Injustice matters to God.
We have written before on the importance of civil disobedience in the Christian’s arsenal for engaging in cultures of corruption and injustice.
Acts 16 records a remarkable story of civil disobedience. In this account, Paul and Silas resisted the culture of injustice in the Roman empire. They were subject to Rome but served a higher Authority. They demonstrated the power of No! to injustice. These servants of Christ understood that the moral law was above, and foundational to, civil law. They were willing to disobey the civil law in order to obey the moral law. They were law-abiding—not lawless—but their civil obedience was subject to limits.
This moment in history takes place in Philippi. The Roman order promoted slavery. One young female slave was enabled by a demon to tell fortunes. This “skill” brought her owner a sizable income (16:20). When one human profits by the slavery of another we are seeing profound injustice. When Paul commanded the evil spirit to leave the girl (16:17-18), he was saying “yes” to her health, and “no” to the injustice of her owner’s profits. Saying yes to the good requires saying no to evil!
The owner, bereft of his vile profits, dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates. He accused them of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (16:21).
Paul and Silas paid a price for their “law-breaking” (16:22-24). The masses attacked them. The magistrates had them stripped, flogged, and thrown into prison. To add insult to injury, they were put in the “inner cell” – a place of greater security where torture could take place, and their feet fastened in the stocks.
What was the response of Paul and Silas to this injustice? They did not surrender to these dire circumstances. Rather than let their physical condition determine their response, they pushed back. They reflected the reality of the coming of the kingdom of God. The writer describes them singing and praying to God (16:25)!
God brought an earthquake, which dislodge the chains of the prisoners and threw open the doors (16:26-34). Did Paul and Silas take this as a sign from God that they should flee the prison and the injustice? No, they took it as an opportunity to reveal the nature of the Kingdom of God. By not escaping the injustice brought upon them, they showed grace to the jailer who was preparing to kill himself, believing that his prisoners had escaped on his watch. They preached the good news to the jailer and he and his family came to faith in Christ and were baptized. Their response was based on the Kingdom of God and not their physical circumstances. As a result, the jailer, his family, and perhaps the other prisoners as well were welcomed into the kingdom.
In the morning, the magistrates sent word to the jailer that Paul and Silas were to be released (16:35-36). How did they respond? Did they say “Praise the Lord” for setting them free? No, they challenged the injustice. They called the magistrates to take account for their actions. This confrontation is recorded in 16:37:
But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
Paul argued that the governing authorities had acted illegally against Roman citizens. They punished us publicly without the benefit of a trail. They threw us into prison. Now they want us to walk away quietly without public acknowledgement of the injustice.
The answer is No! It would have been far easier for Paul and Silas to have gone quietly. But they took the more difficult way. They made a public issue of the injustice they suffered and demanded that the powers that be admit their error and make it right.
There is power in saying No!
We need to be people who say No! to injustice, even if it means paying a price. As long as godly people go along with injustice, nothing will change. Only when justice means something in our lives will it mean something in our societies. When doing justice costs us something, the world will begin to listen. As long as we simply speak against injustice and do nothing about it, the world will have no reason to listen to our words.
Paul and Silas are just two of many examples of men and women who have stood up against injustice, and paid a price.
- Of course the ultimate example is Jesus Christ himself whose atonement for sin was the supreme price paid that God might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:25 ESV).
- Peter takes his place alongside Paul, Silas, and others who said No! to the injustices of the Roman empire.
- William Wilberforce said No! to the injustices of slavery in the British Empire.
- Harriett Beecher Stowe said No! to slavery in America.
- Gandhi in India No! to the injustice of British colonial rule.
- The great Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said No! to Soviet Communism.
- Nelson Mandela said No! to the apartheid system in South Africa.
- Martin Luther King Jr. said No! to the denial of civil rights for blacks in the USA.
- Jill Stanek is a modern day heroine in the fight for the rights of pre-born babies to live.
As Christians we must be willing to say No! We must be willing to break unjust civil laws when those laws violate moral laws. We must be willing to take the consequences for breaking those laws. On a personal level, three times I have broken trespassing laws to save the lives of unborn babies. Three times I have gone to jail.
To say Yes to the good is to say No to evil. In a fallen world, societies often practice and market evil. Christians need to stand for that which is true, good, and beautiful and against that which is evil.
We must exercise the power of No!
– Darrow Miller