Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:1-2)
Rebelling Against Civil Authority
The Roman Empire was described by the Lord as a nation of iron in the vision of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. It was fitting to portray the fourth kingdom of the image as one of the most destructive war machines ever to rule. For more than five hundred years, the brutal force of the Roman Empire wielded control over much of the world. Its leaders were despots who ruled with ferocious zeal to suppress and oppress all who stood in their way. To this world, Jesus was born and the church was established. The letters of the early disciples shed light on the view of the first Christians concerning the Roman government. Paul’s letter to Rome came near the end of his third missionary journey as he was returning to Jerusalem with the offering from the Gentile churches. There was no hesitation of the apostle to admonish the saints living in Rome to submit to the civil authorities and policies of the Roman government.
Examining the state of affairs of the Roman authority would shock and dismay the modern American patriots who live in a world of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and many other accepted freedoms. The Holy Spirit directs Paul to remind the Christians they are obligated to keep the law of the land and respect civil authority as a sign of faithfulness to God. Everyone had the divine command to submit to all governing authorities because that rule came from God. To disobey the law of the land was to disobey the law of God. If a citizen refused to submit to the Roman government they would be punished by the wrath of God.
It is hard to imagine living under the harsh hand of the Roman government and be submissive but the Lord did not make distinctions of whether the country was a democracy, monarchy, republic, or dictatorship. If a man is a child of God he has no choice. All of this is tempered by the understanding that as long as the government does not require a man anything that would transgress the law of God, he must obey. The twelve apostles boldly declared to their persecutors they had to obey God rather than men but this did not give them a license to choose which civil law to disobey. When the church in Rome received the letter from Paul, they clearly understood their roles in submitting to civil authority.
America is a land far removed from the tyrannical rule of the Roman Empire. The song of freedom has long been the mantra of Americans seeking life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. While the empires have changed in the last two thousand years, the word of God has not. What Paul wrote to the church in Rome has as much power today as it did then; however, in a much less despotic nation. Christians living in the United States of America are bound by the laws of the land whether they agree with them or not. Unless (and only until) the law of the land countermands the word of God, the Christian has no right to rebel against civil authority. The Lord does not follow the red, white, and blue doctrine of freedom for everything. There are things the child of God should not engage in as people of character, citizens of the kingdom of Christ, and priests in the spiritual nation of Israel. Saints of God are set aside for a holy calling, not civil unrest. If anything, those professing allegiance to Jesus Christ should be models of restraint, reserve, and resolution to be examples of godliness, righteousness, and honesty. Let Christ shine in your civic duties. Allow those in the world to see the power of the church of Christ to be leaders in the civil communities of this great land. Obey the laws of the land and those in authority.