Reprinted from the June 2014 issue of “Gospel Advocate” Magazine.
You may have played this game before; it is one I have never forgotten. When I was in high school, I was part of a youth rally Bible class where the teacher led us through an interesting illustration.
One person was blindfolded and told to walk across a room that had been transformed with tables and chairs into an obstacle course. Our job as classmates was to shout wrong directions; our goal was to keep the blindfolded person from making it across the room. One participant walked beside the blindfolded person, giving him the right directions. The room quickly grew so loud with students yelling that it was difficult to tell whose voice should be obeyed.
Our situation in this media-saturated world is not all that different. Whether through 24-hour news networks or social media sites, we are flooded with news, opinions and editorials. We often have more information than we know what to do with, and we struggle with how to process it all. Whose voice should we trust? Whose voice should we obey? Amid all the noise, where do we turn?
A Clear Principle
Every Pentecost in Jerusalem would have seemed busy and chaotic, but the year Jesus was crucified, the crowds must have been especially noisy. They would have been discussing the events surrounding the crucifixion, the darkness that fell over the land, and the reports of His resurrection. In Acts 2, the noise of Pentecost was pierced with the message of the gospel.
In Acts 4, Peter and John were thrown into prison after healing a man and preaching about Jesus in the temple courts. The leaders, scribes and elders instructed Peter and John to stop preaching the message of Jesus. Peter responded in Acts 4:19-20: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (esv).
The church continued to grow, and God continued to perform wonders and signs through the apostles. When the high priest had them imprisoned, God provided a way for them to escape and continue preaching in the temple. The doors were still locked, and the guards were still there, but God had delivered the apostles. They were brought before the council again, who reminded them that preaching the message of Jesus had been forbidden. Here is how they responded in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.”
How did they decide what to do and whose instructions to obey? They used a simple, clear principle: “We must obey God rather than men.” When the religious leaders told them to stop teaching about Jesus, they obeyed God. In Acts 12, after James was put to death and Peter was put in prison, they obeyed God. In Acts 17, when the intellectuals in Athens snickered at the idea of resurrection from the dead, Paul obeyed God. In the face of persecution, the church obeyed God, and it grew. In confusing times, this clear directive provides guidance and reassurance.
A Challenging Principle
“We must obey God rather than men” is a clear statement, but a challenging one. Can you imagine those words coming from the mouth of Moses? I can picture him taking Joshua aside and reminding him to rely on God’s instructions rather than men’s opinions.
Moses understood what it was like to stand accused in front of his own countrymen. In Numbers 16, a few leaders of the Israelites named Korah, Dathan and Abiram gathered 250 other influential men to stand against Moses. They accused him of seizing too much glory for himself. Moses relied on God, and God made Himself known in a powerful way. He opened up the ground and sent down fire, confirming Moses as Israel’s leader. Moses knew what it was like to count on God’s will rather than human opinion.
“We must obey God rather than men.” As Peter himself discovered, there are times when this principle is easier than others. In Acts 4 and 5, Peter’s voice appears quick and confident, declaring that they will obey God and continue to teach about Jesus. In Acts 15, as the leaders in the church were debating about whether Gentile Christians needed to obey the Law of Moses also, it was Peter who stood up and spoke powerfully about the way God had shown salvation to them and now made no distinction between Jews and Gentiles.
Yet Galatians 2 tells how Peter slipped back into old patterns of behavior. When certain men were around, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile Christians and began eating only with Jews. Paul had to confront Peter and remind him that how God saw Christians was more important than how others viewed them.
Another challenge occurs when our own desires conflict with how God wants us to live. The clearest example of this is seen when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before He went to the cross. He knew what would happen to Him, and He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus submitted His own will to God’s. There will be times when the voices calling for us to go against God’s will are our own, and Jesus gives us a model to follow when that happens.
“We must obey God rather than men.” We might not have to face off with 250 influential leaders, but what happens when a close friend ridicules a decision we have made? What happens when our culture tells us that certain actions and choices are acceptable rather than sinful? What happens when we simply want to do something we know we should not do? We obey God rather than men. Like participants in a blindfold exercise, Christians are called to listen among all the competing voices for the one voice that provides true guidance. It will not always be easy, but it will always be right.
Andrew Phillips preaches for the Graymere Church of Christ in Columbia, Tenn. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.