“For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11, NKJV).
Paul had been falsely accused of sedition against Rome and crimes against the Jews and kept imprisoned by an unscrupulous governor (Acts 24:5-6, 22-27). Two years later, he is before another Roman governor (Festus) answering these false charges (Acts 25:7-10). His appeal to Caesar’s court for judgment indicates several things worthy of our consideration and practice. (1) Paul put himself under the authority of civil government. We do not see Paul arguing against the government’s authority to adjudicate disputes of its citizens. Although the government was suppressing his rights (as Felix detained him, hoping for a bribe), Paul did not become violate. Neither should we when those in authority oppress us (1 Pet. 2:14-20). (2) It is right to seek justice from civil authorities. God ordained civil government to address the primary purpose of protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty (Rom. 13:1-4). Paul’s “appeal to Caesar” was the exercise of a legal avenue for justice and protection from the Jews who were trying to kill him (Acts 25:2-3). (3) If we violate the law, we should accept our punishment without objection. Paul was willing to be executed if he “committed anything worthy of death.” If we are guilty of violating the law, we ought to admit it, accept our punishment, and repent of our transgression against the Lord (Rom. 13:4-5). While our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be honorable citizens of society (Phil. 3:20; 2 Cor. 8:21).
13 Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:13–17, NKJV)
Christians show respectful submission to governing authorities. We don’t break the law. We do so “for the Lord’s sake” because He ordained civil authority and rules over it (Rom. 13:1-2). This is the will of God, and by doing so we silence the ignorance of foolish men (v. 15). When Christians vote, they are doing good, and our votes should advance righteousness and godliness in the land. We must obey God rather than men, but our freedom in Christ does not permit us indiscriminately to violate laws we deem improper (Acts 5:29). Instead, we obey God’s command to honor all people, including those with civil authority (v. 17). Remember, it is easy to submit to laws and honor rulers with which we agree. The test of faith is to submit to laws with which we disagree and to honor those in office for whom we did not vote.
“For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4, NKJV)
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Allied invasion of Europe on the beaches of Normandy, France. Their goal was to liberate a continent captured in the grip of Nazism. Their success continues to be felt to this present hour. As we honor the sacrifices of that day and the freedom it signaled for millions of souls, we ought to remember it is God who ordains civil authorities. The governments of men are intended by Him to execute justice, and to apply punishment (wrath) to evildoers. Therefore, we are to submit to governing authorities out of our respect for God (Rom. 13:1-3). They are God’s servants for us to administer what is good. But, what happens when governments before evil and oppressive? Since God rules the nations, He raises them up and He brings them down when their rulers and their citizens refuse righteousness (Prov. 14:34; Dan. 4:28-35). We must keep on doing good and not take personal vengeance against evil. Instead, we are to give place to the wrath of God: “for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-19). He did. And, He continues to do so. Let the righteous be patient, and “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21).
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:3–4, NKJV)
God ordained “governing authorities” (human governments), and He expects “every soul” to respect and yield to such authority (Romans 13:1). Today’s passage explains that God set these authorities in place, to protect the innocent, and to punish evil doers. Lenski comment is worth repeating here: “The world is full of wicked men, and God has placed rulers among them to check and to control this wickedness by means of laws and penalties, all of them being directed, not against good deeds, but against evil deeds” (Commentary on Romans, 789). There is no hesitation in the apostle’s explanation that governing authorities have God’s permission to “execute wrath” on the evil doer. The use of capital punishment is approved, since “the sword” referred to in verse 4 is the actual sword used by the executioner, as he applies the death penalty on criminals. When governments become a terror to good works, God removes them (Daniel 4:25, 34-35; Jeremiah 18:5-11). For our part, let us “do what is good,” and thank God for the protection He provides us by means of governing authorities.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:15–21, NKJV)
In their vain attempt to ensnare Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians assumed intrinsic conflict between the government of God and the government of men. Yet, the kingdom of God is spiritual; it is “not of this world” (Jno. 18:36). The kingdoms of men exist by the will of God, who is Sovereign over all (Acts 17:26; Dan. 4:25, 32). Therefore, there is no inherent conflict between God and “Caesar.” God commands us to pay our taxes and honor our rulers (Rom. 13:7; 1 Pet. 2:17). Christians willingly submit to the ordinances of men unless doing so violates the revealed will of God (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-16; Acts 5:29). Christians are not anarchists, but patriots, who “honor the king” as they “fear God” (1 Pet. 2:17).
1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. (Romans 13:1-3, NKJV)
Christians are not exempt from obeying the law of the land. We who respect the authority of Christ must, like everyone else, respect the “governing authorities” and obey the laws under which we live. The reason why is clear and plain: All authority comes from God. God has given authority to civil government. Therefore, we are to be subject to its laws. (There is one proviso: We must obey God when the laws of men contradict His word, Acts 5:29.) When a person refuses to obey the laws of the land he is refusing God’s ordinance and brings God’s judgment upon himself. He faces the punishment that comes with violating the law. Our incentive to be good citizens is first, because of our conscience toward God, and also to avoid punishment as a law-breaker (Rom. 13:4-5).