For there are many rebellious people ... (NIV)
Yet Jeroboam the son of Nebat, the servant of Solomon the son of David, rose up and rebelled against his master, and worthless men gathered about him, scoundrels, who proved too strong for Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, when he was young and timid and could not hold his own against them. (2 Chron 13:6-7 NASU)
Jeroboam was a rebel, but not in the sense in which Abijah painted him in this rebuke. Yes, he rebelled against Rehoboam, but it was at the direction of the Lord because of Solomon’s sin (1 Kings 11:26-35). Was he really a rebel or was he a God honoring person who was dedicated to doing God’s will? The question can be applied to any cause that seeks to overthrow a government. During the American Revolution, many people refused to join the revolution because they agreed strongly with Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (ESV). In the case of Jeroboam, it appears that the term rebel fit him better than God-fearing. The first indication of this is that he gathered worthless men around him. You may point out discontents (1 Sam 22:1) and worthless (1 Sam 30:22) men came to David when he fled from Saul. This is true, but David handled them with integrity as he ruled over them.
Jeroboam, on the other hand, led the people of Israel into idolatry because of his fear they would turn back to Rehoboam. He didn’t trust God’s promise and rebelled against God. Rebellion is a heart problem. It is one that affects every person on earth. Romans 3:23 states it simply that all have sinned, which is rebellion against God. After salvation, there may still be remnants of rebellion in our hearts. This is what makes it difficult to determine when God is leading a people to establish a new government or they are following their own selfish desires. Then there is also the problem that God allows a rebellion, even foretelling it as in the case of Jeroboam, in order to punish the sins of the previous government.
But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20 NKJV)
How do you determine if you are a rebel or you are following God’s will? Acts 4:19-20 is often quoted whenever someone talks about obeying God versus the government. What was God’s specific command that they were setting in opposition to the Sanhedrin? Most likely, they recalled Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission. There, Jesus told them that His authority was above all authority, meaning governments (secular) and the Sanhedrin (religious). They were commanded to go and make disciples, which is precisely what they were doing. Take note that the Apostles told the Sanhedrin to judge what was right. In doing this, they acknowledged the Sanhedrin’s right to judge and in doing so, they would accept any punishment for disobeying the Sanhedrin. In addition, they made it very clear that the Sanhedrin was wrong.
In the same way, if the government is forcing us to do something that is clearly against God’s will, then we should stand up against it and disobey. It follows then, that we should also be willing to suffer the consequences of that disobedience. In 1 Peter 3:17 Peter gave the “formula” that it is OK to suffer for doing good, not evil. When we disobey, we must be careful that we don’t disobey God’s will. We must do it in ways that will honor Him. As example, blowing up abortion clinics is not a godly way to stand up to a law that allows evil. In fact, that is a bad example because the government isn’t forcing us to have abortions. Picketing is a better solution, but even one picketer doing it with hate and condemnation rather than pointing to a way to save the baby is out of line with God’s will.
But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. (Rom 14:23 NLT)
Is the law that says a flower shop or bakery that caters wedding must not decline their services for a gay wedding something that Christians must disobey? Certainly, the biblical pattern for marriage is only between one man and one woman. Does this give us the right to refuse our business to those who violate the Bible’s moral standard? The same question applies to renting to unmarried couples, gay or straight. In most states, it is illegal to refuse.
This issue is different from refusing to do something that is clearly against God’s law. Based on 1 Corinthians 5:9-12, one Christian may believe that renting to cohabiters is not engaging in their sin and catering a gay wedding is not engaging in their sin. Rather it is simply living and operating among sinful people. It may be an opportunity to witness the truth of the gospel to them, in which case, they may decline to engage your services. However, another Christian may honestly believe that such participation is condoning and therefore encouraging sin and refuse to provide the services. They look at Romans 14:23 and believe that it is a sin for them to help in any way. For that person, it is a sin if their conscience has convicted them. In the first example, that person may see it as a sin to refuse to serve because it would mean losing an opportunity to witness.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Ps 118:6 NIV)
It is much harder to determine when a Christian should rebel against authority than we often think. The one thing we need to make sure is that we don’t rebel against God. Jeroboam’s problem is that he feared people more than he feared God. Before we act in non-violent rebellion against ungodly laws or regimes, we need to fully understand the biblical principles or we may find ourselves on the wrong side of the issue.