Membership Has Its Privileges

Acts 16:35-40
35But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.”
36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”
37But 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.”
38The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens.
39So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.
40So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.

A few years ago one of the major credit card companies had as its advertising hook “membership has its privileges.” I have to admit, every time read today’s passage that passes through my mind.

The Roman Empire was huge. We still talk today about the size and scope of this vast empire and the remains of this culture can still be seen today as well. While in Seville, Spain back in 2001 I got to see an ancient aqueduct built by the Romans. It was impressive. But along with their vast power and ingenuity there was also a true brutality and cruelty that has rarely been surpassed. As they conquered the lands around them there were only two designations for the people living under their rule. You were either a citizen or a slave. As a citizen you had all kinds of rights and freedoms that were not accorded to the slaves or conquered people. One of those rights was a trial before punishment. It was illegal to beat a Roman citizen unless they had been found guilty of something. The mob’s actions in the case of Paul and Silas and the slave girl were going to get someone in trouble.

I absolutely love Paul’s response when the police come to release the missionaries. Paul pulls out his trump card. He is a Roman citizen and his rights as such have been violated. He’s been publicly humiliated and now he wants the officials to come and release him themselves. Let them face some humiliation for what they have done. The magistrates come to the guard’s house and release Paul and his friends themselves. I’m sure there was a group gathered on the sidewalk to see this take place. Then the magistrates ask Paul to leave the city. And here’s where I have to laugh.

So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia . . .

Paul thumbs his nose at those who would stand in the way of his work and he goes back to Lydia’s house.  He is unapologetic about his presentation of the Gospel in Philippi. Just because the officials ask him to leave doesn’t dictate his actions. His status as a Roman citizen gives him full protection under the law and he takes advantage of that privilege.

Our membership in God’s Kingdom comes with privileges as well. We are his chosen sons and daughters and the King’s children live under His full protection. That doesn’t mean that we won’t sometimes be unjustly dealt with and we should never assume that we are always in the right. But we also don’t have to roll over and allow a beating to take place either. Jesus has given up everything so that I can have an abundant life. That membership may not mean my life is always simple or easy, but it does mean that I will share in His victory in the end.isHHHH