When the core principles of Christianity were revealed, they were revolutionary and progressive. They called for an overthrow of past ideals and the shedding of man-defined morality. Jesus highlighted this dramatic shift in the “you’ve heard it said” sections of the famed Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. Even the Old Testament prophets foresaw the coming of a King whose kingdom would “crush” all other kingdoms of the world (Dan. 2:44).
Yet, Christians are not called to anarchy. Our mission is not munity. Despite the fact that great changes were expected and demanded through the mission of Christ, those changes were never pictured as being achieved through violence and the abandonment of civility. The concept is clearly seen in the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate as recorded in John 18. We should all agree that the mistreatment and murder of Jesus was the greatest single act of injustice that the world has ever seen. What Jesus suffered was due in part to prejudice (John 1:46); generations of ignorance (John 8:44); social oppression (Luke 4:18); and judicial abuse (Luke 22:52). Still Jesus made it clear that violence was not the method of attack for the advancement of His kingdom (John 18:36).
Perhaps all that has been said was an indirect route to say this – government and its agencies have a divinely carved out place in society and the Bible teaches that they were established (Rom. 13:1) and sent (1 Pet. 2:14) by God for His purposes. Reading 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Romans 13:1-7 should remind us that our laws and those who enforce those laws are rooted in the authority of heaven.
If possible, consider the tension that might have existed in the 1st century. In the church, Jesus is king, and His law is supreme. He loved all men, practiced unbiased benevolence, and personally sacrificed for the kingdom over which He reigns. In the world, rulers were often selfish and flawed. Justice could be perverted, and laws often reflected societal inconsistencies and inequalities. Do you suppose that Christians ever wondered why they couldn’t just overthrow their leaders and force the godly into power since, in fact, the kingdom of God was to “crush” all the kingdoms of the earth? Maybe they even wondered how God could allow the world of non-Christians to continue to exercise authority over those who had claimed Jesus as king. Was that not a conflict of interest and a recipe for disaster? Why would God require such an approach to civil authority that can be and was abused by so many?
I raise all of these questions due to the current state of our world and the push for the overthrown, abandonment, and object hatred of civil authority (specifically, police officers) in the midst of our current climate. We should have no problem in suggesting that “every person be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1) and that we submit ourselves “to every human institution…honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Pet. 2:13, 17).
Here are just a few reasons why God would still expect us to abide by the authority of our land and to respect those whom He has appointed as stewards of law and order.
- First, because their role in society is an extension of God’s authority in the world. Paul and Peter both emphasize the fear the civil authority should instill in those who would choose to do evil. That is exactly what God does. Men should be reminded of God’s vengeance on evil-doers when they witness local officials carrying out the same. A disregard and rejection of law and order will only spur more evil actions in our world (see Ecclesiastes 8:11).
- Second, because those who sacrifice for others deserve honor and respect. Do we really need to be reminded of this? First responders, police officers, and even some elected officials have given up other careers, lived with fewer luxuries, and chosen to put themselves in daily danger because they believe in justice, goodwill, and the right for all citizens to live without fear from day to day.
- Third, because you cannot lump all of the good police officers with those who are bad. Some might feel uncomfortable saying this and might even worry about appearing insensitive to those who have been mistreated and oppressed by the police. I pray that you will read what I have written and listened to discussions I have been a part of regarding these matters. We have a problem in our nation with those in power abusing that power – we cannot deny this reality. However, this side of the issues must be highlighted and emphasized as well. Yes, it is personal with me. I preach in a congregation that is full of ties to law enforcement. They are good people with good hearts. They love the Lord and the Lord’s creation. They stand for justice and put themselves in danger. I can vouch for their character, their Christian disposition, and their self-less approach to public service. If we are not careful, we might create another group of people who are treated with disdain and abuse simply because of the profession they have chosen – a profession that is God-ordained and God-honoring.
I would not profess to have all the answers. But in our search for those answers, we must respond to our world’s injustices with a Christ-like spirit and not blanketly dismiss the value of those God has appointed as ministers for our good (Rom. 13:3).
– Wayne Jones