“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.” (Titus 3:1-8)
This, along with Romans 13:1-7 and I Peter 2:13-17 form a trifecta of scriptural injunctions to Christians to obedience to earthly authority. And in all three of these passages, we are given an earthly reason why we should do so – which is that our testimonies demand it! We’re to be subject for conscience sake (Romans 13:5), so that we can put to silence the ignorant slanders of foolish opponents of the Gospel (I Peter 2:15), and so that we can maintain good works (v.8, above). Of course, we all realise that this has its limits – our ultimate authority is the Word of God, and when man’s law crosses the boundary of what is right according to the Word, then we must follow the Word and not man’s law, though we must also be prepared to endure the consequences of such stand for conscience’s sake.
But what I got to meditating on is that obedience to earthly authority really says something about our obedience to GOD’S authority. After all, as we see in Romans 13, there is no power but of God (which, yes, includes even those wicked regimes and wicked men in positions of power). There are many, many professing Christians out there who seem to think their profession gives them a license to disobey government when it strikes their fancy. Some even go so far as to think they have leave to not pay their taxes and so forth (which is, obviously, explicitly contrary to the commands of Scripture – Romans 13:6-7, Matthew 22:21, etc.) What this really shows, I believe, is a dangerous and unscriptural tendency towards libertinism on their part, just another manifestation of the spirit of unbiblical Christian “liberty.” It seems natural, of course, that those who would view scriptural doctrines and standards as something to be “liberated from,” would likewise hold a low view of earthly governmental authority, and vice versa.
But such an attitude couldn’t be further from the plan of God for a Christian who truly desires to live godly and have a testimony before the world. See what Paul says in our text passage. First, he gives the command – let the flocks be in subjection to governmental authorities. In that same verse, he gives the reason why – so that they might be ready to every good work. It’d be hard to be able to serve the Lord, I’d imagine, when you’re in the dock for disobeying the law, or have made such a stench of yourself to the authorities that they’d view you as much a troublemaker as they would a recidivist car thief. But Paul goes further, it’s not just our ACTIONS that are to be in line, but also our HEARTS. He says to speak evil of no man, specifically governmental people in the context. How many conservatives, even Christians, have been guilty of this because Obama is President (uh oh, I just went from preachin’ to meddlin’, didn’t I??) We are reminded that we ourselves used to live lives characterised by foolishness, disobedience, and selfishness, just like those we might be tempted to curse and denigrate, but that the offer of salvation was freely extended to us by grace. Therefore, the argument Paul is building goes, we must understand that the way we conduct ourselves with regards to respect for lawful, God-ordained authority will have an influence, for good or bad, on the people who occupy those offices, the other people who will see our behaviour and hear our speech, and may even affect our ability to freely serve the Lord through the response we engender FROM the authorities. The salvation of souls is affected by how we conduct ourselves with respect to the laws of man. As with everything else, the unsaved will have their eyes on us to see how we conduct ourselves as Christians.
But what about those of us who don’t hold to some of the weirder and wilder notions of Christian “liberty” or anti-authoritarianism? How good are we really at obeying the law? Even those little laws that we would tend to dismiss as unimportant? Do we speed? Do we charge yellow lights? Do we flip an illegal U-turn if we think nobody’ll see? Yes, even “little” laws like these are important. God didn’t tell us to obey magistrates only when we feel like it. If we make a habit of disobeying the laws of man, how good are we then at obeying the laws of GOD, which are of much greater import? Obviously, there’s at least one law of God not being kept when we don’t obey earthly laws and authority – the one discussed above. But does such a pattern then extend to other areas? I’ll be honest – traffic laws are one area where I’ve really had to submit myself to the Lord. Before I was saved, I had plumbic pedis syndrome (i.e., a lead foot). I still have to watch myself to make sure I don’t inadvertently drift way up over the speed limit. But a lot of folks don’t even care to do that. I had a former roommate, a Christian in a fundamental Baptist church, who habitually drove WAY over the speed limit. He actually got onto me one time for driving the limit, saying that it “holds people up.” I told him the Bible says to obey the law, so if people get held up, too bad for them. He didn’t like that interpretation – and it didn’t surprise me to find out that there were several other areas in his life where he wasn’t too concerned about the Scriptural path.
So let’s all just obey the law, okay?