Living Under Authority
Every once in awhile I turn on talk radio to try to keep up with what is going on around the world and in our country. Whenever I decide to do that, it doesn’t take long to be reminded what interesting times we are in. It seems like everyone has an opinion on what is going on in the government and no one agrees. The one thing we can probably (actually probably not) agree on is we have a million different thoughts and ways to go about handling our shortfalls and our excellences.
Now before you assume that this is another political post to add to the noise, let me stop you, and let me reassure you that IT IS! That’s right, this post will be another voice in the yelling match of politics, BUT my approach is not one of yelling. In fact, I hope this will peacefully, gently, speak to the room of chaos, in a way that calms us all down. My only disclaimer is this- I’m writing to a Christian audience. I do believe that the teachings of the Bible are of the greatest value to everyone (whether they trust Christ with their life or not) but some of this won’t make sense unless you trust that Christ, and God’s Word, knows best.
When it comes to how to interact with the government the Bible gives pretty clear directives. Before we dive deeper, I want to remind us (and me) that when things don’t make sense to me, it is not my responsibility to conform the Bible to what I want, but to conform myself to the Word of God. To do this I’ll take us through a correct perspective, our correct position, and the correct way to process living under authority.
1 Peter 2:13-14 states, “For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state, 14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right.” Simply put, our perspective on government should be one in which we believe and honor the fact that God has established the governments of the world. Not so simply is answering the question of: “What about those tyrants and terrible governments?” Well, actually the context of this verse does shed light on it. The book of First Peter was written around AD 80, 20 years after the horrific persecution of Christians by Nero, and during the time of the terrible persecution by Domation. So this charge isn’t given in some ultra Christian society of great government... it’s a really bad government situation. Remember this is a perspective change that helps us process how then we handle authority- God establishes the government's.
How then do we position ourselves with this acknowledgement? Although 1 Peter 2:13 states it clearly, Romans 13 gives a fuller understanding. “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.” Our position should be one of submission to the authority established by God. The context of this writing is in early or pre-Nero persecution, but one that would hold these expectations during one of the cruelest period for Christians. Now, here is where some work needs to be done in a healthy understanding of submitting to authority (especially evil authority). The author of Romans (Paul- who, by the way was a persecutor of Christians) is speaking about the correct work of the government- that governments are established to keep the peace, and keep evil restrained (vs 4-5). So here Paul is talking more positionally than personally. In other words- the offices and the intentions of the offices should be respected, and submitted to, even if we don’t respect the person who holds the office. Again, I know you question that (cause I do) when it comes to terrible leaders, but Jesus even told people to pay taxes and obey the very people who were going to kill him. Also, there is one more step to this...
We need to have perspective that God established governments, and we need to position ourselves with submissiveness to those offices of government, but what does that mean in how we act? Romans 13 expands on our calling in verses 8-10. Here Paul makes a clear calling that our highest authority is LOVE. In Acts 5:29 Paul tells the authorities “ We must obey God rather than men.” The way we process, the way our faith plays itself out should be motivated and reflect God’s love. I think that too often good, loving causes, are lost in the fury of angry of action. The Bible teaches us that our way is different (and yes, more difficult), but in that difference we have a great opportunity to expose people to God’s awesome grace and love. One commentator put it this way: “As much as possible, we should seek to cooperate with the government and obey the law; but we must never allow the law to make us violate our (Godly) conscience or disobey God’s Word.”
May we trust God enough to believe He is in control, be humble enough to respect the positions of authority in our lives, and be bold enough to have love, GOD’S LOVE, motivate us to action when needed, silence when best, and sacrifice always.
For a great example of what this might look like, I’d encourage you to read about Daniel- He really embraced a perspective of God’s established government, with submission to authorities, but an unwillingness to compromise his Godly convictions in a really loving way.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 405). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.