PFOA : Ezra 5
At the end of Ezra 4 we are told that “by force and power” the Jews were made to cease work on the re-building of the temple. Although few countries actually make it illegal to be Christians, there are many places in the world where followers of Jesus Christ are persecuted by the government, society and their families. Many are suffering physically, materially and socially. There are frequent reports in the news where Christians are kidnapped or attacked; churches have been burnt or demolished; and it is illegal to convert to Christianity.
When the enemies of the Jews received the letter from King Artaxerxes, they eagerly and quickly used it to force the Jews to stop the work of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 4:23,24). We may surmise that many Jews secretly were not unhappy, for this gave them the opportunity to build their own homes. And many of them went overboard with luxurious fittings like wood panels on the walls (Hag. 1:4). Doing their own thing became the norm with the excuse that the time was not ripe to build the house of the Lord (Hag. 1:2). Priorities were re-ordered and it took the efforts of both Haggai and Zechariah to bring the God’s message of judgment and mercy to get the people to resume the construction (Ezra 5:1,2).
Finally, in spite of the standing law of the king, building went on. As expected, the Jews’ project was challenged by their enemies and Tattenai, Shethat-bozenai and associates wrote a letter of complaint to Darius who, by this time, had succeeded Artaxerxes (Ezra 5:6).
We see that the re-building of the temple ceased for a time at the decree of the king. However, under the ministry of the prophets, the Jews understood that the authority of God overrode that of the king, thus they chose to obey God and in doing so, disobeyed the law of the land.
Interestingly, the current issue of Christianity Today has, as its cover story, “Is it time for American Christians to Disobey the Government?” The article recounts the story of Bree Newsome who last year removed the Confederate flag from the state capitol of South Carolina while saying “In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down. You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today”. Also, in Kentucky, after the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage, a county clerk refused to issue marriage licences to gay couples and went to jail for it.
In the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, many pastors and church members were among those who took to the streets with the activitists.
Scriptures tell us to “be subject to the governing authorities” Rom (13:1). But when the authority of the state goes against the authority of God, the apostle Peter had set us the example, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
For Singaporeans, this is a difficult issue. Will our loyalty to the Lord constrain us to disobey the laws of the land? Our brothers and sisters around the world are often confronted with such situations, risking deprivation, imprisonment and even death. Many of our missionaries work in areas where they cannot openly share the gospel; and being seen at gatherings of the “underground” churches jeopardises their visas as well as putting at risk the leaders and members of the local church. They have settled in their minds that the risks are well-worth taking, believing that God who is sovereign over all kings and governments will protect and enable them to accomplish all he desires for them to do.
There is an increasing likelihood that we will face such dilemmas more frequently in the future, requiring us to decide whether to participate either secretly or openly in civil disobedience. May the Holy Spirit strengthen us to trust in the love and sovereignty of God and prepare us to suffer for him.
Dear GBC members, we are faced with a stop work order following the accident at the construction work-site. This is not a question of disobeying the order, but to remind us that the rebuilding project does not depend on money alone. It is a spiritual work, and Satan will oppose it in many ways. Spiritual work can only be accomplished by spiritual means – prayer.