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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Rights? Or Privileges?

The apostles knew the difference. Do we?

Acts 4.29, 30

"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
The freedom of the apostles to proclaim the name of Jesus and to do good works in His name was being threatened. The religious authorities, who could enlist for their purposes the civil authorities as well, had ordered Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

How did the Church respond to this threat to religious liberty?

First, they understood that preaching and other expressions of their freedom in Christ are not ends in themselves, to be preserved as "rights." These are means and privileges provided by God for the purpose of bringing His grace and rule into human affairs, to restore men and communities to uprightness before Him (cf. Ps. 45.6). The goal in sight, in all these first Christians were doing, was the further realization of the promised Kingdom, concerning which Jesus had taken such care to prepare them (Acts 1.1-3).

Because God alone is the Advancer of His Kingdom and Bestower of all grace, it never occurred to the apostles to try to pressure the powers-that-be to recant their policy. Instead, they pressured the Lord, by turning to prayer and using His own words (Pss. 146, 2) to provoke Him to action (cf. Is. 62.6, 7).

And what action did they seek? Not that the authorities should relent, but that they, the believing community, should continue faithful in their mandate, regardless of social, cultural, or political conditions, and that God would honor their faithfulness by continuing to advance His Kingdom of grace.

In the event, while the policy of the rulers remained unchanged - and would ultimately lead to persecution and violence against the Church - the grace of God prevailed through the Spirit-empowered faithfulness of the community.

We are in some ways more creatures of our times than of the Kingdom of God, for, given similar circumstances, we turn more readily to pressuring magistrates than pestering the Majesty on High with our petitions and pleas. We may manage thereby to preserve our "rights", but are we practicing faithfulness and advancing the grace of the Lord?

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