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As people who are in the world but not of the world, we as Christians hold citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:17-21).Meanwhile, while here on earth we are citizens of whatever nation we live in (if we are legally registered!). Every nation has a government. While God did institute government, we know that throughout history all the way up to the present, most governments have had varying degrees of corruption. This is certainly true now even here in America, and it was most definitely true when the apostle Paul lived. As a citizen of the powerful but brutal Roman Empire, Paul knew firsthand how bad a misguided government could be. Twice in his life Paul stood before the maniacal emperor Nero Caesar, and the second time this led to his execution (Acts 25:7-12; 2 Timothy 4:6). In spite of this, he taught obedience to the authorities:



Romans 13:1-7:  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. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.



These are some interesting verses. One thing Paul seems to be describing is an ideal that all governments should strive for: To be worthy of the trust of their subjects. The main idea, however, is that as Christians we should be well-behaved, law-abiding citizens, the kind whom authorities would not expect to find committing criminal acts. For as long as governing apparati have existed there have been punishments for crimes, and while in a number of instances these punishments have been cruel, inhumane, and in need of reform, nevertheless the main idea of consequences for illegal activities was always there. Paul was not attempting to address the unjustness and capriciousness of the Roman government, though he was abundantly aware of it. Rather, he was setting forth principles that Christians should live by as citizens of a nation. Jesus Himself also addressed obedience and authority:



Matthew 22:15-22:  Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in Histalk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.



John 19:5-11:  Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!” Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.



In both the Matthew and the John passages there were a lot of things going on, but Jesus, in addressing these situations, illustrated some principles regarding the governing and the governed. We see reflected in the first passage Paul’s reminder about taxes and the principle of obedience to those in authority in government. In the second we see that it is God who gives authorities the power to govern. Does this mean that God always agrees with those in authority? Absolutely not! He would never agree with any sort of governmental cruelty, persecution, or any other form of corruption. Evil is totally against God’s nature. God, however, does expect those in power to act justly. Sometimes only God Himself understands why He allows people to place someone in charge whom He knows will be woefully evil, such as Adolf Hitler, for example. Be clear in your understanding that while God gives power to the governing offices, it is still the choice of people as to who governs, whether they rise to power legally, as when George Washington was elected to be the first President of the United States, or whether they rise through manipulation, propaganda, or even force, as folks like Hitler and Joseph Stalin did. It is also still the responsibility of those in charge to do what is right. Often they do not.



Israel learned this firsthand when, in the days of Samuel, their last judge, the Israelites decided they wanted to be like the nations around them and have a king as a ruler (1 Samuel 8:1-22). There were some good kings, such as David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah, to name a few, but there were also a lot of bad ones, especially when the people fell into moral decay. Regardless of who was in charge, however, the citizens still had laws they had to live by, and that principle has never changed. To this day, no matter how corrupt a government is, there are still some things all people, most especially Christians, should aim for, and one of those is to not be a criminal or troublemaker, which leads to this question: Are there times when Christian citizens should disobey the government? The answer is yes.



Paul, the very same person whom in Romans 13 taught us about obeying the ruling authorities, was in trouble with Rome more than once for doing something that the government did not want its subjects doing: Practicing the Christian faith. A ban on or inhibition against the faith is an automatic call for civil disobedience. As far back as the time of Judaism this was true, as when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and also Daniel, would not subject themselves to certain laws of the land because to do so would have made them disobedient to God (Daniel 3:1-27, 6:1-23). Paul, Peter, and many other Christians throughout history were martyred because they obeyed God rather than denying the faith. The same principle was illustrated when Peter and John defied the Jewish religious leaders in regards to preaching Jesus:



Acts 4:18-20:  So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”



There are other instances when civil disobedience is called for. In America, the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s is a good example of this. What if Rosa Parks had quietly gone to the back of the bus instead of refusing to do so? What if Martin Luther King, Jr., had been afraid to speak out against racial discrimination and segregation? Both of them were Christians, and both of them stood up against an unconscionable evil. Sometimes they were punished, and MLK was ultimately assassinated, but the actions of these believers and others who joined with them made legalized civil rights a reality in this country. Also, in both England and America, a lot of slavery abolitionists were Christians.

The Free Methodist Christian denomination was born because some courageous Methodist believers refused to support slavery as their mother denomination did, and they also put themselves and their families in danger in areas led by pro-slavery authorities. In England it was saints such as William Wilberforce who led the fight against slavery and won abolition. Incidentally, Wilberforce, being a member of Parliament, was an example of a person in government doing what is right.



Those of us who are older—I am in the latter half of my 50s—can remember when America had a more Christian attitude and outlook than it does now. Though prayer and Bible reading in school were shot down before I was born and abortion was legalized several months before my seventh birthday, in my younger days people as a rule still had more respect for Christians and the Christian faith than they do today. This goes for the government as well as the citizenry of our country. These days the government is becoming more and more overtly hostile to the faith and to its adherents, particularly those of us who are fundamentalist and conservative Christians. From the workplace to the rest of the public square, expressions of Christianity are increasingly being repressed or banned. So how do we balance being good citizens with being good Christians?



Even the unsaved have the capacity to live free from criminal behavior, so we as obedient Christians should have no trouble whatsoever in this area. We absolutely will not be out robbing, killing, swindling, raping, and so on. The government should never have to worry about us not meeting any just legal obligations it requires of its citizens. However, when the law requires us to violate the faith, then we obey God. There is no higher authority anywhere than the Lord God Almighty, and there is no higher law than His Word. In acting on the principle we saw illustrated in the Acts 4 passage, we do not necessarily need to be reckless. For example, if you work in an environment where sharing your Christian faith can get you fired, you do not have to shout your beliefs from the rooftops in open defiance of company policy. Throughout history, believers have found ways to keep a low profile, particularly when being exposed as Christians has meant imprisonment and/or death. When a moment arises in which you must identify who you are and what you believe, however, do it. If a coworker asks you if you are a Christian, you say yes. If you are asked to share a Scripture with them, you do it.

In any environment, be it work, school, your household, the grocery store, or wherever else you are, you do not have to declare your Christianity just to prove something to God, but when it comes time to come out with it, speak up regardless of the consequences. God understands your fears and concerns, but He is not well pleased with those who deny Him (Luke 12:8-9), and He will reward those who suffer, including those who find themselves in a situation where it is time to disobey the government, the boss, the school, or whomever else is in charge (Mark 10:28-30). Ask Him for boldness. He will give it to you. The best preparation of all is to be close to Jesus now. The time may come even here in America when it is illegal to practice our faith and then it will be too late to prepare. Strong faith now means more certainty of endurance later, while weak faith now almost certainly guarantees compromise even to the point of apostasy and the forfeiture of salvation when the government’s anti-Christian wolves come to your front door.



Jude 1:20-21:  But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.



Acts 4:29-31:  “…Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.




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