GETTING THE MESSAGE/Christ’s kingdom is an empire of grace
In the previous passage, Paul and Silas had been unjustly punished by the local authorities in Philippi. They had been beaten and thrown into prison. The next morning, the authorities sent police to the jailer with instructions to let them go (Acts 16:35).
Paul, however, is not happy to just be on his way. He is aware of Roman law. As Roman citizens he and Silas were denied their rights. They were beaten without a trial and falsely imprisoned. So Paul demands the magistrates come and take them out of prison.
When the magistrates get Paul’s demand, they are afraid. It was no small matter to unjustly mistreat Roman citizens. They come and speak kindly to them, lead them out of the prison, and then ask that they leave town.
Paul didn’t act out of a spirit of vengeance. He had in mind the interests of the gospel in the Roman world. He didn’t want Christians labeled as subversive to the government. No doubt he also had in mind the recent converts and fledgling church in Philippi. He went to Lydia’s home to encourage her and the other brothers before he left town (verse 40).
Many times Paul had to leave towns hurriedly without any recourse to law. But when he could use the law, he did. Both Peter and Paul instruct Christians to practice civil obedience and pray for those in the government. Christians are to seek to be good citizens of the land they live in. They are to obey the civil magistrate for the Lord’s sake because he delivered them from lawlessness.
Government’s legitimate function comes from God. He has delegated human governments to punish evil doers and to restrain evil. Augustine said that government was a necessary evil because sinful men need to be restrained, but all governments are made up of sinful men, so they tend toward tyranny or corruptness (hence the need for checks and balances).
At its best, human government protects people from evil, preserves human life, and maintains civil order, justice, liberty and the right of appeal. Government has the right to tax and maintain a national defense to defend its citizens in legitimate causes.
There are times when Christians must disobey the government. We saw this in Acts 4 when the apostles are commanded to stop speaking in the name of Christ. They were commanded by the authorities to do something that would have violated Christ’s command to them (teach about Christ). So the apostles told the authorities they must obey God rather than men.
We can become so preoccupied with the affairs of government that the kingdom of Christ and the value of salvation become veiled or dimmed to us. We should desire a just and righteous government in our land. But you can see how the apostle Paul was always prioritizing the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. There are important reasons for that.
Christ’s kingdom is an empire of grace, an administration of mercy over our guilty world. Our present age is the dispensation for the salvation of fallen sinners by the gospel. The Lord Jesus is currently the ruler of all; he is the head of all things for the benefit of his church.
As Mediator between God and man, he directs the recovery of man and employs whatever heavenly beings necessary as ministering servants to the heirs of salvation. Fallen angels are the greatest opposition to his kingdom, but he shortens or lengthens their chains as he pleases.
So long as sinners are slaves to sin, they are the devil’s subjects. The salvation that comes in Christ is to recover sinners to a state of holiness and happiness with God. The death of Christ is not a defeat but is the greatest conquest over the powers of hell. Had not Christ by his death offered a propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of men, they would have continued under the power of Satan.
The kingdom of Christ is not confined to this world - it also extends to the mass of mankind in the invisible realm. He turns the keys of death for mortals to pass from this world to the next. He opens the gates of heaven to his redeemed people. He opens the prison of hell and locks it on the prisoners of divine justice. So remember the Lord Jesus words; “Do not fear those who kill the body, but rather fear he who has the authority to cast into hell.”