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What does it mean that we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)?

we must obey God rather than men

Acts 5:29 recounts the response Peter and other apostles gave when the Sanhedrin ordered them to cease preaching. The apostles’ words were direct and filled with confidence: “We must obey God rather than men” (ESV). This unwavering stance defined the ministry of the apostles and early Christians, who remained resolute in the face of severe persecution.

Acts 5 presents a contrast between the direct command given by God through an angel (verses 19–20) and the orders of the Sanhedrin (verse 28). In the previous chapter, the apostles had an initial confrontation with the Sanhedrin that resulted in the latter giving stern prohibitions against them preaching (Acts 4:16–18). This was after Peter healed the lame beggar (Acts 3:1–10). In response, Peter and John pose a similar question: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19)

After the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), the fame of the apostles grew (verses 12–16). The high priest and the Sanhedrin were jealous of the apostles, and they imprisoned them. However, an angel facilitated the apostles’ prison break and commanded them to continue preaching (Acts 5:20). The Sanhedrin confronted them once again, leading to the apostles’ declaration, “We must obey God rather than human beings.”

Generally, Christians are called to obey human authorities (Romans 13:1–2; 1 Peter 2:13–14; Titus 3:1; Hebrews 13:17). The apostles even instruct their readers to pray for those in power (1 Timothy 2:1–2; Romans 13:6–7). Given the intense persecution faced by first-century Christians, this directive stood as a challenging requirement and an example of loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43–44). We should strive to avoid breaking laws or engaging in selfish rebellion but instead pursue peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 12:18; Matthew 5:9; James 3:18).

However, there are instances when human law contradicts God’s clear commands in Scripture. We sometimes encounter pressure to affirm what the Bible condemns. The topics of gender and sexuality, for example, have become pressure points for Christians. The world’s view on these matters has been in opposition to that of the Bible since the advent of the sexual revolution. Current debates regarding whether children can “choose” their gender exemplify the moral bankruptcy of modern society. Contrasts between the world and the Bible are also evident in areas like marriage, divorce, materialism, and abortion. Will we obey God in these matters, or will we obey men?

Through the apostle John, God made it clear, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:15–17). Sadly, many self-proclaimed Christians accept and even defend sinful actions.

The call to obey God rather than men remains an urgent obligation today, just as it was when the apostles first proclaimed it. When faced with a choice between obeying human authorities and God, there should be no hesitation. God is our Ultimate Authority, and our values must align with His revealed Word.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28 serve as a reminder that God is in charge: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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What does it mean that we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29)?
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This page last updated: June 29, 2023