Whose Laws Will You Put First?
WE LIVE with law—laws of nature, or creation; laws from God on morals and conduct; secular laws. We easily accept and benefit from many of these. But what if a law seems unduly restrictive? Or if there is a conflict between two laws affecting you?
2 Since natural laws seem rather impersonal, few individuals have problems in accepting them. Who would defy the law of gravity by walking off a high cliff? And that law benefits us; it keeps our feet on the ground and the food on our plate. Other natural laws involve genetics, which affect what our children will be like. By being conscious of genetic laws and not marrying a close relative, we avoid the danger of passing on to our children certain defects. (Compare Leviticus 18:6-17.) But what about laws on conduct or morals?
3 Many persons develop a resentment toward legislated laws. One reason is that humans have tended to make needless laws and to oppress others by means of laws. (Matthew 15:2; 23:4) However, there is danger in viewing all laws as bad or in making it a practice to ignore them.
4 Mankind’s dying condition can be traced to a rebellion against law. God forbade Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. But Satan suggested to Eve that God’s law was unduly restrictive. (Genesis 3:1-6) Satan’s appeal was—‘No rules. Set your own standards.’ That anti-law spirit has been popular down through history, even until today.
5 Jehovah does not oppress his people with needlessly inhibiting or burdensome laws, for “where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17; James 1:25) Yet, contrary to what Satan wants people to believe, Jehovah is the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. He is its Creator as well as being our Life-Giver and Provider. (Acts 4:24; 14:15-17) So he has the right to direct us and make laws as to our conduct.
6 Many persons agree that, as the ultimate authority, God has the right to decree what humans can and can not do. That is, they agree until they strongly want to do something that God forbids. Obviously, that is dangerous. There is ample proof that God’s commands are for our good. For example, avoiding drunkenness, wrath and covetousness will help us to enjoy better health and to have more contentment. (Psalm 119:1-9, 105) Also, God’s laws can help us to gain his approval and salvation. (Proverbs 21:30, 31) So even if persons do not yet understand the reason behind some of Jehovah’s commands, for them to refuse to obey, perhaps because of prideful independence, is folly.
7 An example of God’s commands for Christians is a decree issued by a council of the apostles and older men in Jerusalem, who formed a governing body of the early Christian congregation:
“The holy spirit and we ourselves have favored adding no further burden to you, except these necessary things, to keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.”—Acts 15:22-29.
8 We have sound reasons to obey God’s law on “fornication”—protection against disease, illegitimacy, broken marriages. That law means that people are not to engage in homosexuality or other gross sexual immorality, all of which are covered by the Greek word porneia (fornication) used in Acts 15:29. (Romans 1:24-27, 32) But what if the dangers of “fornication” could be avoided? Would we still obey God’s command because he is our Sovereign Ruler? If we do, we help to prove that Satan is a liar, that humans will obey Jehovah because they love him.—Job 2:3-5; 27:5; Psalm 26:1, 11.
9 That decree set out in Acts 15:22-29 identifies another area in which we can show our obedience. It is God’s command to ‘abstain from blood’ and from the meat of animals strangled to keep blood in them. God told our ancestor Noah that humans may eat animal flesh, but must not sustain their lives with the blood of another creature. (Genesis 9:3-6) When repeating this law to the Israelites, God said that “the soul [or, life] of the flesh is in the blood.” The only way they were to use blood was on the altar to atone for sin. Otherwise, blood from a creature was to be poured out, figuratively returning it to God. Obeying this law meant life or death.—Leviticus 17:10-14.
10 Those sacrifices pictured the pouring out of Jesus’ blood in our behalf. (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 9:12, 23-28) Even after Christ returned to heaven, God commanded Christians to ‘abstain from blood.’ But how many persons claiming to be Christians obey the Divine Lawgiver and Life-Giver in this matter? In some places it is common for persons to include among the foods they eat unbled meat, blood sausage or other food deliberately containing blood.
11 Similarly, many persons have accepted blood transfusions in an effort to live longer. Often they are unaware that blood transfusions themselves pose serious health risks and that virtually any type of surgery can be done without blood by employing alternative therapies.a But even if it seemed life were at stake, would it be a mistake to obey God? Divine law must not be ignored even in an emergency.—1 Samuel 14:31-35.
12 In upholding their belief in freedom of speech or worship, or some political ideal, many men have risked death. They have obeyed a ruler or a military commander no matter what the danger. Do we not have much more compelling reasons to obey the Sovereign of the universe? ‘Absolutely,’ answers the record of integrity set by many men of faith. (Daniel 3:8-18; Hebrews 11:35-38) They knew, as we should, that Jehovah is the Life-Giver and will remember and reward those obeying him—if necessary restoring them to life by means of a resurrection in his due time. (Hebrews 5:9; 6:10; John 11:25) We can be sure that, under any circumstance, obeying Jehovah is the right and lastingly best course.—Mark 8:35.
OBEY GOVERNMENTAL LAWS?
13 Many other laws affecting us daily come from secular governments. How should the Christian view and react to these laws? The apostle Paul wrote: “Remind people to be loyally subject to the government and its officials, to obey the laws.”—Titus 3:1, The New American Bible.
14 In the first century C.E., the Roman government was not always just, and some of its rulers were immoral and dishonest. Yet Paul said: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God.” The “superior authorities” are the existing secular governments.—Romans 13:1.
15 Jehovah acknowledges that until his rule is fully restored to earth, civil governments serve some useful purposes. They help to keep a measure of order in society and provide numerous services, including the registering of marriages and births. (Compare Luke 2:1-5.) Thus Christians generally can “go on leading a calm and quiet life with full godly devotion and seriousness.”—1 Timothy 2:2.
16 While awaiting the time when God’s kingdom will solve the problems of war, injustice and oppression, Christians are not to ‘oppose the authority’ of civil governments. They are to pay the required taxes honestly, obey the laws and give respect to rulers. For this course true Christians have often been praised and helped by officials, and they seldom are punished with “the sword” used against lawbreakers.—Romans 13:2-7.
BEING IN RELATIVE SUBJECTION
17 Sometimes there is a conflict between laws. A civil government may require something that God forbids. Or civil law may forbid a thing that God commands Christians to do. What then?
18 Such a conflict occurred when rulers forbade the apostles to preach about the resurrected Jesus Christ. Read the faith-strengthening account at Acts 4:1-23; 5:12-42. Though imprisoned and flogged, the apostles would not stop preaching. Peter said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
19 So a Christian’s subjection to the governmental authorities is a relative subjection. His first obligation is to obey the Supreme Authority. If, as a result, he suffers punishment, he can gain comfort in knowing that God approves of what he is doing.—1 Peter 2:20-23.
20 The early Christians faced decisions in another area involving what God directed and what the Roman government expected. This had to do with supporting or being in the Roman army. God had said of his people: “They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4; Matthew 26:52) If, then, the Roman government demanded that a Christian be in its army or support its war efforts, there would be a conflict between Caesar’s law and God’s.
21 Early Christians also put God’s law first when they were ordered by men to offer incense to the deity of Rome’s Caesar. Others may have thought the act to be patriotic. But history tells us that Christians saw it as a form of idolatry. They would not perform idolatrous acts toward any person or object, knowing that their devotion belonged to Jehovah. (Matthew 22:21; 1 John 5:21) And rather than get involved in politics, even by shouting idolatrous praise to a ruler, they kept neutral so as to be “no part of the world,” as Jesus had urged.—John 15:19; Acts 12:21-23.
22 Will you accept God’s thinking and his directions on the matter of law? Doing so will protect you from many sorrows experienced by persons who disregard God’s laws on conduct and morals. And you will not experience needless punishment from existing civil authorities. But God’s thinking on the matter includes, above all, recognizing him as the Supreme Ruler. If you will do that under all circumstances, then you will fit in when the laws of God’s kingdom will soon prevail over the entire earth.—Daniel 7:27.
a Religious, ethical and medical aspects of this are presented in the booklet Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Question of Blood, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.
Why should we give thought to how we will view laws? (1-4)
What do we need to recognize about God’s laws? (5, 6)
What reasons do we have to obey God’s law against “fornication”? (7, 8)
How can we obey God’s law about blood? (9-11)
Why should we obey God even if our life is threatened? (12)
How should Christians view secular governments, and why? (Matthew 22:19-21) (13-16)
What is the right course when God’s law and secular laws conflict? Illustrate. (17-21)
What test do we now face? (22)
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“A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”—“The Rise of Christianity.”
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Your taxes pay for . . .