We celebrated our nations birthday this weekend. God has truly blessed us as Americans. But sadly, the more we have the more we want and expect. Many in this country have come to view government as their father, whose responsibility it is to care for them. With all the many blessings we have as Americans, too often we ask, "What can the government do for me?" As Christians, I think the better question might me, "What is my responsibility toward my government?" Now, I know that we don't like to talk about our responsibilities, but let's do it anyway.
Some think that Christians, belonging to the kingdom of God, should have nothing to do with the powers and principalities of this world. Others declare that loyalty to nation and government is a prime responsibility of the Christian. What is to be our attitude and response to the government of our country? This vitally important question has been asked throughout the history of the church. Christians always have been faced with a struggle in this matter, because the church has found itself under all kinds of governments and rulers with different perspectives of leadership.
The prevailing view of people in America today seems to be one of rebellion and resistance. If we don't agree with a law, we rebel, we break it. If we don't agree with the government, we resist it. Looking at all the drug use, drunkenness, and anarchy in our schools, it's easy to see the prevailing view of our country is one of lawlessness and rebellion against authority. That may be the prevailing view, but it is not the biblical view.
The Bible teaches that we, as believers, should live in submission to the prevailing laws of the land. Christianity is to be a total life experience. It is not an addendum to life. It is to touch every element of life, our thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Christianity is not to be isolated from any part of life. When one receives the righteousness of Christ and begins to live out that righteousness, it produces a life of subjection to all authority. This is an issue of major importance, because the Spirit controlled believer is characterized by submission. If you compare Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:16-20, you will see that submission is a fruit of being under the control of the Spirit. By nature we are all rebels, but in Christ we are to live in submission to all authority.
This call to submission to authority is found in Paul's writings.
Romans 13:1 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
Paul establishes a basic principle; whatever the form and whoever the ruler, civil government should be obeyed and submitted to by Christians. The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler.
Now, someone might challenge this point by saying, "Paul wrote in the early days of Nero's carrier, in those early days Nero was a gentleman. It was he who brought peace to the world. He introduced the legal system that is the basis of American Jurisprudence. He could be appealed to in the case of injustice." That is true, but Peter says the same thing that Paul did, and he wrote in the last days of Nero's carrier, when he had become evil and destructive. Nero was the beast of Revelation 13. He tortured and murdered Christians for pleasure. It was in those days that Peter writes:
1 Peter 2:13-14 (NKJV) Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.
Peter tells a persecuted group of believers to accept and obey their authorities. Jesus also taught this in:
Matthew 22:17-20 (NKJV) "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" 21 They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
They asked, "Do we pay taxes or don't we?" This was constantly on their mind. They felt it was an absolute crime for them to acknowledge Caesar. Jesus said, "Show me a coin," which in their mind was an idol and they despised that. Jesus was affirming that despite what they felt they were obligated to submit to government.
Matthew 23:1-3 (NKJV) Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 "Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.
The Scribes and Pharisees had a god-given place of authority and the people were to be subject to them. The Lord said not to be like them because they were hypocrites, but that didn't change our need to be submissive to them. Jesus never taught his people to revolt against the king, kill unjust rulers, march on city hall, barricade an administration building on campus, lead a sit in at the president's office, harass leaders, or violate the law. The form of government was never an issue. The issue is our attitude of submission. G. Campbell Morgan said, "The Christian's submission to the will of God is manifested by his submission to his governmental authority."
Why are we as believers to live in submission to all governmental authority? Paul answers this question in:
Romans 13:1-2 (NKJV) Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Paul tells us here that government is an ordinance of God.
This is a very comprehensive proposition. All authority is of God, which means they derive their origin, right, and power from God. Any form of civil authority comes directly from God. Government is an institution of God.
I believe that we see the ordination of human government in Genesis 9. Noah and his family have just emerged from the arc. The flood has wiped out the lawless community. And now, as the new world, is to be populated by Noah and his family, God institutes the principle of human government. He puts into the hand of Noah the sword of capital punishment, and human government is instituted. Human government is designed to suppress evil which would destroy society.
Governing authorities are ordained, instituted, and regulated by God. No man has rightful authority over other men, which is not derived from God. All human authority is delegated and ministerial. This includes the authority of parents, bosses, policemen, teachers or any other authority. The existing powers in every country and in every age, are ordained by God. Look at what God said to King David about how he became king.
2 Samuel 12:7-8 (NKJV) Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 'I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more!
Why was David king over Israel? God put him there!
Psalms 62:11 (NKJV) God has spoken once, Twice I have heard this: That power belongs to God.
Anyone who possesses any power on earth has had it delegated to him by God.
Jeremiah 27:5-9 (NKJV) 'I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me. 6 'And now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant; and the beasts of the field I have also given him to serve him. 7 'So all nations shall serve him and his son and his son's son, until the time of his land comes; and then many nations and great kings shall make him serve them. 8 'And it shall be, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and which will not put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation I will punish,' says the LORD, 'with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand. 9 'Therefore do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your soothsayers, or your sorcerers, who speak to you, saying, "You shall not serve the king of Babylon."
Daniel 2:20-21 (NKJV) Daniel answered and said: "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. 21 And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
Daniel 2:37 (NKJV) "You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory;
Daniel 4:17 (NKJV) 'This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.'
Daniel 4:25 (NKJV) They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
Daniel 4:35 (NKJV) All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven And among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand Or say to Him, "What have You done?"
John 19:10-11 (NKJV) Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?" 11 Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
Romans 9:17 (NKJV) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."
Do you get the picture? Every power that exists is of God.
Not only is God behind the forms of government we have, but he is also responsible for the incumbents, the ones occupying the offices at any particular time. Yes, even President Clinton is ordained of God.
You might ask, "How can you say that about cruel governments? How could you say that about Adolf Hitler? How could you say that they are ordained of God?" I didn't say that, the Bible does. The cruel abuses in government do not invalidate their divine character, any more than the abuses of marriage rob it of its sacredness. Any government is preferable to anarchy. Man abuses all of God's gifts. Just imagine for a minute what it would be like if there were no government. There would be no laws, it would be survival of the fittest.
Romans 13:1 clearly says, "the powers that be are ordained of God." The word "ordained" is the Greek word tasso, which means to appoint, to assign a place to, to ordain.
God has designed, by His sovereign purpose, a reason for every government that exists. Some exist for the benefit of people who have done well, some for the punishment of those who have done evil. We cannot second guess God's purpose for instituting a certain kind of government in a certain place.
Paul said, "the powers that be are ordained by God." They are not ordained by the will of the majority. In most countries the people have had nothing to do with the choice of those who govern them. Authority to govern and the subjection demanded of the governed reside wholly in the fact that it's a divine institution. Government is expressive of the divine will. Sometimes he wants to bless a nation and sometimes he wants to punish a nation.
Paul gives us two implications to the fact that government is ordained by God. First, he says that to oppose government is to oppose God.
Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
The Greek word for, "resists," is antitassomai, which means to arrange in battle against, to oppose one's self, resist. The Greek word for, "resist," is anthistemi, which means to set one's self against, to withstand, resist, oppose. Wuest translates this verse this way, "So that the one who sets himself in array against the aforementioned authority, against the ordinance of God has set himself, with the result that he is in a permanent position of antagonism."
Robert Haldane says, "The people of God, then, ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime, even as resistance to God Himself."
Think about that when you refuse to obey a law, no matter how petty you think it may be-- you
are in rebellion against God. All rebellion is against God, because all power is ordained by God.
Civil authorities, parents, church leaders, your boss at work, whoever the existing authorities are
we are to be subject to them.
A second implication that we see in this verse is-- resistance to government results in punishment.
Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
If you resist the government you will bring judgement upon yourself. The judgement may be punishment inflicted by the authorities or the divine judgement. It probably refers to both here. The punishment carried out on the order of the authorities is itself the way the divine judgement often works out. You might escape punishment from men for laws you've broken, but nobody escapes the justice of God. Civil disobedience is a very serious thing.
A frequently raised question at this point concerns the issue of the extent of our obedience to earthly authorities. Must we always obey the government? Some insist that we are always and everywhere required to obey those in authority over us. This simplistic view, would have people excuse themselves from atrocious crimes by appealing to the fact that their superiors commanded them to do it.
If we just look at Romans 13:1-2, it seems like an absolute rule that we must obey every order of
our superiors. But we know from the principle of "the analogy of faith", which is the rule that
Scripture interprets Scripture, that there are times when we not only may, but must
disobeyearthly authorities. Whenever the earthly authority commands us to do something that
God forbids, or forbids us from doing something God commands, it is our duty to disobey the
Acts 5:27-29 (NKJV) And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men.
The principle here is this, whenever our earthly authorities conflict with what God has commanded, we must obey God. For an example of this we can look at the Hebrew midwives in:
Exodus 1:15-17 (NKJV) Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; 16 and he said, "When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live." 17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive.
Exodus 1:20 (NKJV) Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty.
The midwives disobeyed the king of Egypt because what he asked of them, was against what God would have them do. God blessed their disobedience, because they disobeyed the king out of a fear of God. God and his commands always come first.
The book of Daniel gives us some additional insight into the believer's responsibility to government. Daniel is an excellent model for Christians living in a non-Christian society.
Taken from his home-land to Babylon as a youth, educated in the philosophy, science, religion, and culture of pagan Babylon, Daniel remained true to God in every respect, yet was able to serve his king. He served as ruler of a province of Babylon and chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon (like chief of staff of Nebuchadnezzar's cabinet), and also sat in the gate of the King (like being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court). Yet, he probably also succeeded in winning Nebuchadnezzar to the Lord. As a man who could function effectively in the government of a pagan country and still remain completely faithful to God, Daniel deserves careful study of civil minded Christians today.
Daniel 1:5 (NKJV) And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king's delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king.
Daniel 1:8 (NKJV) But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.
Daniel has a conflict. He knew that to eat the King's food would violate the Jewish dietary laws. So what does he do? He didn't go on a hunger strike, or start a revolt among the Hebrews. He didn't scream at Ashpenaz, "I'm not going to eat this heathen junk food." He "requested", which is the Hebrew word baqash, which means to seek, require, desire, or request. Daniel's attitude was one of submission, he requested, he made an appeal, and offered an alternate plan.
Daniel 1:12-16 (NKJV) "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 "Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants." 14 So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days. 15 And at the end of ten days their features appeared better and fatter in flesh than all the young men who ate the portion of the king's delicacies. 16 Thus the steward took away their portion of delicacies and the wine that they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
Instead of drawing the lines of battle, Daniel offered a solution that satisfied both parties. Daniel spoke respectfully to those in authority over him and tried to work out the conflict, whenever possible. In Daniel chapter 3 we see a conflict that could not be worked out.
Daniel 3:15-18 (NKJV) "Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?" 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."
This time there was no room for compromise. They stood steadfast with their God. God rewarded them and blessed them for their stand.
Daniel 3:30 (NKJV) Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.
When the Medo-Persians took over Babylon, Daniel became a provincial ruler under Darius, and Darius decided to make him prime minister. The other provincial rulers didn't like Daniel, they were jealous.
Daniel 6:4-10 (NKJV) So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. 5 Then these men said, "We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God." 6 So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: "King Darius, live forever! 7 "All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree, that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. 8 "Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter." 9 Therefore King Darius signed the written decree. 10 Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.
Daniel continued to pray because he knew that it was right before God. There was no possible compromise, so Daniel obeyed God.
Daniel 6:16-23 (NKJV) So the king gave the command, and they brought Daniel and cast him into the den of lions. But the king spoke, saying to Daniel, "Your God, whom you serve continually, He will deliver you." 17 Then a stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signets of his lords, that the purpose concerning Daniel might not be changed. 18 Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. 19 Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke, saying to Daniel, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?" 21 Then Daniel said to the king, "O king, live forever! 22 "My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me, because I was found innocent before Him; and also, O king, I have done no wrong before you." 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he believed in his God.
Daniel understood that the powers that be are ordained of God. He trusted that no matter what the King did he was in the hands of God.
Daniel 6:28 (NKJV) So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Let me give you several principles about civil obedience and disobedience that we can learn from Daniel.
1. Normally, we should obey, respect, and do our best to please those in authority over us. We are to be model citizens.
2. We should resist and disobey government only when that government commands us to do something the Word of God forbids, or forbids us to do something the Word of God commands, either directly or by clear implication. For example, if the government say that we cannot spank our children, we are to disobey them to obey the higher authority of the Word of God.
3. When authority and the Word of God conflict, we should not disobey until we have done all we can to try to resolve the conflict peacefully.
Proverbs 15:1 (NKJV) A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
In a system of representative government like ours, we have a great responsibility to use the courts and the political process to try to get the law changed.
4. When it is necessary to disobey the government, we should be willing to suffer the necessary civil or criminal punishment for our act. If the principle is not worth being punished for, it is not enough of a principle to justify civil disobedience.
5. Even while disobeying government, and even while being punished for our disobedience, we should at all times be respectful to the civil authorities. They are God's servants.
Believers, unless it is obvious that the government has overstepped its bounds and is forcing us to do something that is contrary to all that Scripture indicates, we are to obey it.
We have truly been blessed by God to have the privilege to live in America. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we are to live in submission to the authorities that God has placed over us. As we live in submission to authority, in the midst of a rebellious society, men are sure to see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.