Many people I know—whatever side of the political spectrum— have found themselves upset with the government in recent weeks. I’m not going to go into the whys or wherefores—you all have your reasons. But what do you do now? What are some things to consider before we begin posting to Facebook?
Several weeks ago, I taught a Bible study retreat focused on the book of Romans, chapters 12 and 13. Here’s what that study reminded me of that specifically applies to our government:
1. All governments are established by God. Really, that’s what Romans 13:1 says: “For there is no authority except that which God has established.” No exceptions. And just in case we don’t want to believe it, in verse 6 he says: “for the authorities are God’s servants.” Yep, all authorities. So before we get going railing against our leaders, remember: God placed them there as his servants.
2. We are to obey our government. Honest, that’s what it says:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (vs 1 & 2)
That even includes paying taxes (v 6)!
Titus 3:1 also tells us to “be subject to rulers and authorities.”
Before you say, “But he didn’t envision our incompetent (or corrupt or ineffective or whatever your favorite vindictive adjective is) leaders,” be reminded that Nero was in charge at this time. Yeah, the Nero who would go on to make burning-Christian streetlights.
3. We are to pray for our leaders. Romans 12:12 says to pray fervently. Later in the chapter it says to bless (ask for God’s best) for those who persecute you. And I Timothy 2:1–3 tells us specifically to pray for those in authority over us, even giving thanks for them!
4. We should carefully consider before we choose not to obey. Remember verse 2 says, “rebelling against what God has instituted,” brings God’s judgment on us. Wow! The judgment of God seems pretty serious. Don’t do this lightly.
So is there ever a time when we shouldn’t obey our government?
There are some Biblical examples of those that do:
- The Jewish midwives ordered to kill the Israelite baby boys: Exodus 1:15–20
- Daniel and his friends asking not to eat the king’s food: Daniel 1:8–16
- Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego not bowing to the idol: Daniel 3:1–23
- Daniel continuing to pray to God: Daniel 6:6–17
- Peter and John and the other apostles refusing to stop talking about Jesus: Acts 4:18–21; 5:28–42
So what do we learn from their decisions?
We choose to disobey when the government asks US to do something that violates God’s law. I think that is an important distinction in our culture. It’s not when the government allows others to do things that violates God’s law, it’s only when they force me to do something that violates God’s law.
When we make that choice, here’s how we should handle it based on how these pioneers handled it:
1. Be respectful—Rack, Shack and Benny still called the King, “Your Majesty.” Daniel said, “Please” when asking the overseer to change their diet, and then gave him the final say after a trial period. There was no hatred, no rudeness to those in authority, just a quiet confidence in stating their reason for disobedience. After Titus 3:1 explains what obeying our leaders looks like, the next verse says, “Slander no one.” If we disagree with our leaders, we still are not to slander them; instead the book of Titus tells us to “be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.”
2. Be willing to accept the punishment—Daniel went into the lion’s den, the trio into the furnace. There was no crying out that the punishment they were about to receive was unfair, only a statement that God could choose to deliver them but might not. If we’re going to disobey, we must be willing to own the punishment. The government has the God-given responsibility to punish those who break the law (Romans 13:3–4). We cannot rail against the unfairness of it all. “If we do the crime, we need to do the time.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., put it this way:
“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”
3. Rejoice at the privilege of suffering for God—The apostles went away “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” There was no whining about how this shouldn’t be happening to them, no diatribes against the leaders. Only praise to God, thankfulness for the privilege to serve him in this way.
You and I may one day find ourselves in the position to disobey our government because of a higher authority based on our citizenship in heaven. May we choose to do so in a way that honors our King Jesus and shows his love to the individuals he died to save. And yes, that does include every government leader.