But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. – Acts 16:35-40
My sister’s father-in-law was a Lutheran pastor who served a vacancy in a congregation to which I was subsequently called. He told me of some of the bad behavior of certain members of the church and advised “solicitous falicitude” (the second word is not in any dictionary to which I have access, but does crop up in a google search for the term). I understood that to mean that I was to be gracious almost to a fault in listening to and asking for people’s thoughts and ideas. But that wasn’t all that he advised. He also said, “But when you hit back, hit back hard.”
I never got that kind of advice in any pastoral care classes at the seminary, and I do not tend to function in that manner. But it sure seems Paul may have written the book on such an approach. When the leaders of the city wanted to get rid of their problem child, they thought that they could do so quietly and without any public admission of guilt. Paul was not to go along with that approach. He would demand an apology, to hear it from the city officials themselves, and no less.
The issue wasn’t one of ego, pettiness, or resentful comeuppance. This was a matter of the spread of the Gospel itself. Paul will undergo many hardships and troubles in his efforts to bring the message of Jesus to more and more people. He will see to it that by whatever means the message is spread. He will go to great lengths to take the Gospel to more and more places. To do so will require a strong commitment and a willingness to stand for justice and truth. Paul is not interested in opting out of suffering by denying the faith he is preaching. He is willing, however, to use the benefits and powers of his citizenship to leverage his evangelistic efforts. In fact, he will leverage his Roman citizenship to get him to Rome – a place he longed to visit in order to bring the Gospel there.
Too often we are worried about having our rights infringed upon. We demand that we be treated fairly because we want respect; we don’t want to be taken advantage of. While it may be appropriate to speak up against injustice toward ourselves and others, it is even more important that we entrust ourselves to God in the face of any unjust treatment. And when we speak up, and seek justice, we do well to remember the fullness of God’s call to, “seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with” him (cf. Micah 6:8).