From my 2009 Journal.
Quoting one verse or phrase out of context in the Scriptures can sometimes result in bad theology or advice. When I hear the Apostle Paul say, Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, I might conclude I should never disobey government. Further, Paul says if you oppose government, you bring condemnation on yourself, but even more so, you’ll be opposing God.
Yet the early apostles, when forbidden to preach the gospel, said, “We must obey God, rather than men.” And God honored Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they defied King Nebuchadnezzar. Same with Daniel and King Darius. Apparently it’s okay to practice civil disobedience if it conflicts with God’s law.
In context, I think Paul was saying “Do what’s right.” There’s nothing morally wrong with paying your taxes and obeying the speed limits and not shoplifting. You don’t want to be slapped in jail for selling cocaine. The government forbids it. But if the government opposes assembling together as believers, then disobedience is legit—just be prepared to pay the consequences if caught.
A 2023 Update. This question is getting stickier as we wrestle with moral conflicts over sexual orientation and government mandates. Over what conviction are you willing to lose your job, or even die for?
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NIV)
Thanks for sharing these updated thoughts. I can see how government-imposed mandates could, at some point, become a reason for civil disobedience. But what is the “stickier” part in regards to sexual orientation?
An example: if a pastor has a conviction about not marrying same-sex partners, but the government mandates that he must do so if asked, how will the pastor respond?
Okay. That would seem to be very far-reaching of the government, and part of what “separation of church and state” is intended for. But yeah, that could get sticky.