As believers, we know that this is simply the entropy of morals of which Christ assured us, but the more sobering thought is when we are challenged by the apostle Peter to 'Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority' (1 Peter 2:13 NIV). Other translations refer to this verse as 'Respect' the human authorities over you, but in either case, how can we tread the line between 'submitting to and respecting' our civil authorities when such a percentage of their agenda seems to indicate a stance that refuses biblical standards?
I've been listening to an interesting curriculum written by John Bevere known as Honor's Reward, and Bevere mildly adapts a few verses concerning slavery in the New Testament epistles to a modern day context to give, in my mind, a fairly accurate picture of what this line may look like. Loosely transposed, 1 Timothy 6:1 reads something like, "Respect your social leaders so that they (being the public) can hold the Lord in high esteem."' And I think, in a sense, this 'translation' excavates the core attitude that Paul was imparting to Timothy, reminding us of our ultimate role as believers in an ungodly society - to be a witness for Christ.
Again in Romans 13:1-7 Paul asks those in the church in Rome to submit to the governing authorities, saying that all authority (and positions thereof) is given by God, so the believers need to 'give respect and honour' them. So does that include the times when it appears that the authority that has been supposedly 'given' to our civil authorities is not used in a way that God would be pleased with?
Again, while there are any amount of political hot topics that I could use as examples, we could also apply this verse to tyrannical rulers or dictators that completely oppress any form of godliness and abuse their power to further their own ambitions. How could we even begin to respect or honour authority if we downright disagreed with the very lifestyle of that authority?
Examples for consideration
Well, I'd like to think about this for a minute. Paul was writing this particular letter to the Roman church, a persecuted church that had grown (without Paul's influence) right under the nose of Emperor Claudius who had just finished kicking all the Jews out of Rome, and later under Emperor Nero who is well known as one of the greatest and cruellest persecutors of the early church. So obviously, Paul's instructions to the Roman believers did not depend on whether or not the current authority was adhering to Christian principles. Paul wasn't asking the believers to agree with everything that an authority figure states as law, but he was asking that the believers honour that authority for the position that God had given/allowed them, so that Christ would not receive a false reputation on behalf of 'rebellious' Christians.
In the Old Testament, we find a perfect example of this principle. As we all know, the prophet Samuel crowned David as king as a young boy, and over the course of David's glittering military career under King Saul, David began to amount quite a bit of prestige, more-so than King Saul (who by this time, had fallen out of God's will for Israel). Out of jealousy, King Saul pursued David and tried on multiple occasions to kill him, but as we know, David always managed to escape death from Saul's hand. Despite Saul's terrible treatment of David, the Lord's next chosen King of Israel, David still honoured and respected Saul as God's Servant to the nation of Israel. David was given opportunities to take Saul's life, and was encouraged to do so by his men, but David refused saying, "The LORD forbid that I should do this to my lord the king and attack the LORD's anointed one, for the LORD himself has chosen him" (1 Samuel 24:6).
The point of all these examples is that no where in the Bible does God ask us as believers, to deny our biblical standards in deference to the agenda of civil authorities. It is imperative, that as a witness for Christ, we stand and disagree on issues that nullify the moral principles that God established for humanity. However, God does ask us to honour and respect their position of leadership and responsibility that has been given by God.
"I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Saviour, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
That is ultimately our mandate in regards to civil authorities. It is our responsibility to pray for them, and to 'live quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity', so that through our witness, they may see Christ and His standards at work in our lives.
Blaine Packer is studying a Bachelor of Cross-cultural Ministry at Worldview Centre for Intercultural Studies in Launceston, Tasmania.
Blaine Packer's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/blaine-packer.html