Today’s Completing The Thought (CTT) post will be an examination of the scriptures regarding submission to authority in light of what is currently going on with KY County Clerk Kim Davis and what will soon take center-stage with Oregon Judge Vance Day. Please keep these national events in mind and in your prayers, because the visible church is about to be tested here in the US and we need to be ready.
This is a topic that was addressed in detail by both the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, and by the Apostle Peter. Please notice that in both cases, the instructions for submission to authority come after the teaching for what it means to live as Christians.
Let us begin with looking at Paul’s instruction to the Romans. For the sake of establishing context, let us begin in Chapter 12, verse 9.
Romans 12:9-21 (ESV) | Marks of the True Christian
9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 13:1-7 (ESV) | Submission to the Authorities
13 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.2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Notice the hard instructions come before the mention of authority? I mean, really… the truly tough instructions on loving our enemy, blessing our enemy, and not taking vengeance on our enemy apply to all of our walk. Does this mean that every governing authority has the right to dictate to us our theology, morality, and understanding of God’s Word? Absolutely not. It does mean that if we pay taxes, we follow the laws of men that don’t lead us into sin, and we submit when their laws place us into custody. Let us look at how Paul walked this out.
Acts 23:1-5 (ESV)
23 And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” 4 Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?”5 And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”
Paul wasn’t wrong, what Ananias had commanded was indeed contrary to the law. However, Ananias was indeed the high priest, and Paul paid him due respect and honor for the authority he held. Paul wasn’t wrong. Ananias wasn’t right. However, Paul knew what was written, and that Paul was not to speak evil of a ruler of his people. If you read through the accounts in Acts, Paul remains imprisoned here despite not being guilty of breaking any laws of Rome nor of the Jews. Though Paul is innocent, he remains submitted to their authority to detain him. Why did Paul submit to wrongful imprisonment? Luke records for us why:
Acts 23:11 (ESV) 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
Paul is eventually put to death in Rome. He spends years in prison, writing letters to the churches, letters we now hold as God-Breathed scriptures. Paul did not capitulate to the opinions of men regarding Godliness or the Gospel. Yet he was submitted to the governing authorities. I have to be honest, how the peddlers of the prosperity gospel get away with their false teaching is beyond me, except that they never allow their victims to read the New Testament in context. Let’s take a look at what Paul includes in the introduction to his letter to the church in Philippi.
Philippians 1:12-26 (ESV)
The Advance of the Gospel
12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
To Live Is Christ
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
Did you catch that comment in verse 20? It was Paul’s eager expectation and hope that he will not be at all ashamed… he was praying for courage so that in his body, whether by life or by death, Christ will be honored. May we have the same clarity of mind and confidence in Jesus Christ our Lord when we face such trials and tribulation.
Now, let us look to how the Apostle Peter taught this matter in his letter.
1 Peter 2:1-12 (ESV) | A Living Stone and a Holy People
2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Peter comes into this chapter with a reminder of the Gospel, of the distinction between those who believe and those who do not. Finally, Peter charges Christians to be a people for God’s own possession, that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness. He urges us to abstain from the passions of the flesh… and he calls us sojourners and exiles. From what? From this world in which we still live but are no longer a part. Peter charges us to keep our conduct honorable, so that when we are accused as evildoers, they’ll see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Notice that Peter isn’t promising that if we keep our conduct honorable everyone will like us.
1 Peter 2:18-25 (ESV) | Submission to Authority
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
It should be noted that when Peter is talking about the emperor as supreme, Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero, an active persecutor of Christians. And from where did Peter draw his instruction to the saints? From the example of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Peter then brings it right back around to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, had done NOTHING wrong, yet He submitted even unto death, a horrible death on the cross for our sins, and for God’s Glory.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ can never be the occasion for rebellion and lawlessness. We don’t get to use the Gospel as a reason to overthrow our government in a coup. It is not the role of the church to take over the government. Neither is it a mandate for Christians to run and hide when the law of the land criminalizes Christianity or the Word of God. We are called to stand, in submission to authority, while testifying of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A time will come when such submission will mean imprisonment for most Christians. The day will come when what is happening to Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran is happening here. This world is passing away, nothing will remain. All will be brought to an end, and then the Judgement. Those who by grace through faith are part of the Resurrection, we shall see the new heaven and the new earth. Do not place your hope in this temporal life. Instead, let us place our hope where the Apostle Peter placed his.
1 Peter 1:3-9 (ESV) | Born Again to a Living Hope
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
In Christ Jesus,