God’s Ministers

When should we resist civil authority? Under what conditions is God pleased with civil disobedience? When governments become corrupt (and which government isn’t corrupt at some level?), when should citizens revolt to try to improve their lot?

God says those having authority to enforce civil law are His ministers (Ro 13:4), He has given them a kind of higher, spiritual, moral power to define appropriate behavior in a society and to enforce an extended moral code (1) in addition to God’s Law, and we should support them financially to enable them to do this. (6) Anyone who resists these civil authorities will be justly condemned, as if they were resisting God Himself. (2)

Yet there’s an important distinction between resisting and disobeying: when ungodly authority demands that we violate God’s Law, then we must obey God as well as we can and suffer the consequences (Ac 5:29); yet we can disobey without fighting back (resisting), which is where God draws the line. (Mt 25:6)

For example, King David was anointed to be king of Israel by Samuel, but as long as Saul — also anointed by God as a rightful king — was alive David was not to resist Saul, to fight against or harm him. (1Sa 26:9) David didn’t obey Saul — he evaded and hid — but he also didn’t resist him, even though Saul was an ungodly man.

Further, Christ recognized the authority of the Roman government (Jn 19:11), even though it was ungodly. Neither Christ, nor Paul, nor any of the Apostles ever hinted at taking up arms against civil authority, as bad as it was. God eventually dealt with the empire and used it’s unbridled wickedness to spread the gospel and infallibly prove the Resurrection of His Son.

The Nazi government was exceedingly wicked, normalizing genocide and other horrible atrocities, moving godly Christians to resist (not just disobey), plotting to overthrow Hitler. Yet God also dealt with this nation in His time, and through it’s persecution of His people moved the world to resurrect the nation of Israel and enable millions of His people to re-settle there.

We cannot know how God will judge believers who feel called to resist ungodly authority, and we can certainly sympathize, but it’s evidently not God’s way for us; He tells us to pray for our leaders that we may live in honest, peaceable quietness and godliness. (1Ti 2:2)

God tells us to submit to civil authority for God’s sake (1Pe 2:13-14), and makes no qualifications as to how fully the government is aligned with His Way.

During periods of revolution and political chaos, when military coups or stolen elections are in play, it may not be clear what constitutes proper civil authority, or when it’s reasonable to defend ourselves from those claiming to be in control, especially if they intend to harm us.

God help us, as He sends us forth as sheep among wolves, to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves (Mt 10:16), and strong in the faith. As hopeless as it may seem at times, God is in control of all things, and has a glorious purpose in all He allows. (1Pe 1:7)

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