Authority and the Bible

The United States of America is experiencing a big dose of civil unrest: particularly against the police. There are numerous instances involving police brutality and excessive force. With the advent of the Smartphone giving access to practically everyone to cameras these days, these events have been bought to the spotlight. This has led to increased scrutiny and public outcry against the authorities, specifically the police. While this outcry and scrutiny are justifiable in many instances, is it the total answer? Will it bring change? What does the Bible say about authority? It is time for us, especially Christians, to take a close look at authority and the Bible.

What is Authority?

According to Nelson’s Bible Dictionary, authority is “The power or right to do something, particularly to give orders and see that they are followed. The word authority as used in the Bible usually means a person’s right to do certain things because of the position or office he [or she] holds. This word emphasizes the legality and right, more than the physical strength, needed to do something.”

Authority and the Bible

Now that the definition of authority has been established, what does the Bible say about Authority?

Rom 13:1-6

13 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. [cf. 1 kings 10:9] (2) Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (3) For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. (4) For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

(6)This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. NIV

This is what the bible says about power and authority.

Ok, let’s take a close look at this passage.

Verse 1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

The Scripture says, “Everyone must submit.” Submission means cooperation, loyalty, and a willingness to obey.

Looking at the context of this passage, Paul was writing to Christians in Rome that were living under an authoritarian and oppressive government. Even so, in spite of them ruling in an ungodly way, Paul advised them to submit to this authority.

Why? The authorities that exist have been established by God.”
Authorities are established by God. Though they may not act as such, even though they are operating in an ungodly way, they have been established by God.

Verse 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

When citizens rebel against the authorities, they are ultimately rebelling

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against God because it is God that has placed them there. Further, those who disobey bring judgment down on themselves. When citizens disobey the authorities they are simply on the wrong side of the law and there are consequences for that action. Part of the reason for so many police killings and incidents is rebellion against authority.

Verse 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

In this verse, Paul is addressing the proper function of authority and government: to uphold those who are right and punish those who are wrong. If we do what is right, there is nothing to fear. This is the will of God for authority.

Verse 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

The Sword presents authority and the powers have God-given authority. It is important to understand that it was given for our good. However, if we rebel against this authority, we can expect wrath and punishment. No one is above the law. Therefore, when we behave as evildoers and lawbreakers we are treated as such. All communities are responsible to obey the law (vs.1).

There is more Biblical wisdom on this in Prov. 24:21-22:

21 Fear the Lord and the king [the government], my son, and do not join with the rebellious, 22 for those two will send sudden destruction upon them,and who knows what calamities they can bring?

If we do not want to be treated the same as the rebellious, we should not engage as they do.

Verse 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Responsible citizens have two (2) good reasons to submit to their government: to avoid punishment and to take note of their own conscience, for it is the conscience that will prompt them to do what is right. Christian believers especially know in their consciences that obeying the authorities pleases God. If we are to maintain a good conscience and honor God, we must honor authority.

Verse 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

We actually pay for this authority to protect us from the lawless. The duty of government and authority is to serve and protect. Therefore, why should we not submit to them?

To Summarize

The present situation is beginning to resemble Rome. But even in living under an ungodly and cruel government such as Rome, the Scriptures state that citizens are to obey their authority. Otherwise, expect no more than wrath and punishment. The powers, the government is placed in power by God and will ultimately have to answer to God for whatever injustices have been committed against its citizens. Since this power was not given to us as individuals, we have no right to rebel or disobey and expect any other outcome. Therefore, it behooves us to obey and leave the rest to God.

Life Application for Today

Today, concerning the government, the big emphasis of concern is on the police and the excessive use of force—rightly so. Police reform is drastically needed to balance order in our cities. However, something is missing in this effort. If this missing element is not placed on the scale, it will never balance. This missing element is the citizen (s).

Authority and the Bible
We can’t put all of the weight on government authority. True justice requires a balance between citizens and authority.

All of the effort to attain this balance is being directed toward the police. However, what about the responsibility of the citizens? We have seen in the above passage of Scripture that it is the responsibility of the citizen to obey the law. Citizens must be accountable for their actions as does the Police.

The postmodernism movement has ushered in a toxic atmosphere of rebellion that includes rebelling against authority. This is particularly dangerous for our youth and they are suffering as a result. The community leaders of influence and all adults need to encourage our youth and one another to respect and obey the law. We must work on being better citizens.

We promote all sorts of social concerns through public service announcements (PSA’s). These include littering, the wearing of seat belts, anti-cigarette smoking, and being vaccinated.   Why not  PSA’s that promote an anti-crime movement that focuses on civil compliance to the laws – on being responsible citizens, working together with the authorities to attain and maintain peace. This climate will help to avoid arrests initially.

In most (not all) of the cases of excessive force that have reached national attention and notoriety, a balanced observation will yield a conclusion that an act on part of the citizen initiated action from the police. There is usually some form of resistance (e.g. running away, grabbing the officer’s weapons, disobeying commands, resisting handcuffs, etc.) that requires actions from an officer. While the officer’s actions in these cases may be excessive, if the citizen’s actions were in compliance with the law, perhaps no force would have been necessary initially. These actions from citizens only escalate the situation.

Even if we are approached for the wrong reason or what we may feel is the wrong reason, we must comply (vs. 2).

The Takeaway

There must be law and order in the land. The first step for law and order is obeying the law.

While the outcry for police reform is necessary, there is also a need for an outcry to submit to authority and obey the law instead of focusing solely on the actions of the police. Obedience to the law will cool the temperature and reduce the need for authoritative action. The more we obey the less of a need for police engagement.

In order for police reform to succeed, there must be obedience to the law. It is an imbalance to restrain the police and not address lawlessness. We must be careful not to restrain the police to the point of non-effectiveness. This will only lead to uncontrollable civil disobedience.

Balance is the key to life and God delights in balance and obedience. 1 Sam 15:22: “…To obey is better than sacrifice,”

Justice is a two-way street. Let’s look at the definition of justice from Nelson’s Bible Dictionary.

JUSTICE- “The practice of what is right and just. Justice (or “judgment,” KJV) specifies what is right, not only as measured by a code of law, but also by what makes for right relationships as well as harmony and peace.”

“The English term justice has a strong legal flavor. But the concept of justice in the Bible goes beyond the law courts to everyday life. The Bible speaks of “doing justice” (Ps 82:3; Prov. 21:3), whereas we speak of “getting justice.” Doing justice
is to maintain what is right or to set things right. Justice is done when honorable relations are maintained between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, government and citizens, and man and God. Justice refers to brotherliness in spirit and action.”

Any relationship is a two-way street, including the relationship between the government and the people! This must be a collaborative effort.  If we want to have a better relationship with the police, we must do our part and work on being better citizens. We must work together, not in rebellion.

This is what pleases God. Prov. 21:3,

3 To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. KJV

Amen

Please feel free to leave any questions, comments, and concerns below. You will receive a response.

Blessings!

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Authority and the Bible”

  1. Yes, God puts government in power. He gives authority to certain sectors of government. It is important that government sees and treat ALL of its citizens humanely. Some citizens are treated sub-human. While others are left alone, even when seen doing the same crime.
    I do agree, that it is wiser to comply. Don’t give authorities a reason to mistreat you. The main policing in done in areas where the authorities do not live. They don’t connect with the people as being a neighbor or a relative. They, the community which they patrol are seen as “other”.

    1. Hi Sharon – Actually God gives authority to all sectors of government. He is sovereign over all (Psalm 103:19). Your comments address the very point of the article: there’s work to be done on BOTH sides and the matter should be addressed in that matter. Then we can achieve justice.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. I was going to pass through this because I am an “atheist who would like to be an agnostic” (I grew up in a Catholic environment in the Philippines; I live in the US now). However, I just read commented on your “The Toenail Fungus” article; and because I loved it, I figure that I read a completely different blog post from you…

    First of all, this is another well-written article. Spelling and grammar are impeccable. 

    (Just a slight formatting error here:
    “Doing justice
    is to maintain what is right or to set things right. Justice is done when…”)

    I was literally expecting an article that was going to anger my liberal sensibilities and I was surprisingly calm throughout the whole reading. I love the reading that you have done on the passage and the breakdown that you have made. I completely agree about any relationship being a “collaborative effort.” This is something that our society just decided not to do. We just decided that it’s “us against them.” Because of this, any sense of “collaborative effort” will never happen. We will just be at a constant war, because we don’t believe in working things out. I am just “right” and you are “wrong.”

    “Justice” and “balance” are definitely two words that are not in sync right now. And I want to comment on this:

    “While the outcry for police reform is necessary, there is also a need for an outcry to submit to authority and obey the law instead of focusing solely on the actions of the police. Obedience to the law will cool the temperature and reduce the need for authoritative action. The more we obey the less of a need for police engagement.”

    Unfortunately, right now, the only reason the “general public” is solely focusing on the actions of the police is because there is a very blatant disregard for “humane treatment” towards African-American. Yes, we can say that police officers do the same to whites, Asians, and Hispanics. But at this point, racism has been fully exposed and it’s the reason why “obeying the law” is not being followed (in what supposed to be a “collaborative effort”).

    I feel that racism needs to be addressed and acknowledged before we can continue. Problem is, people who don’t believe that racism exists and that it’s the main reason for the majority for police brutality cases are the problem. The more they wear such blinders, the more we won’t even attempt to begin a collaborative effort…

    And before I end, I just want to say that this thought-provoking article is a great way to promote Christian-related products. 🙂

    1. Hi Will – Your comments point to the direct idea of the article which is; police brutality and racism must be addressed as well as obedience to the law. The more minorities break the law the more they subject themselves to actions of the police whether the action is excessive or not. These two elements are required to reach the ultimate goal which is justice and peace. It is impossible to obtain this goal otherwise. Remember the definition of justice that was laid out in the article: 
      “The practice of what is right and just. Justice specifies what is right, not only as measured by a code of law, but also by what makes for right relationships as well as harmony and peace.”

  3. Here Nathaniel speaks about authority, and God. The world authorities would have been established by God Himself: Whoever rebels against them would be rebelling against what God made be. In this case, they bring judgement over themselves. That the authority would punish whomever does wrong. “To obey is better than sacrifice” is a sentence from the Bible, and therefore we must obey the laws of both Man, and God. 

  4. Submission to authorities and instituted power is one thing the bi le was frank about. God is a God of order. The best way to achieve order is creating a platform where there is respect for constituted authorities. I love the way you conclude on this issue. To do justice is more important to our God than sacrifice. 

    1. God is certainly a God of order and yes we do need a platform where respect is the order of the day. Respect is a dual blessing for all parties involved.

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. Thank you for this detailed article about Authority and the Bible, arguments and sharing the word of God about this term and behold it. I agree with you, No one is above the law. Every one of us must do not less or more but just obey what God said in His word. Thank you for giving the references and sharing the verses regarding the topic. 

    We live in different countries and have various problems. Many governments are corrupted and have so many problems in their leadership, but the word of God is clear, so there is nothing to contest about obedience to the law. 

    thank you for sharing

    be blessed

    Alketa

    1. Yes Alketa, unfortunately, there are corrupt governments to one degree or another. But we must obey as best we can and God will ultimately take care of government and mete justice as has been illustrated in the Scriptures.

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. Believers have to to live as the Bible conmand as to live obey and respect
    God rules everyone else is called to do same cuz he create us is like established
    Rules even if you’re not a believer there’s
    Good and evil death and life so anything
    Can happen is up to you understand what
    Is more precious if you don’t obey rules
    You’re in the evil hands when you obey you’re under protection your decisions today determine you’re future.

    1. Yes Ricardo – We have a choice between good and evil, life and death and our decisions certainly determine our future.

      Thanks for commenting!

  7. I enjoyed your post concerning the responsibility of government and the governed to each other. The Founder John Adams made it clear that the Constitution was for people with a moral character and it would be inadequate for others,
    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
    I am wondering how you might approach a government that is repressive of Christians or totalitarian in nature. I am thinking specifically about whether you would support the American Revolution against immoral British authority, or civil disobedience by Martin Luther King, or even the disobedience of both Paul and Peter (among others) in Scripture who were beaten and put in jail for defying government authorities.
    On a more general note, I enjoy your site

    1. Hi David – I’m so glad to know that you are enjoying the site. In Romans 13, Paul tells the Christians in Rome to obey the authorities. The Roman Government was about as totalitarian as it gets.Yet, Paul said to “obey” them. When we don’t we only bring trouble upon ourselves. However, there comes a time when things reach a boiling point. I really can’t say if I would support the American Revolution or not. Martin Luther King led peaceful protests which was within the law and I would support him. Paul and Peter were obeying God and chose to disobey man. I would definitely support them. On moral and social issues, I stand on God’s Word and not man’s.

      Thanks for commenting and visit the website whenever you wish. I usually publish new content weekly.

  8. Thank you very much for your excellent site concerning obedience to government, and the responsibility of citizens and government officials have to each other.  We are moving into a dangerous time in our history where citizens take the law into their own hands and do what they think is right rather than following the law.

    I am wondering how you feel about certain nuances such as when the government becomes totalitarian and whether you would have supported the American Revolution, civil disobedience by Martin Luther King, and the disobedience of Paul and Peter to their government officials which got them whipped, jailed and eventually killed.

    1. Hi Dave – I certainly agree with you that we are headed for a dangerous time. As for the American Revolution, I can’t say whether I would have supported it or not as I am just too far removed from it to relate to it directly. Dr. King led peaceful protests and for a worthy cause yet the protests were still met with violence from the authorities. Yes, I would have supported him. These two examples illustrate the imperfection of government and how it can overstep its bounds by hurting citizens instead of helping them. It’s the illustration of how we humans are simply unable to govern ourselves properly. It seems that greed and narcissism always manage to get the best of us.

      As for Peter and Paul, they chose to obey God rather than man (the government). They had a God-given mission to preach the Gospel and yes I would have supported them as I would support anyone who would do the same today. It is an absolute shame and disgrace that it cost them their lives.

      In the US, there are many laws, mostly moral that are contrary to the Word of God and His will. I do not and will not support those.

      Civil disobedience like any tool, when used correctly for the right reason can be very effective. But when used simply as an act of rebellion, it accomplishes nothing but injury and suffering.

      In the end, we will not be judged by God on how well we obeyed man’s laws, but how well we obeyed His.

      Thanks for commenting!

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