We here, in the United States, have entered a period of civil unrest. Those on one side see government and its agents as unjust and, as a consequence, have chosen to call for attacks upon the agents of government. The result has been many woundings and even killings of these representatives and enforcers of the law. Is a Christian’s response to be based on justice? Are we to decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong and respond accordingly? On what do we base our response to this civil unrest and perceived injustices?
For those who call themselves Christians, claiming to follow the teachings of Jesus, there are some extremely clear guidelines. Jesus told His followers,
You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
The principle that Jesus has left us is to respond to those who attack us with kindness, with prayer, with the character of God Himself. The apostle Luke put it even clearer when he recorded Jesus’ words thus, “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
Does this high standard of conduct extend even to those who are the legal earthly representatives of government? Does this command apply to those who wield the power of government?
Yes. Jesus explicitly commanded us to “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.” The Apostle Paul expanded on this in his letter to the church that dwelt in the heart of the Roman government’s power. In Romans 13:7, writing of the need to submit to government, he wrote “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” We are to give honor and obedience to our governing authorities and to their authorized representatives, our “Law Enforcement.”
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. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)
Paul reminds us that to oppose the civil government is to oppose God Himself since God established the government. And notice that the government’s justice, or lack of it, is not an issue. The command is simply to “be in subjection.”
This applies equally to those who have the responsibility of enforcing the government’s laws. During the Roman Empire, this was, in Israel, the responsibility of the Roman soldiers. When John, known as the Baptist, was giving instructions on righteous behavior to groups of people in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 3, a group of soldiers asked him what they should do. John did not tell them to stop enforcing unjust laws or representing an unjust government, he simply told them not to be unjust themselves. “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.” And we are to willingly and intentionally submit ourselves to these representatives of government, whether or not we believe the laws they are enforcing are unjust. The Apostle Paul called them a “minister of God” to us. As God’s ministers, we are to submit to them in obedience.
Paul further expanded on this, writing about those who resist their authority.
But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
Resistance to government’s authorized representatives can result in experiencing their right to kill or maim, their right to carry and use ‘the sword.’ So it is not unusual or evil for government’s representatives to use deadly force to enforce obedience to government and its representatives. They carry a ‘sword’ for the purpose of enforcement. What they carry they have the right to use. So it is up to us individually to so react to them that they know that they have nothing to fear from us, that they do not need to use that force on us because we fully and completely obey them.
The apostle Peter summed it all up this way,
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1Peter 2:13-17)
So, we who call ourselves followers of Christ must exemplify submission to government and its representatives, no matter whether we are treated justly or unjustly. It is not our right to choose what laws we will obey or what representatives of government we will submit to. We are commanded to obey and to submit. In this way we demonstrate our obedience to God and to His Son, Jesus. And if we are treated unjustly, we are to respond with kindness and love, praying for those who so mistreat us. In this way we truly show ourselves to be sons of our Father Who is in Heaven.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-15)