by Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Ephesians 5.21; Romans 13.1-7; I Peter 2.11-17
Our third in a series brings us to a study regarding society or social subordination. When we take a brief look at American society, we can see a culture that struggles against subordination. It is almost within our nature as Americans to stand against the powers that be – whether that is the government, the police, the homeowner’s association, the bank, the teacher, or the boss. We, as Americans, find it difficult to permit anyone to have authority over us.
In light of these difficulties, it is my hope that I am not misunderstood. I love my country; it truly is a bountiful land, a land full of opportunity and wonder. If one so desires, they can pretty much achieve whatever they desire. However, we almost have come to believe that it is our God-given right to stand and then fight against any and all authority. When we consider that our country was partially bred in rebellion, that we have an unbridled freedom of speech, and we have declared the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we have come to misappropriate these things to a constant state of tension between the governed and the governors.
I am in no way advocating that all authority has been benevolent or that I even in the slightest degree agree with every law, legislation, ordinance and code that has been written. But the reality is that no society can operate politely and respectfully without constraints. Boundaries must be established, and someone has to define the boundaries. The difficulty comes when society believes that defined restrictions are outdated and outmoded. In many ways, we live in such a society.
This lesson is not intended to justify or rationalize or debate the actions of previous generations toward the institutions and people that governed them. This lesson is designed to examine what God expects. To understand what this means, we will look primarily at two passages: Romans 13.1-7 and I Peter 2.11-17, time only permits a highlighting of things mentioned.
Romans 13.1-7 tells us to be in subordination to those who have superior authority. Romans 13.1 speaks of higher authority in the broadest sense, consequently we are almost forced to define superior in the broadest sense of the word, from the dogcatcher to the president, from parents to the boss. Romans 13.1-2 tells us that if we do subordinate ourselves to those in a superior position, we are not just opposing the superior(s), but Jehovah himself since these positions of authority are from God.
Interestingly enough, I Peter 2.11 states that we should refrain from desires that fight against the soul, in context through 4.17, this is speaking specifically of rebelling against authority. While Peter speaks of several authoritative institutions, we will focus on 2.13-14. In these verses, he states that we are to submit to every ordinance – this not only includes laws, regulations and decrees, but the very institutions that establish those very rules. It is not just the laws and institutions we are to submit to, but we are also to remain in a subordinate relationship to any sovereign (whether king, president, elected or non-elected official) and any representative of the sovereign.
The idea of subjection is not one that Americans lovingly embrace. It is a difficult challenge to remain in submission to every law and everyone in authority, regardless if a Christian agrees or disagrees with the rules or the institution.
While Christians should remain in subjection, there is only one exception to this rule of obedience. This exception can be found in Acts 4.18-20. Only when we as disciples are faced with the human commandment found in Acts 4.18, can we rebel. This command is a direct order to refrain and discontinue from preaching and teaching the Gospel.
We, as disciples, are not permitted to allow any person to override the divine decree that Jesus himself gave to go teach all nations, making disciples and teaching them to observe his teachings (Matthew 28.18-20). Why is this so? Because this is the very reason why God gave his son (John 3.16). As disciples, and as people who endure heavy burdens from unjust legislation, we should be willing to tell others of the one who proclaims to have an easy yoke and a light burden (Matthew 11.30), because Jesus provides rest (Matthew 11.29), freedom (John 8.32), and an abundant life (John 10.10).
As we close, recall that this lesson was not intended to justify or rationalize or debate the actions of previous generations toward the institutions and people that governed them. We simply wanted to examine what God expects of his people. Knowing this, let us take a quick look at why God expects us to remain in subjection to our superiors.
In Romans 13.5, Paul concludes by saying to remain submissive knowing that one can be punished, but also so one can have a clear conscience. Knowing this, we are to maintain four things: 1) we are to pay taxes, 2) we are to pay tolls, 3) we are to maintain fear and reverence of superiors, and 4) give distinction and respect to those in superior positions (Romans 13.5, 7).
I Peter 2.13 tells us that our submission is done in order to honor Christ’s name; 2.15 tells us that remaining subordinate is according to God’s will which has the outcome of silencing foolishness. Finally, I Peter 2.17 states that we are to not only honor all people, but also honor those who are sovereign.
It is natural to want to stand in opposition to those in authority, especially those who seem to be or who truly are ruthless and cruel. But God wants us to fight that desire and remain submissive. What an immense challenge for those who call themselves Christian.