Romans 13:1-7 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
1 Peter 2:13-17 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
A Series of Events
A lot has happened over the past several months. During the spring of 2020 our president declared a state of emergency due to the rapid spread of what is now called “Covid-19”. Under this state of emergency, we have seen our government on both state and federal levels make decisions that have raised eyebrows, instigated protests, and infuriated many. The decisions, declarations, and mandates made by our government has caused tremendous division among God’s people. Pastors, ministries, and church leaders have been scrutinized for every decision made. Churches who went online were considered to be compliant with no faith. Churches who continued having services were considered careless and reckless. As things progressed, we began to see a progressive amount of upheaval over the decisions made by our state governments. One of the constants has been the use (and rightly so) of Romans 13:1-7. Believers have held this scripture up in the backdrop of their decisions during these crazy times, trying to be obedient to God while submitting to civil law. At the same time, people have used this scripture as a platform to promote political agendas. It has been twisted to condemn others in fitting a mold that does not go along with the call to follow Jesus Christ. When it comes to compliance with governmental mandates this piece of scripture has been quoted both in and out of context. There is so much confusion, division, and controversy over these mandates that we need to know how to rightly divide God’s word in the case that scriptures are twisted in order to advance personal and political agendas.
Understanding the Scripture
Isolating this scripture alone without proper illumination from the Holy Spirit would lead us to believe that this is a severe Bible contradiction. It would also lead us to believe that Biblical heroes such as the midwives of Exodus 1, Daniel, the three Hebrew boys, and even Jesus himself was in violation of such a text. At the same time, it would allow people like Adolf Hitler to order and justify an attempt to wipe out an entire human race. This is where we have to go directly to what we know and have been assured of within Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14). So, what do I know and have been of assured of within Scripture? I know 2 Timothy 3:16 to be correct and that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. I know my Bible is without error and does not contradict itself. Therefore, we must trust that Paul does not contradict himself with this text and the examples we have mentioned throughout the Bible. Then how does God want us to maneuver through such difficult times where we feel as though our local and federal governments are crossing the line? How can we scripturally understand when disobeying government mandates is pleasing to God and when complying with government mandates is having a good testimony? The key to understanding is to make sure we are applying all of scripture and not just isolating one text. Scripture that is easily taken out of context must be compared to the rest of Scripture to form patterns that guide us, guard us, and even govern our daily activity. Please remember, it is a very dangerous practice to use one or two pieces of scripture to build strong theology.
Here are some principles that we can hold up in the backdrop of all this confusion and division:
Matthew 22:21 They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
This is one verse where Jesus answered a question that was intended to entangle him. It was a trap set by the pharisees (a religious group that hated Jesus). The question was whether he was to give tribute to Caesar or defy the ordinance because of religious beliefs. Jesus’ answer was two-fold: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God. In other words, Caesar has stamped his image on the coin and God has stamped his image on humanity. Please remember we are God’s image bearers. It is this piece of scripture that opens the door for us to know the difference of what/who is to be obeyed and what/who is not. This scripture is what gives the midwives in Exodus 1:16-17 the power to ignore the edict of Pharaoh and not kill the new born babies. It is said that the midwives feared God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused the edict of King Nebuchadnezzar and would not bow before the throne. Matthew 22:21 gave Peter and John the right to say “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) and then declare before the high priest “We must obey God rather than man.” As the image bearer of God we must realize that we are citizens of Heaven and therefore we operate with a level of accountability that surpasses governmental entities. When we make the statement “Jesus is Lord”, we are not just making a spiritual statement or an eternal statement; we are also making a political statement. This is a declaration of our allegiance and whose image we are to represent in this lost world. Declaring “Jesus is Lord” also means we are operating with a different citizenship. As Kingdom citizens we cannot attach our Christianity to a political party, but to Christ and Christ alone. Kingdom citizens are submissive but at the same time courageous unto God. Many Christians in other countries that do not allow religious freedoms have already figured out how their allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. In America we have to determine whether or not we are more American than Christian or more Christian than American. Please keep in mind that I love our country. I love democracy, freedom, and capitalism. We can be proud to be American but we must remember our allegiance to the Lord and his Kingdom always overrides our American ideologies that go against the teachings of God’s word.
Under our allegiance to God we place Him and His Word as our final authority. Therefore, the word of God becomes our mandate by which Christians must operate. This is where we can now start bringing Romans 13:1-7 into the framework of our lives. Human government is an institute established by God in Genesis 9. As a matter of fact God instituted three things: The Home (Genesis 2), The Government (Genesis 9) and the Church (Acts 2). All authorities are instituted by God for his purpose. The role of the government is to be God’s servant to humanity. It is basically God’s deacon. Government is instituted to protect that which is good, cause terror to those who do evil, and protect its citizens. Would it be nice if all governmental officials came to this realization? Governement is God’s idea and not man’s. At no time did God institute the government to promote a political agenda that serves themselves. There will be times when government goes against the ways of God. When that happens Christians must make a decision of whether to comply or not comply with the mandates of government. When does obedience to God override government mandates?
- When the government asks us to go against His commands: In this case Peter and John were commanded not to preach Jesus. Rather than remain quiet they knew they were commanded by God to declare the gospel, and so they walked out of the court, went back to the synagogue and started preaching again.
- When the government asks us to do something that is immoral or unethical: This would have given the midwives in Exodus the ability to ignore the mandate from Pharaoh. Based on God’s commandments as well as their own conscience they realized that the motives of Pharaoh were both immoral and unethical. Therefore, their allegiance to God overrides their allegiance to their human ruler.
- When the government asks us to do something that goes against our Christian conscience: For example, the pacifist does not believe it is right to kill at any time. Their conscience as well as their biblical conviction tells them it is wrong to kill at any time. The Christian soldier believes it is his right to protect his own person, family, and country. Their conscience and biblical conviction is to defend themselves when attacked.
If we are going to follow the course of our Christian conscience then we must make sure of two things:
- It is informed and influenced by the Scripture.
- It is informed and influenced by the Spirit.
Our government has passed some sketchy mandates across our country. Some are out of legitimate concern and some are because they want to control the masses. We definitely need discernment in the days we are currently living in.
Being subject to these authorities instituted by God means we have to be subject to the consequences of obeying or not obeying them. The person that chooses go against certain mandates ordered by the government must be willing then to submit to the consequences of that government. For example, John Bunyan spent nearly 12 years in prison because he refused to be licensed by the state to preach the gospel. His statement to the courts was that He was ordained by God not man. People over the course of history have faced horrific consequences for their civil disobedience, but at the same time displayed a submissive spirit when faced with the consequences of such civil disobedience. The reality is that their submissiveness to government mandates were displayed in their willingness to face the consequences. Jesus never rejected the consequences that come with the declaration that he was the Son of God. Peter, John, and Stephen never argued with the beatings, stonings, and even their martyrdom. They actually found joy in their consequences because of their obedience to God. Therefore, they were actually operating within the realm of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 3 by accepting the consequences of their unwillingness to comply to the government mandate.
We must understand that we may have a legitimate disagreement with a speed limit but when we choose to do 65mph in a 45mph speed zone then we must comply with the consequences of breaking that mandate. When we choose not to wear a seatbelt or fail to stop at a four-way stop sign then we must be subject to the consequences set in motion by our government. The same goes for the mask mandate we have in place by certain states across our country. If we decide to disregard the mandate for whatever reason then we must be subject to the consequences of that mandate.
Ultimately, we need government whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy. Without a governing authority there would be complete chaos and total lawlessness. The Bible teaches us that lawlessness is sin. We need laws to protect those that are doing good and strike fear into those that are doing evil. Some of the cities within our country have seen exactly what happens with a lawless society. The book of Judges tells us what happens without governing authorities – the people did what was right in their own eyes. God’s people are supposed to be the greatest of citizens, not because of their loyalty to their country, but because of their loyalty to God. Revolts, protests, and violence is not the answer. Our unwillingness to comply to government mandates should be done respectfully. We should let our actions and attitudes speak louder than our boastful words.
Where do we go from here? These waters are definitely tough to maneuver through. What are some Biblical principles to utilize when making sure we are obeying the entire counsel of God? When the decision is made that a mandate violates one of the three principles mentioned above how would a Kingdom citizen operate?
- Is it fear or faith? Is it the fear of God or the fear of man?
- 2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
- Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.
Sometimes our fear of man causes us to comply when it directly violates the teachings of Scripture. Many times we are so afraid of the opinions of man that we fail to live according to the approval of God.
- Avoid Useless Arguments:
- 2 Timothy 2:14-15 Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. 15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
None of the people in the Bible argued their case. Peter and John looked at the counsel and said you need to judge, but we have to do what we believe to be right in the sight of God. We have a bad habit of going to social media platforms and stating our case, which is intended to create “likes” or cause controversy. If we are going to state a case then do it to those that can do something about it. Email, write, call, or meet with governmental officials and state your case before them. Jesus never argued. Those not willing to agree with Him were left in the same state in which He found them.
3. Determine if it is worth the Consequences:
- Galatians 6:7-8 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
In order to be subject to the authorities of government rule we have to be willing to accept the consequences. We may adamantly disagree with a decision and refuse to comply because we believe it violates one of the three principles. If we want to stay in compliance with God’s commandments and be subject to our governing authorities then we must be willing to accept the consequences or at least allow due process to run its course.
- Do Not Boast of Your Decision to Submit or Not to Submit
- Romans 14:22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
I have always believed that if a person has to tell me they have faith then they do not have a lot of faith. I do not believe Daniel, Peter, John or Paul had the George Jefferson strut as they were walking out of their court appearance. I have a hard time seeing any of these Kingdom citizens boasting with words like “We told them. ” or “Bless God, I ain’t doing it.” I see these Kingdom citizens politely and respectfully saying to the counsels “Do what you have to do, but we must obey God.”
Daniel’s faith was displayed when the curtain was pulled back and they saw him praying. Peter and John’s faith was displayed when they continued to preach even though told to keep quiet.
- Do not be a stumbling block but remember the Gospel is offensive to those that do not clearly understand it.
- 1 Corinthians 8:9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
- Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
- 1 Corinthians 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
We are so worried about being offensive that we are unwilling to stand for what is right. We live in a world now that will hate you for disagreeing with them. We confuse being a stumbling block for being offensive. We have to remember that the truth is offensive. How many times has someone told you the truth and it shook you to the core? We have to understand that none of us want to be disliked, but sometimes our stand will be offensive to those who do not understand. We have to understand that our allegiance to God must override our desire to be accepted by others.
The governmental mandates we are currently experiencing in our country are viewed in many different ways. We are definitely operating on a slippery slope. There is no doubt that some of our freedoms are being slowly removed, and we may never get them back. There are people that believe they are right for complying, and there are those that believe we are being deceived in our compliance. There are those that believe refusing to comply is arrogant, reckless, and careless which leads to a division that is causing more harm than good. I urge each of us to consider this: Before we make a declaration about a church singing or not singing, gathering inside or outside the church building, going online or continuing to meet together, or whether they wear a mask or not we must ask ourselves this: have we ever broken the speed limit, have we ever failed to stop at a four way stop sign, and have we failed to buckle a seat belt? Rather than arguing points one way or another would it not be best to speak to those that can impact our way of life? We still live in a country where a vote does make a difference. We have to make sure our allegiance is to God and not man.
Make no mistakes, there is a work of God going on behind the scenes. Cash is no longer being accepted in places, and government mandates can now determine whether you can enter a store to buy groceries. I am not saying wearing a mask is by any means the mark of the beast. However, the mandate does show some similar characteristics. We have to determine where the line in the sand is going to be drawn. If it is now or later, we need to have some basic biblical convictions. We have to seriously consider when our allegiance to God will override our submission to government. We are nearing the end, and we have to be prepared. We have to mentally and spiritually prepare ourselves even within the realm of our country to realize our allegiance to God could cost us tremendously. The question remains, are we ready?