Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, (Titus 3:1)
There was a time when being subject to rulers and authorities meant mostly that Christians should obey the law. I still remember bring taught to respect policemen and government leaders as a young person.
There is a Biblical teaching that emphasizes God’s role in placing rulers in authority. One day David, who would be king, had an opportunity to kill King Saul. Saul had lost all credibility as a leader and had tried to kill David. But David passed on the assassination because he respected God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24).
We are fortunate to live in a country where we have legal and political means to challenge poor leadership. We may not care for those who have authority over us, but we must be very careful with our words and actions, lest we lose our integrity, and presume to take God’s place.
This does not mean there is never a time for civil activism, and in extreme cases disobedience. In our lifetime we have seen people of faith risk their lives to stop tyrants and save innocent lives. Yet, we should not be quick to rebel against authorities, especially if there are processes in place to address their flaws.
In recent years, the attitude of Christians toward authorities has taken on more of a collective (church family) nature, as whole churches have clashed with local governments. There was a time when governments assumed the good a church did far outweighed the revenue lost due to its tax-exempt status. In fact, communities that wanted to attract residents highlighted neighborhood churches as an amenity.
But things have changed. Governments no longer automatically assume the influence of the church in setting a moral tone is deserving of special favor. And neighbors now sometimes fight church expansions because they bring traffic and noise. This shift in governmental perception and public support has led to nasty battles between churches and local authorities.
There is no way I can judge this reality or point the finger at who is right and who is wrong. Every situation is very different. But I know this: as disappointed as the Lord’s people might be toward those in authority, they must never forget this morning’s passage.
And beyond respecting authority, Christians must also strive to do what is good. Government leaders, law officers, and all variety of city, county, state and federal employees are humans too. They have families, dreams, struggles and feelings. They grow weary of criticism and the thoughtless actions of those who oppose them.
Practice good citizenship. Use processes and legal channels to correct errors in government. Take strong action if you must. But as much as is possible, live at peace with those who lead. Love them. Pray for them. Show them respect.
After all, a lawless spirit hurts us all. But a loving witness can warm the coldest heart.
Dear God, increase my patience toward those in authority. In Jesus’ name, Amen.