Kings are not the final authority
The captain of a U.S. Naval ship had just received an urgent message. He read the message quickly. It read, “Turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. After reading the message, the captain was outraged by the lack of respect for his authority. Immediately, he ordered one of his men to reply, “You turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. After a few minutes of anticipation, another message came to the captain. It read, “Turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. This message made the captain furious. He grabbed his subordinate by the arms and barked out orders to reply, “I am the captain of a U.S. Naval vessel, you turn your ship 10 degrees starboard”. The captain sat down and waited for a response. A short time later the captain received another message, which read, “I am aboard a lighthouse, you turn your ship ten degrees starboard”.
A great misunderstanding regarding authority in our nation is the idea that believers must be in submission to governing authorities no matter what. There are several verses in the Bible that discuss governing authorities. One of the more common verses in this regard states, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Romans 13:1 Does that mean that believers should do whatever government requires? As believers, should we not submit to God if government requires us to do or say something that contradicts God’s commands?
God’s authoritative structure begins and ends with him, which means that every citizen is responsible first to God for his or her actions. Kings only have the authority that God allows them to have (John 19:11). Kings are limited in their authority in the sense that citizens are responsible to God’s authority first. Citizens are to submit to governing authorities second to God. “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
Submission to government has limits
The relationship between citizens and governing authorities is similar to the relationship of a husband and wife within marriage. A wife is called to be submissive to her husband, but a wife is not called to do something that contradicts God’s word in submission to her husband. Does God require a wife to submit to her husband’s demands for her to have an abortion? Of course not, but the same principle applies to a citizen’s relationship with governing authorities.
A citizen is to be submissive to governing authorities only to the point that they are not forced to sin or disobey God. God does not require citizens to submit to evil demands of governing authorities. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
Consider the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in the book of Daniel. They refused to serve other gods or worship the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar made. “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:12 Even when Nebuchadnezzar personally told them to bow to the golden image or face death, they declined. They replied, “…let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Daniel 3:18
God is our King
What do Moses, Paul and Jesus all have in common? When faced with the choice of being obedient to government or God, they all chose obedience to God. Moses was obedient to God in defiance of Pharaoh. Paul went to prison for preaching the gospel and was eventually martyred for his obedience to God. Jesus was brutally tortured and crucified for breaking the law, because he was obedient to his Father and peacefully defiant to the religious and political leaders of his time.
While there are limits to our submission to government, we should not use that as an excuse to break laws that do not compromise our faith. We are to obey laws as long as we are not disobeying God by doing so.
God is the King of kings. Obey him above all. The Lord called us to submit to him and not to evil or wicked demands of men. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 25:26
What historical examples can you think of in which government has required citizens to disobey God?