August 26, 2014

Who is in charge?

Yesterday the focus was on how Christians should obey God rather than men, but only when there is a direct conflict between what God says compared to what human authorities say.

However, that is probably not the normal experience. Most of the time, we are supposed to obey those in authority over us, and if they don’t deserve our respect, we are to at least respect their position. Paul gives the example. He was brought before the religious leaders with unclear accusations. . .

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” (Acts 23:1–5)

When Paul realized he was speaking to the high priest, he immediately apologized, even using a Scripture verse from Exodus as his motivation. He respected the man’s authority, even though that person was treating him with disrespect.

For Paul and for all Christians, civil disobedience is one thing, but lack of respect is never sanction by God. Paul explains why. He says the reason we obey authority is that God is sovereign. Those in authority are there because He put them there. To disobey them is to disobey God . . .

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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1–7)

I know several Christians who object to this submission. They think the laws of the land are unreasonable, or impinge on their personal rights. The speed limits are too low, and our tax system is too high, or unfair. They blame all our problems on the government.

It might seem like it, but protests against the government are being sent to the wrong place. Because God is in charge, we need to talk to Him about our government, our situation, and especially our attitude toward authority. It is far better to, “Fear God and honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17) than fight the king and wind up also fighting God.

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