By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
Government. Just the mention of that word can get the emotions and opinions flowing. For a lot of people, their opinion of government is not always shaped by what is done but by who is doing it. If your candidate or party is in power, then you tend to have a more gracious attitude toward government. If your candidate or party is not in power, then you tend to have very little patience or grace toward government. Unfortunately, this mindset is true of people who profess faith in Christ and those who don’t. As Christians, we have a responsibility regarding government that goes beyond who is in power and whether we like them or not. There has been a lot of conversation recently about the role of government and how much they should be involved. I will save that conversation for the talking heads; my concern is what God says. What does the Bible say about obeying government? Regardless of how you feel about government let’s put those personal feelings and emotions aside so we can see God’s opinion on the topic.
Now that your emotions are out of the way (I wish it was that easy) here is what the Bible says about obeying government.
We are subject to authority.
"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." – Romans 13:1-2
Let me share with you a reality that some people may find difficult to accept; we should obey government and those in authority. Paul says let everyone be subject to the governing authorities. Paul in making this statement gave no qualifiers but he did give a reason. We are subject to authority because it has been established by God and the authority government exercises has been given to them by God. To choose not to obey government, when there is no biblical reason for doing so, which I will address later, is to rebel against what God has established. This remains true regardless of who is in power.
We should set the example for living under authority.
"Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." – 1 Peter 2:13-17
I always find it interesting when people talk about their right to do what they want and their freedom. As Christians we do have freedom however at the same time, we are people who live under authority. First and foremost, we subject ourselves to God’s authority. Because we have surrendered our lives to the authority of scripture (or at least we should have) we should set the example for what living under authority looks like. This doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with government or authority when you believe they are wrong, especially if their rulings or actions don’t agree with scripture. However, the way in which you express that disagreement matters. As Peter says, we should always show respect to everyone. By respectfully living under and obeying authority, we set an example for those in government and those around us as well. We must remember that in every aspect of our lives, our first responsibility is to shine light and represent Christ. When we remember this, it will keep our testimony intact regardless of who is in power.
We should be thankful for authority.
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good…” - Romans 13:4a
One thing I want to say that we don’t often think about, especially in this culture where people can be highly critical of government, is we need to be thankful that we have government. Without it there would be chaos and anarchy. Having authority in place is a good thing and when they are doing their job properly, they are supposed to be serving your good. I know this is somewhat idealistic but regardless of how you feel about government and authority, it is better than anarchy. When you think about obeying government remember to be thankful because God has established it for your own good.
We should obey not just from fear but from conscience.
"For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience." – Romans 13:4-5
One of the things the Bible says about obeying government and those in authority is we do so because they can punish those who choose not to follow the rules. However, this should not be your primary motivation. The main motivation should be conscience over fear. In other words, your obedience to government and authority should flow out of your obedience to God and your desire to please him. Because you have chosen to align your life with his word, then this becomes the basis for you obeying government. Your conscience and your belief in God’s Word, should be the main reason you follow the rules, not because you are afraid of the consequences. When you are able to do this, you can honor God and obey the government at the same time.
Is it ever appropriate to disobey government?
As I mentioned before we are people who live under authority. The ultimate authority that we follow is the word of God. The only time it is appropriate to disobey government or authority is when what they are asking you to do violates God’s word or God’s standards. If you don’t like something but it does not disagree with God’s standards, then you still have a responsibility to obey it. That’s why before you rebel, make sure your rebellion is founded in biblical reasons and not just popular ones. Anything other than a biblical reason means you are not living up to God’s standard. This goes beyond what we like and don’t like, or who we like and don’t like. This prioritizes the truth of God’s word above everything else and removes our subjective feelings from the equation.
For too long we have looked at government through political eyes. Even when we are clear about what the Bible says about obeying government, there is still a tendency for many to offer their obedience only when the candidates they prefer are in office. If we are going to be true followers of Christ, then we need to look at government through biblical eyes. This means we evaluate candidates and issues through a biblical lens, not a political one. This means for every issue we align our thinking with God’s thinking on the issue and his position on the matter becomes our position. Looking through a biblical lens means we pray for those in office even if we didn’t vote for them. This means we obey the rules if they are not breaking God’s rules. It means his view and desires supersede everything else. Granted this may not always be easy and there are going to be future leaders you will not agree with. However, we must remember we live under authority and if your heart is to please God then these things become a little bit easier to do. Obedience may not always be the fun thing to do, but if we are going to follow God’s word, it will be the right thing to do.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Muni Yogeshwaran
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.