Q. What is the meaning of Acts 5:29? Should we disobey the government if it conflicts with the Word of God?
We need the context of this verse to see the teaching here:
17 ¶ But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy.
18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said,
20 Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”
21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought.
22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back,
23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.”
24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.
25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”
26 ¶ Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them,
28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
The first thing that we should notice is that God Demands First Place. The apostles were going to be obedient to God instead of to man when there was a conflict between the laws of God and the laws of man. God demands that man love him with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. When Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment in the law, he replied that man is to love God with his whole being (Luke 10:27). This kind of love will lead man to obey God even though the law of the land demands contrary action. This was a lesson that the apostles were learning well. They refused to yield to the pressures from the society they lived in to compromise the Word of God.
The second thing we need to see is that God Deserves First Place. It is not an unreasonable thing that God should demand first place in our hearts and lives because he deserves that place. He deserves that place because he gave us life, and breath, and all things (Acts 17:25). He preserves our lives “in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28). He gave his Son to die for us to save us from hell (John 3:16-18). Since He has given us all, He deserves first place in everything.
But there is another concept that we should see here. God deserves our first love and obedience because he is over all governments. No government has a right to demand the first love and loyalty of a citizen, what that government is itself in subject to God (Romans 13:1-6). Even governments are subject to God (Daniel 4:28-37). If a government demands our first loyalty it denies it subjection to God and sets itself in the place of God.
Let me make some practical suggestions:
1) It is the responsibility of each Christian to acquaint themselves with the laws of God and the laws of the land. It is the responsibility of each Christian to obey the laws of the land which do not demand disobedience to God.
2) All people should be given the right to interpret the laws of God for themselves. God has no interpretation agency. He has a teaching agency. The church of the Lord has the responsibility of teaching all things Jesus commands. But every man is left free to make interpretation and application of this teaching without interference or dictation from any man, religious council, or the government, as long as that application does not involve the rights and liberties of others.
3) The Government MUST respect man’s convictions in religion. All people should be allowed to preach any doctrine they truly believe it is their duty to preach. This does not mean that he has the right in God’s sight to preach any doctrine he pleases. All people should not be required to perform any duty to the government when doing so is a violation of conscience.