August 25, 2014

What about Christians and civil disobedience?

Most drivers are unaware that every time they go over the speed limit, turn a corner without signaling, cut off other drivers, or drive with a hamburger in one hand, they are disobeying God. They might say they are breaking the law, but with the prevalence of these “crimes” it seems doubtful. Since these violations have become so common, it appears most would not even think twice. However, the Bible does say, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1)

That said, is there a place for civil disobedience? The Bible says there is, but it is not about protesting those laws that step on human rights, comforts or conveniences. The only time God says we can ‘break the law’ is when that law goes contrary to a direct command from Him.

In the early church, the disciples were teaching people about Jesus. The governing authorities didn’t like it and arrested them. When they were set before the council, the high priest questioned them. “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

At that, Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:27–32)

Since these authorities claimed to be religious and keepers of God’s laws, what could they say? They “beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.” These Christians then left the presence of the council and were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.” (Acts 5:40–42) The law of God was honored, even as they disobeyed the ‘law’ ordered by the authorities. Not only that, they used the incident to proclaim the Gospel!

Daniel and his three friends set an example too. The king Nebuchadnezzar built an image and passed a law that when certain music played, everyone had to stop what they were doing and worship the image. If not, they would be immediately cast into a burning fiery furnace.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused, the king mocked them saying “Who is the god that will deliver you?” but they said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:13–18)

They were tossed in the furnace. It was so hot that the flames killed those who threw them in, but these three were protected. The king saw, “Four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:22–25) The fire “had not had any power over the bodies of those men. The hair of their heads was not singed, their cloaks were not harmed, and no smell of fire had come upon them.”

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” (Daniel 3:27–28)

God delivered these and later delivered Daniel from a den of lions, but deliverance is not a guarantee. When Jesus was brought before Pilate and questioned, He said to this man, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world . . . You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:33–37)

Even as he heard this profound claim, Pilate chose to obey the earthly authorities. He crucified this King of the Jews, the King of God’s kingdom.

From this I realize that if I am in a position where I must obey God rather than those in authority, I could suffer, even die for submitting to God. Yet He, who is sovereign over all other authorities, can use whatever happens to me to bring glory to Himself. My part is to trust Him and use such situations to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.

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