Sanhedrin, we see the Jewish leaders agreeing with each other, because they were thinking for the benefit of the Jewish nation. It was for this reason they persecuted Christ <Jn 11:49-50>, now it was for the same reason they were stopping Peter and John from proclaiming the name of Jesus. Of course, the current pandemic is another issue. We give thanks that our country does not persecute Christianity, but because of the need to prevent outbreaks and enable economic recovery, they encourage the people not to gather and impose many restrictions on the gatherings, on the singing of hymns, size of gathering, duration of gathering, suspension of Sunday School and also discourage the elderly from gathering. Of course, there are reasons to have precautionary measures, and it is to promote public health in the midst of the pandemic. But now it has been almost two years, what is the state of the church now? Even if the churches are willing to submit to the authorities, we must ask ourselves how far do we need to submit? We are not ignorant about the pandemic. We all know the official statistics about the pandemic and understand its risks (especially now, among those infected, 98% have no or mild symptoms), so we need to question if we need to completely follow the government’s recommendations? I heard that some churches had taken in the recommendations of the government and restricted those above 60 from attending service, in the end, there were only a few who attended service. It is not just last week. From the past 2 years, haven’t we seen how the churches have fallen into a sad state? The believers grow cold spiritually, saints lost the purpose of gathering, brethren are cold to each other, believers no longer believe in the necessity to gather, and they mainly just listen to news and expert opinions. Today, if it is our livelihood that is being affected, we will not let it remain like this. However, if it is our spiritual life that is being compromised, how can we not do anything? Actually, the past 2 years have proven a fact, that is the church of the Lord just needs to do two things for revival. Firstly, to be faithful in preaching the Word of God clearly and completely; secondly, open the doors of the church with strengthened faith, allow any sheep of the Lord who wants to worship to gather physically. If the church is faithful in these two things, it will surely see the grace of God with her. As for the other things, the Holy Spirit will personally lead His church.
3）What does it mean to obey God?
All believers will say they want to obey God, but in reality, many believers do not even have the foundation to obey God. Obeying God is not random, or something on a spur of a moment. If we want to hear correctly the convictions of the Holy Spirit in all our circumstances, we must have the ideological system from God’s word that is in our heart <Col 2:6-7, 2 Ti 3:14>. This ideological system comes from a person’s rooted knowledge and faithfulness in the whole content of the Bible and not taking a passage out of context, so that he can apply them when faced with actual situations. Simply said, a person who has the word of God in his heart will first seek the “glory of God”. He exalts “Christ”, and his ultimate aim in life is to build and expand the “Kingdom of God”, and he seeks the benefit of the “church” (God’s people). Therefore, although he lives on earth, what He cares about is the spiritual, unchanging and eternal, instead of the light and momentary <2 Co 4:16-18>. Then, we might ask if things on earth are truly not important? How about our physical health? Of course they are important. But we must always use the perspective of the spiritual, unchanging and eternal to view the things of the flesh, that are changing and temporary. Take for example if we talk about taking the vaccine. Even if we cannot know for sure from science if there will be long-term negative effect from it, if we use the spiritual, unchanging and eternal perspective, we know the most blessed choice is to take the vaccine for the sake of the gospel. Say now there is a surge in the number of cases, should the elderly still come to church? The answer is simple. If we use the perspective of the spiritual, unchanging and eternal to look at this, rationally, we will know that among those who are infected, 98% have no or mild symptoms, then we have no reason to get people to stay at home, but we know this is a step of faith that God is willing for the believers to take. Of course, for those without the faith, the church will not force them and cause them to stumble, but from the angle of teaching and encouragement, the church is willing for believers to walk by faith. Believers can be weak, but the church leaders have the duty to give believers the right guidance and direction and not be tossed about by the trends of the world.
3. Easier said than done
1）It is hard because even church leaders also lose direction
If the church leaders have no fixed perspective in this, and compromise with societal trends or the fears of brethren, then believers have no chance of standing out in the pandemic. Because if even the leaders are muddle-headed, how can those being led be sober? Perhaps the ordinary believer’s faith as small as a mustard seed will also be drowned by the leaders’ compromise. Thus, the responsibility of us teachers and leaders of the church is very great. We must be answerable to the Lord for these 2-3 years of pandemic. If we walk in the way of Aaron, and compromise with the pressure of the masses, we and the crowd we lead will eventually suffer loss.
2）It is hard because there is a lack of rooted equipping with God’s word during normal days
Today, most people come to church to seek feelings or experiences. Their understanding of God is merely superficial, only seeking some blessings or prayer answers. The word of God which they learned in church never make them change their life direction toward God, such that they use what is spiritual, unchanging and eternal to look at all carnal, changing and temporal things. Their ultimate concern is not God’s kingdom, the way they live is also not faithful to biblical principles. Thus, we have to ask how can such a life make clear judgment with a fixed perspective during crisis? Such a person may even become a church leader, but his heart may not have the contents that prompt him to obey God in everything and to follow God’s instructions to lead the sheep.
3）It is hard because of the lack of habit to train in godliness, and in learning to obey God in the challenges He gives us
Paul said, “I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave.” <1 Co 9:26-27>. Indeed, we often give in to spiritual laziness, and use “easy” ways to settle matters, handle people and cope with difficulties. The extension of this pandemic is the best lesson God gives the saints. At the start of the pandemic, we may feel shocked, so everyone responded with safe measures and completely complied with the government’s suggestions and approach, advising saints to temporarily meet online at home. But after close to two years, when we see challenges arising time and again, the church living of saints being disrupted again and again, affecting the heart of everyone to meet, evangelize and mutually shepherd each other, we cannot simply succumb to that “easy” way. Instead, we should personally consult the Lord, and be responsible for our lives and the lives of our family members. This is not just about the pandemic, even when we meet all kinds of things that challenge our faith in future, we must ask, “What exactly is a response that is consecrated and pleasing to the Lord?”