Respect for Authority Essential for Peaceful Living
1-3. (a) What has contributed to widespread rejection of authority in our day? (b) In what various ways is this attitude expressed? (c) Where are the effects felt?
THERE is a spirit of independence that permeates the world in our day. Particularly among those born since World War II a general rejection of authority has developed. Why? For one thing, their parents had observed and experienced oppression on an unprecedented scale, as well as high-handed and corrupt tactics by those in power. They developed a dim view of authority. Consequently, many of them, on becoming parents, did not instill in their children a respect for authority. Nor have the injustices seen by the children helped matters. As a result, rebellion against authority has become common.
2 That rebellion is expressed in various ways. Sometimes it is shown by adopting a type of dress that indicates rejection of “accepted standards.” It may involve public defiance of the police, or even violence and bloodshed. But it is not limited to these. Even among persons who do not express themselves in these more open ways, how many are there who ignore or sidestep laws or other regulations if they do not agree with them or if they find it inconvenient to do what these require?
3 This situation has deeply affected the atmosphere in homes, in schools, at places of employment and in contacts with government officials. More and more people just do not want anyone else to be telling them what to do. They are reaching out for what they believe to be greater freedom. Faced with this situation, what will you do?
4. By what we do in this matter, we show our attitude on what issue?
4 Your course will unavoidably indicate where you stand in relation to the issue of the rightfulness of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty. Do you really look to Jehovah as the Source of true peace and security? Will you seek out and apply in your life what his Word says? Or are you going along with those of mankind who, being misled by Satan, believe that they ought to make their own decisions as to what is good and what is bad?—Genesis 3:1-5; Revelation 12:9.
5. (a) What often results from following the lead of humans who promise “freedom”? (b) How free is the person who does God’s will?
5 Anyone who allows what is “popular” to control his thinking will easily be misled. (Jeremiah 8:6) But an accurate knowledge of the Bible is a safeguard. It can protect you against simply exchanging one bad situation for another because of having listened to persons who, while ‘promising freedom, are themselves existing as slaves of corruption.’ Following the lead of such persons would only put you in the same enslaved condition. (2 Peter 2:18, 19) True freedom can be had only by learning and doing the will of God. His law is “the perfect law that belongs to freedom.” (James 1:25) Jehovah does not needlessly restrict us, hedging us in with rules that serve no useful purpose. But he does provide the kind of guidance that enables a person to enjoy the peace and security that result from having a fine relationship with God and with one’s fellowman. Is not that what you want?
6, 7. (a) Who is in the best position to do something about the misuse of authority in this system of things? (b) How did Jesus show what happens to persons who try to take the law into their own hands?
6 Better than anyone else, God knows the extent to which there is corruption and misuse of authority in this old system of things. And he has given his word that, regardless of how highly situated those causing oppression may be, he will call them to account. (Romans 14:12) In God’s appointed time, “the wicked . . . will be cut off from the very earth; and as for the treacherous, they will be torn away from it.” (Proverbs 2:22) But it is not going to result in any lasting good for ourselves if we grow impatient and take the law into our own hands.—Romans 12:17-19.
7 On the night of his betrayal and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus Christ emphasized this to his apostles. Because of the conditions in the land, including the presence of wild beasts, the Jews frequently carried weapons, and on that occasion there were two swords among Jesus’ apostles. (Luke 22:38) What happened? Well, when they saw a violent distortion of justice—an effort to arrest Jesus without just cause and under cover of darkness—the apostle Peter impulsively drew his sword and struck off the ear of one of the men. But Jesus restored the severed ear and said to Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Many persons, even in our day, could have been saved from untimely deaths by following this advice.—Proverbs 24:21, 22.
PROPER VIEW OF SECULAR AUTHORITY
8. (a) As stated at Romans 13:1, 2, how are Christians to view secular rulers? (b) What is meant by the statement that they are “placed in their relative positions by God”?
8 When writing to Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul was inspired by God to discuss how they were to conduct themselves in relation to secular authorities. He said: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. 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.” (Romans 13:1, 2) Does this mean that God has put these secular rulers in power? The Bible definitely answers, No! (Luke 4:5, 6; Revelation 13:1, 2) But they do exist by his permission, and the ‘relative position’ that they have occupied in the course of human history was determined by God. What has that position been?
9. If officials engage in wrong practices, how can we respect them?
9 The scripture just quoted says that it is a “superior” one. Thus government officials are not to be treated with disrespect. The laws put into force by them are not to be disregarded. This does not necessarily mean that you admire the individuals, nor that you approve of any corruption in which they might engage. But respect is properly shown because of the office they occupy.—Titus 3:1, 2.
10. How is the payment of taxes to be viewed, and why?
10 In large measure, secular laws work for the good of the people. They help to maintain order and assure a measure of protection for the person and property of individuals. (Romans 13:3, 4) Furthermore, the government usually provides roads, sanitation service, fire protection, education and other services that benefit the people. Are they to be paid for these services? Should we pay taxes? This is a question that is sometimes permeated with strong feelings because of the high tax rate and the frequent misuse of public funds. In the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, too, the question had political overtones. But Jesus did not take the position that the existing situation warranted any refusal to pay. Referring to the money that had been minted by the Roman Caesar, he said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:17-21; Romans 13:6, 7) Knowing the results that could easily develop, Jesus did not endorse the idea of each one becoming a law to himself.
11, 12. (a) How do the scriptures under consideration show that there is also another authority to be considered? (b) What would you do if secular rulers issued orders that conflicted with God’s requirements, and why?
11 It is to be noted, however, that in his reply Jesus showed that the secular state was not the only authority to be considered. The “superior authorities” are not superior to God nor even equal to him. To the contrary, they “stand placed in their relative positions by God.” (Romans 13:1) Their authority is limited, not absolute. Because of this, Christians have frequently been confronted with a critical decision. It is a decision that you too must make. When men in power demand for themselves what belongs to God, what will you do? If they forbid what God commands, whom will you obey?
12 The apostles of Jesus Christ, choosing to uphold Jehovah’s sovereignty, respectfully but firmly stated their position to the members of the high court in Jerusalem: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard. . . . We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 4:19, 20; 5:29) Political governments may impose restrictions on the number of people who may meet together; they may also prohibit certain public activity. God’s Word does not require that his people assemble in large crowds for worship, nor does it say that there is only one proper way to contact other people to speak to them about God’s will. On the other hand, if conforming to governmental restrictions were to make it impossible to fulfill God-given obligations, what then? Who can deny that the right thing to do would be to “obey God as ruler rather than men”?
13, 14. (a) How careful should we be not to disobey secular laws just for personal reasons? (b) From the Scriptures, point out reasons for this.
13 This is far different from independently doing what appeals to selfish interests instead of doing what the law requires. It is true that, from a personal standpoint, certain laws may seem unnecessary or unduly restrictive. But does that justify one’s ignoring the law? What would be the result if everyone were to obey only the laws that he felt benefited himself? It would lead to anarchy.
14 There is grave danger in a person’s ignoring authority and doing only what pleases self simply because it is unlikely to result in immediate punishment. While such disregard for law may at first involve comparatively minor matters, a person’s going unpunished may embolden him to greater lawlessness until he becomes set in his bad way. Regarding this, Ecclesiastes 8:11 states: “Because sentence against a bad work has not been executed speedily, that is why the heart of the sons of men has become fully set in them to do bad.” What is the real reason for obeying the law? Should it be merely fear of punishment for disobeying? In the case of a Christian, there ought to be a far stronger inducement—what the apostle Paul referred to as a “compelling reason”—and that is the desire for a clean conscience. (Romans 13:5) When a person’s conscience has been educated in harmony with the Scriptures, he knows that, if he were to pursue a lawless course, he would be taking a stand “against the arrangement of God.” Regardless of whether other humans know what we are doing, God knows, and our prospects for future life depend on him.—1 Peter 2:12-17.
15. (a) What should guide a person in his attitude toward a schoolteacher or an employer? (b) In this way we avoid being influenced by whose spirit?
15 The same is true in regard to a young person’s attitude toward his schoolteacher, and an adult’s attitude toward his secular employer. The fact that many other people around us do wrong things should not be the determining factor. Whether the teacher or the employer knows what we do should not make any difference. The question is, What is right? What is pleasing to God? Schoolteachers are generally representatives of the secular government, agents of the “superior authorities,” and so deserve respect. And as to secular employers, the Bible counsels: “Please them well, . . . exhibiting good fidelity to the full, so that [you] may adorn the teaching of our Savior, God, in all things.” (Titus 2:9, 10) Doing so, we show that we have not given in to the influence of Satan, whose spirit “operates in the sons of disobedience.” Instead, we make a genuine contribution to peaceful relations with our fellowmen.—Ephesians 2:2, 3.
AUTHORITY WITHIN THE HOME
16. What requirement for harmonious family life is stated at 1 Corinthians 11:3?
16 Another area in which peaceful relations are very much to be desired is the family circle. Too often such a wholesome relationship is lacking, resulting in a breakdown in family relations—in many cases, even the breaking up of the household. What can be done to improve the situation? A basic requirement is respect for Jehovah’s arrangement of headship. As written at 1 Corinthians 11:3, that arrangement is as follows: “The head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God.”
17. (a) As to headship, what is the man’s position? (b) What fine example as to husbandly headship did Christ set?
17 Notice that the statement begins with man’s position, not pointing first to his headship, but, rather, drawing attention to the fact that, in Jehovah’s arrangement of things, there is someone to whom the man should be looking for direction, someone whose example he should be following. Christ is the head of man, and in his dealings with his congregation, which is likened to a bride, Christ has demonstrated the way to make a success of husbandly headship. His fine example stirs a willing response in his followers. Instead of being a boss, harsh and demanding toward them, Jesus has been “mild-tempered and lowly in heart,” so that his followers have found refreshment for their souls. (Matthew 11:28-30) Has he belittled them for their shortcomings? To the contrary, he laid down his life to cleanse them of sins. (Ephesians 5:25-30) What a blessing to any household to have a man who sincerely endeavors to follow that example!
18. (a) In what ways can a wife show that she respects the authority of her husband? (b) How are children to show respect for their parents, and why?
18 When there is such headship in the home, it is not difficult for a woman to look up to her husband. And obedience of the children to their parents comes more readily. But there is much that the wife and children too can contribute to the happiness of the family. By diligence in caring for the household, also by accepting her husband’s decisions and working to make them succeed, a wife gives evidence that she truly does have “deep respect for her husband.” Is that true in your household? (Ephesians 5:33; Proverbs 31:10-15, 27, 28) As for the children, if there is willing obedience to both father and mother, this shows that they honor their parents, and that is what God requires. (Ephesians 6:1-4) Do you not agree that there would be far more peace, and a much greater feeling of personal security, in such a household than in one where respect for authority is lacking?
19. If you are the only one in the family who tries to be guided by God’s Word, then what?
19 You can help to make your home such a place. Whether other members of the family choose to uphold Jehovah’s ways or not, you can do so. Others in the family may respond to your fine example. (1 Corinthians 7:16; Titus 2:6-8) Even if they do not, still what you do will stand as a demonstration of your faith in the rightness of God’s ways, and that is something of no little value.—1 Peter 3:16, 17.
20, 21. (a) How does the Bible show that the authority of a husband and of parents is not absolute? (b) So, with what decision may a Christian wife or believing children be faced, and what should motivate them?
20 Keep in mind that the entire framework of family authority has its origin with God. So, he cannot be left out of account, can he? Thus wives are instructed to be in subjection to their husbands “as it is becoming in the Lord.” And children are counseled to be obedient to their parents “for this is well-pleasing in the Lord.” (Colossians 3:18, 20) This means that the authority of a husband over his wife and of parents over their children is a relative one. If the husband or the parents are unbelievers, that idea might at first displease them. But really it works for their good, because it will help to make the believer more dependable and more respectful.
21 Of course, if a husband were to demand that his wife do something that would not be “becoming in the Lord,” what she does will demonstrate whether she really does “fear the true God” or not. (Ecclesiastes 12:13) Likewise, when children are old enough to understand and obey God’s Word, if their parents do not share their desire to serve Jehovah, the children must decide whether they will prove their loyalty to God or share the lot of parents who do not. Their prospects for eternal life are involved. (Matthew 10:37-39) Nevertheless, aside from their prior obligation to God, such children should be submissive in “everything,” even if it means doing things that are not to their liking. (Colossians 3:20) Doing this, they may be able to help their parents, too, to accept Jehovah’s provisions for salvation. When one’s motivation is, not disobedience born of an independent spirit, but loyalty to Jehovah and his righteous ways, this is truly “well-pleasing in the Lord.”
IN THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
22, 23. (a) What do Christian overseers do on behalf of the members of the congregation? (b) So, what attitude does Hebrews 13:17 say that we should have toward them?
22 That same spirit of loyalty to Jehovah should be reflected in our attitude toward his Christian congregation and those who are caring for its interests. In the congregation Jehovah has provided overseers to shepherd the “flock.” They receive no salary for their work, but, rather, give of themselves because of genuine concern for the welfare of their Christian brothers and sisters. (1 Thessalonians 2:8, 9) They help the congregation to carry out the special work entrusted to it, namely, the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom. Also, with concern for the individual welfare of the members of the congregation, they assist these to learn how to apply the principles of the Bible in their daily lives. Further, if any member of the congregation, though knowing what God requires, deliberately persists in serious wrongdoing, the responsible overseers see that he is expelled, and thus the rest of the congregation is protected from his corrupting influence.—1 Corinthians 5:12, 13.
23 In appreciation for this loving provision of Jehovah to assure a spirit of peacefulness among his people, we should heed the admonition found at Hebrews 13:17, namely: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”
24, 25. (a) How should what the elders teach influence the way we view them? (b) When and where should we apply what we are taught from the Bible? Why?
24 Rendering obedience to “those who are taking the lead,” however, does not mean becoming mere men pleasers. The Bible emphasizes that a principal reason why these overseers or elders deserve respect is because what they are teaching is “the word of God.” (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 5:17) And concerning that word, Hebrews 4:12, 13 states: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”
25 That “word of God” truly reveals what a person is inside. It exposes the difference between what he may appear to be and the dominant attitude that moves him to speak and act as he does. If he really has faith in God, and is motivated by a genuine desire to please his Creator, he will not lapse into wrongdoing when out of sight of the elders of the congregation. Nor will he engage in some unscriptural conduct simply because it is not among the serious wrongs for which a person would be expelled from the congregation. His desire is, not to sin, but properly to reflect “the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) On the other hand, if anyone is inclined to take lightly any of the counsel found in God’s Word, he ought to examine carefully what his attitude toward God really is. Is he becoming like that person concerning whom Psalm 14:1 [13:1, Dy] says: “The senseless one has said”—no, not publicly—but “in his heart: ‘There is no Jehovah’”?
26, 27. (a) Why is it important to take seriously “every utterance” of Jehovah? (b) How are our lives affected when we thus show respect for authority?
26 When tempted by the Devil, Jesus Christ firmly declared: “Man must live . . . on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.” (Matthew 4:4) Do you feel that strongly about the matter? Do you believe that “every utterance” of Jehovah is important and that none are to be ignored? Obeying some of Jehovah’s requirements, while treating others as unimportant, simply is not enough. Either we uphold the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty or we take the Devil’s side of the issue by setting our own standard of what is good and what is bad. Happy are those who show that they truly love Jehovah’s law.—Psalm 119:165 [118:165, Dy].
27 Such persons are not ensnared by the divisive spirit of the world. Nor do they indulge in the shameful conduct of those who throw off moral restraint. Deep respect for Jehovah and his righteous ways gives stability to their lives.