September 4, 2015

What does free speech mean?

Hosea 8:1–10:15, Acts 4:1–37, Job 16:1–9

Two women are in the news. One is protesting abortion and has been put in jail. The other is refusing to grant a marriage license to a same-sex pair who want to get married. Both women are being charged with criminal acts, even though they are only affirming what they believe and that they have the right to say it.

It seems to me that there is a huge disconnect in public policy. The general public can say all kinds of things against God and against Christians, but Christians cannot say anything against anything.

However, I’ve noticed that God never has constraints with ‘politically correct’ regulations. He tells people exactly what He thinks of them, even His own people . . .
“Set the trumpet to your lips! One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have transgressed my covenant and rebelled against my law. To me they cry, ‘My God, we — Israel — know you.’ (But) Israel has spurned the good; the enemy shall pursue him.” (Hosea 8:1–3)

Hosea later added: “They shall not remain in the land of the Lord, but Ephraim shall return to Egypt, and they shall eat unclean food in Assyria . . . . My God will reject them because they have not listened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations . . . . They utter mere words; with empty oaths they make covenants; so judgment springs up like poisonous weeds in the furrows of the field.” (Hosea 9:3, 17; 10:4)

Then Hosea tells them what to do about the mess they are in; “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hosea 10:12) 

Out of this I get the clear message that not only God can speak His mind, but He allows His prophets to speak their minds, particularly against those who speak mere words and empty oaths. It is no surprise that the listeners back then didn’t like what they heard from God.

As for Job (probably one of the first Bible books written), when his ‘friends’ wrongly accused him, God not only let Job speak his mind against them, but He later proclaimed that Job was right, even when he rebuked these friends with sarcastic words like this: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy words have an end? Or what provokes you that you answer? I also could speak as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you and shake my head at you. I could strengthen you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.” (Job 16:1–5) I’m sure his ‘friends’ were not happy to hear this either!

The disciples of Christ also spoke their minds about the Lord. They got a mixed reaction: “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” (Acts 4:1–4)

Later, the religious leaders who did not like what they said put them on the hot seat by asking, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told them this: “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:7–12)

The religious leaders were angry at this, so they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18–20)

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them . . . . look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness . . . .” (Acts 4:23-24, 29-31, 34–35) 

Since day one, Christian people have suffered when speaking as God directs. This has not changed. Throughout history, people have resisted His Word and the Spirit-led words of His people. However, regardless of persecution, threats, and even being put in jail, His people are blessed for saying what He wants them to say. Why do we persist? Because we know God’s will is true, He will take care of us no matter what, and history will culminate in the eternal reign of Jesus Christ. 

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