The Bible is filled with the stories of people who have defied authority. Moses stood up to Pharaoh then led the Israelites out of Egypt. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all refused to worship any other god but Yahweh—and were then thrown into the lions’ den and fiery furnace, respectively. (Spoiler alert: God saved them all, and for His glory.)
Stephen defied the ruling Jewish Council, preached the gospel of Jesus, and was stoned to death for it. Paul and other apostles were martyred by the Roman government during the persecution of Christians.
And yet this same Paul, who likely later died at the hands of his government, urges believers to honour and respect those in authority. Paul—who knew many examples throughout Jewish history of standing up to corrupt rulers—says to obey, seemingly without question. What are we to make of this?
Both Peter and Paul tell early Christians to honour their government, but they do so in the context of the whole story of Scripture (and their own writings), affirming that Jesus is Lord over all. Therefore, we obey the government when it doesn’t contradict God’s commands—and we do it joyfully, as a way of honouring God.
John Piper says it this way: “And it is very important to stress that, just as we may have to disobey the civil authorities for Christ’s sake, so all our obedience should be for His sake as well. We never have two masters … Every time we say yes to any law, it should be a yes to Jesus.”
Our every action should be motivated by our identity as followers of Christ and citizens of God’s kingdom.
The Bible offers many examples of what godly citizenship looks like in an earthly kingdom. Let us pray continually that we will seek first God’s Kingdom, listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we engage thoughtfully with our own earthly governments.
Melanie Rainer www.shereadstruth.com