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Duties to Civil Government


Civil government faces major turmoil. Often innocent people are penalized or treated unfairly while criminals escape punishment. How should a Christian act toward government in times like this?

A. Christians Should Obey the Laws.

Some people believe they are justified in disobeying government because laws are unfair and officials are corrupt. They justify "civil disobedience" to any law they consider to be unjust.

Romans 13:1-5 -- Be subject to the governing authorities because they are ordained by God (v1). To resist them is to resist the ordinance of God (v2). Government punishes evildoers; do good and you need not worry (v3,4). We must obey, not just because of the wrath of the ruler, but also for conscience' sake (v5) -- i.e., because God commanded us to obey.

1 Peter 2:13,14 -- Submit to civil rulers "for the Lord's sake" -- not just to avoid being caught and punished by the ruler, but to please God. This applies to all laws -- from criminal laws to traffic laws -- and even when we think the laws are unreasonable. We must obey or stand condemned before God.

Acts 5:29 -- We disobey only when obedience to civil law would involve us in disobeying Divine law.

First-century rulers, both Roman and Jewish, were corrupt and unjust. Often Christians were mistreated and persecuted, but this did not justify rebellion. Laws could be disobeyed only when necessary in order obey God.

(See also Titus 3:1; Dan. 3:1-29; 6:1-24.)

B. Christians Should Pay Their Taxes.

Matthew 22:17-21 -- Jesus was asked about paying tribute to Caesar. He said to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.

Some people cheat on taxes or even refuse to pay. They may just be selfish, or they may justify themselves on grounds that the government is corrupt. But the Roman government was corrupt and hated by Jews, yet Jesus still taught His disciples to pay their taxes.

Again, we must return good for evil, not evil for evil (Rom. 12:17-21).

(See also Rom. 13:6,7; Matt. 17:24-27).

C. Christians May Rebuke Sin in Government and May Appeal to Higher Authorities.

Though Christians must obey all laws unless those laws require them to sin, yet this does not mean they passively accept mistreatment without recourse or that they never tell the rulers they are wrong.

Bible examples in which God's people rebuked rulers for their sins.

Some people object when preachers and churches rebuke evil laws or sinful rulers. They say we "should not get involved in politics." Yet many Scriptures teach the general principle that Christians should rebuke sin, wherever it occurs (Rev. 3:19; Eph. 5:11; 2 Tim. 4:2-4). This includes rebuking sinful rulers as the following examples show:

Matthew 14:1-4 -- John the Baptist told King Herod he was wrong for taking his brother's wife. For this John was imprisoned and beheaded.

Acts 24:25 -- Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and judgment to come.

2 Samuel 12:1-15 -- Nathan rebuked David for adultery with Bathsheeba and having her husband killed.

Old Testament prophets often rebuked rulers for idolatry and other sins (cf. 1 Kings 13:1-5; Dan. 4:1-37).

Christians today not only may speak out, but should speak out, when government permits and even promotes immoral conduct such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, divorce, and gambling.

This does not mean churches, as such, should endorse candidates or support political campaigns. Nor should individual Christians take the law into their own hands. Although people of God in the Bible protested immoral laws and evil conduct by rulers, yet they did not lead violent revolutions nor try to assassinate the rulers. They obeyed the laws except when the laws required them to disobey God, but they told the rulers they were wrong.

Bible examples in which God's people used their rights as citizens to seek protection from mistreatment.

Esther 7:1-6 -- Haman plotted to pass a law authorizing the death of all Jews. Queen Esther appealed to a higher authority by revealing the plot to the king and urging him to protect her people.

Acts 22:24-29 -- When Paul was bound and about to be beaten contrary to the law, in order to protect himself, he reminded the authorities of his rights as a citizen (Cf. 16:35-40).

Acts 23:12-33 -- When a plot was made against Paul's life, he appealed to the Roman rulers to protect him.

Acts 25:10-12 -- When Paul was being improperly imprisoned, he used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to a higher court all the way to Caesar.

While Christians must obey law, they should tell rulers when they are wrong, and they may use their rights as citizens to seek protection by the government or to appeal decisions to higher authorities.

D. Christians Should Pray for Rulers.

1 Timothy 2:1,2 -- Prayer and thanksgiving should be made for kings and all in authority.

One of the strongest forces a Christian has for the good of his country is the power of prayer. We should pray that government will not hinder our service to God, but that we may serve God in peace.

[Esth. 4:15-17; Neh. 1:11-2:5; 1 Chron. 29:19]

For more information on this subject, please visit our Bible Instruction web site at www.gospelway.com/instruct/ and study our in-depth articles there about human relationships and proper treatment of other people. 


(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2/2001

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