Civil Disobedience; Biblical Examples

When we started our series entitled “Stand or Cower” the intent was to identify those issues that today’s society so readily embraces as acceptable and even normal. We have seen that these include abortion, homosexuality and ungodly civil authority. It is very obvious and easy to understand what God’s view is with regards to the first two but civil disobedience is not quite that simple. We saw that God’s view of civil authority requires us as Christians to obey those in authority over us because he has put them in that position. However, we have also seen that scripture tells us that there are exceptions and that is when those in authority are attempting to require us do something that God commands and instructs us not to do. Last week we looked at the three basic views that we may have concerning this issue with the Biblical view being the one we are to follow. That view basically is that we obey unless it is contradictory to God’s laws.

With today’s post we will take a look at some biblical examples that will give us an insight as to when civil disobedience is acceptable in God’s eyes. As we do so it should serve as a reminder that the day is coming if the Lord tarries that we may very well have to make a decision if we will stand or cower in the face of very similar circumstances.

The first example involves the Hebrew midwives that Pharoah commanded to kill all of the male Jewish babies but did not do so. In Exodus 1 we are told that they feared God, disobeyed the command of Pharoah, and the lied to him as to why they did not kill them. The Bible also said that God was good to them and the people multiplied. We also know that shortly after that was when Moses was born and was hidden in a basket in the Nile river. And we know how God used Moses to lead His people out of Egyptian.

In Joshua chapter 2 we see where Rahab disobeyed the command of the King of Jericho to produce the Israelite spies. We see that she was rescued from the destruction of Jericho because of her previous actions. In 1 Samuel we see where King Saul’s own son Jonathan ate honey for refreshment not knowing that Saul had ordered that no one could eat until he had won the battle. When Saul ordered that Jonathan be put to death the people rose up against the king and Jonathan was spared.

The Bible says that Obadiah “feared the Lord greatly” and hid 100 of God’s prophets while Jezebel was attempting to have them all killed. This was certainly in defiance of the queen’s authority. And the book of Daniel records several acts of civil disobedience. The two most prominent are when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to the golden idol and subsequently were thrown into the fiery furnace and when Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den because he prayed to someone other than the king. In both cases God spared them and in fact Jesus was present with them during their time of trial.

In the New Testament, the book of Acts records the civil disobedience of Peter and John towards the authorities that were in power at the time. After Peter healed a man born lame, Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). 

There are certainly other instances that can be found in God’s Word that are considered to be defiance to civil authority. And every one of them is because the rules or the actions of the authority are in direct opposition to God’s commandments and expectations. In each instance it required courage on the individual’s part and God’s presence in their lives. In each of the examples we have seen the individual chose to stand and not cower. May God give us the courage to stand!

As we draw this to a close let’s review the possible conclusions we can come to with regards to the this subject. Below are just a few:

• Christians should resist a government that commands or compels evil and should work nonviolently within the laws of the land to change a government that permits evil.
• Civil disobedience is permitted when the government’s laws or commands are in direct violation of God’s laws and commands.
• If a Christian disobeys an evil government, unless he can flee from the government, he should accept that government’s punishment for his actions.
• Christians are certainly permitted to work to install new government leaders within the laws that have been established.

We should also be reminded that we are to pray for our leaders and for God himself to intervene in His time to change the ungodly path they are pursuing. May we then have the urgency to pray for them and the patience to wait upon the Lord.

Civil Disobedience; Three Views

Although there could be others there are at least three major views regarding the subject of civil disobedience. These are the anarchist view, the extremist patriot view, and then the scriptural view. Let’s take a look at each one of these, one at a time.

The anarchist view takes the position that a person can disobey the rules of government whenever they wish and certainly anytime they feel personally justified with their choice to do so. However, as we saw last week, in Paul’s writings in Romans chapter 13 he consistently reminds them and us that God expects us to be in submission to those in authority over us. And that includes the government and it’s representatives because they have been placed in those positions by God himself. So, it is therefore obvious that this view has no biblical support and is certainly not God’s view at all.

The extremist patriot viewtotally opposite position as the previous view, says that a person should always obey the laws of government, without consideration of what the law is, be it right or wrong in God’s eyes. This argument has been used many times by those who commit atrocities by orders from someone else and then takes no personal responsibility or accountability for their actions if they are morally wrong. Again, this view has no biblical support because we realize that there are laws higher than mans laws.

So that leads us to the third view which is the scriptural view. This view expects us to be in submission to the civil authorities but allows us to act in civil disobedience to the government if their commands are evil in nature, such that they would require us to act in a manner contrary to the clear teachings and requirements of God’s Word. In other words, there truly are laws higher than mans laws and God’s ways are higher than our ways.

I’m sure there are other views concerning this subject and many opinions to be offered by people holding on to various beliefs. But as we have said before, it really doesn’t matter what any of us think or believe it only matters what God has to say about the subject. And the way we find out what He has to say is through the reading and study of His infallible Word.

Next week we will share numerous biblical examples of civil disobedience and we will see how God responds to the actions of the characters in the examples. We will attempt to summarize what we have learned and hopefully all come to the same conclusion on this elusive subject. 

 

Civil Authority; God’s View

In our last post a couple of weeks ago I informed our readers that we would begin a new topic of discussion which I entitled “Civil Authority and The Christian.” This will be the third issue we will have considered since we began the series “Stand or Cower.” It may not seem to carry the same weight as the homosexuality or the abortion issue but you can rest assured it is just as much a threat to our way of life because the time is coming that, like the other issues, we will have to take a stand if we intend to defend our faith. So tonight let’s start from the point where we should begin and that is what God thinks and says about the subject.

The most familiar passage of scripture with regards to the subject can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans in chapter 13. We must remember that the words were penned by Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore they must be considered as God’s very words. I have included these words below which were provided from my New American Standard Bible translation, verses 1-7:

“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor”

Paul actually wrote this letter during the reign of the notorious Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (Nero), the Roman Emporer from AD 54 to 68. He was known as an ungodly man, engaged in a homosexual marriage and many other illicit acts. He also was considered the who, by arson, started the great Roman fire in AD 64, which destroyed a huge portion of the city. The great Roman senator and historian wrote the following words: “To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace”. If Paul had not been writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he may well have encouraged his readers to rise up against the oppressive ruler but his writing was the exact opposite.

Peter, in one of his letters, writes almost the identical words. Again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he pens these words in 1st Peter 2:13-17:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king”

We have seen in Paul’s and Peter’s teachings what is described as God’s view concerning how we are to respond to civil authority. However, a major question arises from all of this that we must address. It is one concerning civil disobedience. Does the verses we have included here mean that we, as Christians, are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of us? What a dilemma we have if that is so!

We will attempt to resolve this dilemma over the next couple of weeks in the posts to follow. Next week we will consider at least three views on the subject of civil disobedience and come to a conclusion as to which view we should embrace based on God’s Word as a whole.