A Biblical Response to (Even Unjust) Authority

a police officer standing near white concrete pillars of a building
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The Bible teaches that there are things worth dying for, and a time to obey God rather than man, as the apostles said in response to the Jewish Council in Acts 4:18-21: 18 “And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’.” 21 

The Council threatened but released the apostles. Later, they are rearrested and brought again to the Council in Acts 5:

27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

The apostles not only kept preaching the gospel, but they did so to the very people in authority who forbade it.

What is a biblical response to authority? Paul says in Romans 13:1-2, ”Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”

Paul died at the hands of the Roman government of his day, specifically by the judgement of Nero because Paul refused to quit preaching the gospel. Like the apostles before the Jewish Council, he rebelled against those in authority to preach the gospel. So why, before his death, does he continue in verse 3, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;”?

The word for praise is epainos, formed by two words: the preposition epi meaning “upon, on, at, by, before; of position, on, at, by, over, against; to, over, on, at, across, against” and ainos from aineo, which means “to praise, extol, to sing praises in honour to God; to allow, recommend; to promise or vow.” Epainos occurs only 9 times in the Bible. Each and every time it is linked with God. Maybe Paul means in Romans 13:3 that Christians are to obey those in authority (except when it conflicts with God’s authority) because it results in praise to God. This is also consistent with Paul’s experience, even when he was on trial and spoke before King Agrippa in Acts 26.

Paul continues about authority in verses 4-5, 4 “for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” Despite all the trouble Paul got into with those in authority during his lifetime, in the last book he wrote, he maintains that he served God “with a clear conscience” (2 Timothy 1:3).

Paul defines what type of behavior toward authority results in a clear conscience in verses 6-7: For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Far from a checklist, the beginning of verse 7 sums up the Christian’s starting point: we are to render to those in authority all that is due them.

Ideally, rulers submit to God’s authority. In any case, we should render to them their dues. Jesus said essentially the same thing when the Pharisees, authorities of His time, were trying to trap Him: 25″ And He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’. 26 And they were unable to catch Him in a saying in the presence of the people; and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.”

Paul gets to the heart of the matter in verses 8-10:

 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

We are to fully render to those in authority, and to everyone else, their due, so that the only thing we owe anyone is love, which must be constantly shown to all. If we love right, we won’t wrong anyone.

Paul finishes in verses 11-14:

11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Paul’s final instructions are urgent: Time is short, so act like Christ and give lust no quarter.

In the last chapter and ending verses of his final writing, Paul declared in 2 Timothy 2:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” For Paul, safety meant not straying from God’s will. Though he was murdered, he came safely to God’s kingdom. A biblical response to anything embraces God’s terms, not man’s. I end this post as Paul ends his last writings, sharing his hopes and prayers for us all: “22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

Greek translations and lexicon from the KJV (King James Version) of The Blue Letter Bible

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://www.lockman.org

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