Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Titus. It was a short letter that Paul wrote to Titus in the Greek island of Crete. This evening we will be in chapter three. Tonight we will look at only the first verse in Titus 3. It deals with the Christian attitude toward the government. A Christian view of government is different from a secular view.
We will look at what the Bible says but I have to warn you. Some of it is counter-cultural. The Apostle Paul wasn’t a political activist. Some of it goes completely against everything you may have been taught in high school or college. You may hear some things here that you have never heard before. I am going to say some things that may sound un-American.
What is the Christian responsibility to the state? Christians should be good citizens. We should be model citizens. We should be law-abiding citizens. That is what Paul says in Titus 3:1. He says that we are to be subject to rulers and authorities.
Which authorities are we to submit to? Paul does not say in Titus but Peter answers that question. He says that we are to submit to “every authority instituted among men” (2:13) whether to the king or governor (local, state or federal level).
Why should we do this? We will come back to this question later but Peter says “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13) and we do it because Peter says that this is “God’s will” (2:15). Some may say, “Well, I will be subject to the government but I will not obey them”. That is why Paul adds the words “to be obedient” (Titus 3:1).
If fact, Peter says that not only are we to obey the authorities, we should honor them (I Peter 2:17). We need to be careful how we speak about our political leaders. It is quite popular to trash any administration you do not like. How can you honor them if they are not honorable?
You can honor the office, even if you cannot honor the person. That is what David did. He had a chance to kill King Saul, not once but twice and didn’t do it (I Samuel 24:1-11). Why? Because even though he did not like Saul and even though Saul was trying to kill him, he respected the office. He did not respect the man but he respected the office. He called him “the Lord’s anointed”.
Titus 3:1 says “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient”. What Paul says is almost as important as what he did not say. Notice what Paul does NOT say.
What Paul Does Not Say in Titus 3:1
1. He does not say to obey the law if they are fair
He doesn’t say submit to them if you they are a Republican. We may not like some of the politicians in power and may not have voted for them but we are still to submit to them. Some laws are just bad laws.
The world says that it is okay to disobey unjust laws. It is called civil disobedience. That is what Martin Luther King did. Is that biblical? No. In America, if we do not like a law we do not have to disobey it, we can work to change it.
2. He does NOT say obey the rulers if they are good
Some of our founding fathers believed that we did not have to obey them. Thomas Jefferson used to say, “Resistance to tyranny is obedience to God.” What if your ruler is Adolf Hitler? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Christian who was part of a plot to try to assassinate Hitler in July of 1944.
The plot failed and Bonhoeffer was later executed by the Nazis. Did he do the right thing? Today, he is regarded as a martyr for standing up to the Nazi regime. In the Christian community he is seen as a hero. Was he a hero? Many think he was.
Should Bonhoeffer be a Model to Christians Today?
There are three basic problems with using Bonhoeffer as a model for Christians today.
First, the Bible says to honor your political leaders and to submit to them, not to assassinate them. Why is a pastor involved in an assassination of a head of state?
Second, there is no right of revolution in the NT. Nowhere does the NT say that if you do not like your government or if you think your government is unjust, that you should take up arms and try to overthrow the government.
Third, the Bible does not just tell us to obey or submit to good rulers. When Paul and Peter wrote this who was the ruler? Nero. Was he a Christian? No. In fact, he was the one who executed both Peter and Paul. The Bible talks about God putting wicked rulers into office as well (I Kings 12:15; Jeremiah 27:6).
Was the American Revolution Justified Biblically?
Was the American Revolution justified? There is a sense in which the American Revolution was not really a revolution in the technical sense. It was not a coup d’état (sudden overthrow of a government with a change of power and a new regime taking over).
The American Revolution did not replace a head of state. King George was not executed. It was more of a separation than a revolution. We didn’t invade Great Britain. We just renounced our allegiance and became a new nation. It is more like renouncing your citizenship. It may not have been justified biblically.
If the American Revolution was not biblical, does that mean that our government is not legitimate? What makes a government legitimate? Legitimacy means popular acceptance of a government by the overwhelming majority of people. The US government is democratic (“of the people for the people and by the people”). England today recognizes us as a country. They are our ally.
Is Disobeying the Government Ever Justified?
The problem is that this is very RARE. There has to be a direct conflict between God and man. The ONLY time that you are justified in disobeying the government is if the government asks you to violate a specific command of Scripture or orders you to sin.
If the government does not order you to sin, you should obey them. There are several examples of believers in the Bible who disobeyed the government when they were asked to sin.
First, you can disobey the government If the government orders you to worship a false god.
That is what happened to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. This would be one time when it would be right to disobey the government. What happened in Daniel 3?
King Nebuchadnezzar built a ninety foot image of gold and ordered everyone in the country to worship the image. Everyone fell down and worshiped the image except for three men Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who happened to work in the government of Babylon.
King Nebuchadnezzar first asked them if this was true and they said that it was. He was furious with them and threw them into the fiery furnace. This is one OT example of some people who deliberately disobeyed the government because the government ordered people to commit idolatry. We don’t have to worry about that in America because we have the First Amendment.
Second, you can disobey the government If the government says that it is against the law to pray.
That’s what happened to Daniel in Daniel 6. This would be another time when it would be right to disobey the government. Daniel worked in the government of Babylon and had three men under him. Some of them were jealous and came up with a law that no one could pray to anyone but King Darius.
The King was flattered and agreed to sign the law which could not be changed. Daniel was aware of the law and had several options. He could have obeyed it and prayed to the king.
He could have disobeyed it secretly and prayed to God alone or he could have disobeyed it and prayed to God publicly. He did the latter. He prayed with his window open. Because he broke the law, he was thrown into the lion’s den.
That is also not too likely to happen in America because of the First Amendment, although several countries in Europe (Norway, Finland, Denmark) have laws against spanking
Third, you can disobey the government if the government orders you to sin
The Hebrew midwives were ordered to do in Exodus 1:15). The Hebrew were living in Egypt and became so big that the Egyptians began to fear them (1:8-9), so they put them into slavery (1:11-14) and even ordered Hebrew midwives to kill baby Hebrew boys right after they were born (1:16) but the midwives disobeyed the government (1:17). Does the US government command people to sin?
It could happen in war if your commanding officer orders you to sin (the My Lai Massacre in 1968 in which hundreds of unarmed civilians, including children were murdered).
After WWII, Nazis were tried at Nuremberg for war crimes and crimes against humanity and their excuse was “I was just carryout orders”. If the government orders you to sin, you should disobey the government.
Fourth, you can disobey the government ff the government says that it is against the law to preach the gospel.
That is what happened to Peter and John in Acts 4. In Acts 3, Peter and John lea a lame man at the temple and began to preach a sermon about Jesus to the crown. The Sanhedrin hear it and “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (4:18-19). It is okay to break the law to smuggle bibles into countries. God’s law to preach the gospel overrides a human government’s rules that say that you cannot do this.