BIBLICAL SUBMISSION TO GOVERNMENT
By: David C. Gibbs, Jr.
The past two decades have brought about a phenomenon in Christianity, which although not new historically, is new in the United States. That phenomenon is a major conflict between the church and the government, which has led to confrontation in the courts. As government continues to extend its massive arm into every area of life in America, it has now entered the operation of the church. Perhaps that should not be surprising, because we have also seen the church extend its arm into areas already heavily under governmental scrutiny and regulation. One major example of this is the incredible growth of the Christian schools. For the first time in this century, we are seeing major court battles with the two main adversaries being the government and the church. It has forced the church to temporarily leave the harvest field to defend itself in courts of law as to its right to minister to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has also placed the local church under a greater scrutiny than ever before in America as to the methods by which it operates its ministries.
One could assume that these trials and this scrutiny would offer the church a new arena in which to exhibit a marvelous testimony for our Lord, and in many cases that certainly has been true. Yet, far too often, the church has developed a persecution complex that has led to an anti-government attitude. In the last few years, a frightening thing has started to happen. Many people have come to me and said, “You need to be careful. The people you represent are getting a bad reputation.”
When somebody tells us that we are getting a bad reputation, that is a poor testimony to our Lord Jesus Christ. We do not represent ourselves. The Bible says we are dead, and that we are to live for Christ. Everything we do is to be a representation of Jesus Christ. So, when someone says we are gaining a bad reputation, it ends up being our Saviour of whom ill is spoken.
I have the privilege of representing outstanding and Godly people, but people have faults and shortcomings. The Godliest person you know still has faults and shortcomings because he is still a man. We should never hold ourselves up to be perfect, but when someone says our reputation is suffering, we need to listen. There are two things they are telling us.
1. The world says that we are hostile towards government. People hostile to Christianity bring out paper after paper that have been written by Christians I know and love. The articles and papers do contain statements that are hostile to government. They do not speak well government, and, as a result, they do not speak well of Christ.
I have read materials written by fine preachers suggesting that God should strike government off the face of the earth. Other materials talk about the Supreme Court as being seven senile, old men and one senile woman who ought to be struck by lightening. When others see such statements, they perceive that Christians are hostile towards government. How could they think otherwise?
I have the privilege of seeing many Christian schools. Some of our students are developing a hostility towards government. They are not getting that hostility from the world; they are getting it from us.
2. The world says that we act as if we do not have to obey the law. They ask me, “Who do you people think you are? You walk around telling us what laws you will and will not obey.” If everybody obeyed the laws they wanted to obey, and disobeyed the laws they did not want to obey, havoc would reign. Nobody has that right. We sound to them as if we literally believe that we are a law unto ourselves, and have the right to tell government what we will and will not do.
After carefully searching the Bible, I do not find where God’s people are ever authorized to be a law unto themselves, nor do I find that we are ever authorized to have a hostile attitude towards government.
The Bible has a great deal to say about our attitude towards government, and our relationship to specific commands of government. The Bible never says that we should obey what we want, and disobey what we do not want. That is not in the Bible. We are going to cover principles from God’s Word as they apply towards the believer’s behavior towards government and the law.
The Bible talks about a sin called lawlessness. The Bible says that to disobey rightly-constituted authority is to commit the sin of lawlessness. Very few pastors preach about this sin, but I want to alert you to some things about it.
The sin of lawlessness is easy to recognize in others, but difficult to recognize in ourselves. Let me give you an example. Imagine that you are riding with a friend in his car. He drives onto the interstate highway and takes the car up to 85 miles per hour. You look over at the driver and say, “Do you realize that we are going 85 miles per hour?”
He says, “Yeah. That’s right!”
You ask, “Do you know that the speed limit here is 55 miles per hour?”
And he says, “Yes, I do. All of these roads are 55.”
Finally you say, “As a Christian, you really shouldn’t be driving 85. That is breaking the law. You should drive 60 miles per hour like I do.”
Do you see how easy it is to see lawlessness in the other person, yet how difficult it is to see in yourself? We like to compare ourselves to others. There are people who sin more flagrantly than we do, so we assume that we are not sinning. The sin of lawlessness is not a comparative sin. It is not a sin that you can judge by what another man does.
Let me give you another example. We tell people to be honest on their income taxes. When they sign, they ought to be giving their word as Christians. We tell them to be sure to the best of their ability that the numbers are right. We teach them to have integrity in their dealings, and to report all income. Of course, that is the right thing to do. Then someone comes up, slips twenty dollars in our hand and says, “God bless you.” We take that money, put it in our pocket, and somehow that money never finds its way to any tax return. We just take it. The Devil often blurs our vision when it comes time to see this sin in ourselves.
I have been in churches where we have stood and applauded lawlessness. There are laws that say a church bus is only supposed to carry a certain number of people. Nothing in the Bible is violated by that law, yet, we take a sixty-six-passenger bus and pack a hundred or more children in it. In our Sunday night service we have the team that did such an outstanding job of breaking the law stand up so that we can applaud them. We are actually saying, “God bless you. You broke the law better than anybody else today!”
The reason it is difficult to see lawlessness in ourselves is that we have a problem with the battle of desires. We do not break the law because we want to do a bad thing, but because we want to do a good thing. We overload busses or send them out with bad brakes or with tires which do not meet the legal requirement for tire tread because we want to fulfill the Great Commission. We want to do a good thing. There is no better desire than wanting to fulfill the Great Commission, but God never told us to break the law to do so.
We justify lawlessness because we desire to do a good thing for God. The end does not justify the means. Captivated by our motive of wanting to do things for God, we excuse our illegal activities. That is sin. It is the sin of lawlessness.
Imagine a businessman in your town saying, “Times are hard. I can’t afford repairs. I have a hundred men who are home-owners and need my work for a job. I can’t afford to put the money in our trucks as I should. I have a sincere desire to keep these hundred families working, so I am going to send those trucks out on the road anyway.”
If one of those trucks goes out with bad brakes or tires and kills your wife or kids, you would be furious. You would say, “Just because you had a good motive, you had no right to break the law.” We have no more right than he does.
We do not need 20/20 vision on someone else. We need 20/20 vision on ourselves. God is not going to judge us for the sin of another man. He is going to judge us for our sin. We do not need to see the mote that is in our brother’s eye. We need to see the beam that is in our own eye. The Bible says our heart justifies us. We think our own way is right. We think our motive justifies our actions, but when talking about lawlessness, the motive is not what counts. The ACTION is what counts. Our intent to do right does not excuse our actions. Hell is going to be full of people who
intended to get saved. They had the right motive. They had the right intent. God does not honor intent. He honors action.
The sin of lawlessness is seldom preached about in our churches today. The lack of our attention to this sin does not diminish its seriousness in God’s eyes.
Paul told Timothy that the main purpose of the law is to force the lawless into submission.
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. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. Romans 13:2
Lawlessness is not a quantitative sin. Quantitative sin means that because you do not do it very much, you do not classify yourself as committing the sin. Let me give you an example. A man who says that he, tells the truth 99% of the time and only lies 1% of the time may think he is not a liar, but that man is a liar. There is nothing quantitative about the sin of lying. If a man is faithful to his marriage 99% of the time and is only unfaithful 1% of the time, he is an adulterer. There is nothing quantitative about the sin of adultery.
In our church ministries, we assume that if we keep the law 99 times out of 100, we are not lawless. That is a false assumption. If you on occasion knowingly break the law, you are committing the sin of lawlessness.
We need to be careful that in our ministries, in our lives, in the instruction of our people, and in the leading of our young people, we do not follow the paths of lawlessness. God cannot bless what we do lawlessly because God does not wink at sin. A person cannot be fully used of God and continue to engage in the sin of lawlessness. If a man wants God to bless his ministry and help him reach souls for Christ, he must be careful, because the sin of lawlessness could force God to withhold His blessing from the activity. God is not in the business of blessing sin.
When you talk about the law and about the constituted authority over you, you are talking about something serious. You want to fulfill the Great Commission; you want to build a great work for God; you want to help your people; you want to do good for the young people God has entrusted to your care. Those are not good reasons to break the law.
A good or right desire does not excuse you from obedience to constituted authority over you. When people are disobedient to authority in the church, they also think they have a good idea or desire. Disobedience is a sin, and we must be careful not to allow the sin of lawlessness to hinder God’s blessing in our lives or ministry, and invite God’s judgment.
BIBLICAL BASIS OF GOVERNMENT
When considering the Biblical basis of government, we need to decide what our authority will be. What does our faith say about our duties as Christians towards government and the law? What are our responsibilities to society? What is to be the source for our beliefs?
The Bible alone is to be our source. Nothing else. If you listen to many Christian people speak, you will hear other sources used to explain the Christian’s responsibility towards government, as if there are other things to be considered in these matters. I have heard some of these false sources taught to our children. I have seen men give testimonies using false sources. Anything other than the Bible is a false source.
1. THE SOURCE OF OUR BELIEFS IS NOT THE CONSTITUTION. God did not author the Constitution of the United States. God authored His Word, and next to the Bible, the Constitution is nothing. We should not raise anything to the status of the Scripture! There are serious problems with the Constitution as a source for our beliefs.
The Constitution is man-conceived. The idea came from men. Some were noble men, but if you read the history of all of the men involved, you will discover that some were not so noble. The Constitution was formed from the thoughts of these men. The Word of God was not formed from man’s thoughts. The Word of God was formed by God’s thoughts.
The Constitution is man-originated. The initiative to create the Constitution was man’s idea. In any good history of the Constitution, you will find compromise upon compromise. The writers realized that unless they compromised, they could not unite the colonies. Before they even began writing the Constitution, they began compromising it. The Word of God is not compromised in any respect.
The Constitution is man-written. The First Amendment was supposed to be much more powerful than it is. However, supporters realized that it would never be accepted in some of the colonies, so they compromised it. It is not the document they thought was best, but a document they thought would pass. Franklin said, “What is the use of writing something that will never be implemented?” God wrote His Word with no thought as to whether or not anyone would accept it. He wrote it because it is truth.
The Constitution is man-enforced. If you could stand with us in courtrooms throughout this nation, you would see that what is enforced in one place is not enforced in another. Laws are enforced ten different ways in ten different places. You soon begin to think that there is no standard at all. It is whatever the men think at that time. That is always the problem when men are involved. God enforces His Word consistently.
The Constitution is man-interpreted. If you are forming any of your religious beliefs based upon a Constitutional idea, you will have a problem. You will need to call Washington every Monday morning to find out what you believe, because every Monday morning Washington “re-scrambles the egg.” I am thankful that God’s Word is not going to change for eternity. Not even God can change His Word.
It takes eight justices to change the entire interpretation of the Constitution. There are things that ten years ago were absolutely illegal and now are legal. How did that happen? We changed the eight justices. The document never changed. We just changed the people interpreting the document. You talk about something unstable and in a constant state of flux. The Constitution is that kind of document.
The Constitution provides for its own amendment. There is nothing in it that is sacred. Even the men who wrote it said that every bit of it could be changed. You can try to rewrite the Word of God but it will not change because God’s Word is unchangeable.
I am not being disrespectful of the Constitution, but you cannot elevate the Constitution to the level of Scripture. If you base your beliefs on the First Amendment, you are raising the Constitution to the level of God’s Word. I hear people say that they believe in the Constitution, yet they have never read it through from front to back. It is strange to have your beliefs anchored to a document that you have not even read. The Constitution is simply not to be the source of our beliefs.
2. THE SOURCE OF OUR BELIEFS IS NOT THE TRADITION OF ENJOYED LIBERTIES. The second false source for our beliefs is the tradition of enjoyed liberties. This is your heritage. Do not Americanize the Bible. Many Christians have a tendency to do that.
It is our duty to try and preserve a good heritage, but that heritage is not the basis of our beliefs. If God calls you to be a missionary in Australia, your Biblical beliefs about government should work there as easily as they do in America. God’s Word was given to the world, not just to America. When you start Americanizing your beliefs, you will have a difficult time if God ever calls you out of America. Even under the most repressive of dictators, your beliefs about government would not change. The duties of believers under a repressive form of government would be identical to our duties in America.
In America, you do something that is almost unparalleled anywhere in the world. Right now, you can get in an automobile without telling anyone where you are going. You do not even have to know where you are going. You can get out on the highway and drive from state to state without showing papers of identification to anyone. You do not have to tell anyone your purpose, and your belongings are never subject to search. That is a liberty we enjoy in America.
Europeans do not have that liberty. In Europe you are checked from border to border. You have to show identification, get permission to be there, and identify your purpose for being there. You do not even have to go to Europe to experience this. My belongings were searched when I tried to go into Canada a couple of years ago. I like the liberty we have. I thank God for it. But there is nothing in my faith that says that as I travel they cannot question me, look at my belongings, or ask my purpose for traveling.
Do not allow the tradition of enjoyed liberties to be the basis of your faith. God may one day take you to minister in a place where you do not have those enjoyed liberties. I have heard men preach on a believer’s duty towards government. As they preached, I examined every point to see if it would apply to a Christian in Russia. Would their duties be the same? They should be. Otherwise, they are not founded on a Scriptural basis.
3. THE SOURCE OF OUR BELIEFS IS NOT OUR PERSONAL THOUGHTS ABOUT GOVERNMENT
OR LAW. I do not know about you, but I really get impressed with what I think. We all like to discuss our personal thoughts on things. Yet, next to Scripture, our personal thoughts do not mean a thing. God’s lowest thoughts are above our highest thoughts. His ways are above our ways. Our finest thoughts come from a mind God created. Do not become too impressed with your thinking and intellect, because man’s best is stupidity in God’s sight. We are a created being. God is the Creator of the minds that contain our thoughts.
I have heard people say, “Bless God!” and then give their own thoughts. Be careful that you do not “tack on God” to your thoughts. We think that God must think a certain way because we think that way. That is “tacking on God.” Let me give you an example. Did you ever have a great sermon idea and then try to find some Bible to back it up? That is how easily we get enamored by our own thoughts and ideas.
I have heard people say, “A democracy is the most tremendous form of government in the world. That is what my faith says.” That is not in the Bible. That is one man’s thought. (Bless their hearts. They do not realize that they do not live in a democracy. They live in a republic.) So, they say, “I believe the Bible teaches a republic is the most blessed form of government in the world.” The Bible does not say that when Jesus rules and reigns it is going to be a republic or a democracy! When we talk about the faith, we better not anchor it to what we think. We better anchor it to what God says.
One of the problems with our thoughts is that they change from day to day. There are things that I was once convinced were right that I am now convinced are wrong. There are things that I was once convinced were wrong, that I am no longer sure whether they are right or wrong. This happens as you grow older. There are some things I felt very strongly about when I was in my twenties that I am no longer certain I believe. Do you know why? Because the mind is an instrument subject to deception. The Bible says that the Devil is a master deceiver. Your Biblical approach to government should not be anchored to your personal thoughts. Search the Word of God and make it your platform.
4. THE SOURCE OF OUR BELIEFS IS NOT THE MEANS TO REACH A DESIRED END OR
GOAL. Most of us like what works for us and dislike what does not work for us. Just because something works we believe in it; or because something does not work we do not believe in it. If we are not careful, what we believe will be based on whether or not something helps us reach our desired end or goal instead of whether it is the truth.
Here is an example using a hypothetical situation. There are two pastors conversing. One pastor says, “I went to the Land Use Commission and they stopped a liquor store from going in beside our church. They said they could not open next to a church on either side! They stopped it. I believe in it.”
The other pastor said, “I went to the Land Use Commission, and they said I cannot have a church in that county. There is not one fundamentalist church on that side of the county, yet they said it had too many churches already. I do not believe in it.”
One was for the Land Use Commission and one was against it, based on whether or not it worked for them. We like what works, and we dislike what does not work. Everybody loves a state if we can organize well and can do things effectively in its legislature. Everyone hates states where the legislature is hostile and vicious. Your beliefs and responsibilities towards government should not be based on whether or not it works well for you. If your personal experiences are good, so be it; if they are bad, so be it. Do not establish your belief structure from that.
Government did not work very well for the Apostle Paul. Christians in America have not sat chained in filth in the bottom of a solid stone jail for months. Government did that to Paul. There is not one of us whose backs have been torn open to the bone. Government did that to Paul. None of us have had government totally direct our every activity because we were a prisoner in jail. Government did that to Paul. If the Apostle Paul based his belief on whether government let him reach a desired end or goal, he would have had a vicious attitude towards government.
Yet, the Apostle Paul still said that every soul should be subject to the higher power, for there is no power but of God. The Bible should be the exclusive source for our beliefs. There is one source that tells us what God wants us to do. God never authorized us to be His spokesmen outside of His Word. The first thing we need to do is get rid of false sources, and get down to the one integral component, the source Book of our faith, God’s Word. When you get ready to speak on the Biblical duty towards government, stay with Scripture, and forsake all other.
WHAT IS GOVERNMENT?
1. GOVERNMENT IS CREATED AND INSTITUTED BY GOD. The concept of government is introduced in the very beginning of God’s Word to us in the Book of Genesis. God always has an order for things. God told Noah and his sons that a government of law will be established to protect the lives of men.
And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso shaded man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. Genesis 9:5-6
The Scripture makes it clear that government is ordained by God. To rebel against government is to rebel against an institution created by God. Government is not man’s invention. When you talk about government, you are talking about something God divinely created. You are not talking about something man invented. This is where we get deceived. The Constitution says, “…by the people, of the people, and for the people.” The Bible says no such thing. It says God divinely created government.
God divinely created only three institutions.
1. God divinely created the home.
2. God divinely created government.
3. God divinely created the church.
I have heard men say things about government that they would never say about the home. I have heard men say things about government they would never say about the church. When you speak against government, you are speaking against what God divinely created. We say bad things about government because we see government do some incredibly bad things. Yet, we see homes do incredibly bad things. That does not authorize us to speak against the home. We see churches do incredibly bad things; that does not permit us to speak against the church.
If you are against government, you are against God. I have heard people say, “I cannot wait until we get to eternity and there is no more government.” They are in for a surprise! Government is going to be around for all eternity. Jesus Christ Himself is going to rule and reign. You better be very careful how you speak about government because God intends to keep it around forever.
Government is something very important and divine in God’s Book. Man did not invent it. God initiated it and brought it into existence. When people say you have a hostile attitude towards government, that ought to scare you. It would scare you if they said you have a hostile attitude towards the home. It would scare you if they said you have a hostile attitude towards the church. That attitude would show hostility toward what God created and instituted. It would be a sin. Does it trouble you when people say Christians have a hostile attitude towards government? It should,
because God divinely created it.
2. GOVERNMENT IS RAISED UP AND SUSTAINED BY GOD. There are passages throughout Scripture which teach that every government in history has been raised up and sustained only at the will of God. Contrary to man’s thoughts, government is not an ingenious invention from the feeble mind of man.
And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to is will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Daniel 4:35
God has total control in the affairs of the governments of this earth. How can that be? Our society elects our own rulers and, in many parts of our country, we even elect our own judges.
By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth. Proverbs 8:15,16
The Bible teaches that it is God who raises up and God who puts down governments, not man. It instructs that God rules in the affairs of man. Somehow we have the idea that if we exercise proper Christian stewardship, we can re-alter the course of government. No matter what kind of Christian citizenship or Christian stewardship you exercise, if God says no, it is not going to be. It is God who raises up, and God who puts down all governments.
The Bible teaches that sometimes God even raises up wicked and unjust governments. In Daniel, we find Nebuchadnezzar in power. Nebuchadnezzar was a vile man, vaunted in his imagination and almost unsurpassed in his wickedness. He dreamed that there was a huge tree growing up out of the ground. The tree extended up into the heavens, and the birds and animals took lodging there. The tree was cut down, except for the stump. Nebuchadnezzar, troubled by the dream, called Daniel to interpret. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the tree, and that God had raised him to great power and authority. God did not raise a good king. He raised a bad king. He certainly did not raise someone who gave homage to God. He raised someone who was vaunted in his own imagination. Yet it was God who had raised him up.
Nebuchadnezzar was cut down like that tree, demonstrating that it is God who rules in the affairs of man. It is God who raises kings up, and God who puts kings down. The Bible says that God gives to whomsoever He will, even to the basest of men. There has never been, and never will be a government that God does not raise up or put down. The government in your state is raised up of God. The government in our country is raised up of God.
At times God would raise up wicked and hostile powers to punish His people. They did not rise on their own. God was in control. Some of our problems are a result of not exercising enough citizenship, but we better realize that some of what is being raised up against us is God’s judgment. God is in control with or without our citizenship.
When someone walks in and says that he is from the government, do you recognize that person as an individual raised up of God, or do you recognize him as someone empowered by man? It is God who raises up and sustains government. When God is finished sustaining that government, it is done.
God’s role in raising up and sustaining government does not mean that we do not have a duty or responsibilities toward government. It does not mean that we can enter into an abandonment theology and assume that what is going to be going to be, no matter what we do. God will judge that.
When we stand before the state legislature, we are standing before something raised up by God, whether the legislature is good or bad. Remember when you deal with someone in a position of authority, that the person has been raised up by God. The Bible says the heart of the king lies in the hand of God and He turns it wheresoever He will. The most wicked and vile ruler’s heart turns wherever God wants it.
I have seen God at work in the hearts of rulers. I have seen people who were supposed to be friendly to Christians do terribly unfriendly things. I have seen men who ran on a platform opposing us, turn around and show great kindness. The Bible says that their hearts are in the hand of God, and that God can turn them wherever He wants. It excites me to serve a God that great!
3. GOVERNMENT IS UNDER AND SUBJECT TO GOD. I would love to see only good men in positions of power, because the Bible says when the righteous bear rule the people rejoice. But it does not say that God only gets His way when the righteous bear rule. God is going to get His way no matter what. We have the idea that if we all voted and exercised citizenship like we should, somehow bad governments would never come to power. This thought is foolish. We need to understand that while there are duties and responsibilities given to us that we need to fulfill, government is still totally under God and subject to Him.
Thine O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. I Chronicles 29:11
If a person walks in and says, “I am here from the government.” Is your first reaction negative? Do you have that same reaction when someone from church walks in? Do you have that same reaction when a parent walks in? If you have a bad reaction to government, it is because your spirit is not right. We must treat government as something God instituted. We must treat
it as something raised up by God. The best thing you could do is say, “I am glad you are here. You know you would not even be here if my God had not raised you up. By the way, whether you know it or not, you will do His will!”
God sustains all government and government is subject to Him.
OBEDIENCE IS GOD-COMMANDED.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; and honour to whom honour. Romans 13:5-7
Obedience to government can be likened to obedience you would show the pastor of your church, because both are leaders of institutions ordained of God. Obedience to government is obedience to God; it is obedience to what God created. It is obedience to what God raises up, and what God puts down. It is obedience to what is under and subject to God. We believe that obedience to the church is obedience to God. We believe that obedience in the home is obedience to God. Obedience to government is likewise obedience to God.
1. We do not obey government because we are conservative. Some of the biggest reprobates I know are conservative reprobates, and yet I hear Christian men say that all conservatives are good. I have seen conservatives stand for things that are in direct opposition to Scripture. I may think like they do on some points, but I do not obey government because I am a conservative. I obey government because I am a Christian. Conservatism is a matter of your personal thoughts. A man could be a Christian, and not be too conservative. One of the foremost conservatives in the country is a beer baron. He makes his living and founded his fortune by selling alcohol. I have no sympathy with that man. I do not want to be affiliated with that man. We do not obey because we are conservative. We obey because we are Christians.
2. We do not obey government because we are patriotic. This is confusing, especially to our children. We teach them that they should obey government because that is what patriots do. A homosexual can be patriotic. A homosexual can be stirred when he sees the flag, or even feel pride when he salutes it. As he pledges, he can feel a grip of emotion. That is patriotism. I thank God for patriotism, but that is not why we are obedient. We obey because the Bible teaches us to obey.
3. We do not obey government because we are good citizens. The Bible teaches us to be good citizens, but do not place the cart before the horse. You are not obedient to government because you are a good citizen. You are a good citizen because you are obedient. Do not get that confused. Our good citizenship is a result of our obedience to God.
4. We do not obey government because of the nature of government. Daniel did not have the pleasure of living under a just government. After Daniel spent the night in the lions’ den, his attitude towards the king was one of respect. His first words to the king were, O king live forever (Daniel 6:21)
We decide that if the government is just, we will obey it, but if it is unjust, we will not obey it. There is no such thing as a just government. I love America, but I have seen my government do some unjust things. I have seen my government authorize the murder of babies. I have seen my government stop the reading of Scripture and prayer in school. I have seen my government put good people in jail. Until Jesus rules and reigns, there is not going to be a just government.
I have seen good men do unjust things. I have seen bad men do just things. The Bible does not say to obey the just governments and disobey the unjust ones. It is not the nature of the government that determines your obedience. It is God who determines your obedience. It is not the nature of the men holding positions of trust that commands your obedience. It is God who commands your obedience. Obedience to government is something I do as a matter of obedience to God, not to men.
Disobedience to government is disobedience to God. You are not violating and flouting men or an unjust government. When you disobey for any reason other than as a matter of obedience to God, disobedience to government becomes disobedience to God. That makes the Christian’s responsibility much more serious.
Obedience to government is a matter of conscience. Romans 13 says that we should be obedient not for fear of the sword, but for conscience sake. It is in conscience that we do these matters towards government. It is a matter of keeping clear conscience towards God. I want to be obedient to government because that is how I maintain conscience towards God. Have you ever broken the law and the Holy Spirit convicts your conscience? Do you know why? Because you are breaking conscience towards God. When we are disobedient, be it to a good government or to a bad government, we are in trouble with our conscience towards God.
Daniel was a young man who under extraordinary conditions was taken captive by a hostile government. Daniel never lived under a good, just government. Every government that ruled over that young man was wicked, barbaric, and hostile. Daniel rose to prominence because he recognized that obedience was not based on the nature of the government. He knew that obedience was a
matter of conscience towards God. The reason that Daniel rose to a position of prominence was because they found in him “a most excellent spirit.” How could Daniel show a most excellent spirit towards a wicked, unjust and vile government? Because he did it as unto his God. The world is looking at us, and, unfortunately, not always finding a most excellent spirit.
The Biblical responsibility of the Christian towards government is something very meaningful to our faith. If a woman has a husband who is not a good and Godly man, should she still show him obedience? Of course! The obedience to the husband is not because of his Godly nature or lack of it. It is as unto God. The same thing is true with government. You do not obey government because it is good. You do not disobey government because it is bad. You do not obey the law because it is fair or just. It is a matter of conscience towards God. Obedience comes in two parts. Christians are usually pretty good at one, but have a much greater difficulty with the other.
1. Obedience in action and deed is commanded throughout Scripture. This is the aspect of obedience we basically understand and accept. If the law says to do something, we do it. If the law says not to do something, we do not do it. If it says to do something a certain way, we do it that way. If it says do not do something a certain way, we do not do it that way. It is obedience in our actions and our deeds. We are to be a people whose actions speak for us. James says that if you have faith without works, or if your actions do not back up what you say, your faith is dead. Obedience for us
is a matter of action, not just desire or intent.
I have heard people say, “I know our church should not be doing that, and just as soon as we can, we are going to correct it.” You are saying that you are not guilty of lawlessness, because you have the right intentions and a desire to see them corrected. Desires and intentions do not outspeak your actions. Actions are what count. Obedience is required in our actions.
We obey government because our conscience towards God requires it. Your actions are what govern your conscience towards God. We are obedient not towards favorable or desired laws, but towards all laws, because that is how we maintain conscience towards God.
I think some laws are rather foolish, but they are still the law. We have a super highway system that was designed twenty-five years ago to accommodate cars going seventy miles per hour. Cars have improved dramatically, yet we have lowered the speed limit to fifty-five miles per hour. That does not make much sense. But it is still the law, and it is my actions that count. We need to be certain that there is obedience in our actions and in our deeds.
2. Obedience in our Spirit is a Matter of Honor and Loyalty. The second aspect of obedience is in our spirit. This is a matter of honor and loyalty. You are not being obedient as unto men. You are not being obedient as unto the institution. When you are obedient to government, you are obedient in conscience as unto God. That requires obedience in spirit. What did they say about Daniel? They found in him a most excellent spirit. Do you have obedience in your actions, but possess a spirit that is obviously not behind those actions? Do you show legitimate loyalty and honor to the government that God has placed over you as unto God? Daniel showed honor and loyalty even to bad kings.
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King. I Peter 2:17
My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change. Proverbs 24:21
The wrath of a king is as messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it. Proverbs 16:14
There is a cartoon of a little child who is instructed by his teacher to sit down. When the child sits down, he says to the teacher, “I am sitting down on the outside, but I am standing up on the inside.” That child had obedience in his actions, but not in his spirit.
Sometimes a pastor will suggest something that he believes God would have his church to do. Have you ever seen a member go along with something, yet also question and criticize it? That is an example of obedience in action, but not in spirit. It is more important that you be obedient in spirit. Daniel was in a difficult situation because his faith demanded that he offer prayer to God. The Scripture says he prayed “as was his custom.” He did not start praying after they told him not to. Some people do not get an idea until they are told not to do something. That is a bad spirit. This
was already Daniel’s custom.
Daniel was arrested because he violated the law of the Medes and the Persians. The king was distressed because Daniel had been exemplary in his behavior and had done no wrong. His deeds and his spirit had been right. The king told Daniel that he was going to honor his decree. Daniel had shown him honor and obedience, yet was to be rewarded by being thrown into a den of lions. Those lions were accustomed to eating whatever was thrown in to them. Daniel was to be fed to them for being faithful to God even though he had shown great loyalty to the king.
The next morning Darius rushed to see what happened to Daniel. The Bible said that the stone was rolled back, and there stood Daniel among those wild, savage beasts, looking up at the king. Daniel did not look up at the king and say, “You buzzard. I served you faithfully and look how you rewarded me.” He looked up at the king and said, O king, live forever. Daniel gave him the highest salutation of praise that you could extend to a reigning monarch, because he understood that obedience was more than actions. Obedience was a matter of spirit and loyalty. The king had done him evil, but Daniel, as unto God, remained loyal to Darius.
Is that our testimony? I wish I could tell you it was, but there are times in a courtroom when people from the government have given testimony of how they were treated when they came to our churches. We did not wish them life forever. We were hostile. That hostility is not authorized by Scripture. The reason we obey in spirit is because of our conscience towards God.
THE SCOPE OF OBEDIENCE
If the government tells you to do something that blasphemes God, what are you commanded to do? What is to be the scope of your obedience in conscience towards God? You need to be careful that you do not establish some false boundaries of conscience. We see false boundaries in our law office every single week. People call us and say, “I am a Christian. I belong to Christ, but the government wants me to do something, and I do not believe I can do it.” Then they explain their boundaries, and often they are false boundaries. The Devil is the Master Deceiver. He would like
nothing better than to see us with the right principles, but setting the wrong boundaries. If you set the wrong boundary of obedience, you will still be committing the sin of lawlessness.
1. The boundary is not whether or not you personally like a law. There are many laws that I personally do not like. There are laws that most people do not like. The Bible does not say to obey the laws you like and disobey the laws you do not like. That is not the boundary. Because you like something does not mean God likes it. Because you dislike something does not mean God dislikes it. The boundary is not our likes or our dislikes.
2. The boundary is not whether or not it causes us problems. Just because a law places a difficulty on your ministry does not mean that it does not need to be obeyed. We seem to have the idea that as long as laws do not cause us to change, we will be happy. If they pass a law that does not cause us too much difficulty, then it is all right with us, but, when they start passing laws that make it more difficult for our ministry, or cause us problems, that is where we draw the line.
The Bible does not say that just because you have been allowed to do something in the past, you should be able to continue doing it in the future. The Bible does not say you should only obey the laws which do not cause you any inconvenience. That is not the boundary. Much of the time when we hear someone complaining about a law, it is because it is causing a personal problem for him.
Most of our churches are not wealthy churches. Our ministry is not a wealthy ministry. We literally exist week to week and month to month. There have been many months that I have had more bills than I had money. Sometimes a law is passed which makes things even more difficult. The natural tendency is to get discouraged or angry. Just because the law creates a financial burden does not mean that it is not right. If we could disobey laws simply because they create a burden, almost no law would exist. We would begin to live in a lawless, disordered society, because none of us wants additional burdens.
There are times I think government passes too many laws. At our law office we receive boxes of new laws every month, and we only get a small portion of them! Just because those laws cause burdens for you personally does not give you permission to disobey them. It is amazing how we talk in human terms and not divine terms. Just because we have personal financial difficulty does not mean that God is unable or that His hand is short. God is able to meet our needs. We must not allow difficulties to determine our obedience.
3. The boundary is not whether or not other Christians are going along with it. We call this the theology of the herd. If the herd is going to do it, we run with them, but if they are not going to do it, we stop with them. God does not judge the group. He judges individuals. When you stand before God to give an account of your thoughts and deeds, He is not going to ask you what the group did. He is going to judge you for what you did.
There is great benefit in fellowshipping together. There can be great benefits in Christian school organizations that come together for meetings and do things as a group. The Bible teaches that in the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. But do not let a group make your decisions, because the group may be wrong. We all have seen groups that over a period of time have gone the wrong way. There is no excuse for us following them.
When Christian schools were just beginning to be popular, nearly everybody thought that they should go to the state and become licensed. Our law practice spent a large amount of time helping Christian schools get licensed by the state. I went to a meeting of several hundred preachers. The man heading the meeting asked everyone who would cooperate; who would help us keep a good testimony; who would do what was right towards the state; and who was willing to do what was God-honoring, and to take the state’s license, to stand. It looked like everybody stood. He asked if
anyone there intended to defame the testimony of Christ by not agreeing to have his Christian school licensed. One man stood up. His name was Levi Whisner. He explained that he could not accept the state’s license. Hisschool was a vibrant part of his church. Levi Whisner believed that whatever he would do to his school, he must also do to his church, because they were the same. He said he wanted to cooperate with the state, and show them a good spirit, but he could not accept a license.
Other men began speaking to him harshly. They told him the roof was going to come down on all their heads, and that he was going to cause all of them trouble. One man stood up and asked if Levi Whisner thought everybody else in the world was wrong and he was right. They asked why God only spoke to him and not to the others. A long-time friend of Pastor Whisner pleaded with him to go along with the rest of the group.
With tears in his eyes, Levi Whisner said, “I wish I could. With every ounce of energy I want to go along with you, but I cannot do what you want me to do and be true to the One to whom I belong.”
We walked out of that meeting with just one man purposing to do what the whole group had purposed not to do. Levi Whisner was proven to be right. Today, most of the men in that group believe what Levi Whisner believes. What would have happened that day if Levi Whisner had said, “I do not believe I should do it. I do not have a peace about it, but for the sake of the group I will give in.” Be careful that your line is not set by what a group will or will not do, because that is a false boundary.
4. The boundary is not money. This is theology of the wallet — when a law costs us money, we will not obey it because we are short of money. Just because obedience costs money does not mean that we should or should not obey. That is a false boundary. It is difficult when finances are tight to obey laws that cost money. The Bible says that God can meet our needs. Whether or not we have the financial resources, we must not let our judgment be affected as to where the right boundary is in our obedience to government.
Every week preachers tell us that they would not mind a certain law, but they do not have the money. That is why they cannot obey it. If their busses were put through a safety inspection, half of them would not pass. The line has become the wallet. Certainly expense can create a great pressure, but it should not set your faith. Sometimes our buildings and busses can cause us much trouble. If we are not careful, they will govern what we believe. Instead of controlling them, they control us. We must not allow that to happen or we may forfeit their usefulness for God.
YOUR BIBLICAL BOUNDARY DEFINED
In Acts chapter four, Peter and John show us the extent of obedience to which a Christian should adhere. They were preaching to the people. The priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees had them arrested because of their message. Peter and John spent the night in jail, and the next day they were put on trial. They were asked by what power they preached. In the midst of the trial, Peter preached a salvation message. The rulers knew that Peter and John had been with Jesus. They sent Peter and John outside while they conferred in their chambers as to what to do
with these Christians.
They did not know what to do with Peter and John because they could not deny the miracle which they had performed. The blind man who had been healed was with them. After much debate, they decided to force Peter and John not to speak to anyone about this power that they claimed was in Jesus’ name. The court called Peter and John back and read them its decision. A restraining order was placed on two preachers to prevent them from speaking or teaching about Jesus.
Courts and governmental agencies are trying to do the same thing today. They are taking away our rights to freely teach about Jesus. God, through Peter’s and John’s examples, show Christians what to do in these situations.
But Peter and John answered and said unto them, whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. Acts 4:19-20
Peter and John drew the line beyond which government should not go at the preaching of the Word of God. Nevertheless the court let them go because it could find nothing for which to punish them.
Later, someone told the Sanhedrin that Peter and John were teaching again. Once again they assembled together and called Peter and John before them. They interrogated them asking, Did we not straightly command you that ye should not teach in His name?
Peter’s response was, We ought to obey God rather than man. Here we see that when man’s law conflicts with our commands from God, we are to obey God.
Peter and John were beaten and then freed. Again they were told not to speak in the name of Jesus. Look at their reaction. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Their spirit was right; they were not ill-tempered like many Christians today would be. They did not cry out about violations of their civil rights. Do you see what their immediate concern was? To keep preaching the Gospel. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. They did this in
direct contradiction to governmental orders, but in direct obedience to God’s orders.
We are not allowed to give up our witness for Christ. If there is a ruling which commands us not to witness any longer, we must faithfully continue witnessing as they did.
The Biblical boundary is the following: I will always be obedient to government until that obedience requires me to be disobedient to God. I will always in conscience obey government because I am obeying God when I obey government. I will obey government until government requires me to break conscience with God.
Always obey government — good government and bad government; fair government and unfair government; government I like and government I do not like. That means government which I think is nice, and government which I think is not nice. This matter of obedience as a matter of conscience is critical. In conscience we do it as unto God, not as unto the government. The only time we are Scripturally excused from obedience is when government violates what God demands. It is not when government violates what we desire. It is not when government violates the structure of our finances. It is not when government goes along with other Christians. We are to be obedient as in conscience unto God until what government asks of us would require us to break conscience with God. Peter said, we must needs obey God rather than man.
Occasionally we are faced with a law that creates great hardships to our ministry. It is a nuisance, and there seems to be no good reason for it. The law, however, does not violate our faith. It is a law that we would like to see changed. Is it right for a Christian to attempt to have laws changed, or even eliminated? You are authorized to participate in personal politics, but it should always be done with respectful dissent. Remember, you do not represent yourself. You represent Christ.
I hate to hear a Christian say he is not doing something as a Christian, but as a citizen. Where did he leave Christ? The day you got saved you forfeited the right to make such a statement. You are purchased whether you want to be purchased or not! Thank God you were purchased, because that is why you are saved. You are blood-bought and blood-washed. Anything you ever do in the realm of personal politics is done as a Christian. Anything else betrays the foundation of the Scriptural faith.
You are still dissenting as a Christian, so you must be careful to do it respectfully. The Bible says be careful, that through your actions, you do not bring a reproach upon Christ. If you have a bad attitude, you bring a reproach on Christ. Make a respectful dissent. Do not tack on God to personal preferences. God is not necessarily against something because we are against it, nor is He necessarily for something because we are for it. If God’s Word does not comment on a matter, do not become the author of His opinion.
It is wrong for you to use your title as a Christian or your position of pastor to give you more influence to get your own personal political ideas advanced. Do not use God. Do not position God on the issue. Do not give people the idea that a vote against your ideas is a vote against God.
One of the worst things I have ever seen took place at a legislative hearing in California. A fundamentalist preacher said, “I want you to know I am for this, and God is for this.” The next witness was also a fundamentalist preacher, and he said, “I want you to know I am against this, and God is against this.” The chairman of that committee said, “God appears to have a problem here today.”
It was not the place of either man to position God for the issue or against it, because the issue had nothing to do with their faith. It had to do with what they personally wanted or did not want. That is one reason why you should not tack God onto your preferences.
One of the finest things I have seen was when a preacher stood before a state legislature and said, “I want you to know I am a Christian. I belong to Jesus Christ, but what I am here asking today has to do with something that I personally desire to see happen. I want you to know that the law, the way it is now, creates great difficulty for us. I will be obedient to that law whether you change it or not as in obedience to my God, because it does not violate my faith. But, I personally would like to see you change it.” That is integrity. He did not try to use God. We need to be careful
what we do with personal politics.
Sometimes we seem to think the presentation is more forceful if we can make it confrontational or insulting. You are to be the peacemaker. You are a representative of Christ, and you need to watch that demonstrate a respectful dissent. To show disrespect to government is to show disrespect to God. Obedience is a matter of obedience to God, and disobedience is disobedience to God. Show respect as unto God.
METHOD OF DISOBEDIENCE
We have set the boundary — obedience to government is required as long as that government does not require us to be disobedient to God. A very dangerous thing can happen at this point. A man wants to obey government, but what government is asking him to do would cause disobedience to God. His boundary is proper, but what government is asking him to do in this instance violates God’s Word. He cannot obey government because to be obedient to government would necessitate a breach of conscience to God. The man has to disobey government. Having come to the right stand is only half of the issue. What you do at that point is the other half.
Many men take the right stand and then use the wrong method. The right stand with the wrong method is as bad as the wrong stand. Just because you have the right position does not allow you to do whatever you please. God’s Word still covers the method that you are to employ during the time of your stand.
In a meeting of Christian school leaders, a man said that his school was a part of the church and that the government wanted it to be licensed and to do other things contrary to Scripture. He said that he could not obey those requirements because it would require disobedience to God. Up to this moment everyone, including me, agreed. Then he said, “I want everybody to get a gun!”
I said, “What? A gun? You mean as in shoot?”
He said, “Yes. If somebody comes from the government to the school door we can put the fear in them!”
I already had the fear, and they had not even bought the gun yet! They had the right stand, but were totally wrong on the method. The right stand with the wrong method is as bad as the wrong stand. You are only half way into it once you have determined where the line is. I believe the Bible gives us some definite principles that we need to use when we discuss the method of disobedience. These are guideposts to protect our steps in Christian disobedience. Each one of these needs to be honored.
1. BE SURE YOUR POSITION IS A BEDROCK POSITION, BACKED BY SCRIPTURE.
Our God is a jealous God. He wants our full obedience to Him. He will not and cannot allow Himself to be subject to any human government. We must, however, be sure that our disobedience to government is caused by something commanded by God.
Be sure your position is a bedrock position backed by Scripture, not just by great oratory, the position of a group, or things you may think. If your position is not backed by Scripture, you are doing nothing more than leading yourself, your people, and your children into the sin of lawlessness. It is only when obedience to government necessitates disobedience to God that you are ever justified in being disobedient to government. Be sure that your disobedience is backed by the Word of God.
This day the Lord thy God hath commanded thee to do these statutes and judgments; thou shalt therefore keep and do them with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. Deuteronomy 26:16
Check with Scripture before you take your stand, not after. I have seen men take a stand, and then decide to see what they can find in the Bible about it. You need to search the scripture before you take your stand. If you have not done it before, then for certain do it after, but you should do it before. Find out what God has to say before you attempt to tell others what He has to say.
People think preachers are experts in the Bible. If my preacher says something is wrong, I believe him. My preacher is an expert in these matters. People trust the preacher…especially children. Preacher, how would you like one day to stand before God and discover you led children into the sin of lawlessness without even checking God’s Word? How would you like God to say, “Do you remember those tender children I gave you? You not only led them into the sin of lawlessness, you taught those little ones how to be disobedient without even checking my Word.” The Bible says it would be better for you to be dead than to offend the little ones. We must be careful.
Do not merely quote other men on these matters. Men can be wrong. It does not matter what someone else says. He could be wrong. You better find out what God says to be sure it is bedrock. Read Scripture for what it says, not what you want it to say. We criticize the cults for reading into the Bible what they want to see, and then we turn around and do the same thing. If God had wanted to say other things, He would have. He said it the way He wanted it. Be sure your position is bedrock conviction, founded on Scripture.
2. ENGAGE IN MUCH PRAYER AND FASTING. In times of disobedience against government, it is absolutely essential that you stay in the Word and pray. The Bible tells us in many different passages that we should pray in these difficult times.
Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak. Mark 14:38
When we go against man’s ordinances, it is easy to lose hold of solid reasons for your actions. Make sure you ask God for His wisdom during those times.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5
During any persecution you may face, it is vital to pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you: Matthew 5:44
Engage in much prayer and fasting. You cannot be the man of God without prayer and fasting. It is an absolute prerequisite. You say, “You do not understand my schedule. You do not understand the press of demands upon my time. You do not understand how busy I am in the service of God.” God never asked you to substitute activity for spirituality. The fact that you have more activity than anybody else is no substitute for spirituality. The man or woman who does not engage in prayer lacks true spirituality. When you do something as serious as lead yourself, your people, and your children in disobedience to something God created, you had better get alone with God. Be sure through prayer and fasting that you know what God says in His Word.
I do not find that God often speaks to me when I am in a group. I find that He really thunders in my ears when I am alone on my knees. We do not hear much from God because we are not on our knees quiet before Him, searching His Word and meditating. Be sure you engage in much prayer and fasting. If you must make a quick decision on something like this, slow down long enough to search the Word and engage in prayer.
3. CHECK YOUR SPIRIT. Your spirit is of paramount importance to God. God hates a proud spirit. A haughty spirit is an abomination to Him. During times of direct disobedience to a God-ordained institution your spirit really needs to be flawless.
Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:3
But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22
Your spirit is a crucial element in your disobedience, as it is at all times. We need to be careful not to get heady and high-minded with our spirit. Disobedience should not be a joyous or triumphant activity for a Christian. It should be a time of careful examination of our heart to see if we possess the fruit of the Spirit. People often say, “fruits of the spirit” That is not what the Bible says. It says the “fruit of the spirit.” You either have them all, or you do not have any.
In the midst of a brutal, vicious battle with the government, would you have the fruit of long-suffering? Would that typify you? How about gentleness? Loving? Peaceful? Check your spirit to make certain that it shows forth a heart that is pure before God. You are standing for God, not for yourself. Show the spirit He would have you show.
4. DISOBEY ONLY THAT PORTION OF THE LAW WHICH IS VIOLATING YOUR FAITH. This can cause much trouble to us. A law is passed saying we have to do five things. One of the five violates our faith, so what do we do? Because one of the five violates our faith, we do none of the five. That is not the right way to react. Only disobey that portion of the law that violates your
faith. Do four out of the five. Do as much as you can. You are only excused from obedience when something violates what God demands. Be sure you only violate that part.
That can get sticky on the witness stand. They get our people up there and say, “Now, preacher, let me be sure I understand. You are saying you cannot obey this law because of your Scriptural beliefs. Is that right?” Slowly they prove that we had no basis for disobeying some of the laws we disobeyed. They prove they were not attached to our faith. It is not government we are disobeying. It is God we are disobeying. Remember, obedience to government is obedience to God, and it is a matter of conscience towards God. Obey as much as you can.
5. BE SURE THE PROBLEM IS NOT A MATTER OF A PERSONALITY CONFLICT. The Bible tells us how we are to treat others, including governmental officials. We are commanded not to exert a defiant spirit.
And the servant of the Lord must be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgement of the truth; II Timothy 2:24,25
Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:17,18
There is no place for dislike in a Christian even while he is disobeying a governmental authority. Our attitude towards any government over us should be one of unquestionable respect, and not given over to complaining and spiteful words. We should be careful in this area because our testimony for Christ hinges on the attitude we present to the world. It is very important that during times of our Biblical disobedience we exercise pure wisdom over our spirit.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:17
People have said to me, “Let me tell you what the state did to aggravate me. They came out to inspect our facility. Of all the people they could send out, they sent that woman. She showed up out there in a torrid pink outfit that was expressly designed to aggravate me. They know my standards of dress. That is why they sent her dressed that way. That woman got out of her car, smoked cigarettes in my parking lot, and flicked her ashes on God’s property. Then she walked in, and did not ask to see me, she demanded to see me. Who does she think she is?”
That is a personality conflict. No matter how repugnant they are to you, you are not authorized to retaliate. In fact, there is Scripture that covers your actions toward her. It says to do good to those who spitefully use you. What was the last good thing you did for her? The Bible says to bless those who persecute you. When we see what the Bible says about our methods, it often indicts us. God says you are to show them kindness in return, not because of who they are, or what they have done, but to demonstrate the spirit of God in you.
One of the most moving times I have ever seen was in a courtroom when a government’s witness testified about one of our people. The witness was a state agent. The prosecutor asked if he had anything else to say about that church. The man said that there was one more thing he wanted to say. The state agent told how he had gone to that church with a terrible attitude. He went there mad. He went there looking to pick a fight with that preacher. He told the judge that he had not acted correctly towards that preacher, but that preacher had shown him nothing but kindness. The agent said he may not agree with the preacher’s stand, but that the pastor was one of the most spectacular people he had ever met in his life!
Unfortunately, let me tell you what I have often heard. “That preacher said if I did not leave immediately he was going to rearrange my dentures. He physically threatened to throw me in the street and pray God’s curses on me!!” Check your spirit. The fruit of the spirit is something that should be your evidence and testimony. You do not represent yourself, you represent Christ. That does not mean you cannot be firm in your beliefs. That does not mean you cannot be a man among men. That means you are to be a Christian among Christians. It is a matter of integrity in your spirit.
If you found that you did something wrong, make it right immediately. The Scripture says in James that if you know to do right and do it not, it is a sin. Do not let a stubborn spirit lead you into committing sin. Do not let a proud spirit cause you to lead your people into the sin of lawlessness. If you make a mistake, stop immediately and repent of that mistake. Do not worry about what people will think.
There is a wonderful story that beautifully exemplifies what God can do when a preacher repents. A pastor was vehemently opposed to Christian education. He felt Christians should never think of taking their witness out of the public school. The last thing in the world this church would ever have is a Christian school. He was so adamant in his opposition, and so eloquently forceful, that other preachers would invite him in if they had somebody trying to spark up interest in a Christian school. He would come and preach the idea out of them. He did this for years.
One Sunday morning, in front of a crowd of probably 1800 to 2000 people, the pastor walked up to the pulpit unannounced and said he wanted the choir to go down into the auditorium. He said, “What I have to say, I want to say to everybody face to face.” The choir had not sung yet. Nobody knew what he was going to say. The preacher started to weep and said, “I have come this
morning to ask your forgiveness. I did not mean to, but I did wrong. It is not right to train our children contrary to Scripture. It is not right to train them outside of the nurture and admonition of the Lord. I have led you wrong. I have asked God to forgive me. I spent all week calling my preacher brothers, asking them to forgive me. I have called every church where I have preached to tell them I was wrong, and ask their forgiveness. This morning I want to humble myself and ask you to forgive me.”
There was stunned silence. Then almost in unison the entire congregation stood up and applauded their preacher! People began to weep! They had a wonderful altar call. God never honors a stubborn spirit. God honors a humble and obedient spirit.
7. BE SURE IT IS NOT A MATTER OF GOING ALONG WITH OTHERS. It is not the group who is to determine our stand. The group can lead us incorrectly. I have known some Christians who were standing for what was right, and the group started doing some things that were not right. They persuaded good men to go along with them. If the group has the wrong method, do not let
them pull you in. Do not go along carelessly.
I was talking to some preachers who were doing some things I felt were defiantly un-Scriptural. I said, “How did you start doing this? Did you think it was right?” They said that they did not think their actions were right, but that everybody there was doing it. Just because everyone else does something does not mean you should do it.
8. TRY TO WIN YOUR OPPONENT TO CHRIST. So many things will fall into proper perspective if you try to win your opponent to Christ. Do not just walk up and smack him with the Gospel. Do not tell him that he is going to Hell if he does not accept Christ like you have. Do not give the impression that you hope God puts him there in a hurry! That is called a Gospel Smack. You say, “Well, I told him.” You did not witness to him. You smacked him. Take the fruit of the spirit and witness with love and gentleness.
Be genuine in what you are doing. Do you really want to see that man won to Christ? What is the first thing Paul did when brought before Agrippa? He tried to win him to Christ. That should be our testimony. I ask people if they have ever tried to win the adversary or prosecutor to Christ. Almost always they admit that they have not even tried.
I can remember seeing Levi Whisner in a courtroom walking over to the prosecutor. This was the very man who was giving him havoc in his life. Pastor Whisner told the prosecutor that he loved him. He said that he really wished the prosecutor were saved and knew the Lord. At first I thought he should get away from him, but I was reminded that only blood-washed sinners are going to be in Heaven. That is all I am.
I have found that if you will witness to your opponents, God will honor the witness. Witnessing unnerves the opponent. He does not know what to do with you. He is not accustomed to witnessing. He expects us to give him the same treatment he gives us. When someone witnesses, the person does not know what to do with you. Be sure your witnessing is legitimate. Witnessing is something you do because it is a command, not because it will help you. It is something you do because it honors the Saviour you serve, and because you legitimately want to see this soul brought to Christ.
9. BE SURE YOU ARE NOT SUFFERING FOR YOUR WRONGDOING. This is very important. The Bible says there is no glory in suffering for your wrongdoing. The Bible says you are blessed when you are persecuted for Christ’s sake. If the law is on your back just because you have done wrong, you deserve to have the law on your back. You need to correct your wrongdoing. You need to repent. As part of your method, be sure at all times that you carefully examine your ministry and your actions to make certain that you are not suffering for something you have done wrong. If
you have done something wrong, repent and correct it.
10. STRIVE TO GET BACK TO BEING ABLE TO BE OBEDIENT IN ALL MATTERS. This is critical. We are obedient to government as a matter of obedience unto God. When government has asked something of us which would necessitate that we break conscience with God, we cannot do it. We ought to wish that they would change the law so we could still be obedient, and honor God through our obedience to government. Always strive to get back to where you can be obedient in all matters, not because you want to honor government, but because you want to honor God.
The Bible says the prayer of your heart is that you be permitted to live in peace. The Bible does not say to strive to have a conflict. The Bible does not say to strive to be at odds with the authority over you. It says to strive to live in peace. When the opposition detects that you really want to be obedient, this impresses judges and it impresses juries. I have seen it. They realize that this person does not want to break the law, but that they are making it impossible for him to be obedient. But, when they see a man who they think wants to be a law unto himself, who has a stubborn
spirit and who does not evidence any fruit of the spirit, they see a man who has a hostile attitude towards government. How dare he wrap it in the cloth of the faith. They are right.
(The above material was published by Christian Law Association, Conneaut, OH.)
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