On three separate occasions I have had the privilege of serving as a juror in a court of law. On one occasion during the juror selection process the prosecuting attorney asked several candidates if it was ever appropriate to physically hit a police officer. We had no way of knowing why this particular question. Other candidates answered no in various ways. As the interview process went on the judge busied himself with a stack of papers that he was signing. When I was asked the same question my answer was “a person has the right to defend themselves if the officer is out of line”. In that moment the room fell silent and even the judge was looking at me. For a brief moment uncertainty swept over me but I felt that my answer was honest and sincere. That day I was selected to serve as a juror.
Just to be clear I do not believe violence should ever be the first response to resolve a situation. I also very much believe in an individuals right to protect themselves within proper boundaries. If physical action is required to protect oneself the minimum amount of force necessary to stop the attack would be a prudent approach.
The Bible gives us a great resource for proper views on authority. It is not possible to cover every aspect of biblical teaching on the subject of authority in a single blog. For this post we will examine the writing in Romans 13:1-7 referring to governing rulers, at the same time the overall implications for all positions of authority. When considering the role of parent, teacher, spouse, employer, military, police, and so forth the guidelines found in scripture is our reference for proper attitude and actions toward those placed in a position of authority above ourselves.
Before we look closer at this passage I want to address a basic human condition. Three basic sin temptations are lust, power, and greed all of which stem from pride. Sometimes we see the three desires of lust, power, greed or a combination of them manifested in people placed in a position of authority. Often when that occurs the person will use false teaching or brute strength to defend their position.
All scripture reference will be from the New International Version
It should be understood that submission to fellow man was established by God as a test of obedience. Resisting authority is resisting the ordinance of God. Romans 13:1-2 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. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
- To ‘submit’ or ‘be subject to’ means to surrender or yield oneself.
- Romans 13:2 has been a misused scripture in New Testament by those wishing to force their desires on others.
Romans 13:3-5 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
Authority is only valid for the limits of the purpose set by appointment. For example a parents charge over their own children does not give them automatic permission to discipline another persons child.
- God uses earthly kingdoms to fulfill His purpose. As an example the Jews were taken captive as a punishment for unbelief.
- Laws are in place for the betterment of the community. If a driver exceeds the speed limit a fine could be the result of not submitting to that authority.
- No where in scripture does it say or imply to blindly and unquestioningly follow any man. Acts 17:11 records how the Bereans searched scripture continuously to see if what the apostle Paul taught was true. In proper context and respect it is acceptable to question authority. An example would be to gain clarification of expectations.
Romans 13:6-7 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
- Orderly government is a part of God’s provision even in a sinful world.
- As God’s ministers, rulers will be judged for their actions.
- God has used governments to bring correction and wrath to disobedient people.
- Paying taxes is a responsibility not a punishment.
- Giving honor in proper measure is an act of submission.
God is our highest authority; He supersedes any man made laws. Too often people are led astray by improper teaching on authority. When a law is in direct conflict with God’s law, such as idol worship or a violation of basic human rights, it is appropriate to not submit to that law. Some laws are viewed as inconvenient to an individuals desires or immoral to ones beliefs, such as laws regarding alcohol and tobacco sales. Such laws are in place to protect individuals from their own destructive behavior and do not require others to participate in the behavior but rather have come about due to moral declination. Other laws are in direct conflict with God’s word and should be contested and if possible changed. The scriptures are clear that anytime it seems necessary to confront authority that prayer must be the first step.
When submitting to authority is not possible it is proper to get out from under it. In this fallen world there are times when persons of authority reach a level of immorality that prevents them from being open to sound reason. At times some leaders have become so blinded by their own ambitions that anyone not in agreement is viewed as an enemy. It is proper to show such a person respect but at the same time it is appropriate to remove yourself from under that authority. The story of Moses leading the Israelites out of captivity (Exodus 3-12) gives a clear example of God approved removal from improper authority. Another example to consider is when Jesus earthly parents escaped from a ruler who ordered the killing of all boys under three years of age (Matthew 2:13-18).
It seems to me that a view on laws of inconvenience should be included in this post. Jesus said in Matthew 5:21 “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” In the Roman empire a law existed, called the law of Angaria, that allowed a Roman soldier to require a Jew to carry their load for a mile. Technically this mile was a thousand steps. There were many mile markers in place to accommodate this law. Understandably people would walk to the end of the mile and drop the load right there without taking another step. Jesus was teaching about proper attitude toward laws. Without proper respect for authority positive changes cannot occur.
Most likely you are struggling with some or many rules, laws, or guidelines in your life. What is the basis of your frustration? Is it a moral issue? A matter of inconvenience? Or do you have a problem with authority?
Rev. Burt Schwab