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To Obey Or Not To Obey

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

It seems that government increasingly intrudes on our lives every day. That governmental intrusion has caused some people to adopt the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, who said, “I heartily accept the motto,–‘That government is best which governs least.’ . . . Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe,–‘That government is best which governs not at all.’” As popular as that sentiment might be even today, it is not God’s perspective. This week, we will discover the attitude toward government that God says every true Christian should have.

In Romans 13, Paul talked about how our faith ought to impact our relationship with government. Hardly a day goes by that we do not have some interaction with government. Whether it is obeying traffic laws, complying with governmental regulations, or paying our income taxes, we interact with government in many ways every day. What does the Bible say about government’s responsibility toward us and our response to government?

Romans 13:1-2 says, “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.” “The Federalist Papers” were a series of newspaper articles trying to convince the states to adopt the Constitution. One of the writers was James Madison, the architect of the Constitution. In “Federalist” no. 51, Madison wrote these words: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But of course we know men and women are not angels. That is why government is necessary.

Paul was saying that legitimate government authorities, even if they are crooked and even cruel, are still established by God. That is hard for us to stomach, isn’t it? When Paul wrote these words, the ruler of the Roman Empire was Nero. Nero was a cruel emperor who used to burn Christians as human torches in his garden. Yet Paul said even Nero had been established by God.

If you find that hard to believe, then think about Jesus as He stood before Pontius Pilate, who would order Him to be crucified. Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). God gave Pilate the authority he had. Why would God do such a thing if He knew Pilate was going to use that authority to murder Jesus? Because even the murder of Jesus was part of God’s inexplicable plan that resulted in our salvation. That is why Paul said, “Whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God.”


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “To Obey Or Not To Obey” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2014.

Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience,” 1849; James Madison, “The Federalist Papers,” no. 51 (1788).

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.

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