Three Principles Of Civil Disobedience
Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
As our country moves further and further away from its Christian foundation, we believers are going to increasingly find ourselves in conflict with the governing authorities. Let me share with you three principles you need to consider before you engage in civil disobedience.
Principle number one: If you choose to say no to government, make sure your disobedience is based on a clear biblical mandate. In Acts 5, Peter and the apostles were boldly proclaiming the gospel, and the Jewish officials commanded them to quit preaching the name of Jesus. “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (5:29). The command to quit preaching in the name of Jesus was a clear violation of the God-ordained mandate in Acts 1:8. But not every government law that has religious overtones necessarily needs to be disobeyed.
Principle number two: If you engage in civil disobedience, demonstrate respect for authority. In the Old Testament, Daniel was commanded to eat the king’s food, but that violated the Jewish dietary laws. Daniel could have said to Nebuchadnezzar, “You pagan king, why would I obey you rather than God?” Had he done that, Daniel would have been the first Hebrew martyr in Babylon! Instead, he said to Nebuchadnezzar’s chief of staff, “Since this violates my conscience, may I offer a suggestion? Let me and my friends eat according to our beliefs, and if we are healthy, then you can let us continue that diet.” The king found favor with that idea, and God honored Daniel’s choice. Daniel disobeyed the government, but he did so in a respectful way.
Principle number three: When you engage in civil disobedience, be prepared to suffer the consequences. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated in the Birmingham jail because he led a nonviolent protest against racism. In response to some Christian pastors who criticized his civil disobedience, he wrote, “One may well ask: ‘How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?’ The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. . . . A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Dr. King believed that any law that codified racial discrimination violated the law of God, so he said no. He knew the consequences of civil disobedience. And it is going to be the same for any of us who say no to government.
If indeed you suffer for the name of Christ, then you can rejoice. Remember the promise of Paul in 2 Timothy 2:12: “If we endure, we will also reign with Him.”
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “To Obey Or Not To Obey” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” April 16, 1963.
Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.