The Christian and Civil Authority
© C. O. Bishop, 9/21/2016 THCF 9/25/2016
We have discussed Christian Living and Relationships. This is an important one: Civil Authority.
Obedience to Civil Authority is Ordained by God
1Let 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.
Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. Authority is what is in question, here. Does the government have the authority to rule? The answer is “Yes!” God ordained Human government directly after the flood. That rule has never been rescinded.
God says that if you resist constituted civil authority, simply because you don’t like being told what to do, or because you disagree with what they tell you to do, then you are ultimately resisting God, as well, as He truly is the one who instituted human government as a principle.
Has God occasionally overthrown a government because of its ingrown evil? Yep. He surely has. On many occasions it was done through the intervention of an outside force—another government or nation, taking over the country in question. Occasionally it has been through a military coup, or something similar—one branch of the government assuming all power, so as to eradicate the evil in the whole structure. The odd thing is that, in Biblical history, he often used a more evil nation to chastise his own people. They were more evil because of their morals, etc. but frequently the enemy soldiers knew that they were succeeding in conquering Israel because Israel had abandoned her God. Sometimes the overthrow has come through revolution, but very seldom. Virtually all revolutions are disastrous to the nation, and fatal to the revolutionaries.
Rebellions Usually Come to a Bad End
Let’s compare two revolutions: the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1789-1799. The American Colonies’ conflict was forced upon them by George III. They had submitted what was called the “Olive Branch Petition” nearly a year before. It was not only rejected, but the king refused to even read it. He declared them to be rebels, and not his subjects, and invited their enemies to attack them, by withdrawing his naval protection from their shipping. They were left with no choice but to take up arms and defend against all comers.
The American generals, as a rule, showed considerable restraint in their dealings with the British troops. The American Revolution was primarily by believers, and was steeped in prayer, through all the bloodshed of the war.
The French revolution, on the other hand, was a very bloody affair, lasting years, and costing the lives of many thousands of French citizens. The revolutionaries killed anyone accused of being counterrevolutionary, including anyone who was wealthy, part of the church, part of the government at any level including schools. But the revolutionaries were themselves executed later on. They abolished slavery, but as their other excesses became intolerable, a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup, and set himself up as “First Consul”; later to become Emperor; and, he reinstated slavery. So, in almost exactly ten years, they went from a bloody revolt, storming the Bastille, and setting a new constitution with high ideals, to having a new, more powerful and efficient emperor, and the original revolutionaries all deposed and dead. Not exactly what they had planned. Incidentally, one of the things they also demanded as part of the new constitution was the eradication of Christianity. Is it any surprise that they did not succeed?
They violently rebelled, killing their old masters and anyone associated with them…and simply gained a new master. Yes, the old regime was corrupt, but those who rebelled were godless, power-maddened, self-serving, murderous men and women. So, Napoleon simply executed them all, and went on to conquer a great deal of Europe…but that is another story.
The point of all this is that God does ordain human government…and we are not authorized to rebel against it unless (and this is rarely the case)… unless the civil law definitely demands that we disobey God. And, even then, we are not given liberty to stage a revolt, but are commanded to simply stand for God, knowing it will cost us dearly…possibly even our lives.
In general, civil governments are for the benefit of society, and protection of rights to one degree or another, and the promotion of peace. Therefore, in general, they are no threat to godly, orderly people. I have a friend who grew up in the Philippines, under Marcos. The dictator frequently declared martial law, and there were harsh penalties for infractions, and a general curfew to keep people from roaming the streets at night. My friend said the only change it made for him was that he was completely safe wherever he went. The criminal element was suppressed, and lying low. There were soldiers everywhere, and as a result, virtually zero crime. The curfew did not affect him badly, either, as he was going to be home at night anyway.
I noticed in Mexico that, in spite of the incredibly corrupt government, the federal police were quite prompt about arresting thieves or violent criminals. They did not mess around. There were usually three or four in a pick-up truck, all armed with M-16 rifles or something similar. They arrested the perpetrator, tossed him in the back of the pickup, guarded by two policemen with automatic rifles, and took off. It was quite impressive. One could easily see that these were not men to be trifled with. Were they corrupt, too? Probably… but at least on that score they were functioning.
So, in verse 5, Paul says that we are to be obedient to the civil government not only because we are afraid of their authority and the penalties for disobedience, but also as a constant testimony to the righteous character of God, so that, if nothing else, we are left with a clean conscience.
Verse 6 concludes that we are also to pay taxes, even though we do not approve of the government to whom we pay them. Jesus paid taxes, too, and he advised his disciples to do the same. Remember that the two governments to whom Jesus (the Creator and our savior) paid taxes, were both incredibly corrupt, oppressive and evil regimes. We really have no right to complain; but I have known believers who ruined their testimony through tax evasion. If there is a legal exemption available, by all means take it, but don’t try to avoid paying your taxes.
Verse 7 wraps up by stating that there are various levels of government, and we may have to pay various taxes, and show proper respect as well. Respect the position of the Government, and the office of the governor, even when the person holding the office is contemptible. In Daniel 4:17, God says that He places the “basest of men” in positions of rule …which actually explains a lot.
The Supremacy of Agapé Love
8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
v. 8-10: says, “No indebtedness except the constant debt of agapé love.” Agapé love fulfills all other law. Love does no ill to its neighbor—thus the law is fulfilled through agapé love.
Now, I have taken this to be a general injunction against a pattern of indebtedness, as well. “Owe no man anything…” seems to indicate that idea. The question may arise, then; “What is debt?” I am of the opinion that, if the collateral is in hand, so that there is no danger of the lender losing his investment, but there is simply a contractual arrangement whereby an expensive item (a house or land as a good example) is being purchased over a period of time, then it is probably not “debt,” in the sense meant here. But a car loses its value rapidly, and the lender can easily find that a loan is about to be defaulted, when the collateral has depreciated to the point of being relatively worthless. Credit card debt is even worse—the thing purchased may have no collateral value whatsoever. The difference, in the case of a home, is that usually, if foreclosure becomes necessary, the borrower is more likely to suffer than is the lender.
However, Proverbs 22:6 warns that “the borrower becomes the lender’s slave”; so this is not the only warning against indebtedness. But the broader application is that we are not to act in a way that can damage someone else in any way. “Love works no ill to his neighbor…therefore love is the fulfilling of the Law.”
Time to Wake Up!
11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light
v. 11-12 says to wake up and live the way God wants you to live. The time of Christ’s return draws nearer, and we need to make proper use of the time we have left. Live as men and women of God. Paul says that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand”…if he said that, 2000 years ago, then there are only so many possibilities:
- He was wrong and was simply way off on his time-frame (nope, that’s not it…), or
- He was right, and was referring to the rapture; in which case we are just that much closer to the second coming, today, and we should live accordingly, or
- He was right, and it applies to our end-of-life salvation from the effect and presence of sin. In every believer’s life, every day, we are closer to release—graduation— than we were the day before. We should be applying ourselves, knowing that our time is literally running short. The Game is almost over. Press on toward the goal!
He tells us how to do that, in a few words: cast off the works of darkness! (Repent of and renounce the sins that beset you!) Put on the armor of light. (Light dispels darkness…that is the character of light.) If your life is bathed in the light of God’s Word, it will go far toward preventing the works of darkness regaining a toehold in your life.
Make No Provision for the Flesh.
13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Live honestly, as though the light is always shining on what you are doing… because it is! Leave behind the loose behavior and wrong thinking of your past. You can’t get rid of your old sin nature, but you can deny the fulfillment of its desires, and essentially “starve” it. Don’t provide for it. That involves your thought-life, and everything that impinges on it: TV shows, books, movies, music, conversations. Anything that would lead your heart to wrong thinking (and thus lead you to wrong behavior) is an opportunity for the flesh. Sin always begins in the heart.
As a personal example: for me, because of depression, there are many books I will not read and movies I won’t watch, simply because I know what my heart would do with the negative content. Even historical things, sometimes, can be so tragic that I know I could crash into depression through them, so I simply forgo watching them, or reading them. Music that may seem hauntingly beautiful but whose words lend themselves to a feeling of despair, or terminal sadness, irreparable loss, I avoid, because I know my heart will go after the morbid sadness, and swear that “life is hopeless”. Even certain conversations, I have had to simply terminate and walk away, though the other person really meant no harm, because the morbid content was dragging me down. If it is something I can help, or about which I can pray, I can handle it, most of the time. But frequently it is a recounting of some tragedy they heard of, and they are relishing the drama and pathos of the details, but my old sin nature is using it as a weapon against me. So I politely stop the conversation, explaining that it is depressing me. I make no accusation that they are doing so on purpose, and make it clear that my fragility is in question, not their intent.
Each person has areas in which they have to be careful: for one person it may be gossip, for another, anger, especially the so-called “righteous indignation” of hearing about a wrong done to someone else. But God says we are to “make no provision for the flesh”.
Getting too clever with one’s taxes can be a temptation for some. I knew a Christian business man who went to jail for a time because he was convicted of tax evasion. That is a pretty bad testimony, and it lasts a long time. That happened well over thirty years ago, and I seriously doubt he is even still alive…but I would bet I am not the only one who remembers it and grieves over the damage it did to the name of Jesus, let alone what it did to his family.
I knew another Christian man, a pastor, in fact, who was arrested for theft—shoplifting. When asked how such a thing could even happen, he said, “Oh, stealing is easy! I stole the first sermon I ever preached in this church!” There seemed to be no real remorse, except for his having been caught, but he was permanently out of the ministry. He had built a pattern of dishonesty, and it eventually destroyed him. I never saw him again, but I have remembered him often.
All of us can recount stories of people whose lives were devastated by the Enemy, because they themselves made provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts. Any foothold is enough for Satan to start his evil work, so we are told to abandon the works of darkness, cast them off wholesale… not just the obvious ones. Satan and his hosts do not care HOW they destroy the work of God. They only want to destroy it, and damage the reputation of God.
I remember hearing about two churches nearly identical in doctrine and practice, but on opposite sides of town, having a fairly public falling-out about “encroaching” on one another’s “territory;” jealously vying for proselytes: filling pews, but disgusting the world around them. All of which may seem justified, if you are the one doing it, but the world sees it as shameful hucksterism; and the competition makes the churches look like competing scams. (Guess what! They were!)
The church is supposed to be a reflection of Christ. The ugly behavior of believers, especially lawlessness, greed and hypocrisy, can destroy the testimony of Christ in a city or a nation, to the point that the Gospel of Christ becomes a public joke. And the fault lies with the people of God.
Make no provision for the Flesh. It is too easy to accidentally end up blinded and working for the Enemy. Remember Samson? He was literally, physically blinded, and literally, physically working for the enemy. But believers today can become blind to the light of God’s Word, and enslaved to the evil desires of their own sin nature, all the while justifying themselves with the constant lies of their deceitful heart, and playing right into Satan’s hands, doing his work, instead of the work of Christ. We want to avoid that at all cost!
Lord Jesus, lead us in your paths of Righteousness! Teach us to respond correctly to the World around us for the sake of our testimony and your Honor and Glory.