“You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51-52)
I’ve always had an independent streak. Some might call me stubborn, difficult or rebellious. Others might say I’m self-sufficient, creative and non-traditional. One thing I know is that I don’t like to be boxed in and told what to do. When this happens I stiffen and resist the perceived oppression.
Ancient farmers knew a thing or two about this. They plowed their fields using oxen harnessed to a yoke. Sometimes an independent-minded ox fought being restrained. It stiffened its neck to resist getting attached to the yoke. Hence the term stiff-necked.
This chronic condition appeared in God’s people, and throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were frequently labeled stiff-necked. From generation to generation they stubbornly chose their own way and refused to yield to the “yoke” of the Lord.
Chronic stiff-neckitis continued to afflict the Jewish people in the New Testament. In the beginning of Acts, as the church spread with an unstoppable fire, some received a Holy Spirit-induced adjustment and accepted Jesus. But many religious folks, especially the elite, felt challenged and threatened by this new way of looking at God. They reared up and resisted.
Caught in the cross-hairs of their anger was the apostle Stephen who was accused of blasphemy and brought before the powerful Sanhedrin to stand trial.
Through eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, Stephen saw that the Sanhedrin’s veneer of holiness covered hearts (and necks) thrown out of alignment by pride, self-righteousness and arrogance. They refused to accept God’s yoke—whose name was not the Law, but Jesus.
So when Stephen addressed the Sanhedrin (Acts 7) and called them stiff-necked…just like their fathers, the elders and teachers of the Law knew exactly what Stephen meant. And they were furious!
“Who are you to accuse us? You’re the one on trial here! We trace our lineage back to Abraham. And you? You follow that blasphemer, Jesus—and he died on a cross!”
Two thousand years later stiff neckitis continues. We define God in our own terms, obstinately unwilling to submit to Him. But we don’t use an insult like stiff-necked. No, we’ve traded the Sanhedrin’s harsh legalism for easy rationalizations—we’re independent, in control, self-sufficient, self-made—or just comfortable. These attributes become points of pride instead of tremendous barriers to completely following God.
When challenged by fellow believers, sermons and even scripture, we stiffen our spiritual necks. Who are you to challenge me? To suggest how I should spend my time or money? To question whether I’m serving others? To tell me to be submissive and obedient?
Yet Jesus beckons. He invites us to set down all our resistances. To bring our out-of-alignment bodies, attitudes and spirits. To humble ourselves. To submit divine adjustments.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Jesus is not an oppressor who imprisons us. He’s a emancipator who holds the keys to our freedom.
Submission. Obedience. Self-sacrifice. I hear these words and my neck stiffens. But my weakness provides an opportunity for God to display His expertise.
And I know the Holy Spirit is one heck of a chiropractor.
In what area of your life are you refusing to yield to the Lord? Where are you resisting the leading of the Holy Spirit?