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The familiar passage about responding to governments is Romans 13:1-7. If you’re not familiar with this section of Scripture, it will serve you well to study what Paul says about submitting to authorities. Submission is something that the human community struggles with, no matter who is the authority.
Paul addresses the reasons we should submit to our ruling governments. He says that to submit, you are submitting to the Lord, which is vital know. The government is not the be-all, end-all. They, too, are submitted to our ultimate authority, the Lord God Almighty.
Of course, this expectation of submission raises questions about absolute governing authorities, whether it’s the government, a marriage, or your parents. The one correct answer is that no human has supreme power over another. Every entity and human being is submitted to God, which means there are times when you may have to disagree for conscience-sake.
Study these passages to gain Peter’s perspective on suffering: 1 Peter 2:11-25, 4:12-17.
In 1 Peter 2:13-17, we are told to subject ourselves to “every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors.” Peter goes on to state that this “is the will of God.” And then he makes this statement: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
He closes this section by saying we must do these four things: honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the emperor. His appeals can come across as four bumper cars racing to the middle of the arena, as one dominates the other. You have a similar tension with children who are to “honor their parents,” but their parents are asking them to do ungodly things.
Each child has to learn how to honor and disagree at the same time. Peter gives us some advice on how to do this, as he continues his “submission theme” in his letter. If you live in the tension of honoring and submitting, you will want to read 1 Peter 5:6-11. I’ve highighted some of his words so you can see how well you are doing with submitting to the government and God.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11).
What You Do
What God Does
What You Do
Too often, Christians react to the “submitting to the government” question before they take careful inventory of their souls. If you do this, you will not respond well to what is happening in your external life. Nobody will respond well to persecution if they have not completed the necessary heart-work first.
Perhaps you are struggling. Will you meet with someone to work through the questions that I asked you from Peter’s eleven-step sequence to submission and honoring the authorities in your life? All of the questions were closed-ended, but I trust you will elaborate with your friend.
It would be helpful for small groups to gather to work through where each person is with the Lord. I cannot be more concise and clear: If you don’t address your heart while making appropriate changes, you will adversely affect those around you.
There are degrees of difficulty when it comes to submitting to someone. On one end, somebody asks you to deny your faith. You can’t do that. At the other end of the spectrum are lesser governmental requirements like speed limits, taxes, and property laws. And there are thousands more.
The one that has become the point-of-focus these days is gathering in buildings to meet as a local church. Our governments have asked us not to do this. And the Christian response has been all over the map, as expected.
I don’t like the request, but I’m not rebelling against it. No reasonable Christian would like someone to tell them that they could not assemble in a building. But here we are, which makes the most crucial assessment is your response to it. Are you exhibiting more faith in God than frustration with civil authorities? The answer to this question will reveal the quality of your faith.
I’m not suggesting that you have to have absolute obedience to the government. Paul and Peter were not naive, mainly since there were times when they disobeyed the state. There are several other instances in Scripture where the “obey God or man” tension was high, which led the followers of God to choose to disobey the civil authority.
The big idea is that Christians should always obey the state unless (1) the Bible forbids us from doing something or (2) commands us to do something. The temptation, of course, is to find loopholes in what the Bible teaches because we don’t like what someone is asking us. You must make those decisions carefully, and they must fit within these two categories.
The attitude of the Christian should be a willingness to submit to authority, and you will if you follow the outline that Peter gives us. If the Bible does not forbid it or does not command it, you have to address the real issue for your resistance. Perhaps these few possible heart issues will get the conversation started.
None of these things have to be wrong, but they are not promises from God’s Word. You could apply these three desires to newlyweds, and you know the outcome: they are heading into marriage trouble. The Bible warns about folks who are unchangeable, crave more freedom, and elevate pet preferences.
The concept of “going to church” fits better into the don’t want to change, love my freedoms, and pet preferences categories. You cannot make a biblical case for meeting together in a building as a reason to resist the state. You may not like it, but it’s a stretch to put it in the “God commands it” category.
Notice that I used the language “going to church,” which is not how I talk about gathering with the church. Biblically speaking, nobody “goes to church” because we are the church. It’s like saying, “I’m going to family” when you’re meeting with your family. Some folks have used this sub-biblical language so often that they equate “going to church” with gathering as a church.
The state has not forbidden us from assembling, but only said we couldn’t do it in the traditional way of large meetings in a building. We’re still meeting, but differently. When you look at the issue biblically, in this instance, you can obey God and the state.
There are several reasons we should obey the state in this matter. Here are a few:
Americans have been living in ways that Christians from previous centuries could not imagine. We also live differently than our brothers and sisters in today’s persecuted countries. These privileges of common grace are changing. We need to rethink what biblical suffering means, according to how we see it portrayed in the Bible. We have not lived that kind of life.
If this recent change is disrupting your soul and even causing you to respond sinfully, the best response is to challenge your soul rather than striking out against the government. There is coming a day when the stakes will be much higher, and today is the time to learn how to live under those future conditions.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).