I have a Scripture reading system in which I read first from the Gospels and then from the Epistles. I read this as well as a selection of Psalms every day.
One day I came across a section of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:1-7), and it caused me to pause and really think about it. What are our duties to the state?
According to Paul, we have the following obligations:
1. Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities
2. Whoever resists authority resists the ordinance of God
3. Those who resist will bring judgment upon themselves
4. Do what is good and you will have praise
5. You must be subject
6. Pay taxes
7. Render therefore to all their due
These are some powerful words from Paul. He states that there is authority from God and what authority does exist is appointed by God. So the rulers serve as God’s appointed rulers.
I am not sure if it’s because I am more active on the blogs and social media the last few years, but I cannot remember such open hostility toward the government as we see in America now. There is talk of revolution, signs comparing President Obama to Hitler, and questions about his faith.
1 Peter 2:13-17 reads, “submit yourself to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake… For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
Peter is urging us to obey the civil government. It is God who calls us to submit to earthly leaders for the Lord’s sake. We are not called to separate the church from the state here, but to a sense of cooperation that may enhance the state.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 reads, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
So we need to pray for those who govern us.
In the Orthodox Liturgy, we pray several times for all civil authorities. But look at why we pray for them: “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
This is more a prayer for us than them. If they stay calm, then we can live our lives without fear of molestation by the government.
Paul’s letter to Titus 3:1-2 exhorts us to “…be subject to rulers and authorities.”
So once again we see that we are to obey the rulers that God has placed over us.
But what if we have to choose between obeying God and obeying earthly rulers?
Peter’s actions, as well as Paul’s might I add, show that we are to obey God rather than humans, even to the point of prison or death. We have seen that God commands our obedience to governing authorities, including paying taxes, but obedience to God comes first. When we have conflict between God and government, we believers must be willing to accept the consequences of our actions.
So in the end, if we fulfill our duties to the state, and pray for our leaders and those in authority over us, then we will live peaceful lives as Christians. But when our faith and God’s commands conflict with leaders, then we owe our obedience to God first. We must speak out and defy the leaders even unto death.
As we have an obligation to the state, so we have an obligation, a sacred obligation, to God first.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).