Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. (RSV)
What a timely topic for an election day. It’s too bad I didn’t do this before or even finish it on Tuesday.
It’s hard for me to put together submission to human organizations in the same sentence with doing something for the Lord. But, there it is in black and white. The hard part of this is that Peter was writing to people who had been persecuted by the government. It was written about 66 AD which was two years before the end of Nero’s reign of terror. He picked on Christians because they were easy targets and could divert attention away from his own political failings. I sometimes wonder how Peter could make this statement considering who was in power. However, it is evident that the power of the Holy Spirit was moving him to act justly and in accordance with the law of the land.
Of course we can point back to where Peter was called before the Jewish authority. Acts 4:18-20 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." (RSV) This is probably the most often used passage used to disobey government edicts. It sets precedence for Christians everywhere to disobey the government when that law is violating God’s commands. In my opinion, however, it does not give me the right to violate God’s law in order to oppose the government. In other words, I can’t assassinate Nero because he has been wiping out Christians.
Romans 13:1-7 is Paul’s comprehensive exposition on Government. Take the time to look it up and read it. In it, Paul asserts that all governments are established by God. You can look back at the O.T. and see how God used ungodly rulers to punish Israel and Judah. He says that if I rebel against the government, I am likely to bring God’s judgment on myself. Regardless of the government, I’m to do right because government is God’s servant to bring wrath on the wrongdoer. This is not easy to hear, especially if I’m living under an oppressive government. Paul continues to say that I must submit to that authority. I am to pay taxes because the government is God’s servant who gives full time to governing.
I can understand why many Christians did not support the American Revolution. They were ostracized by their fellow citizens who wanted to break free from England. However, they couldn’t see any moral reason to rebel against the king. Taxation without representation was not a violation of God’s commands in their eyes.
Today, I feel that people who are creating and supporting initiatives to cut taxes are not looking at the big picture that Paul presented. They are only looking at their own pocketbook. There is a prevalent attitude among many that government is too big and should be scaled back. I believe that when Christians are not providing the needs of others in the community that the government has the right to tax us to provide those needs. I generally vote for levies because this is the means of paying for services that are beyond the Church’s realm. Fire protection, police forces, public schools, libraries, roads, armed forces, you name it. The Church doesn’t take care of these things.
However if I only pay taxes and don’t get involved in any other way, then I shouldn’t complain when the government is ungodly. 1 Tim 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. (RSV) The first and foremost thing is to pray daily for our leaders, whether we like them or not. Titus 3:1-2 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men. (RSV) Included in that is not to continually bad-mouth our leaders. We should show perfect courtesy, not jump up during a speech (or town meeting) and shout insults.