The Bible calls people to obey civil authorities as God’s representatives on earth (see Romans 13), but also makes it clear that God’s laws supersede civil laws. The line between the two can cause clashes, for God’s kingdom is very different from the world’s ways of doing things. In the book of Acts, we see how the apostles were frequently in trouble with religious and civil authorities and how they declared ‘we must obey God rather than human beings!’ (Acts 5:29) At times, that resulted in imprisonment and even death; there is a price to pay for being a follower of Jesus which all of us need to acknowledge.
In Acts 25, we see Paul still imprisoned and facing charges brought against him. This time, a full two years after he was first arrested, he is being questioned by the new Roman procurator at Caesarea, Porcius Festus. John Stott tells us, ‘The disturbances which Paul was alleged to have caused were religious in their origin but civil in their character.’ (‘Acts’, P 366) The Jews knew that the Romans were unwilling to convict people on purely religious charges, but were obliged to take note of civil unrest, and therefore they tried to give ‘a political twist to the religious charge.’ (ibid., P 366)
We may feel this is unfair, but the truth is that our faith does not exist in a spiritual vacuum. We are physical beings and spiritual things affect us physically as well as spiritually; we live in the world and therefore our faith has implications for how we live in this world. If we don’t have an integration of the two, we are likely to be ineffective for God and unhappy in ourselves. God calls us to think through issues and apply our faith in the real world. Obedience to God has to be our starting point, and may well lead us, as it did Paul, into conflict with the world. It’s not that we are looking to be disobedient or rebellious, but there are times when we will feel, as Martin Luther did, ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ Obedience has a price to pay; faith must prevail over expediency.