by Mike Ratliff
Πᾶσα ψυχὴ ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις ὑποτασσέσθω. οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ, αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι εἰσίν. ὥστε ὁ ἀντιτασσόμενος τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ διαταγῇ ἀνθέστηκεν, οἱ δὲ ἀνθεστηκότες ἑαυτοῖς κρίμα λήμψονται. οἱ γὰρ ἄρχοντες οὐκ εἰσὶν φόβος τῷ ἀγαθῷ ἔργῳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κακῷ. θέλεις δὲ μὴ φοβεῖσθαι τὴν ἐξουσίαν· τὸ ἀγαθὸν ποίει, καὶ ἕξεις ἔπαινον ἐξ αὐτῆς· θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν σοὶ εἰς τὸ ἀγαθόν. ἐὰν δὲ τὸ κακὸν ποιῇς, φοβοῦ· οὐ γὰρ εἰκῇ τὴν μάχαιραν φορεῖ· θεοῦ γὰρ διάκονός ἐστιν ἔκδικος εἰς ὀργὴν τῷ τὸ κακὸν πράσσοντι. διὸ ἀνάγκη ὑποτάσσεσθαι, οὐ μόνον διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν. διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ φόρους τελεῖτε· λειτουργοὶ γὰρ θεοῦ εἰσιν εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο προσκαρτεροῦντες. ἀπόδοτε πᾶσιν τὰς ὀφειλάς, τῷ τὸν φόρον τὸν φόρον, τῷ τὸ τέλος τὸ τέλος, τῷ τὸν φόβον τὸν φόβον, τῷ τὴν τιμὴν τὴν τιμήν. (Romans 13:1-7 NA28)
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 ESV)
God is the sovereign ruler of the Universe. All of creation is subject to Him. He is the one who hung the Earth on nothing and set boundaries of the seas. He is the one who established the authority system that governs the peoples of the Earth. Is it okay for Christians to participate in Civil Disobedience then? Should the Church rule over government or should the government rule over the Church? God has setup the correct order of things.
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 ESV)
The Greek verb translated as “be subject to” is ὑποτασσέσθω or hypotassesthō, the present tense, imperative mood, and passive voice case of ὑποτάσσω or hypotassō. It means to “subordinate reflexively” or “to obey” or “be under obedience” or “put under” or “subdue unto.” It was used in Koine Greek of a soldier’s absolute obedience to his superior officer. When I was in the US Navy from June, 1973 through July, 1976 I saw this in action. The Navy has a judicial system called Captain’s Mast. There was a place of confinement called the Brig. There was the Shore Patrol who policed us. All of this was in place to deal with those who violated their oath of service by being insubordinate in some capacity. We had a chain of command over us. It was all very well defined.
God has his system of government very well defined too. His system has 4 authorities all subject to Him. The first is civil government over all citizens. The second is the Church over all believers. The third is parents over all children. The fourth is masters over all employees. God has appointed Human government’s authority. That authority is derived from and is defined by God. Our civil governments, if functioning correctly, reward good and restrain sin in this fallen world full of evil.
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. (Romans 13:2-4 ESV)
Before we dig into this passage I need to clarify something. What Paul is sharing here in these verses about authority is the principle way it should work if governments and the authorities in place seek justice. Paul knew as well as we know that there have been many governments that have not been just and actually have perverted justice.There is much controversy in our time in the United States about this very thing. There is a cry for all seeking Justice who get none from the government authorities to resort to civil disobedient.
Since God ordains all government any disobedience is rebellion against God. The judgment incurred here is that of the government as punishment for being a lawbreaker. The next phrase is very important for us to understand. It is, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” We are naturally rebels to authority. My generation was that which came of age in the 1960’s. It was one of rebellion. The Police were called “Pigs” or “the Man” or “the Heat.” If you looked in your mirror while driving and saw a police car following you, terror would run through you. Why? My Dad told me more than once that I had nothing to fear from the Police as long as I was not doing anything wrong. I thought he was naive, but that he was right up to a point. For instance, I had some friends who were singled out by our local Police and harassed continually because of their attitudes, their long hair and what kind of cars they drove. It got so bad that one father sued the city to prove that his son was undergoing Police harassment. It was settled out of court. This is what happens when governments lose their focus of justice and replace it with some other motivation.
Right now in our state, Oklahoma, there is a huge controversy over a man who was killed by police at a movie theater. He was unarmed and was trying to break up a fight between his wife and daughter. The police intervened and he tried to get them to back off and let him handle it. They took him down and he died in their custody due to the beating he took. The Medical Examiner just yesterday ruled his death as a homicide. How are we as Christians supposed to “handle” something like that? What is our standard of conduct in the face of civil authority? Christians are to do good by being peaceful and law-abiding citizens. Only an unjust government with an agenda of some kind will harm people who obey their laws. On the other hand, governments are unjust when they “bear the sword in vain.” If they bear it correctly, they inflict punishment on wrongdoers, even capital punishment. However, if they bear it in vain, they inflict punishment on the innocent or allow criminals to go free or not receive the level of punishment they deserve.
Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason 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 13:5-7 ESV)
Christians are to pay their taxes. Jesus taught that in Matthew 22:17-21. Therefore, even if a government is not just and perhaps even corrupt, that does not exempt us from paying our taxes. Christians must not be tax evaders for this is a violation of God’s rule of authority that He has placed over us.
Is there any circumstances in which a Christian can disobey a government? Yes, that would only be where obedience to authority would require disobedience to God’s Word. Here are some passages supporting this.
But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. (Exodus 1:17 ESV)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “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.
(Daniel 3:16-17 ESV)
All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an injunction, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and injunction. When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
(Daniel 6:7-10 ESV)
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 ESV)
saying, “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.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:28-29 ESV)
However, I know that there is always the temptation to be a law unto oneself in determining what laws we will or will not obey. This does not qualify as a caveat for disobedience to government authority. Speeding is breaking the law and is a sin no matter what rationale we attempt to use to justify ourselves. Therefore, let us seek to be Spirit-filled believers who crucify the flesh and thereby be seen as doing good and not giving the devil an opening he could use to attack us.
Soli Deo Gloria!