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How Should A Christian Interpret Romans 13:1-7?
In a previous article (www.cuttingedge.org/articles/p186.htm) we explored a topic that continues to be controversial—the responsibility of a Christian to obey governmental authority as set forth in Romans 13:1-7.
Our nation’s Declaration of Independence says we must “throw off” any government that threatens our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The passage containing that sentiment is as follows:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
And it is beyond dispute that what our founding fathers
meant by the term “throw off” was to rebel against King George of
However, is such rebellion and bloodshed sanctioned by the
Word of God? And since our cherished freedoms are clearly in danger of being
taken away by a government following an Illuminist agenda, is another
“righteous rebellion” the thing to do? Judging from the number of articles and
sermons on the Internet addressing this topic, one could easily get the idea
that some preachers are exhorting believers to take such steps. Also incidents
such as those at Ruby Ridge,
But even though the Bible teaches the principles of (1) refusal to comply with any edict that attempts to make us disobey God, and (2) that under such circumstances we have the right to flee if officials seek to take us into custody, it does not teach armed insurrection!
“My son, [reverently] fear the Lord and the king, and do not associate with those who are given to change [of allegiance, and are revolutionary]” Prov.24:21 (Amplified Bible).
In Acts 5:29 Peter and the Apostles told the Sanhedrin Council, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” when they were commanded to stop preaching that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. And because of their defiance they were “beaten” (vs.40)—a scourging that involved a certain number of lashes across the back with a whip. In Deuteronomy 25:3 the Law of Moses limited the number to 40 “stripes” (KJV) and the Jews traditionally stopped at 39 to avoid going too far, but regardless of the exact number of lashes they received, it was a brutal beating. So what was their reaction to such oppression?
“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” Acts 5:41-42 (KJV, emphasis mine).
First of all we need to note that what they said was to the Sanhedrin Council and not an official of the Roman government. To have made such a comment to Pontius Pilate or one of his underlings would have been tantamount to suicide! It is said that discretion is the better part of valor and stating the intent to preach in spite of the Sanhedrin’s edict is an entirely different matter than flagrantly stating the intent to disobey Roman law. The worst the Sanhedrin was allowed to dish out was a beating, but the Roman government ruled with an iron fist and usually demanded capital punishment for such instances of civil disobedience. So the intelligent thing to do was try to stay under the “Roman Radar” while continuing to obey the Lord’s command to preach the Gospel.
Nowhere in the New Testament is there any mention of the Apostles taking part in active rebellion against their Roman captors, or teaching others to do so, even though they were often severely persecuted and most eventually put to death by that government. Whenever they were put on trial by the Roman legal system, they were respectful of it and took their punishment without advocating sedition by others. To keep from disobeying God they were often forced by circumstances to flee and/or go underground, thereby “resisting” various Roman edicts issued against them, but they never once took up arms and tried to fight back.
“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. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” Romans 13:1-2 (KJV)
The point we need to understand is that they did not “resist” the Roman government in the sense that Romans 13:1-7 prohibits! According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, the connotation of the Greek word antitasso translated “resisteth” in verse 2 (KJV) is as follows:
“3. ANTITASSO, anti, against, tasso, to arrange, originally a military term, to range in battle against, and frequently so found in the papyri, is used in the Middle Voice signifying to set oneself against, resist, (a) of men, Acts 18:6, “opposed themselves;” elsewhere to resist, of resisting human potentates, Rom.13:2…” (Emphasis mine).
So even though the Declaration of Independence proclaims we have not only the right, but also the duty, to “throw off” an oppressive government by the use of force—if such should ever be deemed necessary by the majority—believers must answer to the ultimate authority of God’s Word and not participate if bloodshed will be required to accomplish it. Why? Because no matter how rotten our government may become, it will play out its assigned role according to our Sovereign God’s master plan. And any attempt to take matters into our own hands by forcefully overthrowing a government He has ordained is to invite divine condemnation. We should be good citizens and exercise every legal means at our disposal to try to hold the line and keep our nation on the “straight and narrow.” But at the same time we must be prepared to disobey any edict that would have us disobey God and then take our lumps if caught. Armed insurrection is not an option.
To use the news commentator Paul Harvey’s phrase “In the for what it’s worth department,” my personal belief is that the United States of America is going to suffer God’s terrible judgment for a variety of reasons—not the least of which will be for the rebellion that brought about her very existence. God’s mill may run slow, but it grinds exceedingly fine!
Good government and personal freedoms are wonderful and we should thank the Lord Jesus Christ daily for allowing us to live in this nation, but such things pale by comparison to our duty to live for Him and spread the Gospel message. We must not allow ourselves to become overly concerned with politics and trying to keep the ship of state afloat, because this world is not our home—we are just pilgrims passing through. Apathy by believers toward the responsibilities of citizenship is wrong, but even more so is apathy toward God’s plan and program. We must be diligent in maintaining a proper balance between the sacred and the secular by remembering they are in no way equal in their relative importance.
For all intents and purposes the early Church ignored Imperial Rome and spread the good news of the Gospel everywhere they went. They did not try to plant flowers in the wilderness by forming political action committees and organizing voter registration drives. And as far as I know, there were no attempts made to put a Christian in a position to become the next Caesar, thereby ensuring peace and tranquility for all men. No, they just kept on telling people about Jesus Christ and paid for it with their blood. And if we are not willing to follow their example, our priorities are all wrong.
Our God is still on the throne
and infinitely capable of handling the political machinations of the insane
asylum on the
If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
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