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.