Government and God - Study Notes
The following are some of my notes for the small group study. This is not an exhaustive study. There are some citations below which should point people in the right direction if they are trying to think more thoroughly through their ethical conduct from a Christian standpoint.
Romans 13 – In my work on Romans 13, I found just about what everyone else has found. Paul is giving a command to the Roman Christians he is writing to. Peter is doing the same thing in his book (verses below). Things to note.
1. Christians were not a registered religion, and yet it was required to be registered by the government.
a. Christianity could get by on the coattails of Judaism, which was registered, as it already had an ancient history. Roman Christians were likely mostly Jewish, especially when he first met them. However, as time went by it would be concerning as non-Jewish people converted to Christianity (they would draw more attention to themselves as being a non-Judaistic religion, and hence be found out).
b. Right now, Paul is (in part) keeping unnecessary attention off the early Christian churches. We can see Paul’s concern for the Jewish Christians as he writes in Chapters 9-11 to answer the question how the Jews (at least a good number) did not continue.
2. Textual Context – At the end of chapter 12 and into 13 there are a whole series of commands that are given. Commands to guide the behavior of this congregation. 13 is summed up with “Love thy neighbor as thyself (Romans 13:9). Chapter 14 he then goes into conscience matters regarding food. This too is evidence of the Jewish Christian mix with Gentile Christians. He is navigating the very differences between these groups under Christ.
3. Historical Commentary on this passage – Check out “Ancient Christian Commentary on Romans”
4. Acts 16 and Acts 23 tell us that Paul is happy to remind them when they have overstepped their bounds, even if he cannot overcome their rule.
Romans 13:1 Let every person be in subjection (imperative present passive 3rd person singular) to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Romans 13:2 Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Romans 13:3 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;
1 Peter 2:13 Submit (imperative) yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,
1 Peter 2:14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
1 Peter 2:15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed,
2 to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.
A look at Christian values
1. Let’s remember that Scripture offers a graded perspective of values. Some are higher or more valuable than others.
a. Jesus spoke of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23)
b. The Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:36-27)
c. The Bible speaks of the greatest virtue (1 Corinthians 13:13)
d. And “greater” acts of a given virtue (John 15:13).
e. At least three levels of sin with corresponding Judgments (Matthew 5:22)
f. Degrees of punishment in afterlife (Matthew 5:22, Romans 2:6, Revelation 20:12)
g. Graded levels of reward in heaven (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
h. Some sins call for excommunication (1Corinthians 5).
i. One sin is so great as to be unforgivable (Mark 3:29).
j. If someone loves a Father or Mother more than Jesus, they should check their hearts(Matthew 10:37).
**These illustrate that there is a gradation of commands, goods, virtues etc.
2. There are unavoidable moral conflicts in this world. This means that times will come when two values/rules conflict with each other and you will seemingly have to choose between them.
a. Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac (Obeying God or preserving Life) (Genesis 22)
i. I have some reservations about this honestly. All I am pointing out is that there is a moral conflict in Abraham’s life.
b. Samson killed himself (in matter of speaking). Killing oneself is generally wrong, but he had higher reasons for doing the act.
i. This to is nothing to trifle with, it is just how Scripture paints it the picture.
c. The Hebrew Midwives had to make a choice between obedience to Pharaoh and to God. Between a direct command to take life by the Pharaoh and a deep sense to preserve life. They chose life. They were blessed because of it (Exodus 1:20-21).
d. Rahab the prostitute chose between Truth and the Protection of ‘God’s’ spies. The preserved the spies and was blessed because of it (Joshua 6:17, James 2:25). She even is considered part of the great “Hall of Faith” for her act (Hebrews 11:31).
e. The Jewish captives disregarded the command to worship the image of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 6). They were glad to suffer the punishment and continue to worship God alone.
f. Acts 5:28-29 – the Jewish authorities commanded them not to preach/teach the name of Jesus Christ. The apostles responded, “We must obey God rather than men.” The Gospel should still be preached, considering a higher authority told them to. Obey Government or Obey God.
g. In each case an alternative is not clear. Therefore, they had to make a choice between the moral conflicts.
h. It is important to point out that there is no guilt imputed for not obeying the lesser moral value when the conflict is real. In our day, there are real conflicts, but it is often easy to make up conflicts as well in order to favor our view of something. The lines should be clear.
Jesus himself ran into conflicts
Obedience to parents or God (Luke 2)
Sabbath regulations and healing (Mark 2)
Government and God (Matthew 22).
The Cross – The demands of justice for the innocent (Himself) and mercy for humankind (the guilty). He chose mercy for the many over justice for the one. “Mercy Triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
The book “Christian Ethics,” by Norman Geisler offers the perspectives that I just wrote about above. I am entirely indebted and derived my ideas from this work.
Criteria for Civil disobedience – Evangelical Ethics by John Jefferson Davis
1) The law being resisted must be unjust and immoral, clearly contrary to the will of God.
a. Laws are not to be broken out of self-interest or whim
b. A law can be inconvenient or burdensome, but unless contrary to God and good reason, one should work at following it.
2) Legal means of changing the unjust situation should have been exhausted.
3) The act of Obedience must be public rather than clandestine.
a. We should not seek to hide our action, especially in an democracy where our witness can prove to help change laws.
4) There should be some likelihood of success.
a. Holding back on your taxes could get you prison…is that really a wise strategy?
5) Those who consider civil disobedience should be willing to accept the penalty for breaking the law.
In a country like ours, maybe something does not necessarily violate a direct law of God, but it violates some broader principle that could hurt a people group. Perhaps this then means standing with that people group in protest of the direction of a given law. Democracies offer lots of flexibility for civil disobedience on social laws and trying to affect positive change.