Here in Thailand there is a very strict law, called the Lese Majeste law. This law makes it a crime, punishable by a heavy jail sentence, to say anything bad about the king, the royal family, the institution of the monarchy, or even palace servants. Lese Majeste comes from the French, and it is a term meaning “violating the dignity” of those who are in power or in authority, especially in monarchies. These laws are widely considered to be very harsh in our times, but what does the Bible say about them? Today I would like to discuss the surprising implications of what the Bible has to say about Lese Majeste, both about authorities over us, and about ourselves as well as ordinary Christians.
You Shall Not Revile God Nor Curse A Ruler Of Your People
Even though many people from the West may not know it, the Bible itself has its own Lese Majeste law, and it is a very strict one. This law can be found in Exodus 22:28. Let us turn there today as we begin our examination of the scriptures. Exodus 22:28 reads: “You shall not revile God nor curse a ruler of your people.” On the surface, this law seems very straightforward. You cannot curse or insult anyone in any position of authority whatsoever, lest you found to be a lawbreaker. It does not matter if the leader is elected or part of the ruling family, whether they are a teacher, a politician, a judge, a parent, or a king. It does not matter whether you like them or not, whether you agree with their policies or not, whether you voted for them or not, whether they are competent to hold their office or not—these concerns are irrelevant in the Bible. We are commanded to respect and honor all authorities, without exception. Let us ask the following questions, though: Where does this law come from in the Bible? Why did God make this law? And does it still apply today to Christians? We will answer all of these questions today, God willing.
First, where does this law come from in the Bible? The law commanding respect and honor for all authorities is itself an extension of the fifth commandment. Since we are already in Exodus, let us read the fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12. Exodus 20:12 reads as follows: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Now, this commandment is included in the first five commandments, dealing with God. Just as God is our father, something about which we will have a lot to say later on, we should honor our earthly parents because in honoring them we honor the God who is the Father of all. This principle extends beyond our parents to include all authorities. By honoring and respecting authority, whether the people who hold those offices are good or evil, servant-minded or tyrannical, kind or harsh, competent or incompetent, we acquire the habits of respect and honor that make us worthy of honor and respect as leaders ourselves when our time comes, and teach us how to honor a heavenly Father whose plans and goals and reasons are beyond our understanding.
Next, why did God make this law? Why was it so important that God command respect for human authorities? Let us find out the answer in Romans 13:1-7. Romans 13:1-7 gives a clear answer of who is responsible for putting people in positions of authority—God Himself. It 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 upon themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of 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.”
Let us pause a little bit here and examine what is meant by this passage as it relates to our understanding of why God commands respect for authorities. People in positions of authority are placed there by God for His purposes. Whether through inheritance, through coups, through elections, or through any other means that humans think that they choose leaders, God places people in command for His purposes. Sometimes He does so to bless a nation that is godly and obedient, by giving them good leaders. Sometimes He places people in office to judge a wicked nation, or to bring an ungodly person into condemnation. He has the power and the right to do what He likes with the world, or with any nation or organization in it, and choose who He wishes to lead. By dishonoring leaders, we dishonor the God who put them there.
Additionally, let us note that all leaders, no matter of what kind, are God’s servants. Whether they obey God or not, or believe in God or not, they are responsible for enforcing God’s law on evildoers. This gives them the right to assess taxes on their citizens and resident aliens, and gives them the right to claim honor, customs, and fear from their people. Whether politicians, judges, teachers, or preachers, all in positions of authority are subject to God’s law and given the responsibility of enforcing that law in whatever office they are placed by God. They will be held accountable by God, and by others, for how they behave in office, but they are to be respected and honored by virtue of their office, whatever their own character or integrity or personality.
Having dealt at some length with that matter, let us move on to answer the third question. Does this law still apply to Christians? Absolutely. This law is itself referred to in Romans 13:1-7 above, in an epistle written by the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul himself ran afoul of this law, however, as we read in Acts 23:1-5. In this passage we see Paul forced to quote this law against himself because of his own insult given to an authority figure. Acts 23:1-5 reads as follows: “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ”
Let us think about this for a minute. Paul, himself a brilliant and intelligent speaker about God’s law, had to quote against himself one of those laws when he called a corrupt high priest a whitewashed wall. How many harsher things have said about our prime ministers, our presidents, and our congressmen? If we have ever insulted a leader of ours, whether it is a minister, a politician, or anyone else, we have broken this law, and unless we repent of our dishonor and disrespect we will stand condemned by God. This is serious business. We should not insult or mock our leaders—for to do so risks our eternal life, our place in God’s kingdom. God will not tolerate those who are rebellious against His authority, and we show our ability to accept and follow God’s authority by following human authority, and by showing ourselves as godly and obedient individuals while in positions of authority. If we rebel against or abuse authority, and defiantly refuse to repent of our sins, we will stand condemned by our God who avenges injustice and who punishes rebellion. Let us not be counted as a rebel against His rule either by abusing the authority God has given to us or by showing contempt and dishonor for those people whom God has placed in authority over us. We have been warned.
We Are His Offspring
Let us now spend the rest of our time in this message dealing with one more question: are we ourselves worthy of being treated with the same honor and respect as kings and princes? We have already commented briefly that God is worthy of respect in part because He is the Father of all. If God is our Father, and He is ruler of heaven and earth, does that not make us all princes and princesses? If so, then would not the law of Lese Majeste apply to us, and make it a divine command for each of us to be treated with honor and respect as well, and for each believer to be given that same respect by us and by everyone else? Does the Bible in fact state or imply such a state of affairs where all of us are to be respected and honored? Let us examine this matter.
First, does the Bible say that we are the children of God? Indeed it does. First, let us examine how Paul used this truth to speak to the Greeks, in Acts 17:26-31. In this passage Paul directly quotes the Greek poet Aratus, a native (like Paul) of the area of Cilicia, in a work known as Phaenomena, as well as also quoting the Greek poet Cleathenes. This passage, Acts 17:26-31, reads as follows: “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has appointed their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as some also of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art or man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
All human beings are counted as the children of God. All are created in His image and likeness. God does not show partiality. We do not respect men and disrespect women, or vice versa. We do not respect the elderly and insult the young, or vice versa. We do not honor the wealthy and dishonor the poor, or vice versa. We are all God’s children no matter our ethnic origin or tribe, our class, our age, or our gender, or anything else. By being created as human beings we are all princes and princesses, all children of the High King, who created the heavens and the earth and who rules over all things. This is a tremendous blessing and honor, one we cannot deserve, but an honor we must all wish to carry out as decently and honorably as we possibly can.
How do we know that we are being treated as God’s children? We find the answer in Hebrews 12:5-11, which explains how we can recognize that we are seen by God as His children. Hebrews 12:5-11 reads as follows: “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening God deals with you as with sons, for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days hastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
What is this passage telling us? It tells us that we are not God’s sons and daughters unless he disciplines us through trials and through correction, quoting from Proverbs 3:11-12 to show that even Old Testament believers were told that we are God’s children and need His discipline. None of us are perfect—all of us have sinned, and so if we have suffered trials from God, we know that God is working with us. If our lives are easy and comfortable and nothing all that bad has ever happened to us, God isn’t working with us, and we are not His children. But if we have suffered greatly, God is working with us, if we choose to accept His chastening and develop His godly character within us, so that our nature and character reflects His own. We will be recognized as God’s children when we start to look like Him and act like Him, and when others can see the family resemblance in us.
Does this mean therefore that all believers are to be treated, without exception, with honor and respect as befitting the princes and princesses that we are? Absolutely. Do the scriptures say this? Let us turn to 1 Peter 5:5-7. We often read this passage when it comes to honoring elders, but we do not emphasize the larger point nearly often enough. Let us therefore do so today. 1 Peter 5:5-7 reads: “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” God cares for all, young or old, male or female, rich or poor. All are to be treated with honor. We do not only honor those in authority and dishonor and disrespect others. We are to treat all with kindness, with honor, and with respect. We also see this in 1 Peter 2:17. 1 Peter 2:17 reads: “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King.” We are all children of the King, and therefore we are to treat all with honor as royal princes and princesses, and all of us are to be treated with that same honor and respect by everyone else. To refuse to do so is to disobey God’s commandment, for all God’s children are protected and covered by the law of Lese Majeste protecting them from reviling and cursing from every human being on the face of the earth, without exception. Only God has the right to curse anyone, as we are His creation.
Therefore, in conclusion, let us summarize what we have discussed today. In Thailand there is a law of Lese Majeste protecting the royal family from insults and disrespect. This law springs from the scriptures, which forbid the disrespect and dishonor of all people in offices of authority. This law, in turn, springs from the commandment of God to honor our parents. This law still applies, and is referred to by Paul against his own accidental disrespect of a corrupt high priest, as well as referring to political authorities. Additionally, though, all of us are covered by this law, so it is therefore a sin to God for us to disrespect or dishonor any of God’s brethren, and it is also a sin for anyone to dishonor or disrespect us if we have been called by God as His children under His covenant. Therefore, let us act in such a way that we honor and respect all people, and let us also receive the honor and respect that we are due as princes and princesses in the royal family of the King of heaven and earth.