They were referring to the healing of the lame man in the previous chapter. If those leaders were so angry with the apostles that they could arrest them even though a lame man had been healed, we should not wonder at it when Christians today are treated in the same way. After all, we have no miraculous gift of healing; but even when certain men did have it, it did not prevent the leaders from persecuting them!
The response of the apostles was strong, emphatic, and uncompromising– which is how every Christian should respond, every time:
Acts 4:10-12: “Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
“This is hate speech!” we hear the modern enemies of the Gospel scream. “What arrogance these Christians have! They accuse us of being sinners, and even murderers? Yet they dare to make this exclusive claim that salvation is only by Jesus Christ? Who do they think they are? We can’t have this kind of hate speech being spread! We must ban it! They don’t deserve freedom of speech, or freedom of religion!” There is nothing new under the sun.
What was the response to the apostles? It was predictable, for it has been repeated throughout history, and it is being repeated again today, in western society:
Acts 4:17: “But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.”
Note this well: “let us straitly threaten them”. In a society where there is true freedom of speech, and thus also true freedom of religion, threats have no place. Every individual and group is free to state their beliefs; and every individual or group is then free also to oppose those beliefs verbally, or in writing, without issuing threats to anyone’s physical life. There is only the exchange of words. And even if the exchange becomes heated, it does not matter, provided it remains verbal only, and not physical. The old saying is absolutely true: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Words do not physically harm anyone, and therefore it is not the government’s place to regulate words. The government’s duty over its citizens is limited only to the protection of their physical lives and property. The fact is that in life, people get hurt by what other people say. This cannot be regulated away.
Society used to teach its children to act in a mature way when people say things they do not like, and to treat it as water off a duck’s back. But the haters of God and His truth, and even the haters of common sense and reasonable discussion, want to shut down all words, all speech, all belief to which they are opposed. They want to dominate society with their beliefs and ideologies, then to control society – and to do this by prohibiting anything which may be contrary to what they believe, for this is easier and faster than winning people over with their own arguments, their own beliefs and ideologies, in the open arena of free speech. So they work to shut down free speech, and thus religious freedom as well.
In a society where free speech and religious freedom are protected by law, these extremist, arrogant, would-be tyrants come up against a massive obstacle. But they have found a way around it: bring in so-called “hate speech” legislation, whereby they can still pay lip service to free speech, but can get speech which they disapprove of outlawed by claiming that it is “offensive”, “hate-filled”, or “hurtful”.
It works like this. First, get a small bunch of easily-offended whiners, so sensitive to anything they hear which might in some way “hurt” or “offend” their precious selves, to become activists to re-create society in their image. Second, by shouting, haranguing, harassing, bullying, intimidating, and threatening, these activists convince the “progressive” policy-makers in society, and then society itself over time, that it is “compassionate”, “loving”, and “tolerant”, to legally protect everyone from hearing anything which might “hurt” them or their beliefs. Third, pass “hate speech” legislation by claiming that freedom of speech must be limited to whatever does not “offend”, or “hurt” someone’s sensibilities. Fourth: punish those who dare to speak or write in a way deemed to be “offensive” or “hurtful” to some segment of society.
“But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” Put this in a modern form, and what would they be saying? “We don’t want these Christian teachings. We don’t want them to spread. We want to stop them. Let’s threaten them! Let’s use the perceived ‘hurt’ supposedly being caused to certain ‘fringe groups’ by these unloving, intolerant Christians! Let’s threaten them with legislation, fines, even jail time, if they speak against ‘gays’, ‘transgenders’, etc., or against Islam, or if they call on men to repent and believe in Christ!”
And so they enact “hate speech” legislation:
Acts 4:18: “And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
Put this in a modern form: “And the government, and human rights commissions, and powerful religious organisations, and lunatic-fringe lobbying groups, command Christians not to speak at all against this, that and the next thing, or teach that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father.”
The Christians were commanded “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus”! Today it is, “Do not condemn sodomy”, or, “Do not criticise Islam”, or, “Do not say that certain churches are false.” Tomorrow it might be (see 1 Cor. 6:9,10), “Do not condemn drunkenness, for modern science claims it is a disease.” Or it could be even more expansive: “Do not preach that men are sinners at all, not even in a general way.” Give the government an inch, and over time it will always take a mile.
But let us see how the apostles responded to this, and compare their response with that of weak, compromising, lily-livered “Christians” (so-called) today:
Acts 4:19,20: “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Oh, brave and faithful disciples of Christ! Let the mighty of the world threaten – but they would not stop preaching the true Gospel! And in a case like this, every Christian “ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Yet contrast their response with that of so many professing “Christians” today. “The government says we mustn’t speak about certain things – so we won’t. We must obey the authorities, after all.” And so one concession after another is made to the authorities. First, professing “Christians” may agree to stop preaching against certain religions. Next, they may agree to stop speaking of sodomy as a sin. But from there it is a small step to agreeing to ordain sodomites as pastors, or to perform so-called “same-sex weddings”. Once the professing Church permits any government to dictate to it, and to tell it what it may believe and practice and what it may not, it has become nothing but a servant of the State. It has sold its soul for a mess of pottage. It has compromised with the world which hates it – and the world has won.