When Not to Stop at a Stop Sign: Words for Christians on ROM 13:1.
Like the Bible’s Psalmist sang, let’s sing, “Give me understanding & I shall live.” This post also lines up with ROM 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Brothers & sisters, may this give you understanding, life & an improved ability to overcome evil. We all share the common experience of government & conscience. The problem we face was faced by Peter, James, John, Thomas Aquinas, Wycliffe, John Knox and countless others. The ones just named here choose God before government.
Three places in Scripture seem to seal the deal—we are to simply obey the government. Christ said “Render unto Caesar the things of Caesar.” (MT 22:19) And Paul under inspiration wrote, “Let every soul be subject to [“be subject to”=the military term “hupotasso”= submission to an officer] governing authorities.” Peter wrote “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…” 1 PTR 2;13,14. But we know that YHWH God does not contradict Himself, and ROM 13:1 is in tension with the other side of the coin seen in REV 19 & many other verses.
The religious leaders (who also had civil authority in contrast to today—it’s an anachronism to project our modern separation of church & state to back then)…The civil/religious leaders tried to trap Yahshua by asking if people should pay the Roman occupation govt. taxes. If he said “yes”, then they could tell the common people he was a collaborator with Rome & he’d lose the people’s support. If he said “no”, they’d turn him into the authorities as an insurrectionist stirring up revolt. Christ asked for a coin. “Whose face do you see on the coin?” “Caesar’s.” “Then render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Before you jump to any conclusions—think twice!! Christ did not answer their question. He put the monkey back on their backs, & let their evil hearts in a flash decide what he’d meant. Christ never defined what belonged to Caesar—their own evil traitorous hearts did. (We later see some rel. leaders saying, “We have no king but Caesar.” (JN 19:15) The Word of God says the wealth of the land & gold belong to God, & that He is sovereign over His people.
There are many general truths that have specific exceptions, & the Bible has its share of general truths that it shows don’t apply in specific circumstances. I could write the following general truth in a driving manual “Always stop for a stop sign.” And I would feel safe this advice is solid. When I took my driving test for my OR driver’s license, I stopped at a stop sign & the woman testing me flunked me for stopping. True story! She said my stopping had “impeded traffic”, although no other cars were even near the 4-way stop. (Go figure.) So there are times when we don’t want to stop for stop signs. Likewise, Romans 13:1 is a general truth, that Scripture shows in numerous cases (incl. Paul’s life) was not the approved solution. Certainly Paul was not advocating submission to Rome’s false Pantheon of gods & Caesar which was held to be a civil duty.
An example when RM 13:1 did not apply: … Peter & John say, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” (Acts 4:19-20). One thing though, when ROM 13:1 is not followed, it is not neglected with a spirit of rebellion (which is witchcraft) but with a spirit of obeying a higher law, a higher calling, a more important moral need. It never ceases to amaze me, that so many people who demand obedience to ROM 13:1…are the same people who close their eyes to the fact the Amer. Revolution was done in violation of ROM 13:1. (An officer quoted the verse to me at West Point, USMA to encourage obedience.)
Let’s touch on a few godly violations of ROM 13:1. Daniel did civil disobedience & declined the king’s food, refused idolatry & insisted (contrary to the rules) on the freedom to worship YHWH. Poor Daniel, whose name meant “God is my judge”, got renamed Belteshazzar, or to make a modernize equivalent “Obama-will-protect-me”. Daniel opened up the hearts of his cruel super power rulers. Daniel by leading a model life, by respect, and prayer was able to successfully work with despotic govts. He never came across as bigoted, argumentative, obstinate or disrespectful…which tells me this is part of our answer to despotic govt. Paul after his arrest in Jerusalem tells the High Priest & Sanhedrin (again rel. leaders with civil power) that he will not submit to the high priest & that he has a good conscience. This is interesting because after giving us several standard reasons for obeying the govt., Paul in Romans 13 says to submit for our conscience (our sense of right & wrong). This shows that God considers us responsible moral agents capable of making the right choice in regards to laws.
Govt. has no God-given right to advance evil. The Word teaches that power was delegated to govts. to protect the public from evil doers & to maintain order. Note the Biblical prayer for authorities so that “we may live peaceful & quiet lives in all godliness.” 1 TIM 2:1-2 They are allowed to rule for the public good, & need to know the standard for right & wrong (i.e. God’s standard) so they can enforce that. The legal term when govt. follows the law is Lex Rex=law is king, from which due process springs. Since 1907, the Supr. Ct. holds that men, not law, shall rule, “The Constitution is what the judges say it is.” (Gulp!) That’s what ticked Amer. off before the first revolution. You will note God removed various evil rulers. And Christ had the audacity to tell Pilate, the Roman ruler, he was sinning! He further clarified, “The one who handed me over to you [the Jewish rel. Sanhedrin] is guilty of a greater sin.” JN 19:11.
THIS POST IS ALREADY LONG. I am stopping due to its length. Lord willing, it will be cont.