Robert Jeffress - To Obey Or Not To Obey?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Well, as much as secularists might try to deny it, America was founded as a Christian nation. Yet in recent decades, liberal politicians have started to dismantle our country's biblical foundation and establish laws that are hostile toward Christian values. So when government mandates start to go against your Christian beliefs does the Bible sanction you to disobey? Today, we're going to look at what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 13 regarding whether or not Christians should always submit to governmental authority. My study today is titled, "To Obey or Not to Obey" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
H. L. Mencken was both a cynic and a critic of everything from Christianity to the constitution. When it came to the government, he said, "The English long ago discovered that all government is evil, and that the best way to endure it is to treat it as a suspicious character, watching it at every step". You know, government intrudes our life, it seems, increasingly every day. And that governmental intrusion has caused some people to adopt the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, who said, "I heartily accept the motto that government is best which governs least: carried out it finally amounts to this which I also believe, that government is best which governs not at all". As popular as that sentiment might be even today - it's not God's perspective.
In today's passage, we're going to discover a completely different attitude toward government that God says every true Christian should have. It's an attitude that is going to surprise you. If you have your Bibles this morning, I want you to turn to Romans chapter 13. Today Paul is going to talk about how our Christianity ought to impact our relationship with government. You know hardly a day goes by that we don't have some interaction with government. Whether it's obeying traffic laws, or complying with governmental regulations, or paying our income taxes - government touches us in many ways every day. What should our response to government be and what is government's responsibility toward us. First of all, let's look at what the Bible says about government.
Look at verses 1 and 2 of Romans 13, "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities: for there is no authority except from God: and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God. And they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves". When he talks about authority here, Paul has in mind legitimate government authority that has been vested with the responsibility of ruling over people. If God has set government in place, then doesn't it stand to reason whoever disobeys government, resists government, is actually disobeying God and will receive condemnation upon themselves? But notice the general principle here is, first of all, government is appointed by God.
Principle number two in verses 3 and 4: government's purpose is to establish order. The reason God put governing officials in place is to keep order in the world by punishing evildoers, and praising those who do well. Look at verses 3 and 4, "For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same. For it", talking about government "is a minister of God to you for good". "Government is a servant to us for good, but if you do what is evil, be afraid: for government does not bear the sword for nothing". That's a clear reference to capital punishment. Government has the right to take a life. It doesn't wield the sword for nothing - "It is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil".
I want you to notice in these two verses, verses 3 and 4, three principles Paul gives us about good government. Government that is fulfilling its God-ordained purpose. Number one: good government should not be feared by those who do good. He says that clearly in verse 3. If you do the right thing, you don't need to be afraid of government. That is, most of the time. That's a general principle. As long as you obey the traffic laws, pay your taxes, don't blow up buildings you're going to be ok. Now, you know, he's not saying government's going to give you the citizen of the year award for paying your income tax or stopping at a red light. He's not saying that, but what he's saying is if you do the right thing, government will leave you alone. You'll be in a good standing with government. And that really ought to be our goal, shouldn't it? To just be in a relationship with government where they will leave us alone? Do I hear an amen on that?
I mean that's what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2 verses 1-2. He said, "First of all then, I urge that in treaties, and prayers, and petitions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all men for kings and all who are in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity". He's saying: let's pray for the government. Let's pray for the president, for the senators, for the supreme court. Let's pray for them - why? Mainly that they would just leave us alone so we can live a godly life and be free to share the Gospel. That is the reason to have a right relationship with government. And he's saying that if we will do the right thing, government will leave us alone and leave us free to fulfill our God-ordained purpose.
Principle number two: good government instills fear in evildoers and serves as an instrument of God's wrath. Look at verse 4 again, "Government does not bear the sword for nothing, but it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil". That word "Avenger" in Greek is ekdikos. Ekdikos. It literally means "An agent of punishment". That's what government is - an agent of punishment. Now stay with me on this. The purpose of government is not only to prevent evil, but it's also to bring wrath upon those who do engage in evil. That's the role of good government.
Number three: good government serves and seeks the good of the people. Look at verse 4. Paul said, "They are a minister of God to you for good". When government fulfills its divinely ordained purpose, it's going to serve the people. But when government ever strays beyond its boundaries into areas it has no business getting in, it is serving itself. These are the principles of good government. Number three: citizens should submit to government, Paul says. Citizens should submit to government. Now look at verse 5, "Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake".
Now think about this, if government is ordained by God, if it has a divine purpose in society, then it only stands to reason that as Christians we have a responsibility to submit to the governing authorities. How do we do that? How do we act in subjection? He says we do it not only because we're afraid of the wrath of government, but for our own conscience sake. Notice the two ways we submit to government. First of all, we submit by treating governing officials with fear and honor. Those are the words he uses in verse 7, "Give fear to whom fear is due, honor to whom honor is due". What he's talking about here is a respect for the authority that God has set in place.
You know these days policemen everywhere are in the crosshairs of criticism. You don't hear stories about police who act rightly every time because that's the norm. The exception is when police abuse their authority. And listen to what the Word of God says: when you resist a police, you are resisting authority: and if you do what is right, you have no fear of authority. We submit by treating with fear and honor those whom God has placed over us. Secondly, we submit by paying our taxes. Do I hear an amen on that one? Probably not, but that's what Paul says. He said if government is going to fulfil its duty, it's going to have to be funded. Look at verse 7, "Render to all what is due them. Tax to whom tax is due. Custom to whom custom: fear to whom fear: honor to whom honor". This is what Jesus said in Luke 20:25, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's". And Paul goes on to say in verse 8, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another".
Some people have pulled that verse out of context. Oh, you know, we're never to go into debt for any reason at all. Owe no man anything. Remember the context of this is paying your taxes. What he's really saying is: don't be delinquent in paying your taxes. Now, all of these principles about the God-ordained role of government brings up the interesting question: well, is there ever a time that Christians need to say "No" to government? Now if you read Romans 13:1-8, there are no exceptions to this. But Romans 13:1-8 are not the only passages that speak about our responsibility to government. And we know that the way to interpret scripture is through other scripture.
So for a few moments, we're going to pull back, and we're going to look at what the Bible says about when it's right to disobey government. May I remind you that Peter, Paul, Jesus himself all lost their lives because they said "No" to the governing authorities? So the real question is: what should be our response? As we're going to see in a moment, there are times that we must say "No" to government. But let me share with you three principles that you need to consider before you engage in civil disobedience. Principle number one: if you choose to say "No" to government, base your disobedience on a clear biblical mandate. Make sure you are basing your disobedience on a clear biblical mandate. Turn over to acts chapter 5. Acts 5.
You remember this story. Peter and the apostles were boldly proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ, and the Sanhedrin, the ruling counsel of the Jews whom the Romans had given power to handle Jewish affairs in Israel. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish officials hauled Peter and the apostles before them, and said: we want you to quit preaching the name of Jesus. Look at verse 28, "They said to Peter, 'we gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name. And behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us'", talking about Jesus, "But Peter and the apostles answered and said, 'we must obey God rather than men'". When told they had to quit preaching in the name of Jesus, did they hold a prayer meeting: say: oh, God, please show us what to do? No, they didn't have to pray about this.
The mandate from Christ had been clear in Acts 1:8, "You're to go in the all the world and preach the Gospel". They didn't have to think twice about this. It was a clear violation of a biblical, a God-ordained mandate. But sometimes government regulation, even that involves religion doesn't necessarily need to be disobeyed just because it involves religion. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of that. For example, our government says if our church wants to retain its tax-exempt status, I as pastor cannot officially endorse a political candidate from the pulpit. Now privately I'm free to say and do whatever I want to. I can be somebody's campaign finance chairman if I want to. Doesn't matter. I'm not going to, believe me, but I could if I wanted to. I could stand up here and tell you whom I'm voting for personally, but I cannot officially endorse a candidate or we lose our tax-exempt status.
Now, if I say: you know what? You know, baloney to that. I'm a preacher of the Gospel and I get to say whatever I want to say. Government says: fine, we're going to yank your tax-exempt status. And if that happens, I'm not suffering for righteousness sake, I'm suffering for my own stupidity, ok. That's not persecution. You know people who are involved in protest, Christians, and they violate somebody's property rights, and they are arrested. Again, that is for disobeying governing authorities. Not every government law that has religious overtones necessarily needs to be disobeyed. We need to make sure that the law we're disobeying is a contradiction to a clear biblical mandate.
Number two: if you engage in civil disobedience, demonstrate respect for authority when you disobey. Demonstrate respect for authority when you disobey. Remember the story of Daniel in the Old Testament? He and the other Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians: they were taken to Babylon: and Daniel as a young teenager was selected among other teenage boys to be a part of Nebuchadnezzar's elite group. And he was chosen because of his intelligence, his wisdom, his good looks. And immediately this group of young men were told that as a part of the king's special program they needed to eat from the king's table: and immediately that was a contradiction to Daniel's conscience because it violated the dietary laws Daniel was under.
Daniel could have stormed into Nebuchadnezzar's presence and said: you pagan king, why would I obey you rather than God? And had he done that, he would have been the first Hebrew martyr in Babylon. But he didn't act that way. In fact he didn't even address Nebuchadnezzar directly out of respect to the king. Instead he said to Nebuchadnezzar's chief of staff: I realize you have good intentions in asking us to do this, but since this violates my conscience, could I offer an alternative suggestion? And he came up with an alternative idea that would help the king meet his goals. And the king found favor with that suggestion, and God honored him for that. He disobeyed, but he did so in a respectful way.
You see the same thing with Peter. You know after Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest said, you know: quit preaching in the name of Jesus. Did Peter respond: you Christ killer, why would I listen to you? You can go jump in the Sea of Galilee. No, he didn't do that. Instead he respectfully, but firmly said: we must obey God rather than men. I believe in these days as we see our country moving further and further away from its Christian heritage, we are going to have to say "No" to government, especially as they begin to abrogate our very real 1st amendment rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion. But when we disobey, we don't have to act like jerks in doing so. The Bible says we need to act with respect.
Principle number three: when you engage in civil disobedience, and this is one of the lot of people miss, be prepared to suffer the consequences for your disobedience. If indeed you choose to disobey government, you need to be ready to suffer the consequences for that disobedience. I think about the experience of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., many of us are familiar with his letter from Birmingham jail. Dr. King was incarcerated because he led a protest, non-violent protest against racism. He said: one may well ask: how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws - just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.
Now what is the difference between the two? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. Dr. King believed that any law that codified racial discrimination, violated not just moral law but the law of God. And he said "No". He wasn't surprised that he ended up in jail. He didn't complain about his mistreatment. He knew that was the consequence of civil disobedience. And it's going to be the same for any of us who say "No" to government.
I want you to mark this down and remember: most Christians are not spared the consequences of saying "No" to government. After all, even Daniel had to spend one night with the lions for his disobedience to Darius. Or think about Paul - he lost his head because he said "No" to the Roman government. Or think about Jesus. He was crucified because he would not renounce his divinity that he was the Son of God. Go back to acts chapter 5. What happened when Peter said "No" to Caiaphas? Look at verses 40 and 41, "These Jewish authorities flogged Peter and the apostles and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them". They were beaten because they said "No" to government. "So they went on their way from the presence of the counsel rejoicing", rejoicing. "That they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for his name".
Now don't make the wrong application here. Does that mean we're not to do anything about Christian persecution in our world? Does it mean when we see our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world being slaughtered that we're supposed to say: oh, what a privilege it is for them to suffer in the name of Christ? No, we're to stand up against evil. We're to stand up against ISIS and totalitarian regimes that are slaughtering our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're to call on our government officials to use any and every means necessary to put an end to Christian suffering around the world. This is no time for Christians to be silent, and use this as an excuse for not speaking out.
And the same thing is true in our country. As we see the beliefs of conservative Christians increasingly be marginalized, as we watch our rights being taken away, our 1st amendment rights which our forefathers gave their life's blood for us to have. We're not to stay silent. You say: well, where do you get that in scripture, pastor? Look at the example of Paul. Paul was the greatest missionary evangelist in the world and yet he spent two years tied up in the Roman legal system fighting for his rights as a Roman citizen to share the message of Jesus Christ. No, this passage is not saying remain silent when persecution comes. But what the passage is saying is this: if indeed you suffer for the name of Christ - rejoice in that. Consider it a privilege that God would allow you to suffer in the name of the one who came, and bled, and gave his life for us. Remember the promise of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:12, "For if we endure with him, we shall one day reign with him".