by Mike Ratliff
1 Πᾶσα ψυχὴ ἐξουσίαις ὑπερεχούσαις ὑποτασσέσθω. οὐ γὰρ ἔστιν ἐξουσία εἰ μὴ ὑπὸ θεοῦ, αἱ δὲ οὖσαι ὑπὸ θεοῦ τεταγμέναι εἰσίν. 2 ὥστε ὁ ἀντιτασσόμενος τῇ ἐξουσίᾳ τῇ τοῦ θεοῦ διαταγῇ ἀνθέστηκεν, οἱ δὲ ἀνθεστηκότες ἑαυτοῖς κρίμα λήμψονται. 3 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· 4 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. 5 διὸ ἀνάγκη ὑποτάσσεσθαι, οὐ μόνον διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν ἀλλὰ καὶ διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν. 6 διὰ τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ φόρους τελεῖτε· λειτουργοὶ γὰρ θεοῦ εἰσιν εἰς αὐτὸ τοῦτο προσκαρτεροῦντες. 7 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)
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NASB)
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.
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (Romans 13:1 NASB)
The Greek word translated as “be in subjection to” is ὑποτασσέσθω or hypotassesthō. 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 on a daily basis. The Navy has a judicial system called Captain’s Mast. There was a place 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.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:2-4 NASB)
Before we dig into this passage I need to clarify something. What Paul is sharing here in these 7 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.
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 cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.” 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 illegal stuff. That was true up to a point, but 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.
What about Christians? 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.
5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:5-7 NASB)
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.
17 But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live. (Exodus 1:17 NASB)
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed- nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. (Daniel 3:16-17 NASB)
7 All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction. 10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. (Daniel 6:7-10 NASB)
19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “ Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20 NASB)
28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “ We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:28-29 NASB)
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 quality 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!