The New Testament has a good deal to say about the duties of the Christian by way of subjection to others. Apart from the obvious case of the believer’s submission To the Lord, it teaches the subjection of children to parents, of wives to husbands, of those in church fellowship to the elders of the church and of Christians to the governing authorities. The present article is concerned with the last of these.
This subject has become especially relevant of late because of the increasing involvement of many of the leaders of the professing church in politics. We do well to ask ourselves, what does the New Testament teach about the Christian’s proper attitude to those who govern?
The Scriptures specify obligations which we have to those who rule. Foremost are the requirements that we (i) pray for them, (ii) respect and obey them, and (iii) contribute, as called for, towards their expenditure. We will consider each of these in order.
(i) Prayer, If we are honest, most of us will confess that, when praying, we tend to ignore the needs of those who govern. If we mention them at all, the reference is probably no more than a matter of form and can hardly be classed as sincere intercession. The truth is, of course, that the problems facing those who rule do not affect us directly as do our own personal troubles or those which face our families and local churches.
Yet we have no excuse. The apostle Paul’s command is clear and unmis-takeable: “I exhort … that … supplications, prayers, intercessions . . be made … for kings, and for all that arc in authority”, I Tim. 2. 1-2. This command still holds good today – whatever form of civil government we live under.
Through Paul, the Holy Spirit requires those of us who live in the United Kingdom to pray specifically for the Queen, the members of her Government and all others who are involved in the ruling of the nation.
We are to pray in order that conditions of peace and security may continue, thereby enabling us to live as we ought, v. 2. It is essential to note the reason why we are to seek freedom from disturbances such as war or persecution. It is not that we might enjoy lives of comfort and ease but rather that, in an atmosphere of calm, we may lead lives of devotion to God and of dignity before men.
(ii) Honour and Obedience. Inone
sense, it should be enough for us that the Lord commands our loyalty to those who govern. Certainly, the apostle Paul believed that it was enough. He instructed Titus to remind the Christians at Crete that they were required “to be subject to rulers and authorities” and “to be obedient”, Titus 3. I lit. In all probability, the word “rulers” meant the highest powers (such as kings, emperors and governments), whereas the word “authorities” embraced all those who had received some degree of delegated authority (such as local governors and magistrates).
Whereas it should be sufficient in itself for us to be told to submit to civil authorities, God has been pleased to provide us with additional reasons for our doing so. Let us concentrate on three of these.
(a) Governing authorities have like power to punish all forms of crime and bad conduct.Indeed, this power has been vested in them by God Himself, Rom. 13. 2-4. When, therefore, the magistrate executes through his agents a just punishment on a crime, he is fulfilling the will of God.
As a generalization, believers have nothing to fear from the authorities if they do good; such behaviour will meet with approval. Men who do evil, however, have every reason to be alarmed; those in authority do not bear “the sword in vain’. The reference to “the sword” may well cover punishments which fall short of death but the death sentence is certainly included in the expression; see Matt. 26. 52; Acts 12. 2; Heb. 11. 37. From the days of Noah, divine authority has existed for man to execute the death penalty on his fellow, Gen, 9. 5-6. This penalty figured in the law of Moses and was acknowledged, without objection, by the apostle Paul, Acts 25. 11.
It is clear from Romans 13 that, contrary to the views in fashion today, penalties imposed for crimes committed are meant to act primarily as a direct punishment on the offender and as a deterrent to others.
(b) The governing authorities have been appointed by God,Rom. 13. 1. In one sense, they represent human institutions ([it. "creations"), 1 Pet, 2. 13. Ultimately, however, all constituted authority is ordained by God. Note that the expressions “of God” or “by God” occur no less than six times in Romans 13. 1-7.
Even in a democracy, the right to rule does not rest finally in the consent of the people – it is derived from God. Consequently, everyone is required to be subject to those who occupy positions of authority, v. 1.
The Bible makes it clear that individuals are raised up to their places of eminence by God and are to be recognized therefore as His servants in the sphere of government; see Psa. 75. 6-7; Jer. 25. 9; Dan. 4. 17, 25, 32. God is abie to overrule even the evil action of evil men by His powerful providence, Acts 4. 28; Rev. 17. 17.
On account of these things, it is not open for a Christian to be a political rebel or revolutionary; “Fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle (mix, lit.) not with them that are given to change”, Prov. 24. 21.
It is striking that the New Testament shows no interest at all in politics, in social movements or in schemes for reform – even though the conditions at the time were, in many cases, appalling. The early church concerned itself with the inward change which only the gospel of Christ could produce and with regulating the lives of those who became Christians.
(e) Because those, who rule are appointed by God, submission to them becomes a mailer of “conscience”,Rom. 13. 5. The apostle Peter tells us to submit to every human institution “because of the Lord”, 1 Pet. 2. 13 lit. No doubt you rejoice in the coming of the Lord into the world, “because of you”, 1. 20 lit.; but are you willing, “because of the Lord”, to submit to those who rule? Peter refers not only to the highest human rulers but to all who act as their representatives, 2. 14. In present-day terms, this would include all those to whom the Crown and Parliament have delegated authority – even down to the local policeman and the school-teacher in the classroom!
We are reluctant sometimes to acknowledge a person’s authority because of the kind of person which he or she is. But the Lord requires our subjection to those who rule irrespective of the personalities involved; cf. Matt. 23. 1-3; 1 Pet. 2. 18. We are to submit without complaint -for His sake. This submission forms part of His will for all those whose bodies have been presented to Him in consecration, Rom. 12. 1-2 with 13. 1-7. Let no young person fool himself into believing that he is wholly consecrated to the Lord if he acts in rebellion against those set over him by the Lord.
Before we leave this subject, we must briefly register the point that Scripture does place a limitation on our submission to human authority. This limitation comes into play immediately we are commanded by men to do that which is contrary to the known will of God. The clash of loyalties which results should always be settled by a resolve to do the will of God. Read carefully Acts 4. 19; 5. 29 (noting the connection with the end of v. 32) and consider the noble example of Daniel’s three friends, recorded in chapter 3 of his book – especially vv. 13-18.
The “fear’ of displeasing and offending God takes precedence over the honour due even to a king, 1 Pet. 2. 17.
(iii) Finance. Christians are required to pay their dues to the governing authorities, Rom. 13. 6-7. This principle was settled by the Lord Jesus Himself. It was concerning taxation that He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”, Matt. 22. 21.
Our financial responsibilities to those who govern arise because of their divine appointment, Rom. 13. 6. If the civil authorities are to perform effectively the ministry which has been entrusted to them by God, they must be given the financial means necessary to do this.
"Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute; custom to whom custom”, v. 7. The word “tribute” refers to tax paid in respect of a man’s person or property; it would answer today to such things as income tax and rates. The word “custom” refers rather to a tax levied on goods; it would answer today to such things as import and export duties, including, of course, ordinary “custom duty” at ports and airports.
It follows that there is no place in the life of the Christian for any form of tax evasion or minor “smuggling” on return from holiday abroad. Nor is the believer in a position to withold payment of rates on the ground, perhaps, that he disagrees with the use to which the money is put. Remember that the Lord Jesus paid a contribution to the upkeep of the Jerusalem temple (although He did not need to), even though it was then run by ungodly and unscrupulous men. Matt. 17. 24-27. Again, He required the Jews to pay tribute to Caesar, even though the tribute helped maintain the foreign yoke over them, 22. 15-22.
In concluding this article, it is necessary to draw attention to the danger in a Christian becoming involved in political matters. It is very easy for the believer to be sidetracked from his central mission for the Lord; “No one who serves as a soldier gets entangled with the affairs of life, in order that he may please the one who enlisted him’, 2 Tim. 2. 4 lit.
Nor, we may add, does a well behaved ambassador interfere in the politics of the country in which he remains only as a temporary resident. If we see ourselves as “ambassadors for Christ”, 2 Cor. 5. 20; cf. Eph. 6. 20, is it proper, we ask, for us to devote to the politics of earth that time and effort which could be spent more directly in the service of the Lord whom we arc here to represent?