As Christians, when do we stand up for our own rights? Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to stand up for your rights? Have you ever wondered "When do I, as a Christian stand up for his rights and when do I keep silent?" Have you ever been falsely accused of something? How did it make you feel? Angry? Bitter? Sad? Ready to get even? How did you want to put the wrong right?
In Acts 22 we see how Paul handled a situation when he stood up for his own rights. Let's see how he faced this and learn from this how we can handle these situations in our own lives.
In verse 2 we see that Paul spoke in the dialect of the language of the people. He then appealed to their common Jewish background. He appealed to the people on the basis of what they had in common.
When falsely accused, we need to remind the person accusing us that we are also people, just like them. Speak in such a way that they understand that we have feelings, too.
Paul admitted to the people that in the past he had sinned by persecuting those Jews who were "Followers of the Way" (as the followers of Jesus were first called).
You and I need to admit that once we also were sinners. God's Word says, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." We are all in need of forgiveness.
Paul told the people how he met Jesus on the road to Damascus when he was going there to arrest people and drag them off to prison simply because they were followers of Christ. He told of he light from heaven that caused him to fall to the ground and the voice saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting e?" He told of his response: "who are you, Lord?" Then, the response of the Lord to him, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting." Then he asked the Lord, "What shall I do, Lord?" The Lord told him "Arise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do."
Sometimes, when we are falsely accused and are put in a position to speak up for ourselves, we need to be ready, not only to share with people of our past sins, but also how the Lord has forgiven us and our desire to obey Him. Simply tell them how you came to know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Your testimony may not be so dramatic as Paul's - but you can share what Jesus means in your own life.
In verses 22-29, we read how Paul used his legal rights as a Roman citizen. He was taken in a fit of rage by the Jews to the Roman commander who took him into the barracks. Paul was bound with strips of leather and was about to be beaten by the soldiers under the command of the centurion. Paul said to the centurion, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?" Paul reminded the centurion of the Roman law that said a man could not be beaten without fair trial. The centurion reported this to the commander and said to him that Paul was a Roman. They both knew that if anyone claimed to be a Roman who was not one, they could be severely punished for making that false claim. So, they knew Paul was telling the truth and they were afraid. The commander came and said to Paul that he had purchased his Roman citizenship. (Probably wondering how Paul could possibly have paid for his). Then, Paul informed the commander, "but I was born a citizen." At this statement, the commander and all those involved withdrew from Paul, as they knew that to have tied up Paul ready to beat him was a crime that they could be punished for!
Why did Paul stand up for his rights as a citizen? In the previous chapters of Acts we read that Paul was fully aware that when he got to Jerusalem he would face persecution. Agabus had even tied his own hands and feet with his belt to show Paul what he was going to suffer. Why, now, was Paul using his citizenship as his defense? When in our lives should we use our legal rights when we have been falsely accused?
We are sometimes, as Christians, given the idea that we should accept whatever happens to us in life as God's will. What can we learn from Paul in this chapter? Did he simply let them tie him and beat him? No, he pleaded his rights as a citizen. The very rights that Paul was pleading were good laws, meant for the well being of the population. Paul was re-enforcing those good laws by using them to a good ends. No one should be punished without fair trial. That is a basic right that we must protect in our society. And, Paul's actions reminded the people that there were times when we must speak up and be counted.
Are there times in your life and mine, when we must use the few good laws we do have left, to speak out against the evils in our day? Yes. If we as Christians do not uphold the good laws, we have only ourselves to blame when society crumbles all around us.
When you and I have opportunity to speak up for the Lord and speak up for right, we must use those opportunities. We are never told in the Bible, to be "doormats" for people. There are times that we must say "God has said this in His Word and I will obey, even if it costs me."
Do you put God first in your life? Is He "Number One?" His Word says we must "love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself."
A book I've read recently entitled "Won by Love" tells about the conversion of the very lady who was the alias "Jane Roe" of the "Roe vs. Wade" U.S. Supreme Court decision that brought in legalized abortion in the United States. This lady, named Norma McCorvey, came to forgiveness in Jesus Christ through the witness and love of the very people who were leading the anti-abortion group "Operation Rescue." It was not until people against abortion were willing to go to jail for their beliefs against abortion and willing to use what legal rights they still had, that there was a turn-around in the fight against abortion. To think, that this lady, a hardened lesbian and worker in an abortion clinic, was won to the Lord through the love and determined stand by Christians, and particularly through the love of a little girl! Don't be afraid to take a firm stand for the Lord. But we must, as Ephesians 4:15 says, "speak the truth in love." Christians were willing to stand against abortion. At the same time they shared with Norma their own past sins, and testimonies of the love and forgiveness of Jesus in their lives. When they showed her genuine love and care, her heart was eventually melted by that love.
But, remember, we need to Speak the Truth in Love.
Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
Holiness, godliness, righteousness, and Christ-likeness in personal and church life