Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Living Under Authority (Romans 13:2)

“Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:2, NASB95)

“Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:2, ESV)

We’ve looked at submitting to the sovereignty of God, and we’ve looked at anarchy which is not submitting to any authority. We’re starting to look at those institutions whose establishment continues because of the sovereign hand of God and who are intended to keep us from anarchy. Authority is a good thing. Man first sinned because he tried to remove himself from the authority of God and do that what he was told not to do. Sin continues to be a result of our rebellion against the authority of God, and crime results from man’s rebellion against the authority of government and its laws.

Our God is a God of order. He intends that we live with ordered lives. It is for that reason that governments (in the broad sense of the institutions that have authority of man’s civil organizations) exist and that people are given authority over others. It is their responsibility to oversee the people given to them by God in subjection, and it the people’s responsibility to live in subjection to that authority.

Doing otherwise places us at odds with the government and also at odds with God. And when we place ourselves at odds with those in power, then we are also subjecting ourselves to the judgment of those in authority. This judgment may ultimately be from the hand of God, but more immediately from the hand of society.

It’s a very simple principle that we see here—“Do the crime, pay the time.” And for the most part we don’t struggle with this principle. We all like to think that justice is a good thing, and when we approve of the law then we generally approve of the enforcement of the law. When we think that government is just, then we generally approve the judgment of that just government. This is the easy part.

But we all know and many fear that government may become unjust and make demands which we cannot abide by, or that in its zeal for enforcement that mistakes might be made and injustices might be incurred. After all, only God is perfect in His judgment. How can any government of man match the perfection of God? This is where Romans 13:2 becomes very difficult. Because it is here that we have to choose just how we will obey man and God at the same time when they are in conflict with each other.

There are many examples of how people have handled this throughout Scripture and the rest of time. In some of them we can clearly see the godly response of the individual(s) affected such as Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers and then being thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit. Yet at the end of his life being able to tell his brothers that what they had intended for evil God intended for good. Or, Daniel and his friends who lived honorably under a captive nation and kings, yet were persecuted because of their humble stand for God. In both cases we can look at these men and see that God went before them and protected them and brought them to a place of prominence. We also have the example of David, who had been anointed as the second king of Israel but who had not yet risen to the position because the current king was still in place. Scripture records for us his flight from Saul as Saul tried to put him to death. Yet, when David had the opportunity to strike down Saul, he would not do so because it was God who put Saul in place and it was up to God to bring him down in His time.

There are also examples of those who clearly used their opportunity to strike out and take action which was judged by God and even resulted in their failed efforts. Scripture records some of these for us as well (Saul being one such example), and we can find examples in history. But then there are those for which history still is divided about the correctness of the action, including our own American revolution. I have a strong view on this, and my strong view is different from a studied friend of mine. But even here, regardless of the position you hold, you would probably have to agree that there were a large number of individuals who gathered together to present their grievances to a government who had been treating them harshly. Regardless of how these approaches might have been seen, they were efforts to try to get things changed and improved for the people. These grievances were turned away and things escalated from there ultimately leading to a document declaring the last resort desire and intent to separate. This desire met with an effort to squash it, and history tells the rest. According to the government in power, they had the right to try to keep the people in subjection and the efforts to do so were a part of their effort to judge an inappropriate behavior. For those on the other side, they tried to do things peaceably and the government responded with harsh force to which they responded.

I know this is very simplistic and possibly too simplistic to be accurate. But the point in the middle is that there cannot be two opposing authorities without one trying to suppress the other. God has called us to live with a view of subjection to those who are in authority. He has also shown us how His authority is higher than the authority of man and how His ways are much superior to man’s. We are called first and foremost to submit to His authority as the Sovereign One and then let our submission to Him direct how we respond to others.

In our country right now we have the freedom, and I would say the responsibility, to speak rightly against evil and for good without much recourse. We have the ability to try to keep good law and change bad law. We have the freedom to work to put in place leaders who would follow after God and His principles as opposed to those who don’t. We have all of these right now.

But there are also signs that some of this is changing, where business people are being told that they must violate their biblical principles in order to comply with the rules of government. This is where we need to pray for each other and encourage one another, knowing even that men like the apostle Paul spent years in prison for the gospel. And in so doing we read of him challenging the correctness of the actions while also submitting to the authority of those taking those actions in such a way that he suffered being beaten and locked up rather than forsake his higher calling. The verses that follow speak to this and the right purpose of government.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV) 

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