Ep. 236 When Is It Right and Wrong to Disobey the Government?

Ep. 236 When Is It Right and Wrong to Disobey the Government

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Shows Main Idea – It’s an age-old question that has not lost relevance, even in our post-modern culture. The tension that each Christian has to wrestle with is, should we obey God or the state? When is it right or wrong to disobey the government? The obvious answer is somewhere in the middle, but the temptation is always to push toward the edges of the two options. Some of our responses can be subjective and sometimes heated. In this episode, I am going to wade into these waters because of where we are in our country.

Show Notes

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Paul’s Take On Submission

The familiar passage about responding to governments is Romans 13:1-7. If you’re not familiar with this section of Scripture, it will serve you well to study what Paul says about submitting to authorities. Submission is something that the human community struggles with, no matter who is the authority.

Paul addresses the reasons we should submit to our ruling governments. He says that to submit, you are submitting to the Lord, which is vital know. The government is not the be-all, end-all. They, too, are submitted to our ultimate authority, the Lord God Almighty.

Of course, this expectation of submission raises questions about absolute governing authorities, whether it’s the government, a marriage, or your parents. The one correct answer is that no human has supreme power over another. Every entity and human being is submitted to God, which means there are times when you may have to disagree for conscience-sake.

Peter’s Take On Submission

Study these passages to gain Peter’s perspective on suffering: 1 Peter 2:11-25, 4:12-17.

In 1 Peter 2:13-17, we are told to subject ourselves to “every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors.” Peter goes on to state that this “is the will of God.” And then he makes this statement: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”

He closes this section by saying we must do these four things: honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the emperor. His appeals can come across as four bumper cars racing to the middle of the arena, as one dominates the other. You have a similar tension with children who are to “honor their parents,” but their parents are asking them to do ungodly things.

Each child has to learn how to honor and disagree at the same time. Peter gives us some advice on how to do this, as he continues his “submission theme” in his letter. If you live in the tension of honoring and submitting, you will want to read 1 Peter 5:6-11. I’ve highighted some of his words so you can see how well you are doing with submitting to the government and God.

Peter’s Eleven-Step Sequence

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5:6-11).

What You Do

  1. Humility – As you examine your circumstance, does humility characterize your heart, attitude, words, and actions?
  2. Casting – Are you more tempted to take matters into your hands or cast them on the Lord?
  3. Sobriety – Are you guarding against impulse and other unhelpful emotions, choosing instead to exhibit maturity?
  4. Resist – Are you keeping the accuser from capturing your thoughts and building strongholds?
  5. Stand – Does your attitude show the first four things that Peter is saying—humility, casting, sobriety, resist the devil?
  6. Suffer – How are you responding to your suffering? How you are standing will determine the quality of your suffering.

What God Does

  1. Restore – Are you experiencing the restoration of the Lord through suffering or the deteriorating effects?
  2. Confirm – Are you experiencing “more strength” from the Lord, which is what “confirm” means—God adds to your strength?
  3. Strengthen – Is your faith in God experiencing a strengthening because you’re following and adhering to Peter’s sequence here?
  4. Establish – Even though there is pressure to bend, you’re strong and established by God. Is this true for you?

What You Do

  1. Praise – Even though things are not how you want them, the words that come from your mouth are doxological. Describe your gratitude during difficult times.

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Respond Inwardly First

Too often, Christians react to the “submitting to the government” question before they take careful inventory of their souls. If you do this, you will not respond well to what is happening in your external life. Nobody will respond well to persecution if they have not completed the necessary heart-work first.

Perhaps you are struggling. Will you meet with someone to work through the questions that I asked you from Peter’s eleven-step sequence to submission and honoring the authorities in your life? All of the questions were closed-ended, but I trust you will elaborate with your friend.

It would be helpful for small groups to gather to work through where each person is with the Lord. I cannot be more concise and clear: If you don’t address your heart while making appropriate changes, you will adversely affect those around you.

The Big Question

There are degrees of difficulty when it comes to submitting to someone. On one end, somebody asks you to deny your faith. You can’t do that. At the other end of the spectrum are lesser governmental requirements like speed limits, taxes, and property laws. And there are thousands more.

The one that has become the point-of-focus these days is gathering in buildings to meet as a local church. Our governments have asked us not to do this. And the Christian response has been all over the map, as expected.

I don’t like the request, but I’m not rebelling against it. No reasonable Christian would like someone to tell them that they could not assemble in a building. But here we are, which makes the most crucial assessment is your response to it. Are you exhibiting more faith in God than frustration with civil authorities? The answer to this question will reveal the quality of your faith.

Absolute Obedience?

I’m not suggesting that you have to have absolute obedience to the government. Paul and Peter were not naive, mainly since there were times when they disobeyed the state. There are several other instances in Scripture where the “obey God or man” tension was high, which led the followers of God to choose to disobey the civil authority.

  • Moses was defiant of Pharoah.
  • His mother took a similar approach by hiding him from the authorities to keep him alive.
  • Daniel chose to disobey because he did not want to go against the dietary laws of Moses.
  • The Hebrew boys would not bow before the king even if it cost their lives.
  • Peter would not stop preaching the gospel, even though it would lead to persecution.
  • Paul suffered many imprisonments for preaching Christ crucified as the Savior of the world.

The big idea is that Christians should always obey the state unless (1) the Bible forbids us from doing something or (2) commands us to do something. The temptation, of course, is to find loopholes in what the Bible teaches because we don’t like what someone is asking us. You must make those decisions carefully, and they must fit within these two categories.

The Real Issue

The attitude of the Christian should be a willingness to submit to authority, and you will if you follow the outline that Peter gives us. If the Bible does not forbid it or does not command it, you have to address the real issue for your resistance. Perhaps these few possible heart issues will get the conversation started.

  • “I don’t want to change.” Few folks enjoy change when it’s inconvenient or disruptive to their lives. “Going to church” fits into this category, no question.
  • “I love my freedoms.” A desire to be free is good, as opposed to being in bondage. With freedom comes joy.
  • “I have preferences.” Humans are habitual. We like creating rhythms in our lives that align with our personalities, agendas, and desired outcomes.

None of these things have to be wrong, but they are not promises from God’s Word. You could apply these three desires to newlyweds, and you know the outcome: they are heading into marriage trouble. The Bible warns about folks who are unchangeable, crave more freedom, and elevate pet preferences.

Going to Church?

The concept of “going to church” fits better into the don’t want to change, love my freedoms, and pet preferences categories. You cannot make a biblical case for meeting together in a building as a reason to resist the state. You may not like it, but it’s a stretch to put it in the “God commands it” category.

Notice that I used the language “going to church,” which is not how I talk about gathering with the church. Biblically speaking, nobody “goes to church” because we are the church. It’s like saying, “I’m going to family” when you’re meeting with your family. Some folks have used this sub-biblical language so often that they equate “going to church” with gathering as a church.

The state has not forbidden us from assembling, but only said we couldn’t do it in the traditional way of large meetings in a building. We’re still meeting, but differently. When you look at the issue biblically, in this instance, you can obey God and the state.

Why You Should Obey

There are several reasons we should obey the state in this matter. Here are a few:

  • Christians should be model citizens.
  • Christians should excel in loving God and others more than themselves.
  • Christians want to be part of the solution, and our governments have asked us to social distance.
  • Christians don’t want to make people sick.
  • Christians want to show the world how to suffer well. Our message is one of perseverance, endurance, and steadfast strength through trials.
  • Christians want to outdo the world in showing honor (Romans 12:10).
  • Christians want to spread God’s fame through hardship.
  • Christians want to show God’s strength through our weakness. (Many churches have reported “record attendance” by meeting online, as thousands of people are looking for answers or ways to connect with people.)

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Pivoting for a New Day

Americans have been living in ways that Christians from previous centuries could not imagine. We also live differently than our brothers and sisters in today’s persecuted countries. These privileges of common grace are changing. We need to rethink what biblical suffering means, according to how we see it portrayed in the Bible. We have not lived that kind of life.

If this recent change is disrupting your soul and even causing you to respond sinfully, the best response is to challenge your soul rather than striking out against the government. There is coming a day when the stakes will be much higher, and today is the time to learn how to live under those future conditions.

Call to Action

  1. Discuss with someone how the grace of God is working in your life during this challenging season.
  2. Share with them what you are learning, and how it’s maturing your gratitude.
  3. Talk about how God is meeting you in your anxiety or anger, and how you are changing.
  4. If you are struggling with this recent change in your life and can’t secure victory over it, will you reach out to someone so you can get the help you need? Also, perhaps these tips will serve you, too.
  5. If you want more help, read Rick’s book, Change Me, which is one of the best for helping folks break habits, mature in Christ, and build relationally with each other.

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