Must I Obey The Laws Of Man I Don’t Like?
I am very thankful to God that I was born in America and able to grow up in “the land of the free and home of the brave.” I have been able to mature, get married and raise a family in a country that allowed freedom to choose and worship God according to the dictates of the Bible. Yet, as I have grown older, I now see my beloved country being led downhill and destroyed by an immoral, godless, secular leadership and it saddens me greatly. I am certain many of you feel the same way.
But, regardless of how we may feel about this, those of us who are Christians must remember that we have a dual citizenship. Yes, we hold a temporary citizenship in an earthly country where we are simply sojourners and pilgrims (1 Pet. 2:11), but we are also citizens of a much better, heavenly country (Phil. 3:20-21) and God has assigned His people responsibilities in both realms (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-17). Most of the time Christians can exercise their responsibilities in each without conflict. But there are times when submission to the earthly becomes distasteful because it benefits the wicked at the expense of the Christian. The Christian is then placed in a dilemma, knowing that obedience to earthly authorities will not make it easy to serve God. What should a Christian do in such circumstances?
I believe Jesus gives us the answer in Matt. 22:15-22. The Jews bitterly detested the fact they were under the domination of Rome and had to submit to their rule. They didn’t like it but felt powerless to resist. So, they posed a question to Jesus whom they despised even more than Rome. “Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? V. 17. They felt they had Jesus in a dilemma. Either way He answered it He would be in trouble. If He said “No!” He would seem to be an insurrectionist against Rome, but if He said “Yes” He would be seen by the oppressed Jews as a Roman sympathizer and the Jewish people would reject Him.
How did Jesus answer? He took a coin with Caesar’s inscription and asked, “Whose image and inscription is this?” When the Pharisees answered “Caesar’s,” He then said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” But this act He taught they were subject to Rome and they were subject to God. So, they were to render the taxes that were due Rome regardless of how Rome used the money. Paul, later in Rom. 13:1-7 teaches Christians (then and now) they must respect and be obedient to whatever government they are under, pay taxes, even if it is used to persecute them. In fact, he later tells Timothy and us also to pray for those in positions of leadership regardless of who they are, or how they act (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Even if we don’t agree with how the government acts we show our respect for God by being good citizens in our earthly country (1 Pet. 2:13-17). We conduct ourselves as Christians on earth so we can show ourselves to also be good citizens of the heavenly kingdom. Remember, we are Christians whether the people around us are or not.
But some may ask, what if some law legislated by the human governing authorities is in conflict with the law of God? What are we to do in such a case? It is then and only when a law of man conflicts with God’s law that we must refuse to obey man’s law in favor of God’s law. This is exemplified when Peter and John inspired apostles were told by the Jewish authorities, “not to preach at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” But the apostles answered, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:18-20). So, they continued to preach and teach Jesus. They were jailed for this but released by an angel that night. They went out and again preached and taught Jesus to the people. A little later they were again confronted by the authorities and asked why they were continuing to do that which they had been commanded not to do. Peter replied, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). It is only under similar circumstances that we are allowed to disobey those who have the rule over us. Otherwise, we must obey even distasteful laws.