SEEK 9 – Obeying the Government
Question: Should I obey the government?
Bible Reading: Romans 13:1-7
Text: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)
All of us as human beings have relationships with other human beings. We are in families, friendships, communities, churches and we are all part of civic societies which are governed by governments. In today’s world there is a great deal of cynicism about politicians, and many of us have concerns about governmental overreach – but it still remains the case that we have a responsibility to obey the laws of the land. We are, in the words of our text, to be ‘subject to the governing authorities’.
The State is the government of human society, to enable that society to function. Its duty is to ensure that all its members are protected and provided for; to maintain order and peace and to do so by enforcing the rule of law. Peter tells us that we are to submit ourselves ‘for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted amongst men’ (1 Peter 2:13).
Is that obedience absolute? Should we ever disobey? Yes – because the State has limits. It is not all powerful. However, those limits are decided by God – not by us. We don’t get to pick and choose which laws we should obey. But when the law of the State comes into conflict with the law of God – then Christians have an obligation to obey God rather than men.
In 16th Century Scotland a Presbyterian minister, Andrew Melville, was called before King James, to answer questions of disobedience because the Church was in effect saying that the King did not run the Church. After the king had expressed his displeasure, Melville said: “Sir, you are God’s silly vassal; there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is king James, the head of the commonwealth; and there is Christ Jesus, the king of the Church, whose subject James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, not a lord, not a head, but a member.” It was a bold statement which eventually ended up with Melville being imprisoned and then exiled.
Another example is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who publicly stood up to Hitler and lost his life because of his brave stance. His argument was not just that Christians should not obey wicked and cruel laws – but that we must learn to speak up in the face of evil. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
So, the Bible does teach that we should obey the government. But it does not teach that we should obey the government in all circumstances. But when we disobey, we need to be very sure that we are doing so because the government is going against the law of the Lord, rather than just our own social/political opinions.
I don’t like wearing facemasks – and if given the choice I normally don’t wear one. But if the government makes it the law of the land – even though I don’t agree with that law – I will obey it.
Can I make a plea to you? Most who read this will live in democracies where you have the right to be involved in the governing of your country. I would argue that it is not just a right, but it is also a responsibility. You will soon be able to vote – and you can speak, write and campaign for what is good and right. It is also a command of God that we should pray for those who are in power (1 Timothy 2:1-4). It is for our good, and for the good of our neighbours that we have societies that are just, peaceful and well run. Each of us has our own small part to play.
Consider: Can you think of a circumstance where you would have to disobey a government law? Or one where you should obey even if you don’t like it? What do you think you could do to be a better citizen of your country?
Church and State; Good Neighbours and Good Friends – essay in Crown Him Lord of All.
What is the Relationship between Church and State? – R C Sproul
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – A Spoke in the Wheel – Dayspring Macleod.
Prayer: Lord God, you command us to pray for kings and those in authority. We pray for our political leaders. We ask that they would come to see that they are your servants. That you would grant them wisdom to govern justly. Enable us to be better citizens and give us the wisdom to know when we have to disobey, and the courage to stand for your word, in Jesus Name, Amen.