Living Under Authority
Under the Old Covenant, God intended to establish His people in the Promised Land. The Mosaic Law was both civil and ceremonial. The prophet, priest and king roughly represented the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government as does that of the United States. Each branch had certain restrictions to ensure a proper check and balance. The king could not use his executive powers for personal gain (Deut. 17:14-20). The priests avoided any conflict of interest by having no portion of the land (Deut. 18:1-8). The Prophets could not speak presumptuously (Deut. 18:20-22). The system broke down when Solomon violated every one of his restrictions (compare 1 Kgs. 10:14-11:8 with Deut. 17:14-20).
Under the New Covenant, Christians have dual citizenship. First, “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20), because of our new birth in Christ. Second, we have a citizenship in our respective countries because of our natural birth or naturalization processes. The Word of God governs the Church, but the state has its own constitution. How then do we relate to these two governing authorities? The Apostle Paul said, “Everyone must submit to the governing [higher] authorities, for there is no authority except that which God established” (Rom. 13:1). The primary reason we are to submit to higher authorities is because “there is no authority except that which God has established.” If we rebel against any higher authority, we are rebelling against God (vs. 3), and we bring civil and/or divine judgment upon ourselves.
The Church as a whole is never charged with the responsibility of governing the state. The Church is the conscience of the state. Individual members of the Church are citizens of the state who may be called to civil service. Civil authorities are God’s servants who are instruments of justice in the land (vs. 4). Government forces when properly used prevent tyranny, ensure social order, and execute justice. We should not fear the rulers of the state if we are submissive and living a righteous life (vss. 3,4). The Church should never stand in opposition to another authority that God has established. We are urged to pray for “kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2). In doing so we not only avoid punishment, but we also don’t violate our own conscience.
Just like the priests needed to be supported by the offerings of the people (Deut. 18:2), so do “God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (vs. 6). Therefore, citizens of the country should pay their taxes. Paul admonished us to “Give everyone what you owe; If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (vs. 7). Paying our taxes is not a volunteer act, we owe our taxes, and we owe respect to those who govern. No country can survive anarchy, and no ruler can be effective if subjects do not respect the position of those in authority over them.
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