The mantra of American Christianity today is “you can’t take away my freedoms.” But it seems, in almost all accounts of the early church and even Jesus Christ himself, that the case was quite the opposite. The early church was willing to lay down whatever rights they might have had—property, freedom, even life itself—to share the Gospel. Later, Paul would explain this concerning a variety of rights, saying, “we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:12).
“You have said so.”
A mere four words (in the English language, at least) separate the time that Jesus was accused before Pilate and the chief priests and elders, and some of his final words on the cross (Matt. 27:11). According to the Gospel of Matthew, the next time we hear from the silent Savior is when he raises a cry to God, saying, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
This account of Jesus’ silence was a phenomenon to those who experienced it. “The governor was greatly amazed,” writes Matthew (27:14). Perhaps the reason for this is—despite every accusation the government officials felt they could make in good conscience—in their hearts, they knew that Christ could make a holy rebuttal. Even those attempting to thwart Jesus’ mission knew that he was God, but “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). And yet, though he had every right—the only right—to denounce such accusations, he stood silent.
This posture, I believe, has a massive impact on the way that Christians should navigate government confrontation. Not only did Jesus embody a posture of humility and silence in the face of his accusers, but his disciples also acted in a similar manner throughout the book of Acts. Though much of the book of Acts is an account of the boldness of the disciples in preaching the Gospel, one thing the reader will be hard-pressed to find is a disciple’s disobedience to the government. I do not mean that they succumbed to the law prohibiting the spread of the Gospel—they clearly continued doing that. I mean that when they were arrested or stoned, they did not object to any of it. In most cases, albeit implied in the biblical text, the disciples would handle arrests and persecution peacefully, taking care only to share the Gospel all the more.
In a manner so loving and humble, the savior of the world did not invoke his right to fair treatment. What the Roman soldiers mockingly said to Jesus was true: “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross,” they derided (Matt. 27:40). Still he hung, silent. As capable as he was of removing himself from his own death, so he was capable of defending himself against the authorities. For he is the Son of God. But for the sake of the mission of God, he did neither.
In seeing so clearly the power of Jesus’ humility, the disciples gladly laid down their rights to freedom. There is a reason that God allowed the apostle Paul to endure such unjust treatment from an unjust government. Because he embodied the posture of Jesus in the face of confrontation, he wrote most of the New Testament.
Now, let me be clear. This is not a call for Christians to remain silent in the face of conflict. In fact, the most equipped commentators on the state of this world are the ones who carry—in their hands and hearts—the truth of God’s word. This is a charge to American Christianity to embody humility and imitate Christ.
In imploring Christians to “contend for the faith,” Jude did not mean trying to keep prayer in schools or elect a close-to-Christian president. He meant contending for the truth of the Bible, defending the one true Gospel against all other false gospels. This is a mission that can be carried out under any circumstance. The ability to preach the Gospel publicly without reprobation is not distinctly a Christian freedom. It is clear in the Bible that in being stewards of the Gospel, Christians should expect the contrary.
So, American Christian, as you hear of religious freedoms being compromised, remember that they are not necessary for the Gospel of Christ to prevail. Imitate Christ who, though capable and justifiable in every manner of defending himself, laid down his rights for your salvation. Imitate the disciples and the early church who would stop at nothing—who would sacrifice everything—to see the Gospel advance. Lower your posture, that you might elevate Christ.
In all conflict, whether fair or unfair, let the words of Hillsong’s Man of Sorrows be said about you:
“Silent as he stood.”
Justin Bower is a student at Liberty University pursuing a degree in American Sign Language Interpretation with a minor in Biblical Studies. When he's not writing op-ed articles for The Liberty Champion or other Christian news sources, he writes for his personal blog and record/produce a podcast called Beggar & Bread.