Submit To God And The Ruling Authorities
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
One of the toughest things to do is to obey the orders of a person who is evil. The conundrum is that we are told to do what is right, but also to submit ourselves to the ruling authorities. This can sometimes put us at odds with what we are told to do by man and God.
Jesus set the example by always doing what His father wanted Him to do. We too should choose to follow God rather than man when there is a conflict between the two. Peter himself faced this dilemma when He was arrested for preaching the good news by the Sanhedrin. Peter’s retort to them sets the stage for us:
But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!
In this case, Peter and John were talking to men who professed belief in the One True God. In today’s world, where many governments are atheistic, or are promoting Secular Humanism, they don’t have the background to rightly judge who to follow – they believe that they should be followed regardless of how evil their commands are. Yet we, as believers, must give an accounting of ourselves as well as the unbelievers before God once we are called home. Live in such a way that you can give a good report – obey evil rulers only to the point where their commands do not interfere with God’s. Otherwise, do as Peter and John did – obey God when the conflict arises, and leave the consequences of that action upon the shoulders of Almighty God.
Follow in Freedom
Since the Son has freed us, we are free indeed! But that doesn’t give us the right to use our freedom to act as a shield for evil. We should never say, “I can do this because I know God will forgive me. I am forgiven for all my sins past, present, and future, so I can do whatever I want.” This dishonors God, and casts a light upon His character when His ambassadors act in a way that is counter to the One that has sent them.
Freedom in Christ is freedom from the bondage of sin. Since we are freed, why would we then intentionally put ourselves in a position where sin can cause us difficulty? It is better to suffer in righteousness than to have pleasure and ease in sin. Freedom is meant to give us the opportunity to follow God, not our own evil passions. When we refuse to self-govern, God will send oppressive rulers to govern over us and bring us back to a place of humility and submission.
Respect even Reprobates
It is a cultural thing to say that respect is earned. If respect is earned, then when someone acts in a way that does not deserve respect, we may feel as if we can treat them as though they are contemptible. This degrades the impact that disciples of Christ have on the world, for God loves all of us, and seeks us all.
We must give respect, even and especially when it is not deserved by a person’s actions. This keeps intact their quality as an image bearer of God, regardless of how they choose to bear God’s image. That doesn’t mean that we excuse the behavior. We can hate the behavior, but love the person. Show respect to those who are evil, but be wary of their intents.
A Qualifying Question
Let’s ask a question: Am I obeying the laws and directives of those in authority over me when they are not in direct conflict with God’s law, regardless of how silly or difficult they may be?
A short prayer of preparation:
Father in Heaven, it is extremely difficult to obey the directions and laws of people who are evil and intent upon my destruction. Give me the strength to bear Your image properly before them and others. Help me to honor You when any conflicts arise. Please give me grace and mercy as I struggle to do what honors You when I am placed in situations where no matter what I do, it will be viewed as wrong by the world, and used to destroy my reputation, character, finances, and even my ability to live. Guard me in all my ways, and help me to display Your character in the most difficult situations, even if that means that I will lose my life. This I ask in Jesus’ Name, Amen.