Christians Have Rights Too :: By Sean Gooding

Acts 16:16-24, 35-40, Acts 22:22-29 (NKJV)

“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Highest God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, ‘These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.’ 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

Acts 16:35-40 “And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ 36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.’ 37 But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.’ 38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. 39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”

Acts 22:22-29 “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’ 23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. 25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’

26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, ‘Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.’ 27 Then the commander came and said to him, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ 28 The commander answered, ‘With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.’ And Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ 29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.”

Sorry for the extended texts, but it was important that we get the right context. Last Tuesday night, we had our mid-week Bible study, and we looked at this topic. It is one of those things that can get missed as we go through these texts. And truthfully, when one is reading the book of Acts like I am right now, it is easy to get caught up in the amazing exploits of the new churches, starting with the one in Jerusalem. We see Paul transform into the spiritual giant from one who persecutes our brothers and sisters, and we miss these little engagements that take place.

Most of us are familiar with the Acts 16 text, the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his whole family. We have countless songs about singing in prison and rejoicing in the storms of life. We love to talk about the way that doors magically open and that supernatural transformation of the jailer from enemy to brother. I have heard many sermons about the salvation of the man and his family, heard many references to the singing in troubled times, and I have enjoyed them. But if we truly believe that God wrote the Bible, that He used mere men and women to do the physical writing but superintended the writing of the text, then we must learn to pay attention to the little parts that seem insignificant; they are not.

Twice in the book of Acts, Paul affirms his Roman citizenship. He demands that his rights as a citizen of Rome be met, and we will look at these two examples today.

  • Wisdom and Discernment

We have this lovely sister in our church that regularly prays for wisdom and discernment in her life and in the life of our churches. We have a world around us that is running amok on emotions. Everyone has their feelings hurt, and this is seeping into the Lord’s churches and wrecking us. We need to seek wisdom and discernment to be able to counteract and defeat emotional outbursts. This is why we study the context of the Bible; we ask questions like who is speaking, to whom are they speaking, what did they say, why did they say it, and what did it mean at the time it was said? These are essential questions of discernment and wisdom; they help us to think rationally and not emotionally in most situations.

Now, there is nothing wrong with emotions; God is a God of emotions, and He gave us emotions. But we are not to be ruled by our emotions. Our emotions are to be ruled by the foundation and the truths of the scriptures.

God led Luke to write about Paul standing up for his rights as a Roman citizen twice, not once, and in different cities and situations. A Roman citizen was considered innocent until proven guilty in a court; he could not be punished until he had been proven guilty, and he had the right to appeal to Caesar, the Roman equivalent of the Supreme Court if he knew he was innocent. If we look at Paul, he was under house arrest in Rome for about 2 years, where he was allowed to see his friends and have fellowship with them. We find this in Acts 28: 11-16, 30-31 (NKJV):

“After three months we sailed in an Alexandrian ship whose figurehead was the Twin Brothers, which had wintered at the island. 12 And landing at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 13 From there we circled round and reached Rhegium. And after one day the south wind blew; and the next day we came to Puteoli, 14 where we found brethren and were invited to stay with them seven days. And so we went toward Rome. 15 And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.

16 Now when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him…. 30 Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house and received all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.”

He had these rights as a Roman, and he used them openly, and God made sure that these events were recorded for our benefit and learning. Paul was a humble man, and he submitted to God, he submitted to the Jerusalem church leaders, and he led many local churches as well as established many of them. But he was a Roman citizen, and he asked and, as a matter of fact, demanded that his rights be honored and met.

  • Let Them Apologize, Acts 16:35-40

In the early part of Acts 16, Paul casts out the demon or demons from a young slave girl, and her master immediately turns the whole city against him and Silas. They are arrested and beaten quickly and badly. Then they are thrown into the deepest parts of the prison and held in stock. They had not killed, robbed, or even hurt anyone. They cast out a demon and made some rich people lose their source of income, and for this, they were beaten and imprisoned.

They spend a large part of the night in prison, and at midnight they begin to sing songs and praise God. The gates are opened, and not one prisoner escapes. The jailer is saved along with his household, they are baptized, and then they tend to the wounds of Paul and Silas. In the morning, the magistrates send to simply release them, and then Paul drops a truth on them that makes them shake in their boots, I am a Roman citizen. He reminded them of their actual crimes; they had beaten and imprisoned an innocent Roman citizen, and he demanded that they come and apologize to him openly as they had beaten him openly. They did. These magistrates had committed the real crimes, and they had done so against a citizen of Rome. They were in big trouble; they were afraid.

There was a time when the elected officials in our respective countries had regard for the people and even feared the people. They understood that they served at the behest of the people who elected them and not the other way around. But somewhere in the last 10-15 years, we have allowed the central control of power to be gathered to the elected superclass, and we, the non-elected masses, have surrendered our rights and powers to them.

I am reminded of a dear fellow Pastor here in Canada, Artur Pawlowski, who was arrested multiple times by the Alberta Police for holding church during the COVID shutdowns. He had grown up in Poland in the midst of communism, and he understood the path that Canada was taking. The suspension of the freedom of assembly and the looming suspension of free speech was in real danger of being taken away. We see that not long ago, our Federal Government here made the peaceful and legal assembly of the truckers illegal because it did not fit their narrative. Many people were arrested, like Pastor Artur, and held without bail. Men and women whose only crime was that they questioned the government. They were arrested, held without bail, and assumed to be guilty without a trial or any serious investigation.

Pastor Artur was also denied bail and was held in solitary confinement for long periods of time. Yet, even murderers can apply for bail; child molesters can apply and often get bail. But this dear brother was guilty before he was ever put before a court of law. He is going to sue the Alberta Government, and I pray that God makes an example of them.

Paul refused to allow his rights as a citizen to be abused and taken away without him saying something. He demanded that these magistrates come and apologize for treating an uncondemned man like a common criminal. Sadly, the injuries and damage to his body had been inflicted already, and that could not be taken back.

What we learn from this is that it is okay to be a Christian and still demand your rights as a citizen. If you refuse to ask for your rights, do not be surprised when the Government takes them. When we keep electing arrogant and elitist leaders, do not be surprised when we get treated as the dross of society and not as the gold that we are. It is okay as a child of God to ask that our rights as parents, citizens, and free people be observed and meted out to us. If we give up our rights, what have we done to our kids, and what have we taken from them?

Benjamin Franklin said this a long time ago; it is still good today:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

We have been told over the past 2 years that we needed to surrender our liberties for the safety of our neighbors. But we need to recall that governments rarely give back what they take. There are still sections of our governments that want to retake the freedoms that we are again enjoying. And, it is important to recall that we did not get these freedoms from the government; they are rights given to us by God. It is the government’s job to make sure that those rights are never infringed upon by anyone, especially the government.

  • I was born as a Citizen, Acts 22:28

Once again, we see Paul, this time in Jerusalem, not in Philippi, standing for his citizenship. He is about to be beaten as a way of getting at the truth, and he makes those about to beat him aware that he is a citizen of Rome. The commander is also a citizen, but he paid for his. Paul’s citizenship was by birth. He demanded his rights, and what happened was that the same soldiers that were supposed to beat him became his protectors.

I am an immigrant here in Canada; I was born a Barbados. Nonetheless, I am a citizen; I took an oath in January 2006 and became a citizen. Like this soldier, I became a citizen of my own free choice, but my citizenship is no less powerful nor relevant than if I was born here.

We have certain inalienable rights as citizens of Heaven. We have a Father who will never abandon us and will always make sure we have what we need. We have an Advocate in Jesus who defends us continually, and we have eternal promises that come with the citizenship we are born into through Jesus; no one can buy their way in.

There are a lot of great lessons to be learned in the book of Acts. The preeminence of Missions and local churches, the importance of church associational work to expand and export the Gospel, and the importance of having a good ministry team and people that love you. But no less important is the need to defend our rights as citizens. If the government takes our rights by force, that is one thing, but we should not just lay down and surrender them without a fight or at least a stand.

There is a famous quote that says, ‘all it takes for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.’

An interviewer asked pastor Artur if it was worth it to be treated this way and to be imprisoned. Pastor Artur basically said I am doing this for my kids. We need to make sure that we do not lay down and let them take our rights, thus leaving our children in a horrible world in what used to be the bastions of freedom. Christians make for good citizens, and we should never stop letting them diminish our value to society.

In every place that Christianity has flourished in history, the lives of the people have gotten better. Stop cowering; go and see how we changed history, education, science, and on we can go. But if they kill our voices and thwart our freedoms, what then?

God bless you,

Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church

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