This is a democratic nation. Our people are regularly subjected to the oratory of candidates seeking political office. They listen with enjoyment or disgust to campaigners as they travel from city to city making grandiose promises and hurling political "mud" to secure votes. But in the midst of all this oratory, you probably are failing to hear a single word of a far more vital message. Do you know what it is? It's your relationship to the government under which you live. Is it your duty to reform the government or to resist bureaucratic ordinances? Do you really have to show respect and pay taxes to political office holders even when they abuse their high offices? Are officials responsible "to the people" or to God? Which?
What Does the Scripture Say?
The past few generations have grown up in an atmosphere of disrespect toward authority, both in the home and in public life. Nearly everyone wants to act according to the way he feels about leaders, and not according to the way God says we should conduct ourselves. It's high time to realize that there is a judgment coming and that it does make a difference how you act toward those in authority. The apostles devoted many verses in their epistles to explain the relationship of Christians to human governments. Paul wrote at great length because he knew how easily this subject would be neglected, as it is today in nearly every denomination. Here is what he said in Romans 13:1-7: "Let EVERY soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be ARE ORDAINED OF GOD. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: AND THEY THAT RESIST SHALL RECEIVE TO THEMSELVES DAMNATION!" Notice the emphasis which the apostle places on this matter. "They that resist" — those who refuse to submit to authority — "shall receive to themselves damnation." "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For this cause PAY YE TRIBUTE ALSO: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. RENDER THEREFORE TO ALL THEIR DUES: TRIBUTE TO WHOM TRIBUTE IS DUE; CUSTOM TO WHOM CUSTOM; FEAR TO WHOM FEAR; HONOR TO WHOM HONOR." This is not just Paul speaking. It is Jesus' directive to His church for all times and generations. It is very important — let every person be subject to higher authority. Instead of preaching this truth from the Bible, most ministers preach their own words about "getting out the vote" and "supporting a Christian candidate." "It is your duty," they say. This is not what Jesus or the apostles taught. The real Christian duty is NOT to mix with the political affairs of this world, but to be subject to authorities. You are to be separate from the world, although living in it (John 17:15, 16).
Does Government Authority Come from the People?
Contrary to the common teaching, the Bible proves that government authority and power is ORDAINED OF GOD. It is not derived "from the consent of the governed" — the people. "There is NO authority but of God." "The authorities that exist are ordained of God." Human beings seem to reason that because men may be elected or appointed or may seize power, that their only authority proceeds from the people that supported them. How untrue this assumption is! This is an age when men don't know who rules in earthly affairs. Almost everyone is as ignorant of this matter as was Pontius Pilate because the clergy is failing to preach the truth. Jesus had to tell Pilate that the authority vested in him came from the Almighty. Notice how similar Pilate reasoned compared with people today: "Then saith Pilate unto him, Speaketh thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?" Jesus answered, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, EXCEPT IT WERE GIVEN THEE FROM ABOVE" (John 19:10-11). Since all authority is ordained of God we are to be subject to it. Anyone WHO RESISTS THE AUTHORITY OF HUMAN GOVERNMENTS IS ACTUALLY REBELLING AGAINST GOD WHO ORDAINS THAT AUTHORITY. This applies equally as well to anyone in a position of authority, whether a school teacher or a foreman in a factory.
Thinking Up an Excuse
It is only human nature for people to think of an excuse to circumvent these ways in which God says we should live. You have heard it said that God does not approve of the evil that some politicians or other officials commit. Then it is argued that corrupt leaders have thereby forfeited their right to command our respect and submission. This is a clever but faulty argument. Why? God ordained rulers to punish evil works, not good works. Even though officials may be elected or appointed by the people, rulers are actually accountable to God who permits them to exercise authority. Persons in responsible positions may fail to execute the commission of their offices — to punish wrong deeds and to preserve order. They may corrupt the government. But as long as God permits them to be in authority and to retain their office, you are commanded to REMAIN in subjection to the divinely ordained position which they hold. You pay respect to God by respecting the men who hold their offices by God's permission and authority. Until He removes them, you would be rebelling against the will of God by refusing to honor the position which such representatives exercise. It is so hard for human beings to conceive this principle because nearly everyone has been deceived from child hood by the fable that God has nothing whatsoever to do with the civil governments of this world. Perhaps you were never told that the right to exercise authority over human beings is solely the prerogative of the divine Creator. Human beings do not inherently have the right or the ability to rule properly over fellow human beings. But God is a God of order, not confusion. Since men won't submit to His own government and laws, He has given permission in this age, before the return of Jesus Christ, that men may exercise authority in all phases of life. Human beings in any position may be serving themselves and the devil, but the OFFICE is ordained of God! You honor the person because of the office which he holds, even though his deeds may be evil.
Example of Saul and David
Consider the case of Saul and David. King Saul obtained his position from God, as do all rulers. Saul was disobedient to the Eternal and David knew it. Did David therefore rebel and seek to organize the people to remove him from office? No. Instead, David said this: "The Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle and perish. The Eternal forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Eternal's anointed" (I Sam. 26:9-11). Notice that David recognized the fact that it is God's right to put persons out of office. It could not be the people's right since the people have never been given the right in God 's sight to put such men into office in the first place. David respected and honored and submitted to the office which Saul exercised. He left it in the Lord's hands to remove him from office. Christians must do the same. Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this truth, and it took him seven grueling years. He finally admitted after gaining his sanity that "the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the BASEST OF MEN" (Daniel 4:17; 2:21). If God decides to place in office the least capable and the basest men, because of the sins of the people, who are we to condemn the wise judgment of God? And strange as it may be, it is often the people, who, in their attempt to make themselves wiser than God, elect the least capable, ACCORDING TO THE PLANNED FOREKNOWLEDGE OF THE THE ETERNAL GOD. God never sanctions the corruption, the abuses of office holders. Neither should you. Your obligation is merely to respect the authority of the office, not the corrupt deeds, the gifts of mink coats, the lucrative vote-getting jobs.
Is Submission Always Obedience?
There are certain powerful churches, particularly in Europe, but also in America, which teach that human government is not only of divine origin, but that respect for authority and submission to officialdom means TOTAL OBEDIENCE TO LEADERS and even dictators. This teaching is absolutely false! Jesus' words in Matthew 23:2-4 are quoted to support this terrible error. In speaking to the multitude and the disciples, Jesus said: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do..." It is at this point that these denominations stop quoting the words of Jesus to give the impression that you must observe everything that a person in authority commands. But what did Jesus continue to say? "But do NOT ye after their works: for they say, and do not." There it is. Those Jewish religious leaders taught part of the truth, but they themselves were not obeying the truth. Therefore Jesus had to instruct the people that the religious authority of the scribes and Pharisees must be respected. They were to observe whatever truth was preached, but they were not to follow the error. In Acts 4:19 you are given the true Bible definition of "submission." The disciples were commanded to disobey God. What did they say to the authorities? That obedience to God is more important than obedience to men. Notice, however, that the apostles did not resist them. They submitted to the penalty imposed by their accusers (Acts 5:40). Thus you have the true relationship that should exist between every Christian and the human government under which he lives. You are to honor and respect authority and Submit to every ordinance of man. ONLY when obedience to human rules and regulations would violate the laws of God should you steadfastly decline to obey. But then you must submit to the penalty. So said the apostle Peter.
What Does Peter Command?
The apostle Peter recognized the importance of Christians' relationships to human government. He had the courage to preach the truth to the congregations. Here is what he said: "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. FOR so IS THE WILL OF GOD... Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." Take careful note of his wording. "Submit yourselves to every ordinance." Peter did not say, "Obey every ordinance." Of course not, because he knew that many human regulations were wrong. Here again you can see that Peter intends that all Christians should obey whenever possible, and always submit to the penalty in case obedience to a human law would be sin. Christians are always to be examples of perfect submission to government regulations, no matter how childish or absurd some stipulations may be. "Be subject to principalities and powers... to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of No man" (Titus 3:1, 2).
Is It Wrong to Speak Evil of Officials?
It is a common practice for people to resist government regulations and to accuse office holders, whether the President or the corner policeman. This supposed "right" of the people is being abominably misused. There is a righteous limit to the "freedom" of speech. The Bible sets that limit by commanding you to refrain from speaking evil of dignitaries. Solomon said you are not to curse officials even in your thoughts. (Ecc. 10:20) It is reproachful to Christ as well as a dishonor to His authority for Christians to hurl or to repeat needless accusations against rulers. This, of course, does not mean that you can't say anything about a man's mistakes. Rather it means that no gossip or misrepresentation of facts which damage a person's character is to be repeated. Christians should not fight the government in its own courts as certain deceived religious sects sometimes do. Rather submit, and patiently pray for God to change the circumstances according to His will. Most Christians ought to pray more earnestly that their minds and hearts would be free from slanderous thoughts, NO MATTER HOW MUCH THE PERSON SEEMS TO DESERVE THEM. Not even the righteous Michael accused Satan. He calmly said, 'The Lord rebuke thee." Only the ungodly dig up evil to throw needlessly at their enemies (Prov. 16:27). There is also another important point which has often been overlooked. In Romans 13:4, you read that Christians are to "be afraid" of government power, if they have committed evil. Yet Jesus taught us not to fear man, but rather fear God (Luke 12:5). How can you reconcile these verses? By the fact that Christians are not actually to be afraid of the men in office, but rather "of the power " which they wield by God's permission. You fear their authority because they are the servants or revengers of God to curb crime. In reality, then, you are only fearing the power of God who gave this authority to rulers. When you do good, you "may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will NOT fear what man shall do unto me'" (Hebrews 13:6).
Is the Payment of Taxes Necessary?
Now comes an often misunderstood part of this vital message. Should you pay taxes if you are a Christian? If so, why? Paul said that Christians MUST PAY TAXES, CUSTOM DUTIES AND TRIBUTE to those in authority. Why? "For they are God 's ministers," His servants, "attending continually upon this very thing." It is their job, their work to regulate society and to punish crime. They are worthy of their hire. Because of covetousness, especially when income tax or land tax bills appear, some seize upon the words of Jesus in Matt. 17:24-27 as an excuse for failure to pay taxes. Notice what Jesus really said: Christians, being free and heirs of the Kingdom of God, should not be required to pay tribute to a foreign government, "notwithstanding, lest we should offend them... give unto them" the tax. Yes, Christ commands you, just as Paul did, to pay taxes, and they should not be paid grudgingly either. It is the right of leaders to receive remuneration for their duty. But what if officials are not performing their duty properly or are squandering tax money for private ambition! Are you to pay taxes? Certainly. As long as any person is in office, you are to honor that office by submitting to it. It is so easy to forget that human beings are not the judges of one another, but God is the Judge. Officials are not responsible to the people but to God. Your responsibility ceases once you have honestly paid the tax or the duty. It is the official's responsibility to see that he properly administers the money. Although this is the day of exorbitantly high taxation, you should never fear that God will fail to provide the amount necessary to conform to state laws. Jesus provided Peter with the extra tribute money beyond the normal increase (Matt. 17:24-27).
Prayer for Officials
In the days of the Roman Empire, when Jesus was training his disciples, it was the custom of the government to compel people to carry mail and goods belonging to the Empire. Jesus referred to this forced practice when he said, "Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain" (Matthew 5:41). Notice that Jesus taught submission not resistance. Today the government does not compel its citizens to bear this responsibility. How thankful have you been for this fact, as well as for all the other benefits that have accrued in the fields of communications, transportation and public safety? It is so easy to forget and to neglect Paul's admonition that "supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings, and FOR ALL THAT ARE IN AUTHORITY; that we may lead a life in godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" (I Timothy 2:1-3). Now do you see that the Father has established earthly governments to keep order until His Kingdom should come? It is your commanded duty to submit to them, patiently, excusing the obvious faults inherent in human leadership. It is your privilege as a Christian not to be burdened with the heavy responsibilities of this complex world, but rather to recognize that all human history is a record of the tragedy of human self-direction contrasted with obedience to God.