Statesman Benjamin Franklin said, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Humorist Will Rogers added this quip: “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
Speaking of statesmen like those found in Congress, the apostle Paul told Titus to
“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates…” (Titus 3:1).
The phrase “principalities and powers” here describes positions of leadership in government in Bible days. These titles sound strange to us because we don’t have designations like that in our government here in the United States. But then, the title “Prime Minister” sounds strange to us as well, and that’s the name of the leader of Canada’s government. “Chancellor” sounds equally foreign to our ears, but the leader of Germany bears that title. And a lot of lesser leaders in other countries have titles that sound unfamiliar to us as well.
I wonder if the word “principalities” might be derived from the “principal men” who were called upon to pass judgment on men in those days (Acts 25:22,23). Paul was brought before the king and these principal men, for he had earlier agreed to let them hear his case and abide by their judgment:
“Then said Paul…if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die…”
Paul was willing to be subject to those principalities even unto death. That’s important to remember these days, when an erosion of respect for rulers, and for law and order in general, seems to be increasing on every hand.
But Paul was willing to be subject to higher powers because he understood those powers were ordained of God, as he wrote to the Romans:
“Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
The only reason anyone has any legitimate authority over anyone else is that they were given their power from God. Parents don’t have authority over their children because they are bigger than they are, but because God gave them power over their children when He said, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1). The power of parents was ordained of God.
Who Made You Sheriff?
Similarly, husbands don’t have power over their wives because they are stronger than their wives, but because God gave them this power when He said, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands” (Eph. 5:22). If a husband says to his wife, “I think we should do this,” and she says, “I think we should do that instead,” who’s to say what they should do? God says the husband has that say so. If you throw the Bible out, a wife has just as much right as her husband to have the final say as to what a couple should do.
In that respect, it is kind of like the issues of abortion and homosexuality. Once you throw the Bible out, who’s to say that either of those things are wrong? But the Bible says they are wrong, so we know that they are wrong. And we know that the government has power over us because the Bible says that as well.
And to resist that power is serious business, as Paul went on to
tell the Romans:
“Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:2).
Resisting any ordinance of God is serious business. Children who don’t obey their parents are resisting the ordinance of God, as are wives who are not subject unto their husbands. And to resist the power of the government is to resist the ordinance of God as well.
And there are always consequences to resisting God’s power. Children who do it get spanked! When wives resist the ordinance of God, it can paralyze a marriage. Paul says that “the husband is the head of the wife” (Eph. 5:23),comparing marriage to a physical body. When a physical body ceases to respond to its physical head, we have a word for that. We call it paralysis. A marriage can likewise be paralyzed if a wife ceases to respond to her spiritual head, her husband. If neither spouse has the final say as to whether to do this or that, paralysis sets in.
And we know that there are consequences to resisting the power of God in government as well, for Paul told the Romans,
“…they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (Rom. 13:2).
The “damnation” here is not to eternal judgment. We know there is more than one kind of damnation in the Bible, for the Lord warned the hypocritical religious leaders of His day that they were heading for “the damnation of hell” (Matt. 23:33). If all damnation were to hell, He wouldn’t have had to add “of hell.” That qualifying phrase implies that there are other forms of damnation which are not to hell.
Why Be a Glutton for Punishment?
The word “damn” just means to sentence someone to punishment. The government can’t damn you to hell, but they can sentence you to punishment if you commit a crime—including the punishment
“Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man” (Gen. 9:6).
Man was made in God’s image, so if you kill a man you are striking out at the very image of God! And God says that all who do so must themselves be put to death by the government. And when God gave the government that ultimate power, it presupposes that government also has the God-given authority to sentence men to jail time, issue them speeding tickets, and administer other lesser punishments.
That’s why Paul went on to tell the Romans that if you disobey our rulers you should be afraid of our rulers:
“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: 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” (Rom. 13:3,4).
Paul says that you should fear the rulers of government because they have “ministers” running around enforcing their laws. We know them as police officers, and the swords they carry in our day consist of side arms and tasers and such. They are not perfect, but Paul says a policeman is “the minister of God,” and I don’t know any of God’s pulpit ministers who are perfect either.
But when Paul says, “if thou do that which is evil, be afraid”— who’s to say what’s evil? The answer is, the government. And we don’t always like what they say about this, do we? When I was a boy, we would rake the leaves in our yard every autumn and burn them in a bonfire. But this is against the law in many municipalities today. A lot of people don’t care for this ruling, although I have to confess it doesn’t bother me, since I don’t
bother to rake leaves. I try not to interfere with nature!
Perhaps you are thinking, “But the Bible doesn’t say that burning leaves is evil.” True, but when you were a teen and your parents said you had to be home by 11, the Bible didn’t say that either. But when God gave your parents power over you, He gave them the right to make rules like that. And when He gave the government power over you, He gave them the power to make rules about things like burning leaves.
It Stands to Reason
There are usually reasons for the things the government says you can and cannot do. When I was a painting contractor, I used to get calls from people who said that the village in which they lived was forcing them to paint the exterior of their homes. I learned that the reason villages instituted such rulings was to keep property values from going down, so it was actually in the homeowner’s best interest to be required to paint his home.
Many of my customers didn’t like that ordinance, but then many of them probably didn’t like being told they had to be home by 11 when they were teens either. But that was in their best interest as well. Even if a law isn’t in your best interest, it is probably in somebody’s best interest, and being sensitive to the interests of the homeowners in your community is part of obeying Paul’s instruction to “live peaceably with all men” (Rom. 12:18).
God has always wanted His people to obey earthly rulers in every dispensation. The wisest man who ever lived advised the people of Israel:
“I counsel thee to keep the
king’s commandment…be not
hasty to go out of his sight…”
That means if the king commands something you don’t like, you shouldn’t be quick to say, “I’ll just go live someplace else out of his sight.” You can do that if you like, you just shouldn’t be too hasty to do it. That’s because the city where you choose to live instead might not have the same problem from which you are trying to escape, but after relocating you may discover it has other laws you don’t care for. Some town that doesn’t make you paint your house might not let you burn leaves, and vice versa.
Solomon went on to advise,
“…stand not in an evil thing: for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?” (Eccl. 8:3,4).
Solomon’s counsel here is not to stand in an evil thing. That is, if you are doing something evil (something the king says is evil), do not stand in it—do not
say, “I’m going to do it, I don’t care what the king says.” You can stubbornly take a stand like that if you want to, but the king has the God-given power to then do as he pleases with you.
Feel No Evil
Solomon concludes his advice by saying something that sounds a lot like something Paul wrote centuries later:
“Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing…” (Eccl. 8:5).
Paul shared the same sentiment when he wrote,
“…rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil… do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same” (Rom. 13:3).
As you can see, it has always been true that if you do what the government says, you’ll stay on their good side—just like obeying your parents kept you on their good side when you were young. I was saved at age 14, and I hadn’t been a particularly
bad kid. But when I learned that the Bible said to obey my parents, I decided that I was going to do whatever my mother said to do when she said to do it, with no stalling or backtalk. And do you know what? My life got a whole lot easier. My mother began to yell at my younger brother instead of me. The poor kid never knew what hit him! And you’ll be happier too if you decide to obey the government.
Perhaps you are thinking, “Here in the United States we don’t have a king like the kingdom of Israel had, and we are not subjects!” That’s true, but that’s why God tells us to “be subject” to our rulers (Titus 3:1). He knew that not all nations would be ruled by kings during the dispensation of grace.
Someone else might object, “We are citizens of heaven so we’re free of the laws made by earthly governments.” Well, believe it or not, that’s true. But look what Peter said about that:
“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…to the king…or unto governors…for so is the will of God… As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (1 Pet.2:13-16).
All of God’s children in every dispensation have been free men and women, but to refuse to submit to the ordinances of men is to use spiritual freedom for a cloak of maliciousness. Peter advised his readers not to look at such submission as serving the king, but rather to view it as serving the God who gave the king or governor his power. This is similar to how Paul told saved servants that they were free men as far as God is concerned (1 Cor. 7:22), but that they should serve their masters “as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph. 6:5-7).
If it be argued: “It was easy for people to obey Solomon, he was appointed by God to be king over His people, and he was the wisest king who ever lived.” That’s true, but we know that serving Solomon was no picnic, for when his son Rehoboam took his place, his subjects asked if he was going to reduce his father’s oppressive taxes. If you’re wondering why Solomon taxed his people so heavily, don’t forget he had 1,000 wives to keep happy!
But God’s advice to obey the government didn’t change when God’s people were conquered by an unsaved king named Nebuchadnezzar. When that happened, God told them,
“…serve the king of Babylon, and live: wherefore should this city be laid waste?” (Jer. 27:17).
Nebuchadnezzar was an unsaved pagan, but God told His people to obey him anyway. Jeremiah reasoned, as it were, “Why rebel and give him an excuse to kill more of us and bring further destruction down on our city?” This is significant advice, for the day may come when our own nation is conquered by a foreign power. If that were to happen, you could join some underground resistance movement if you wanted to, but
God’s advice would be to obey the new king and avoid further loss of life and property.
When Paul went on to tell Titus to remind believers to “obey magistrates” (3:1), this is particularly noteworthy when we recall what certain magistrates did to Paul! They wrongfully beat and imprisoned him (Acts 16:19-24), and yet he advises us to obey them.
And don’t forget how Paul reacted to their harsh treatment. With his feet fast in the stocks of Philippi’s inner prison he “sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25). So if the government ever wrongfully oppresses you, the godly thing to do isn’t to gripe about it, and it certainly isn’t to take up arms against the government’s Godgiven power. The thing to do is to keep on praising God—that is, if you want to be Pauline in your actions as well as in your doctrine.
There are a couple of verses that conservative Christianity seems to have completely forgotten. The first is:
“My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change”
This is not a prohibition against the peaceful kind of change that can be brought about by voting. It is a warning against the sinful kind of change that men seek to bring about by subversive activities.
Another verse that seems all but forgotten these days is:
“Curse not the king, no not in thy thought” (Eccl. 10:20)
Wow. Don’t curse the king, and don’t even think about cursing the king!
If those verses were obeyed among God’s people today, it would suck the wind right out of the sails of a great many politically minded Christian ministries who seem to have forgotten that we’ve been called to be fishers of men, not clean up the pond. But if each grace believer begins to heed these divine instructions, together we can make the grace movement a leader in this area of doctrine, as in all others.
As respect for law and order continues to disintegrate all around us, God is counting on us to help stem the tide. Who’s with me?