May 6, 2020
Some Thoughts about Civil Disobedience
There is a lot of talk these days about Civil Disobedience and here are some of my thoughts about Civil Disobedience. First, I’m reminded that it was during the reign of Nero that the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans. While one might expect him to encourage the Christians in Rome to rise up against their oppressive ruler, in chapter 13, we find this instead:
“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. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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; 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. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 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).
Even under the reign of a ruthless and godless emperor, Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells his readers to be in subjection to the government. The Bible says that no authority exists other than that established by God, and that rulers are serving God in their political office. Peter writes nearly the same thing in one of his two New Testament letters:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).
Both Paul’s and Peter’s teachings have led to quite a few questions from Christians where civil disobedience is concerned. Do Paul and Peter mean that Christians are always to submit to whatever the government commands, no matter what is asked of them? No, but this does not give us permission to resist everything our government demands of us. For example, If we are upset about how some of our taxpayer money is being spent to support things that don’t agree with God’s Word that does not give us the right to turn our back on paying taxes to the IRS in protest.
Now, in the book of Acts we find after God healed a man born lame through Peter that both Peter and John were arrested for preaching about Jesus and put in jail. The religious authorities were determined to stop them from teaching about Jesus; however, Peter said, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Later, the rulers confronted the apostles again and reminded them of their command to not teach about Jesus, but Peter responded, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
So I believe that civil disobedience is justified only when government compels us to sin, or when there is no legal recourse for fighting injustice. Any other kind of activism has no precedent in the Word of God and violates the spirit of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. As Christians, we should resist a government that commands or compels evil according to the Word of God. This is not to say that God approves of everything governments do or that kings are always right. And, one cannot obey a wicked law “for the Lord’s sake.”
However, we are called to submit to the government authorities even if we suffer accept punishment for our actions, because in so doing, we identify with Christ and are blessed. With that said, yes there are times when we must obey God rather than men, but only if they command us to do something directly against God’s Word. This should encourage us to also work to elect new government officials who are bound by oath to uphold the laws of the land even if they disagree with them. Christians who serve within the Government especially need our prayers as they may be forced to uphold laws contrary to their conscience and that are not Biblical.
So as Christians may we not forget that we are commanded first to pray for our leaders and for God to help them, then we are to obey God’s Word over the word of men, and then we are to be subject all authority, even if we disagree. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
God has commanded us to all proclaim the Gospel in His name so let’s do that each day with the time we have left. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20. Also, many churches have paused in person meetings and gatherings not because of a government order but because of health and safety issues. We could do what seems to be the right thing and if the Church isn’t able to love one another through it, then the right thing we do becomes a greater wrong. So let’s love one another in this time and may we each “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:20-21).
Continued: Some More Thoughts About Civil Disobedience
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