I wrote in my journal this morning that I have noticed a certain word has crept into my vocabulary in the last week or so… It’s the word ‘unprecedented’!
Last night my whole family sat together in our lounge watching the news together – unprecedented!
We then went on to listen to our South African President make some rather unprecedented announcements about our country being in a state of national lockdown from Friday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We will remember this moment. Such a drastic announcement with such wide-reaching implications for personal freedom, for businesses large and small, has a way of eliciting a reaction.
Some citizens are compliant, some complaining while others are combative about the measures announced last night.
So, what does Scripture have to say to us at this time? How ought we to respond?
Scripture in Paul’s letter to the Roman believers says the following;
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the One who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1-5)
What is our biblically inspired response when the President has announced such dramatic limitations on human freedom and movement?
Essentially it ought to be; ‘Yes Mr President, you have my full cooperation!’
We respond in this way because we believe something – God is the One who ultimately appoints those in authority (vs1) and so to resist authority is to resist those which God has appointed (vs2). Therefore, we submit to authority ultimately out of reverence to God.
Government and authority structures can be understood as being part of the common grace of God. Without order, respect of authority and law, sinful human nature would quickly descend into terrible atrocities.
For example, at present, the military is about to be deployed in our country to maintain the rule of law and to ensure we as citizens comply with the restrictions introduced as part of the Governments efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic in our nation. Without police and the military presence of authority, sinful humanity will likely descend into sin and lawlessness.
Sadly, ‘authority’ is like a modern swearword! We hate the idea of authority rather loving freedom in its place.
However, authority, according to Romans 13, is good. It is part of the common grace of God (vs3), and those in authority over you are there as God’s; ‘servant for your good’ (vs4).
In this unique moment in our nation, may we as Christ-Followers be those who are fully compliant with the measures that have been introduced;
- May we support what our Government is trying to do for the benefit of the whole country by staying home and keeping our families at home too!
- May we be those who show remarkable selfless love at this time to others around us in a myriad of ways
- May we be grateful for the Government we have got
- May we be committed to praying for those in power during these difficult and challenging times
- May we stand in prayer with all those who will be called on in the coming weeks to work tirelessly to care medically for what is potentially hundreds of thousands of people.
- And may we be those who never let go of the certain hope that we have in Jesus!
[A little more for those asking; “But what about ungodly authorities?”]
God being sovereign over all authorities does not mean that all authorities are good or do good things all the time. Rather it means that God is the One who is in control always and that all authority is under God’s ultimate authority.
God’s good intention is that authority is for our common good (it is a form of God’s common grace), and so God can and does use the good that those in authority do.
However, God can use even the evil things sinful leaders do to fulfil His purposes in our lives and on the earth.
An example of this is 2 Chronicles 25:20 where it says; “But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies because they had sought the gods of Edom”. Amaziah would not listen to the advice given him so that God’s purpose would prevail.
Similarly, Scripture says of Pharaoh that God promised to harden his heart so that he would not let God’s people go (Exodus 4:21), but then Scripture makes it clear that Pharoah hardened his heart and would not let God’s people go (Exodus 8:15,32 & 9:34). This evil Pharoah was in authority under God’s control, and even the evil he did accomplished God’s good purposes in the end.
The challenge in Romans 3 is vs3-4. It is a challenge since authorities in their sinfulness do not always act for the good of those they are in authority over!
It’s helpful to remember that Paul is writing as a Jewish Roman citizen, he has experienced hostility from authorities towards Jewish people and towards Christians. Therefore, he is not naive concerning the experience of those who have lived under ungodly leaders. John Stott on this question from this passage writes;
“Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, ‘You would have no power [exousia, authority] over me if it were not given to you from above.’ Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, the authority he used to do this had been delegated to him by God” – John Stott
So, in conclusion. The big idea of this passage is that governmental authorities are part of the common grace of God and are for our and societies good – that is God’s plan for humanity.
However, there are many moments in history when authorities in their sin have acted in ways that were not for the benefit of those under their authority.
And so there are times when to obey earthly authority would mean to disobey God. In those moments, I believe it is possibly justifiable to disobey earthly authority to obey God – but such situations are exceptional rather than the norm.
But in this time, with this COVID-19 pandemic let us give our ‘YES’ to our President and let us all play our part at this time of national threat.