"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 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 is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing." (vv.1-6)
It is impossible to have good human self-government and self-sufficiency without any intervention from God. Human self-government without God would only result in anarchy or ruthless tyranny. The ideal government is a theocracy, but that can only happen in the hearts of believers. Israel rejected God's rule through the priesthood. They wanted a king like other nations.
An ideal government provides for an ordered society, subject to law. This makes it possible for people to live a normal life in the community. Human authority, as we see it today, has its source in divine sovereignty.
The Bible begins with God, and all thinking regarding good human government also begins there. God, the Creator, made all things. Creation is the work of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Everything owes its beginning to God's creative acts, and He also sustains it with His power. Since He is the Creator He must also have sovereignty over His creation. Moreover, since all is dependent on Him, everything must also be made subject to Him! This includes the solar system, the world of nature, and human society.
God created (and creates) through His word and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. Prov. 8:22-31 beautifully describes the wisdom of God in creation. John 1:1-4, Col. 1:15-17 and Heb. 1:1-3 emphasize the fact that all things have been created by Christ, the Word - in Him and for Him! His sustaining power keeps them, for "in Him all things hold together." This tells us that God is sovereign, and His sovereignty is exercised through Christ. He is the Lord of all creation!
Since God is sovereign, He has authority over all creation. He has the legal right to put laws in creation and to express His desire for humanity in terms of law. God is good, and He desires the best for man - His laws are in humanity's best interests. In the beginning, in the garden, God expressed His sovereignty in legal terms when He instituted the first law, and said, "If you eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die." When Adam disobeyed, he broke the law. Because the law was the expression of God's will, this was an affront to God Himself.
"In Adam all die." Through Adam the whole world became guilty before God. Man has inherited the serpent's nature. This has given man a depraved mind filled with pride and the lusting of the flesh. This has produced a divisive influence, and it has negative and unfavorable consequences in man's relationship with God and with others. Instead of people living together in harmony and contributing to each other's welfare, they even prey on one another. Love of self results in envy, jealousy, greed, lusting, thefts, murder and war - in place of a harmonious society. These are all symptoms of a humanity that has lost its bearings spiritually. If men were left to their own devices they would destroy one another. Good social life would be impossible! So God has graciously imposed restraints that make social living possible.
God's purpose in giving the law with all its commandments was to reveal man's sinfulness to man. Once man recognized his sinful state, he was to repent and turn to Christ. It thus had a redemptive function. Its second important purpose was to restrain people from committing sinful acts and then reaping the consequences of their own sinfulness.
Man's rebellion against God does not change God's attitude toward man. God still remains a God of love and grace! This grace is not only seen in the redemption that He has provided for all, but also in His gracious day-to-day dealings with people. "For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matt. 5:45)
Besides the restraining influence of various laws, we also have the restraining influence in the pressure of conscience, the influence of the family, the customs and the standards of the community. At this time, however, we want to zero in on one particular sphere - God's gracious restraint as seen in government, which in scripture is always viewed as divinely instituted.
Whether the government is headed by a dictator, king or a democratically elected parliament, it is a government that exercises authority over those who are subject to its jurisdiction. This authority is expressed by laws which are precisely drafted by each government. Law is enforced; it is not a mere exhortation for people to conform! The government must have the means of compelling its subjects to obey the law and must have the power to impose penalties on those who disobey.
In the scriptures we do not see any attempt to define precisely what constitutes the prerogatives of government.
We are merely stating principles that are implicit in biblical teaching. Some are expressed in the narratives of God's dealings with nations. They show God's mercy or judgment on them. They show us what attitudes are pleasing or displeasing to God. We learn from the messages given to kings by the prophets, from the teaching of the apostles and by Christ Himself.
Human authority or government applies both to the people of God and to pagans. In the Old Testament, Israel appears as a nation under God in a special sense, but the other nations are also subject to Him. They may not acknowledge this fact, yet the authority exercised by pagan kings was also entrusted to them by God. In the New Testament, the true Israel gladly accepted the kingly rule of Christ. But there was also the Roman empire in which the believers found themselves under the emperor's authority. God wants us to know that His sovereign power is also present there!
These verses declare that there is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. Therefore we are to obey the government, for God is the One who has put it there. The Greek word exousia means delegated authority. All governments are ordained (Greek tasso), appointed or determined of God. That is, God has planned or determined that human governments shall exist for the purpose of carrying on moral government and enforcing moral laws. They are appointed by God, but He is not responsible for their acts. If they get out of line God will judge them.
We are to submit ourselves to human government, for it is sent by God for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. (l Peter 2:13-17) It is the duty of Christians and others to help in the establishment and support of human government. It is there for the preservation of society and is to promote the highest good for man. Unfortunately this is not always the case, because of the corruption and depravity of the human heart,
In good government we do not need to dread those who are in authority if we do what is right. Doing right brings approval and commendation. However, if we resist civil authorities, they may well be a terror to us because of our bad behavior. If we refuse to obey the laws of the land we are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.
The scriptures do not contain a law that declares whether Christians should or should not be in government. Daniel and his friends were placed in government offices by God, and were a good influence, but they were also hated by the corrupt officials. Since God was their highest authority, Daniel was thrown into the lion's den, and his three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace. Christians are to be led by the Holy Spirit and do the work God has for them.
God has instituted human governments, for they are necessary for humanity's welfare because of the depravity of the carnal mind. To neglect good government is to neglect the welfare of people. Laws are there for the promotion of public and private good. Laws are made for the lawless, rebellious, ungodly, sinners, murderers, immoral people, etc. (1 Timothy 1:8-10) Since good government is necessary for the benefit, welfare and well-being of all, it is the duty of every Christian to help bring about the best government to secure this end.
Government, laws and penalties, can change behavior, but they cannot change the human heart. Good behavior and high moral standards make family and community living a joy! They bring peace and prosperity. Christians should be a model of good behavior because they are to mirror the nature of Christ! Their good behavior should not stem from the fear of punishment, but should be the result of the new life they have received.
Since the natural man is ruled by the love of self, laws are needed to keep him from preying on the welfare of others. This is evident in a small family, and even more in communities, countries and nations! Natural man is naturally rebellious, so punishments are needed to motivate him to keep the law.
Because God has instituted government for the public good, Christians must respect it. Taxes are to be paid, laws observed, and "Caesar's" authorized demands met. Only when these demands directly conflict with the commands of God is it right for us to disobey them. Peter and the other apostles exemplified this when the governing authority commanded them to stop their teaching about Jesus Christ! Peter answered, "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) If our laws require nothing that is contrary to God, to moral obligation and to conscience, they should be obeyed. If they meet the needs of those governed, they should be perpetuated. However, even those who legislate law are often corrupt because of their self-interest. That is why we are to pray for our government.
The government is God's servant for our good, and it is to execute His punishment on the wrongdoer. "Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed." (Titus 3:1) Learning obedience is very important because it keeps us from only satisfying our selfish desires. But our obedience must be to our Lord Jesus Christ! Since He tells us to obey our government, this is what we must do. Governmental authority is God's grace toward humanity, for humanity is in a state of rebellion against Him. The time will come when every knee will bow before Him!
Some features of government that were exercised in Israel are common to any properly ordered state. Israel was unique in that God ruled through the priesthood. Even after the people rejected that rule, the underlying conviction was always there that the Lord is the true ruler of His people. They understood that the ultimate authority belonged to God!
God's lordship over Israel was seen by His appointment of Moses to lead them out of Egypt, and also in bringing them into a covenant relationship with God. "Then the LORD raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them." (Judges 2:16) Leaders, judges and kings owed their appointment to Him.
By divine appointment Saul became Israel's first king, but he was later rejected by God. Then David was anointed to the throne by Samuel, God's prophet. The king in Israel was "the LORD'S anointed." He was not only the head of the civil administration and the commander of the army, but he was also to represent the kingly rule of God. The rule exercised by the kings of Israel failed to adequately declare the sovereignty of the Lord because of the sinfulness of even the best of the kings.
God's purpose for man is that he should live in submission to his Creator, in harmony with his neighbors, and enjoying the bounties of nature. However, sin brought rebellion against God, and division and discord into the created order. Instead of communion with God, there was rebellion and every evil thing. This brought judgment and misery!
Yet Israel was a nation distinct from the other nations which surrounded it. Reflected in Israel, we see that obedience brought enjoyment and blessings, but rebellion brought division, plagues, pestilence and famine. When a godly ruler led the people in submission to God and the law, there was unity and peace among themselves, and victory against the disruptive forces from without. Because of Israel's constant disobedience, they became subject to their enemies and were banished from the land.
Within the church Christ is to be recognized as Lord! Therefore the spiritual leaders are not to lord it over the those who are in their care, but to lead them into a submission to Christ by word and example. They are to mediate the royal government of Christ.
Jesus Christ is our example. He lived in the midst of a people who resented the alien rule of Rome. It would have been easy for Him to fan the embers of bitterness toward the Roman occupation, but He refused to do so. Their use of currency bearing Caesar's head was an acknowledgement of the authority and stability of Roman rule. So they were to "render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom is due; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor." (v.7) Rome's government was established by God, so they were to obey in these practical matters. To refuse to pay the tax would be to rebel against God. (Matt. 22:15-21)
Since government is divinely ordained and requires money to carry out its divinely appointed function, citizens must pay taxes to furnish the necessary resources. The Christian obeys and pays taxes for conscience' sake. (v.5) There will be no manipulation of his tax returns; no defrauding in any way. The excesses in tax demands are reason for Christians to pray for their government, but not to disobey it.
Although the trial of Jesus Christ was a mockery, Jesus submitted Himself to it. Pilate was unworthy of his office, but he was the governor, and as such the representative of the imperial government. To him Jesus said, "You would have no authority over Me unless it had been given you from above." (Jn. 19:11) Knowing this, Jesus rebuked Peter for using his sword, and submitted quietly to arrest and crucifixion.
Paul expressed this attitude in this chapter, and also manifested it in his life. He acknowledged the authority of that law and also conformed to it. When in the final stages of his prolonged imprisonment at Caesarea he made his appeal to Caesar, he was acknowledging the supreme authority of the emperor, whose laws he had obeyed and to whose justice he now appealed.
God's purpose in ordaining the power of government is to restrain evil and punish wrongdoers. Thus the demands of the law for honesty and preservation of life reflect the demands of God. The justice of the law carried out upon evildoers reflects in some measure the righteous judgments of God.
This realization lifts the Christian's obedience to a new level. He doesn't merely obey because of fear of punishment, but "for the sake of conscience." When we see the hand of God in the demands of the state, and believe that we are to subject ourselves, not only to the laws of government, but to the authority of God, we willingly obey.
Paul left Titus in Crete to set things in order in the churches. Crete was noted for its turbulence, but Christians even in such an atmosphere were to show a different spirit. Paul wrote to Titus to remind the Christians "to be submissive to rulers and authorities." (Titus 3:1) This injunction was linked with the requirement that they should be "ready for any honest work." Obedience to government means not only an avoidance of what is illegal but also a positive participation in any task that is obviously the responsibility of a loyal citizen. Personal inconvenience or dislike of any particular legislation does not give us authority to disobey it, for disobedience would eventually lead to anarchy. Submission is due even when the state imposes repressive measures that may be very hard to accept, or when the state acts unjustly.
The apostles were united in their attitude toward government. Peter, who once used his sword in Gethsemane, had learned his lesson. Government is viewed not simply in its restraining and punitive capacity, but in its positive role and responsibility of promoting the public good and moral standards. It praises those who do right. (1 Peter 2:14)
There are, however, limits to the obedience that the state may demand. A question of conscience is in a different category than dislike. It is a very different matter when the demands of government conflict with the law of God. Where there is a conflict of loyalties the higher one must take precedence. "We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29) Although the Lord said that one must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, He added an important and qualifying requirement, "and to God the things that are God's." (Luke 20:25) A government that does not allow its citizens the freedom to obey their conscience, goes beyond its divinely given authority. Only then must it be disobeyed. This disobedience must be limited to matters of conscience. It is only at the point where our loyalty to God is in danger of being violated that we must take this stand.
The consequence of disobedience may involve persecution, penalties and suffering. Peter reminds us that we must be prepared to endure trial for Christ's sake. Christians are taught that it is only in the cause of righteousness that such resistance to the state is permissible. Suffering because of evil deeds is not counted as suffering as a Christian. (1 Peter 4:12-16)
Christians are to have higher standards than non-Christians. Over and above paying our dues, taxes, import duties, and giving respect and honor to those over us, and keeping out of debt, we are to love! (vv.7-10) "For he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law." If we love our neighbor as much as we love yourselves, we will not want to harm, cheat, or kill him. We won't steal his wife from him, nor anything else. All ten commandments are summed up in this one, to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love does not wrong anyone. Instead, it will seek the good of others! That's why it fully satisfies all of God's requirements. It is the only law we need.
Spurgeon tells the story about two gentlemen, Archbishop Usher and Mr. Rutherford. The archbishop had heard of Rutherford's devotion to God, and of how well his household functioned, and he wished to witness it himself. But how? It suddenly occurred to him that he might disguise himself as a poor traveller. So one evening he knocked at the door of Mr. Rutherford's house, and asked if he could stay for the night. He was invited in and taken to the kitchen where he was given something to eat. According to their custom, Saturday evenings were spent in catechising the children and the servants; and, of course, the poor man in the kitchen came in among them. Mrs. Rutherford asked questions about the commandments, and asked this poor man, "How many commandments are there?" He answered, "Eleven." "Ah! what a sad thing that a man of your age should not even know how many commandments there are, for in this parish, every child over six knows that," she said. The poor man said nothing in reply, but ate his oatmeal porridge, and went to bed. Later, he rose, and listened to Rutherford's midnight prayer. He was so impressed with it, that he made himself known to him. So Rutherford asked him to preach for him on Sunday morning. To Mrs. Rutherford's surprise, he spoke on "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) He remarked that this might properly be called the eleventh commandment.
But why is it a new commandment? Jesus approved the lawyer's summary of the ten commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." It is new because He talked about a new kind of love - the love that loves even as Christ has loved us!
Let's look at the extent of that love. Moses' law declared that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, but the new commandment says we are to love as Christ loved us - and that is a far greater love than the love we have for ourselves! Christ loved us so much that He gave Himself for us! Our standard of love for others is no longer our love of self, but the compassionate love that was evident in Christ! He loved us and gave Himself for us!
This is a higher love than the love which loves others as themselves. The love to our neighbors is one of goodwill and favor, but Christ's love involves relationship and the highest degree of self-sacrifice. This love can only be ours in the Holy Spirit. His love has been poured into our hearts, and the love of the Holy Spirit is passed on to others through us! Therefore this love cannot be understood by the greater part of humanity!
The old commandment was backed by the declaration, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The Israelites were to obey that law because the Lord had released them from their Egyptian bondage. But we are commanded to love one another because Christ has redeemed us from a far greater bondage than that of Egypt! Their bondage in Egypt was only a type of our bondage to sin. The cost of their release was the offering of many paschal lambs; the cost of our release was Christ Himself! "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us." He has brought us out from under the iron yoke of sin and Satan, and brought us into truth! He has redeemed us with His blood - with His soul, His sense of being! Therefore His new commandment comes to us with the greatest possible force, "That you love one another as I have loved you."
This love springs from a new nature, and it embraces a new nature! As natural people, we are to love people because they are people. God "made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." (Acts 17:26) Therefore, by the common tie of blood, we all belong to one family. But as born-again believers we are to love over and above that, because we have the love of Christ in our hearts.
The blood of Christ brings a stronger tie than natural blood. The ties of grace are far stronger than the ties of blood. Natural brothers can be separated because of their differences in attitudes, knowledge, beliefs and lifestyles, but in Christ we have become one, we are members of the body of Christ! If we love as Christ has loved us, we will not allow differences in doctrine to divide us.
Loving one another is a very blessed thing! However, it is only possible when we function in the grace of God. We need to extend grace to others, and others need to extend grace to us. As we discern this grace in one another, a harmonious relationship will develop. We will not only bear a spiritual resemblance to Christ, but we will be the expression of the invisible Christ! We will love others for Christ's sake. The world loves its own with its limited quality of love; we who are of the Spirit, love our own and others with the love of Christ! This binds us together.
This love is sadly lacking in the church society of today. The world sees the bickering and backbiting taking place in and among church organizations, and so they are not drawn to Christ. When the church will come out of its legalism and come into grace, we will see a new bond of unity. We are united with God, and therefore we must have fellowship with all others who are united with God!
Let us, who love the Lord, love one another fervently with the love of Christ! This love arises out of our union with Christ. Christians belong to a very special family. That family circle does not include the whole human race; it is a family inside the larger human family, yet separated from it by an inner spiritual life. The moment we are born of the Spirit, we enter that inner circle, and become members of that family. In this family there is no nationality, no blacks or whites, no Jews or Gentiles. We are "all one in Christ Jesus." We belong because we have been born of incorruptible seed, and in Christ we are all members of His body!
Love is fundamental to true Christianity, for God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! (Rom. 5:5) The revelation that God loves us is a distinctive of Christianity. God's supreme and immeasurable love was manifested in Jesus Christ. Now His love is to be manifested to the world through us.
Paul declared love to be the greatest of the Christian graces. (1 Cor.13;13) John stated that God Himself is love, and that love emanates from God. (1 John 4:7f) Jesus said that love is the identifying badge of divine sonship. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) Love is also a prerequisite for being a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good husband or wife, or parent.
"Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy." (vv.11-13)
Those who sleep are not conscious of who they truly are, nor of what is going on around them. It is time to awaken from sleep! Many Christians are asleep for they do not know who they are in Christ. They think they are still in the Adamic man, and are busily trying to remodel themselves into the image of Christ. It's time to repent of this ignorance and to put on the armor of light! Light not only overcomes darkness, but it also reveals the deeds of darkness.
We are to drop or fling away the works and deeds of darkness. We are not to spend our time yielding to the lusting of the flesh - in adultery, wild parties, getting drunk, fighting, jealousy, etc. By putting on the full armor of light, the ugliness of these deeds of darkness is revealed to us, and they no longer hold any fascination for us.
"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." (v.14) We are to put on or clothe ourselves with the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. To be clothed with a person is a Greek phrase signifying to take upon oneself the interests of another; to enter into his views; to be wholly on his side, imitating him in all things.
To imitate Christ is not just an outward imitation of behavior. Just as Christ's behavior originated from the essence of His being, so must ours. If we have been born of the Spirit, we have the same Father He had. Having the same Father gives us the same source of being and the same attitude He had! Being born of God makes us spiritual beings, having God's nature!
To imitate Him we must only do what the Father shows us to do, for this is what Jesus did! His only desire was to please the Father! Everything He did flowed out of this desire. If we have been filled with the Spirit, we can also have a Spirit-directed life!