LAW AND ORDER
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, July 12, 2020.
This is week 5 of our series on what it means to be a human. Today, we turn out attention to human government in a teaching called Law and Order.
Recently, we've seen many examples of civil disobedience, such as riots, looting, and pulling down statues. In simple terms, these are protests against the government or its agents, such as the police or the justice system.
My personal opinion is that rioting, looting, and vandalism are criminal acts that should be stopped by law enforcement and those involved should be prosecuted.
Maybe you agree. However, my personal opinions are sometimes off-base so it's necessary to find out what God thinks. Does God's Word, the Bible, have a perspective on human government and civil disobedience?
The answer is yes, which now leads to me ask: how should Jesus-followers relate to the government and government agencies?
A. WE SHOULD ACCEPT GOVERNMENT AS NECESSARY.
The Bible teaches us that we live in an evil age (Galatians 1:4), and Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), and our society is full of evil works (John 7:7). This miserable situation began after Adam and Eve rejected God. As a result, they were ejected from the Garden of Eden and sin entered then dominated the world.
Adam and Eve lost their safe and abundant paradise and found themselves in a dangerous and difficult life. Cain killed Abel. Generation after generation of human society went from bad to worse until God brought it all to a crashing end:
(Genesis 6:5-7) The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. 7 So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created ...
Human civilization was destroyed by flood, but Noah and his family were rescued. It was at this point that God ordained human government:
(Genesis 9:5-7) And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. 6 “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind. 7 As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”
This passage does not go into detail, but it lays the groundwork for the basic functions of human government - to protect life and punish life-takers. We need government to restrain evil and keep us safe.
We aren't living in Eden. This world is infected by sin and Satan, so we must not be naive. Anarchy is not the solution to a bad government. The fastest way to unleash sin and Satan on the world is to dismantle law and order.
We should accept the need for human government, and we should also ...
B. WE SHOULD RESPECT GOVERNMENT AS GOD-ORDAINED.
In 49 or 50 AD, the Emperor Claudius enacted a Edict expelling all the Jews from Rome. There is some evidence that he was reacting to Jewish riots connected to debates about Jesus.
Later, Jews were allowed to return to Rome and some of them were now Christians. It is possible that they were hostile to the government because of what Claudius did to them.
Paul addressed this in his letter to the church in Rome:
(Romans 13:1-5) Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God's servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
This is the Bible's most detailed passage on human government. The main points are easily summarized:
God gives governments their authority and they serve God for our good (Proverbs 8:15). And ...
God authorizes governments to enforce laws.
Therefore, every Christian must submit to the government, follow its laws, and respect its agents, such as the police.
It is difficult to overstate the shock value of Paul's teaching here. The Roman government was polytheistic and brutal. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was when Paul wrote this letter? It was Nero. He was a monster. He ordered the execution of his own mother. He was a cruel tyrant who raised taxes and persecuted Christians. Give him honor and respect? Really?
It's normal for people to show contempt for the government, or politicians, or the police, or the IRS, but that is not to be normal for us. Christians are counter-cultural. We cooperate with the government and its agents because God put them in place to serve him for our good.
C. WE SHOULD RESIST GOVERNMENT.
Wait a minute, Peter. A moment ago, you told us to submit to the government, even a very bad government. Now, you're telling us to resist. That doesn't seem consistent.
I agree, but there is one situation in which a faithful believer should not submit to the government; that is, when the government or its agents tell us to break God's laws.
This was the situation when Peter and John were arrested for preaching in Jerusalem. They were hauled before the Sanhedrin, Israel's seventy-member government body. What happened next tells us when to stop cooperating with the authorities:
(Acts 4:18-21) Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After further threats they let them go.
The church exists to make Jesus known to the world. He told us to make disciples in every nation (Matthew 28:18-20). Therefore, we will never obey an order to stop spreading the message about Jesus.
Christians should cooperate with human government until its laws conflict with God's laws. At that point, we must listen to God, not man.
(Matthew 22:21) “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.”
Suppose the State sent us a letter saying that I can only teach their new Department of Religion's approved curriculum. I would not do that no matter what was in the curriculum. God already provided us a book to teach from and I don't need the government's approval to teach it. Paul told preachers to:
(2 Timothy 4:2, NLT)) Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not.
What I'm saying is: We must obey God but we should also cooperate as much as possible with the authorities. If we are compelled to break the law, we should do it in a peaceful, respectful, Christlike way.
We need a revolution. We need every Christian to rise up and join the resistance.
Not by rioting in the streets, or looting stores, or attacking the police, or vandalizing public monuments. No, we don't need to follow the insanity of the godless crowd.
Our revolution is different because we follow Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx. Jesus died and rose again to create a new people that thinks and lives in revolutionary, counter-cultural, ways.
We obey God and respect the the government.
We love our enemies and forgive them.
We live peaceful lives of excellence (kalos - beautiful, good, right - 1 Peter 2:11-12).
We pray for everyone:
(1 Timothy 2:1-4, NLT) I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.
That's our revolution. Let's get to it.
Because there is so much more to say about this, we will take another look at it next time in a teaching called Culture and Citizenship. I hope you'll join me as we explore how the followers of Jesus can be good citizens and make positive contributions to American culture.