22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”
23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”
The soldiers are about to flog Paul in order to get a confession out of Him. But he immediately raises a protest because he is a Roman citizen who has certain privileges and protection according to their Law. It was illegal to scourge Roman citizen before he was tried. This scourging was so brutal that it could easily lead to death. Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, had a higher status than the one who simply bought his freedom.
This passage raises a question of how believers respond in cases of injustice. Are there issues of injustice in your community—neighbourhood, church or workplace—that you think need your attention and action? How can your faith in Jesus Christ help you to respond to such issues?
As I read Paul’s protest to the Roman soldier, one question that comes to my mind is, “aren’t Christians supposed to ‘turn the other cheek?’” How should Christians respond in cases of persecution and injustice? Are we supposed to protest, resist and fight for our rights? Or should we keep silent, hoping that our suffering will highlight our Christian witness. What is the best way to honor Christ? Certainly, there are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions. We, however, can find some pointers from the scriptures.
In the above passage, Paul puts it to the Roman soldier whether it is lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged before they are charged. Paul is aware of his rights as a Roman citizen. Although Paul is under arrest, he knows what his rights are and he is not afraid to stand up for them. As Christians, we have an obligation to keep the laws of the land. But if such laws are repressive or inconsistent with God’s Word, we should use whatever legal ways available to us to challenge such laws.
We, however, need to ask God for wisdom. There are times when the right thing to do is to keep silence and endure suffering for the cause of the gospel. There are other times when our faith in God demands that we speak up for our rights and of those who are marginalized. The ultimate goal of every decision we make should be to honor Christ with our lives and actions.
I would like to conclude this devotional with Paul Tripp’s rather uncomfortable questions. “How balanced has your gospel been? Have you been an advocate for grace, but silent in the face of injustice? Have you been comfortable with the segregation of the Christian community or with subtle personal prejudice?”