“Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors” I Pet 2:13-14

by Steven Chan

What does the Bible say about the Christian’s relationship with those in authorities?

The Bible teaches that “all authority hath been given unto Jesus in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Yet in Rom 13:1-8, the Bible declares: “Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Therefore he that resisteth the power, withstandeth the ordinance of God: and they that withstand shall receive to themselves judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. And wouldest thou have no fear of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the same: 4  for he is a 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 a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For this cause ye pay tribute also; for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. 8 Owe no man anything, save to love one another: for he that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law.”

In order to understand the Christian’s relationship with authorities, it would be helpful for one to consider the nature of the relationship between Jesus and the authorities while He was on earth. Jesus is our example as He was the only person who committed no sin ( I Pet 2:21-22).

In reply to the question posed to Him as to whether it was lawful to pay taxes to the Roman authorities (Matt 22:17), Jesus said unto them, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’. (Matt 22:21). It would appear that the Pharisees and the Herodians might have thought that Jesus would object to the paying of taxes as the Roman authorities were not believers and did not live in compliance with the will of God and might perhaps also be guilty of much social and humanitarian injustice. However, the reply of Jesus was full of wisdom: the believer need not choose between the two authorities; one could honor his obligations to human authorities as well as to God – the two are not mutually exclusive. There was no justifiable basis to withhold the payment of taxes or honoring our obligations to the human authorities just because they do not live or behave according to the standard set by God. In fact, the Roman authority as represented by Pontius Pilate unjustly condemned Him to die on the cross even though he was not guilty of any of the charges leveled against Him. When the authorities came to arrest Him, Peter attempted to defend Jesus with his sword but Jesus did not resist His arrest; he said that ‘all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” implying that violent behaviour should not be adopted by Christians:
”And behold, one of them that were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear. Then saith Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Mat 26:51-52).

When the authorities sought to prevent the apostles from preaching the Word, the response of the early church was to pray to God for boldness to preach the Word in spite of the opposition: “The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed: 27  for of a truth in this city against thy holy Servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, 28  to do whatsoever thy hand and thy council foreordained to come to pass. 29 And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness” (Acts 4:26-29). Their response was not the overthrow of the authorities but boldness to preach the Word. Their faith was in God and not in man.

The Bible gives some reasons for Christians being submissive to the authorities:-

1. Christians belong to God and ought to show forth the excellencies of God: “But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: who in time past were no people, but now are the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9-10);

2. Christians are sojourners and pilgrims in this world and therefore are required to keep our behavior excellent or seemly or above reproach among the unbelievers: “Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your behavior seemly among the Gentiles; that, wherein they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works, which they behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.”( 1 Pet 2:11-12);

3. It is the Lord’s will that Christians be subject to every authority: “Be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well.”(I Pet 2:13-14);

4. It is God’s will that by the behaviour of doing good Christians can silence the ignorance of foolish men: “For so is the will of God, that by well-doing ye should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.”( 1 Pet 2:15-16);

5. God desires Christians to “honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”( I Pet 2:17);

6. Likewise, Christians are to be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward (unjust/unreasonable/perverse).  For this is acceptable, if for conscience toward God a man endureth griefs, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye sin, and are buffeted for it, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.”(I Pet 2:18-20);

7. Jesus is our example in that he submitted Himself to the authorities even unto death: “For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps”( 1 Pet 2:21)

Christians do not fight the battles of this world. Our fight is a spiritual one: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places…  For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,” (Eph 6:12; 2 Cor 10:3-5)

But what if there is a conflict between what God requires of us and what the authorities require of us? In Acts 4:19 , “Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye….’
Oftentimes, the afore-stated passage has been used as a basis for rejecting human authorities as they are not God’s people and they commit unjust acts.

However, we will do well to consider the immediate context: “And they called them, and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to hearken unto you rather than unto God, judge ye: 20  for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20). It is only when the instructions of human authorities prevent us from preaching God’s Word that Christians are obliged to “obey God rather than men”: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men.”(Acts 5:28-29)

Brethren, God’s will is that we engage in spiritual warfare and not be entangled in the affairs of this world.  Paul wrote thus: “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; 2 for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. 3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4 who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”(I Tim 2:1-4)  We seek God’s guidance and blessings that he may bless us with “men, kings and all that are in high places” to conduct themselves in such a way that Christians “may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty”.

Therefore, let us focus our energies and efforts in the preaching of God’s Word which is able to save the souls of men and also provide them with the hope of heaven – a far better place than anything here on earth. Let’s not be distracted by the issues of this life. Let’s behave honorably before all men including those in authorities – even when they are unreasonable or unjust – for this is the will of God.