The Old Testament often states that no human authority exists except by God’s permission (Daniel 4:17). The reigning power of a government is delegated to men by God, according to His own purposes. Its continuance in power, or its fall from authority, is under His control. Therefore, the believer should support the authority of his existing government and should not attempt to resist or to overthrow it.
The New Testament teaches that the Christian is to offer his civic duty not from fear of punishment, but because of the teachings and example of the Lord while on earth. Jesus obeyed the civil laws, even succumbing to injustice rather than rebel against authority (Matthew 22:21; 26:50–53).
Paul taught, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same” (Romans 13:1-3).
Such advice was particularly needed at Paul’s time, for the Jews were in an agitated spirit and had already rebelled in different parts of the Roman Empire. For believers to exhibit a similarly disobedient spirit would have brought the same disapproval that was beginning to come upon the Jews. It would also have caused them to lose the protection of the Roman Empire, which had often been a blessing to the early church, as Paul could attest from his own life (Acts 22:24–30).
In addition, resistance to the authorities would have brought shame upon the early church and its call to peace and brotherly love. Therefore, Paul urged the Christians to pray for those in authority: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and [c]reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1, 2). And he added, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).
Likewise, Peter preached the same message, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).
Obedience to God comes first
The Scriptures do not teach that God always agrees with the conduct of civil governments. Nor does it imply that it is the believer’s duty always to succumb to them. The requirements of government may sometimes conflict with God’s law, and in these situations, the believer is “to obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19; 5:29). One example to that is Daniel’s friends who refused to obey Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship his golden image (Daniel 3) because this was a clear violation to God’s commandments (Exodus 20: 3-6).
Governments exist for a humanitarian purpose. And, generally speaking, it is the Christian’s duty to submit to their requirements. Although some rulers are unjust and wicked, it is usually true that citizens who are moral have nothing to fear the civil authorities. Since the state exists as a servant of God for a good purpose, the believer has no reason to oppose its authority if he leads a peaceable life (Romans 12:18). Except where principle would be violated, the Christian is to cooperate with the laws of his government.
In His service,
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