My Kingdom is Not of This World
John 18:36; Romans 13: 1 – 7.
Jesus expected that our ultimate allegiance to Him must never be compromised with any earthly government! The New Testament authors reemphasized His claims throughout their writings, arguing that we do not belong here: we have been transformed to become citizens of heaven, strangers and exiles on the earth, and aliens among the gentiles, belonging to a kingdom which cannot be shaken, as its architect and builder is God (Phil 3:20; Heb 11:10,13,16; 12:28; 1 Pet 2:11-12). Through human history, such convictions have seen believers standing up against ruling powers at great costs to themselves. It would certainly be a sad day, when our inadvertent worldly acculturation detracts us from our Christian testimony, to the point when an onlooker is unable to differentiate our kingdom’s values from the common human cultural, political, moral and ethical moorings.
Biblical history has a rich tradition of civil disobedience, seemingly with God’s assent: when God-fearing Hebrew midwives saved Israelite babies against Pharaoh’s orders, and God blessed them; when Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego disobeyed King Nebuchadnezzar’s edict on worshipping his image, and were thrown into a fiery furnace, but were not consumed; when Daniel’s refusal to pray to Darius within the 30 days set aside by the king, and was sent into the lion’s den, but remained unharmed; and when Peter and John continued to preach Christ crucified despite being forbidden by the Jewish authorities, and were jailed, but released again. Do these instances then contradict Paul’s Letter to the Romans on the issue of our submission to all governments (Rom 13:1-7)?
There are 4 main themes from Paul’s perspective: (1) There is no governing authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (Rom 13:1). Very plainly, all governments, whether elected or not, are installed by God. This can be chilling, as it includes Adolf Hitler’s genocidal administration, Idi Amin’s murderous regime, and the various racially, religiously, and politically discriminatory governments worldwide. Paul was not unaware of the travesty of Jesus’ trial, nor the prejudicial authorities who stood in their way on their preaching circuits (Acts 16:16-40; 1 Cor 2:8; cf., Rom 13:3-4), but like the Old Testament writers, the apostles believed that even evil monarchs were appointed by God for a purpose, but will subsequently be judged by Him (Dan 2:21;4:32; John 19:10-11). (2) Therefore, it seems unambiguous that whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God, and will receive condemnation on themselves, and would be punished by the governing authorities (Rom 13:2-4). (3) So, the best way to escape the latters’ wrath and for our conscience’s sake, would be to obey unreservedly the ruling powers (Rom 13:5-7). (4) But Paul inserted a proviso, that governments are meant to serve their citizens with equity, justice, and honour (Rom 13:5-7; cf., 1 Peter 4:15-16). Since all governments are fallibly human and lie on a spectrum between self-righteousness and evil, this qualification released us from blind obedience to governing authorities, as ‘we must obey God rather than men’ (Acts 5:29). The important issue is that our obedience to them is at a relative level, as it can never be absolute. It would be appropriate to surmise that our submission to man is constrained by the lordship of Christ, and even in our compliance in civil matters (eg., paying taxes and obeying laws, etc) we are, in fact, also yielding to God. This approach does not sidelined us from honouring God in all things, and it protects us from serving two masters.