Our Relative Subjection to the Superior Authorities
“There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection.”—ROMANS 13:5.
1. What hard experiences did Jehovah’s Witnesses have at the hands of the Nazi superior authorities, and was this because of “doing what is bad”?
ON JANUARY 7, 1940, Franz Reiter and five other young Austrians were executed by guillotine. They were Bibelforscher, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they died because they could not conscientiously take up arms for Hitler’s Reich. Reiter was one of thousands of Witnesses who died for their faith during the second world war. Many more endured long years in concentration camps. Did all of these suffer by “the sword” of the Nazi superior authorities because of “doing what is bad”? (Romans 13:4) Absolutely not! Paul’s further words show that these Christians obeyed God’s commands in Romans chapter 13, even though they suffered at the hands of the authority.
2. What is the compelling reason for being subject to the superior authorities?
2 At Romans 13:5, the apostle writes: “There is therefore compelling reason for you people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience.” Previously, Paul said that the authority’s bearing of “the sword” was a good reason to be subject to it. Now, though, he gives a stronger reason: conscience. We strive to serve God “with a clean conscience.” (2 Timothy 1:3) The Bible tells us to be subject to the superior authorities, and we obey because we want to do what is right in God’s eyes. (Hebrews 5:14) Indeed, our Bible-trained conscience moves us to obey the authority even when no human is present to check up on us.—Compare Ecclesiastes 10:20.
“That Is Why You Are Also Paying Taxes”
3, 4. What reputation do Jehovah’s Witnesses have, and why should Christians pay taxes?
3 In Nigeria some years ago, there were riots over the payment of taxes. Several lives were lost, and the authorities called in the army. The soldiers entered a Kingdom Hall where a meeting was in progress and demanded to know the purpose of the gathering. Upon finding that it was a Bible study meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the officer in charge told the soldiers to leave, saying: “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not tax agitators.”
4 Those Nigerian Witnesses had a reputation for living in harmony with Paul’s words: “For that is why you are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose.” (Romans 13:6) When Jesus gave the rule, ‘Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar,’ he was speaking about paying taxes. (Matthew 22:21) Secular authorities supply roads, police protection, libraries, transportation systems, schools, postal services, and much more. We often use these provisions. It is only right that we should pay for them through our taxes.
“Render to All Their Dues”
5. What is meant by the expression “render to all their dues”?
5 Paul continues: “Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute; to him who calls for fear, such fear; to him who calls for honor, such honor.” (Romans 13:7) The word “all” embraces every secular authority that is God’s public servant. There are no exceptions. Even if we live under a political system that we personally do not like, we pay taxes. If religions are tax exempt where we live, congregations can take advantage of this. And like other citizens, Christians can use whatever legal provisions are made to limit the taxes they pay. But no Christian should illegally evade paying taxes.—Compare Matthew 5:41; 17:24-27.
6, 7. Why should we pay taxes even if the money is used to finance something we disagree with or even if the authority persecutes us?
6 Suppose, though, that a tax seems unjust. Or what if part of the tax money is used to finance something we disagree with, such as free abortions, blood banks, or programs that conflict with our neutral views? We still pay all our taxes. It is the authority that must take responsibility for how it uses the tax money. We are not commissioned to judge the authority. God is the “Judge of the earth,” and in his own time, he will hold an accounting with the governments as to how they have used their authority. (Psalm 94:2; Jeremiah 25:31) Until that happens, we pay our taxes.
7 What if the authority persecutes us? We still pay taxes because of the everyday services that are rendered. Regarding Witnesses suffering persecution in one African country, the San Francisco Examiner said: “You might regard them as model citizens. They pay taxes diligently, tend the sick, battle illiteracy.” Yes, those persecuted Witnesses paid their taxes.
“Fear” and “Honor”
8. What is the “fear” that we give to the authority?
8 The “fear” of Romans 13:7 is not a cowardly fear but, rather, a respect for secular authority, a fear of breaking its law. This respect is given because of the position involved, not always because of the individual filling the position. The Bible, when speaking prophetically of the Roman emperor Tiberius, calls him “one who is to be despised.” (Daniel 11:21) But he was the emperor, and as such, a Christian would have owed him fear and honor.
9. What are some ways that we render honor to human authorities?
9 As regards honor, we follow Jesus’ command not to give titles based on religious position. (Matthew 23:8-10) But when it comes to secular authorities, we are happy to address them by whatever title may be required in honoring them. Paul used the term “Your Excellency” when speaking to Roman governors. (Acts 26:25) Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar “my lord.” (Daniel 4:19) Today, Christians may use expressions such as “Your Lordship” or “Your Majesty.” They may stand when a judge enters the courtroom or respectfully bow before a ruler if that is the custom.
10. How did Jesus show that there are limits to what a human authority can demand of a Christian?
10 Since Jehovah’s Witnesses are subject to human authority, why did Franz Reiter and so many others suffer as they did? Because our subjection is relative, and the authority does not always recognize that there are Biblically set limits to what it can demand. If the authority demands something that offends a trained Christian conscience, it is going beyond its God-given limit. Jesus indicated this when he said: “Pay back . . . Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) When Caesar demands what belongs to God, we must acknowledge that God has the prior claim.
11. What principle demonstrating that there are limits to what a human authority can demand is widely accepted?
11 Is this position subversive or treacherous? Not at all. It is, in fact, an extension of a principle recognized by most civilized nations. In the 15th century, a certain Peter von Hagenbach was put on trial for initiating a reign of terror in the area of Europe over which he had authority. His defense, that he was merely following the orders of his lord, the Duke of Burgundy, was rejected. The claim that a person committing atrocities is not accountable if he is following the orders of a superior authority has been made a number of times since then—most notably by the Nazi war criminals before the International Tribunal at Nuremberg. The claim has usually been rejected. The International Tribunal said in its judgment: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience imposed by the individual state.”
12. What are some Scriptural examples of servants of God who refused to obey unreasonable demands by the authority?
12 God’s servants have always recognized that there are limits to the subjection that they conscientiously owe to the superior authorities. About the time that Moses was born in Egypt, Pharaoh commanded two Hebrew midwives to kill all newborn Hebrew boys. The midwives, however, preserved the babies alive. Were they wrong to disobey Pharaoh? No, they were following their God-given conscience, and God blessed them for it. (Exodus 1:15-20) When Israel was in exile in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that his officials, including the Hebrews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, bow before an image that he had placed on the plain of Dura. The three Hebrews refused. Were they wrong? No, since following the king’s command would have meant disobeying God’s law.—Exodus 20:4, 5; Daniel 3:1-18.
“Obey God as Ruler”
13. What example did the early Christians furnish in the matter of relative obedience to the superior authorities?
13 Similarly, when the Jewish authorities commanded Peter and John to stop preaching about Jesus, they replied: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves.” (Acts 4:19; 5:29) They could not keep silent. The magazine The Christian Century draws attention to another conscientious stand taken by the early Christians when it says: “The earliest Christians did not serve in the armed forces. Roland Bainton notes that ‘from the end of the New Testament period to the decade A.D. 170-180 there is no evidence whatever of Christians in the army’ (Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace [Abingdon, 1960], pp. 67-8). . . . Swift says Justin Martyr ‘takes it as a matter of course that Christians refrain from violent acts.’”
14, 15. What are some Bible principles that governed the relative obedience of the early Christians to human authorities?
14 Why did the early Christians not serve as soldiers? Doubtless, each one carefully studied God’s Word and laws and made his personal decision on the basis of his Bible-trained conscience. They were neutral, “no part of the world,” and their neutrality forbade them to choose sides in this world’s conflicts. (John 17:16; 18:36) Further, they belonged to God. (2 Timothy 2:19) Laying down their lives for the State would have meant giving to Caesar what belonged to God. Moreover, they were part of an international brotherhood bound together in love. (John 13:34, 35; Colossians 3:14; 1 Peter 4:8; 5:9) They could not in good conscience take up arms with the possibility of killing a fellow Christian.
15 In addition to this, Christians could not go along with popular religious observances, such as emperor worship. As a result, they were viewed as “peculiar and dangerous people, and the rest of the population naturally suspected them.” (Still the Bible Speaks, by W. A. Smart) Although Paul wrote that Christians should ‘render to him who calls for fear, such fear,’ they did not forget their greater fear of, or respect for, Jehovah. (Romans 13:7; Psalm 86:11) Jesus himself said: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”—Matthew 10:28.
16. (a) In what areas do Christians have to weigh carefully their subjection to the superior authorities? (b) What does the box on page 27 illustrate?
16 As Christians, we face up to similar challenges today. We cannot take part in any modern version of idolatry—be it worshipful gestures toward an image or symbol or the imputing of salvation to a person or an organization. (1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21) And like the early Christians, we cannot compromise our Christian neutrality.—Compare 2 Corinthians 10:4.
“A Mild Temper and Deep Respect”
17. What counsel did Peter give to those suffering because of conscience?
17 The apostle Peter wrote of our conscientious stand and said: “If someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.” (1 Peter 2:19) Yes, it is agreeable to God when a Christian stands firm despite persecution, and there is the additional benefit that the Christian’s faith is strengthened and refined. (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6, 7; 5:8-10) Peter also wrote: “If you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy. However, the object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated. But sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:14, 15) Helpful counsel indeed!
18, 19. How can an attitude of deep respect and reasonableness help if the authority places limits on our freedom of worship?
18 When persecution arises because the authority misunderstands the Christian position or because Christendom’s religious leaders have misrepresented Jehovah’s Witnesses to the authority, presenting the facts to the authority might result in an easing of the pressure. Having a mild temper and deep respect, a Christian does not fight back physically against persecutors. He does, however, use every legal means available to defend his faith. Then he leaves matters in Jehovah’s hands.—Philippians 1:7; Colossians 4:5, 6.
19 Deep respect also leads a Christian to go as far as he can, without violating his conscience, to obey the authority. If, for example, congregation meetings are banned, Christians will find some less obvious way to continue feeding at Jehovah’s table. The Supreme Authority, Jehovah God, tells us through Paul: “Let us consider one another to incite to love and fine works, not forsaking the gathering of ourselves together, as some have the custom.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) But such gatherings can be held discreetly. Even if just a few are present, we can be confident that God blesses such arrangements.—Compare Matthew 18:20.
20. If the public preaching of the good news is banned, how may Christians deal with the situation?
20 Similarly, some authorities have forbidden the public preaching of the good news. Christians living under them remember that, through Jesus himself, the Supreme Authority said: “In all the nations the good news has to be preached first.” (Mark 13:10) Hence, they obey the Supreme Authority at whatever cost to themselves. Where possible, the apostles preached publicly and from house to house, but there are other ways of reaching people, such as informal witnessing. (John 4:7-15; Acts 5:42; 20:20) Often the authorities will not interfere with the preaching work if just the Bible is used—which highlights the need for all Witnesses to be well trained in reasoning from the Scriptures. (Compare Acts 17:2, 17.) By being bold, yet respectful, Christians may often find a way to obey Jehovah without inviting the wrath of the superior authorities.—Titus 3:1, 2.
21. If Caesar is relentless in his persecution, what course must Christians choose?
21 Sometimes, though, the authority is relentless in persecuting Christians. Then, in clear conscience, we can only endure in doing what is right. Young Franz Reiter faced a choice: compromise his faith or die. Since he could not stop worshiping God, he courageously went to his death. The night before he died, Franz wrote to his mother: “I will be executed tomorrow morning. I have my strength from God, the same as it always was with all true Christians away back in the past . . . If you will stand firm until death, we shall meet again in the resurrection.”
22. What hope do we have, and how should we proceed meantime?
22 Some day all mankind will be under just one law, that of Jehovah God. Until then, we must in good conscience observe the arrangement of God and maintain our relative subjection to the superior authorities while at the same time obeying our Sovereign Lord Jehovah in all things.—Philippians 4:5-7.
Do You Remember?
□ What is the compelling reason for being subject to the superior authorities?
□ Why should we not hesitate to pay the taxes imposed by Caesar?
□ What kind of honor should we render to the authority?
□ Why is our subjection to Caesar only relative?
□ If we are persecuted because Caesar demands what belongs to God, how should we respond?
[Box on page 27]
Respect, not worship
One morning during class, Terra, a young Canadian Witness of Jehovah, noticed that her teacher took a fellow student out of the classroom for a few moments. Shortly thereafter, the teacher quietly asked Terra to accompany him to the principal’s office.
Upon arriving there, Terra noticed a Canadian flag draped across the principal’s desk. The teacher told Terra to spit on the flag! He suggested that since Terra did not sing the national anthem or salute the flag, there was no reason why she could not do such a thing. Terra refused, explaining that although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not worship the flag, they do respect it.
Back in the classroom, the teacher announced that he had just conducted an experiment. He had taken two students one at a time to the principal’s office and instructed them to spit on the flag. The first took part in patriotic ceremonies, but she spit on the flag when she was told to do so. In contrast, Terra did not sing the anthem or salute the flag; nevertheless, she refused to dishonor the flag in this way. The teacher pointed out that Terra was the one who showed proper respect.—1990 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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