The point of this writing is to squash the canard that “Christians must do whatever government says.” This statement is an absolute. And its principle is not found in scripture. We are not commanded to always obey government.
What this writing is not about, is a call to action. I am not calling for defiance of government. I am not advocating for lawlessness and mobs. I merely want to make it clear that scripture does not command us to blindly obey everything government says. That’s it.
I’ve seen, over the past few months, some verses of scripture posted online to support this canard, but they ignore the context, the historical surroundings, the intent of the author, and subsequent verses. I don’t care “what this verse means to you.” That is rather irrelevant. What is relevant is what the verse meant when it was written and the intent of the author.
Let me give a quick example of how some verses of scripture are short-cited. John 3:16 is the most cited verse of scripture. It reads as follows:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son
The verse says precisely that. I can believe in universalism. It’s all about love, nothing else. Love conquers all! God doesn’t care what I do, and he will love me no matter what! I can safely ignore all other scripture, all commandments, because God is love.
Problem is, the verse doesn’t end there. The point doesn’t even end with that verse. Keep reading. Here is John 3:16 in full:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
With the full verse, we learn so much more. If we fail to believe in Christ, we will perish, and we will not have eternal life.
Verse 17 takes it further:
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
The mission of Christ is saving. And “might” be saved means that saving is not a given guarantee, there is action on our part, alluding to the previous verse. Also, God does not want to condemn us, he wants to save us. But why do we need saving?
There is a lot more doctrine involved with these verses, but they go beyond the point of this writing. Just an example of how critical it may be to not simply cite a verse, or a portion of a verse.
Let’s move on to crushing the canard.
I see Romans 13: 1 – 2 cited most often to circulate the canard that we must always obey government. It reads as follows:
1 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.
And there you have it. If we disobey government, if we challenge them in anyway, we are damned! Well, that’s not entirely what Paul is saying.
Let’s break this down.
Verse 1, we are to obey and follow the higher powers, or higher authorities. God, and His laws, are established as the highest power and highest authority. He has established earthly authorities.
Verse 2, bad things for those that disobey the higher authority.
We can’t stop there though, because Paul has more to say.
3 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:
Earthly rulers do not punish good, but they punish the bad, or evil. So, do what is right, do what is good, and you got nothing to worry about.
4 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.
“For he is the minister [servant] of God…”
Who is in charge here? God. The earthly ruler is the servant, which would make God the master. There is a chain of command here.
One of the proper roles of the earthly ruler is to punish the wicked, those who go against his master (God), those who go against his master’s law (God’s law).
If you are in the category of “evil,” or bad, or wicked, then you should be worried and fear God’s servant, the earthy ruler.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. [emphasis added]
In some translations, the word used is “Therefore.” In this context, they have the same meaning:
Because of this…
In light of this…
Due to this…
“Wherefore’ (or “therefore”) is a transition from a premise. The premise is established, and you, as a believer, are to respond thusly. Paul has established that God is the highest authority, the earthly ruler (one particular authority) is God’s servant, and one of the servant’s roles is to punish evil.
For the sake of clarity, I’m going to replace the word “wherefore” with the premise:
5 [Because the minister is executing God’s law by punishing evil], ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
So, when the earthly authority is fulfilling God’s law, and punishing evil, you are subject to this particular authority.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. [emphasis added]
For this cause…
“This” refers to God’s servant executing punishment of evil.
When God’s servants (the earthly authority) are punishing evil, you must pay tribute to this authority.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.[emphasis added]
“Their” refers to those servants (the earthly authorities) who follow God’s law by punishing the wicked. If they do this, they are due certain things from us. We must give these servants:
Tribute (taxes, tithing, etc.)
Paul is not advocating for blind obedience. He makes it clear that God is the highest authority, and we are subject to certain authorities that follow God’s law and punish the wicked. We are to respect and honor these authorities when they deserve it, when they punish the wicked.
Related: Is Mankind Inherently Good?
Still don’t believe me? Still think that Paul was advocating for blind obedience and subservience to government? Okay…
How did Paul die?
Beheading. By the government. Specifically Nero.
This means at some point, Paul did something to go against the earthly authority. This authority didn’t like it, and punished the good, by beheading Paul, a true servant of God.
Peter, who wrote similar words which Paul wrote in Romans 13, also defied the government at some point, and he was crucified upside down. There are other examples in the Bible of believers righteously defying government. They cared about the highest authority, the master, more than they cared about the authority of the master’s servant.
For my readers who happen to be members of The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if you need more examples, Abinadi defied the government, and was put to death by fire. Alma and Amulek, and those whom they taught, when against the law, and the followers (women and children) were thrown into fire and martyred. The Book of Mormon is riddled with evidence of followers of Christ being imprisoned or otherwise punished by the earthly authority. Joseph Smith (who wrote the words: we believe… in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law) escaped from jail when he was unjustly imprisoned. Section 98 of The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of law and when it is evil.
There are more examples, but I don’t believe spoon feeding it to you is the proper way for you to learn.
We, as followers of Christ, should never allow any government or government authority to misuse Romans Chapter 13 to call for support of sin, wickedness, or evil in any form. Romans 13 is not written for government to use or misuse. It was not written to government. It was written for the individual, specifically, individual believers.
What must we do when the earthly authority has gone against god’s law, and punishes the righteous and rewards the wicked? That is a completely different subject. Remember, this writing was only to illustrate scripture does not say to always and blindly obey government.