Christian Obedience to Law
1. Though lawlessness is widespread, what course do those who conform to the Bible follow?
LAWLESSNESS is widespread in the world today, but those who truly live in harmony with the Bible do not contribute to it. They take to heart the counsel of God’s Word, which says: “Be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers.”—Titus 3:1.
2. What attitude toward law must true worshipers leave behind?
2 It is true that some who now practice true worship previously did engage in lawless conduct. They may have stolen things that belonged to others. Perhaps they viewed obedience to certain laws as important only when the police were in sight. In this they were probably no worse than many others in the community. However, the Bible made clear to them that, if they were going to take up true worship, they would need a very different outlook on life.—Ephesians 4:22-29.
3. (a) What should a Christian’s attitude toward political governments be? (b) Why should a Christian not join in riots or in civil disobedience to interfere with government activity?
3 Commenting on the attitude that a Christian should have toward the political governments, the apostle Paul said: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” (Romans 13:1) This does not mean that God established these governments or that he approves of their course. Some of them plainly say that they are atheistic. Nonetheless, God permits them to exist. They would not be able to exercise authority at all if God did not allow it. (John 19:11) And if God permits them to rule, why should any Christian interfere with their doing so? Even if a person disagrees with what the government is doing, why should he join in a riot or share in civil disobedience to try to prevent the State from carrying on its business? Anyone doing so will get himself into trouble, not only with the secular government, but also with God. As Romans 13:2 says: “Therefore he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves.”
4. (a) What benefits do governments provide for us? (b) What view should Christians have regarding the paying of taxes?
4 It is a good thing to show proper respect for the government and appreciation for the beneficial services that it performs. We all have good reason to be glad that the governments under which we live provide roads for travel, schools for education, fire protection and food inspection. Courts of law and protection against crime are also of great value. In these and other matters the “superior authorities” show themselves to be “God’s public servants,” providing services that benefit his people. So when we are asked to pay for all these public services by means of taxes, we do well to call to mind the scripture that says: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath [in punishment of law violators] but also on account of your conscience. For that is why you are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose. Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”—Romans 13:5-7.
5. (a) Is Christian obedience to political authorities unlimited? (b) How did Jesus show there are two aspects to consider?
5 But how far does this subjection to political authorities go? Is it unlimited? Is obedience to human law even more important than obedience to the law of God? Certainly not! Notice that in the scripture just quoted the “compelling reason” for obedience is said to include “your conscience.” So, one’s conscience is not to be ignored, especially if that conscience has been trained by the Word of God. Jesus Christ showed that there are two aspects to consider. Pointing out that it was proper to pay tax to the Roman State, he said, “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar,” and then he added: “But God’s things to God.” (Mark 12:17) So it is vital for each one of us to examine his course of life to be certain that, above all, he is not contributing to the widespread disregard for the law of God.—Psalm 1:1-3.
OBEDIENCE TO THE SUPREME LAW
6. What did the apostles do when they were ordered to stop preaching? So whose law did they obey as supreme?
6 Not long after the death of Jesus Christ, his apostles were called on to show where they stood on this matter. They were ordered by the rulers in Jerusalem to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. Did they comply? Would you have done so? The apostles firmly replied: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29; see also Ac 4:18-20.) They did not treat lightly their obligations before the law of the land, but when a direct conflict arose between man’s law and the law of God, they recognized that God’s law is supreme. Seeing this, a respected member of the court before which they appeared wisely counseled his fellow judges not to interfere with these Christians, so that they as officials would not become fighters against God.—Acts 5:33-39.
7. (a) What did God say in the days of Moses about performing an act of devotion before an image? (b) What kind of objects of devotion have men made? (c) When secular law requires acts of devotion before an image or emblem, whose example do Christians do well to consider?
7 It is not only God’s commandments about preaching that are important. There are other matters too. Highlighting one of them, Jehovah said to his people in the days of Moses: “You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Exodus 20:4, 5) Nevertheless, many objects of devotion have been made by men. Some of them have been made of metal or wood. Others have been made of cloth, with a form representing some object in heaven or on earth sewed or painted onto them. In some cases the acts of devotion performed before these have been voluntary, but in other cases they have been required by secular law. Does this make a difference? If the secular law requires certain acts of devotion to be performed before an image or emblem, does this relieve individuals of the obligation to obey God’s law on the matter? Faithful worshipers of Jehovah in the district of Babylon did not believe so. The Bible tells us that three young Hebrews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to participate in a ceremony ordered by the king. Why? Because it involved worship, and their worship belonged only to Jehovah. God approved of what they did. But how did the king of Babylon react? At first he was violently angry. Yet, in time, he saw the hand of Jehovah God in the matter. Realizing that they were no danger to the State, he issued a decree protecting their freedom. (Daniel 3:1-30) Do you not admire their loyalty to God? Do you not want to be just as firm as they were in giving worship exclusively to God?
8. (a) What did the Roman State require of its subjects, and why did the early Christians refuse? (b) Were these Christians showing disrespect?
8 This same issue of worship confronted Christians living in the Roman Empire. The State required that everyone burn incense to the emperor as an evidence of loyalty. This the Christians could not do, although they obeyed the other laws. They realized that worship was involved, whether the act was performed in honor of an emblem or of a person. (Matthew 4:10) Justin Martyr, who lived in the second century, expressed the views of these Christians, saying: “God alone we render worship, but in other things we gladly serve you [the political rulers], acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men.” These Christians were often misunderstood, but what they did really showed no disrespect, did it? Nor did it make them a danger to other Romans. As the Roman governor Pliny the Younger reported in a letter to Emperor Trajan, they refused to commit fraud or theft or adultery. They were the kind of people that anyone would like to have as neighbors, and it was their religion that made them that way.
9. Besides our worship, what else do we owe God?
9 In addition to our worship, there is something else that we owe to God. An apostle of Jesus Christ pointed to this when he said: “The God that made the world and all the things in it . . . gives to all persons life.” (Acts 17:24, 25) None of us would be alive if it were not for God. He is the Source of life. (Psalm 36:9 [35:10, Dy]) But what are we doing with the life that he permits us to enjoy?
10. How do the Scriptures help us to avoid displeasing God by the way we use our lives?
10 True Christians recognize that, to enjoy God’s approval, they must avoid using their lives in activities that will put them in opposition to God. So they avoid the course of those classes of persons whom the Bible describes as being in line for destruction by God’s executioner when this wicked system ends. (Revelation 19:17-21) They appreciate that Jehovah’s judgment is true and righteous. And they mold their lives now in harmony with his will. They are well aware that this may bring upon them disapproval, even persecution, from those whose only interests lie in this present system of things. But, with full faith that God’s way is right, they exalt his law and his worship, giving these first place in their lives. (Micah 4:1-3) In imitation of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, they use their lives, not for selfish pursuits nor for the will of selfish men, but in harmony with the will of God. (1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 4:1, 2) So doing, they truly pay back to God what belongs to him.
11. How should obedience to law affect our lives?
11 Do you want to have God’s approval? If so, obedience to law will be a serious matter in your life. It will move you to have due regard for the person and property of your neighbors. It will make you respectful toward government officials. But, above all, it will cause you to bring your life into full harmony with the judicial decisions of Jehovah God, the greatest Lawgiver of all.