THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE

Scripture Reading:  Acts 18:12-17

“But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint.  But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves.  I refuse to be a judge of these things.'” (Acts 18:14,15)

Our passage today is an example of the separation of civil authority from ecclesiastical authority.  While Paul was in Corinth, the Jews made an attack on him and brought him to court.  Gallio was the Roman procounsel of Achaia who heard the complaint against Paul.  “”But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal” (v. 12).  The tribunal was the procounsel’s judgment seat.

After Gallio heard the complaint, he dismissed the case on the basis that the Jews accusations against the Christians concerned only matters of their own religion.  This favorable verdict established a significant precedent that Christians were innocent of violating Roman law when teaching their religious doctrine.  Thus the gospel could be proclaimed in the Roman provinces without fear of coming into conflict with the Roman law.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christians are to be in subjection to the civil authority over them.  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1).  We also recognize that civil government does not have authority over ecclesiastical matters.  The Westminster Confession of Faith states:  “And, as Jesus Christ has appointed a regular government and discipline in His church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief”  (Westminster Confession of Faith XXIII:3).

As Christians we are obligated to obey the civil authorities and we are obligated to defend the free exercise of our faith.  Surely, God intervened in the decision made by Gallio and protected the freedom of believers to proclaim the gospel.

Lord Jesus, I pray that You will bless those who lead our nation.  I also pray that You will protect Your Church by ensuring that we continue to have freedom in our faith and practice.

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