What is the responsibility of Christians toward authorities, whether they be authorities in this school, in the Church of God, toward the mayors of our villages and the rulers of our nations? Are we to worship leaders as did, and do, the heathen? Are we to bow down to them and hang on their every word, as if they were God in the flesh? No, clearly we are not to be that way—our leaders are people like us, flesh and blood, imperfect and flawed. On the hand, are we to be rebellious and hostile towards authorities, disrespectful or insulting towards them? No, we re not to be that way either. How then should we behave to the authorities around us, both here and in the world around us? That is the subject I wish to explore today.
For Kings And All Who Are In Authority
First, let us turn to 1 Timothy 2:1-4. This passage gives some very intriguing responsibilities that Christians have toward authorities and why we have them that are important for us to realize. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 reads as follows: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
What responsibilities does this passage say Christians have toward authority? For one, we are to pray for them and give thanks to God. There appear to be two different reasons why Paul gives this command to Timothy (and therefore to all of us). One reason that Paul gives to pray for leaders is pray for them to be converted to the truth or friendly to the proclamation of God’s truth in their realms. This requires that Christianity not be seen as politically seditious or rebellious, but that Christians be seen as godly and law-abiding citizens so that they may have a good reputation with the leaders of the countries where they live. Those who are rebels or traitors do not have good reputations, and are likely to be treated in a very rough manner by governments and authorities, and that is something none of us want.
Second, Paul states that we pray for leaders so that we may may live peaceable and quiet lives. A Christian is to be obedient to the laws of God completely, and is to obey the laws of man unless those lose contradict the laws of God, as the Bible says in Acts 5:29. Even when Christians disobey laws, though, they must do so in obedience to higher laws, and therefore must behave as the law-abiding citizens they are, even when they oppose or disobey ungodly laws. In such circumstances we must do our best to disagree without being disagreeable. We are also, it should be noted, commanded to pray for all kings and all who are in authority, whether we know them or not, or whether we like them or not, so that God’s work can go along unimpeded by foolish political disputes. This is true regardless of where the authority is—on the family level, school level, church level, or political level. Our duty to pray for those in authority is true for all who are in authority in whatever way they hold authority.
Let Every Soul Be Subject To The Governing Authorities
Let us now turn to Romans 13:1-7. This passage is often misunderstood, so I will do my best to explain the duty of Christians this passage teaches in as balanced a manner as possible, so that its wisdom is clearly seen. Romans 13:1-7 reads as follows: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
This is a long and somewhat complicated passage, so let us try to break down its meaning so that we can better understand what the Apostle Paul is saying here. First, let us note that all authorities are accountable to God. There are many rulers who think that they are the source of power and law, and that their word is law, but all rulers and authorities are God’s servants and are subject to Him and responsible for applying God’s law and enforing God’s law in whatever jurisdiction they have, whether it is a family, a school, a church, a village, a province, or a nation. If rulers and authorities seek to rule according to their own whims and opinions, they are accountable to God and He will judge them. Their responsibility and our responsibility is to uphold and support God’s teachings and to judge according to God’s law.
Let us also note that because authorities are subject to and accountable to God, it is God who places authorities and removes them. He places and removes authorities through a variety of means, some political, and others not. One reason we ought to pray for authorities is for God to give us wise and godly leaders, because sometimes God places wicked and foolish authorities over nations and churches and other institutions to bring judgment upon them. We may not know the reasons why certain people are in authority, but it is just as likely, perhaps even more, for their own judgment by God than it is because of our own personal support or opposition to leaders. God has His own ways and purposes that are far above and beyond our own.
Let us remember too that we are subject to authority not only because of our fear of punishment, but also because of Christian doctrine. When God commanded that we honor our fathers and mothers, that command was not only to honor authorities within the family, but wherever authorities can be found. And if we are to be honored as authorities, it is not because we are anything special but because by honoring human authorities people learn how to honor God, the ultimate authority over everything in the universe. We must learn spiritual truths through physical means. Included in Christian doctrine is the command from 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood. Honor the king.”
Let us remember as well that authorities have God-given responsibilities to enforce God’s law. If we are obedient to God’s law, we should not fear because we have the support and encouragement of the ultimate authority of God Himself. If, however, we disobey God’s laws and rebel against authority, we not only have the ultimate judgment of God to deal with but also the physical punishments that come from authorities to whom God grants the jurisdiction for punishing evildoers. Let us not forget that punishment involves both physical and spiritual aspects. Being forgiven spiritually does not mean that we are no longer accountable for the physical repercussions of our evil words and deeds. Sometimes we must still pay a physical price after being spiritually forgiven, and this passage reminds us of that unpleasant fact.
Let us also remember that because of the physical cost of physical enforcement of God’s law, there are costs that result that we pay for in taxes. One of the reasons we are commanded to pay taxes is because the physical price of enforcing God’s law on evildoers must be paid. Obedience to God’s law and respect for authority makes for cheaper taxation, as godly societies have far fewer costs on bribery, jails, police departments, and bureaucracy. The corruption of ungodly societies leads to increased costs for honest taxpayers, another reason we should pray for godly authorities and behave in a godly fashion ourselves.
The Law Concerning Kings
Let us put the shoe on the other foot and examine the standard leaders are accountable to according to scripture. We find the most concise list of principles directed specifically at leaders in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 we have the law governing kings, which reads as follows: “When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord chooses: one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, “You shall not return tht way again.’ Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statues, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in the kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”
Let us briefly examine the responsibilities included in this law. First, we note that when the people ask for a king, as they did in 1 Samuel 8, not trusting in God to be their king, they are to accept God’s choice and not choose a foreigner. As Psalm 87 tells us that all believers and converts are counted as brethren, this means that the prohibition is against those who are not obedient to God’s law. God forbids leadership to those who do not consider themselves to be subject to His law, and He gets to choose leaders and raise them up as He sees fit.
Additionally, we see that God forbids rulers from multiplying horses, or military technology, for themselves, so that they might trust in their own military strength. They are also forbidden from sending their people back to Egypt, back to sin and slavery, in order to stockpile military technology, like tanks or fighter jets in our world. Also, kings (or any kind of leader), are forbidden from setting up harems of women, lest those women turn their heart away from God’s ways as did Solomon’s 700 wives and 300 concubines married mostly for political reasons to set up alliances with other nations, to trust in their diplomatic skill instead of God. For the same reason, kings (and other leaders) are forbidden to stockpile gold and silver for themselves, lest they trust in their wealth instead of God.
Finally, let us note that God requires all kings (and by extension all leaders) to write down a copy of this law from the Bible so that they may follow it strictly and not depart from it all the days of their rule, so that God may establish their leadership for many generations if they honor and respect God as their father and authority. All leaders are called to realize that God is their authority and not themselves. As parents and teachers now or as kings and priests later on in the kingdom of God, we will all be authorities and accountable to that divine standard.
Let us close by reviewing the responsibilities we Christians have to those in authority over us. First, we have the responsibility to pray to God for them, both that they may be open to living and ruling according to God’s truth, but also so we can live peaceable lives as godly and law-abiding citizens and sojourners. Second, we have the responsibility to honor and respect authority because by respecting human authorities we respect our Father in heaven who is the ultimate authority, and because human authorities have the God-given responsibility of enforcing God’s laws and punishing evildoers on the physical level. We are therefore commanded, in honoring physical authorities, neither to consider them as divine beings or above the law, but at the same time to give them respect as the servants of God on earth even as we hold them accountable to the biblical standard. Likewise, all of us who are authorities should ourselves realize that we are God’s servants and accountable to Him for the authority we use in His name. Let us never fail to remember these things.