A day doesn’t pass that I don’t have to delete an email that is badmouthing one political leader or another. I may not agree with everything our politicians say and do but they are our leaders and Paul reminds us that we are supposed to submit to their authority that has been given by God. We are to give honor and respect because it is due. We see Paul doing this as he goes before different authorities.
But what if the government is oppressive? What if they are not doing what is right in the eyes of God? Should we still submit to them?
To help answer these questions I have provided a context for the government that was in authority while Paul wrote these commands for us to follow. This is out of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs:
“The first persecution of the Church took place in the year 67, under Nero, the sixth emperor of Rome. This monarch reigned for the space of five years, with tolerable credit to himself, but then gave way to the greatest extravagancy of temper, and to the most atrocious barbarities. Among other diabolical whims, he ordered that the city of Rome should be set on fire, which order was executed by his officers, guards, and servants. While the imperial city was in flames, he went up to the tower of Macaenas, played upon his harp, sung the song of the burning of Troy, and openly declared that ‘he wished the ruin of all things before his death.’ Besides the noble pile, called the Circus, many other palaces and houses were consumed; several thousands perished in the flames, were smothered in the smoke, or buried beneath the ruins.
This dreadful conflagration continued nine days; when Nero, finding that his conduct was greatly blamed, and a severe odium cast upon him, determined to lay the whole upon the Christians, at once to excuse himself, and have an opportunity of glutting his sight with new cruelties. This was the occasion of the first persecution; and the barbarities exercised on the Christians were such as even excited the commiseration of the Romans themselves. Nero even refined upon cruelty, and contrived all manner of punishments for the Christians that the most infernal imagination could design. In particular, he had some sewed up in skins of wild beasts, and then worried by dogs until they expired; and others dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. This persecution was general throughout the whole Roman Empire; but it rather increased than diminished the spirit of Christianity. In the course of it, St. Paul and St. Peter were martyred.”
We can disagree with the policies and decisions of our leaders but we must do so respectfully. We live in a country where we have the right to vote and can change things but we need to be careful how we talk about our leaders. Paul calls us to be outstanding citizens who follow the laws of the land. God has put authority in place to keep order in the world. Give respect and honor where it is due. This is not relative to whether we think they deserve respect or not.
This also goes for within the church as well. There are times where you may not agree with decisions that have been made by church leaders but they answer to God and we are under their leading. This is something I try my best to live by as a minister who is under the guidance of an eldership. I’ve seen a lot of churches badly damaged because the ministers were at odds with their leadership. This is something I feel like I’ll have to answer to God for if I ever undermined their authority.
There is no law that needs to be put in place for the Christian that has clothed themselves with Christ and lives in love. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Continue to clothe yourself with Christ. Take on his attitude in every situation and you won’t have to worry whether or not you are following the law, being a good citizen, or submitting yourself to authority. Remember where your true citizenship is and don’t become too consumed with the worries of this country.