Summary: Paul was proud to be a Roman citizen. It was not because the empire was perfect, but because his citizenship gave him rights that were vital to his personal dignity, and to his service for God.
Human rights is a major issue in our world today, but it is not a new issue. Even under the Roman
Emperor men had rights and they were precious. The Apostle Paul was unjustly arrested. He was
about to be beaten when he calmly asked the Roman Centurion in charge if it was lawful to scourge a
man who is a Roman citizen and not condemned? His question changed everything immediately, and
it sent the Centurion off to a higher authority to investigate. Paul's rights as a Roman citizen were
about to be violated, and Paul stood on those rights and protested the injustice.
As a Roman citizen, Paul had a right to be treated with dignity until legally condemned as a
criminal. Until this legal process had been completed no penalty could be afflicted upon a citizen of
Rome. Technically he could not even be bound, and so when Paul made known he was a Roman
citizen everyone involved was afraid, for they had violated his human rights. If Paul had wanted to,
he could have pressed charges against them, just as we could today press charges for unlawful arrest.
Paul had a high view of the Christians responsibility to the government because he knew that it is
only the government that can't assure the protection of our human rights. It is true that God will
judge those who violate the rights of others, and who deprive others of life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness, but the government is ordained of God to be the human agency whereby these rights are
established and protected. Paul was proud to be a Roman citizen. It was not because the empire was
perfect, but because his citizenship gave him rights that were vital to his personal dignity, and to his
service for God.
We as Americans do not have to blind to our country's sins and weaknesses to be proud and
patriotic. Our pride, like that of Paul, is to be based on the principle that government gives us our
rights. The Declaration of Independence declared to the world this fundamental American principle,
which is our precious heritage. It says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among
these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Our nation, like the Roman Empire, may decay
and become so corrupt that God's judgment will have to fall upon it, but, like Paul, we can ever be
proud of the rights we possess as citizens.
Our love for our country is not an impersonal love for the land, or a blind love for its
institutions. Our love is not just admiration for the beauty of its mountains, lakes, rivers and prairies,
but it is a love for the beauty of its principles, which respect and protect the rights of people, and
thereby give them a chance to be what God intends them to be. In many parts of the world people are
not free to live in full and open obedience to God. In America we have this right, and we are free to
be and do anything God wills for us to be and do. There is no part of God's revealed will that we
cannot obey as citizens of this great land of liberty. We are truly independent of any authority that
would restrict our obedience to God.
We live in a day when it is popular to expose the heroes of our history and reveal them to be
men as sinful and fallible as others. None of this should shock the Christian, or cause a decline in
their patriotism or admiration for the great men of our past. Certainly they were sinners as other men,
just as the heroes of Israel were sinners who were guilty of some of the greatest follies. The Bible
does not exalt men because they were perfect, but because they were loyal to what was right for the
good of others in spite of their sins. Imperfect people can be dedicated to ideals, and they can even be
willing to die for them. This is what makes them heroes. They are sinful people striving for what is
good for all people, and that is what heroism is all about.
The great men of American history had bad tempers, bad habits, lusts, jealousies, and all of the
weaknesses of sinful human nature, but they still choose to give their minds and bodies to the task of
developing a system of government where all men could be equal, and where they could exercise
their rights as being made in the image of God. Historians may rob us of our idealistic picture of the
heroes of our past, but they can never rob us of the rights, which they gained for us. Our heroes are