Respecting authority is a challenging but important topic for Christians today. As followers of Christ, how should we view and relate to governing authorities? What does God’s Word instruct us concerning submitting to and honoring leaders?
In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore key biblical principles about respecting authority. We will look at relevant verses and passages across both the Old and New Testaments. By examining the scriptural foundations, we can gain wisdom for how to live out these truths in our current times.
Authority is a complex issue. On one hand, Scripture makes it clear we are to submit to and honor human institutions. On the other hand, we know our ultimate allegiance belongs to God alone. Navigating these tensions requires discernment and grace.
As Christians, our calling is to represent Christ well in the midst of broken systems. We are to model Jesus’ example of honor and obedience, while avoiding complicity with immoral policies or agendas. This is no easy task, but God promises to give us wisdom as we seek him.
Here are 3 key takeaways to keep in mind as we dive into God’s word on respecting authority:
- Governing authorities are established by God – We must recognize that all authority comes from the Lord, even imperfect ones. This doesn’t mean blind loyalty, but an overall posture of respect.
- There are biblical limits to submission – When human laws violate God’s standards, we must obey the Lord over men. This requires Spirit-led discernment.
- Honor brings blessing and witness – As we respect officials graciously, we can be salt and light, pointing people to Christ. This applies even amid disagreement.
In the rest of this post, we will unpack each of these principles more fully. We will ground them in relevant biblical texts while exploring practical implications. My prayer is this overview equips us to engage governing authorities in a way that honors God and advances his Kingdom.
Governing Authorities Are Established by God
The most fundamental truth about authority is that it originates from God. All power and position on earth exist because the Lord ordained them. Several verses affirm this:
“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.” (Romans 13:1 NKJV)
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…” (1 Peter 2:13 NKJV)
“By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice.” (Proverbs 8:15 NKJV)
According to Scripture, God himself institutes all governing authorities. They exist to maintain order and justice in a fallen world. Even King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, a pagan ruler used to punish Israel’s unfaithfulness, was called God’s “servant” (Jeremiah 25:9).
The Lord has sovereignly arranged who occupies positions of power. This doesn’t mean he approves of all they do; many rules are unwise or unjust. But it does mean their authority – their right to govern – comes from God. We are called to respect their office, if not every decision.
For Christians today, this implies an overall posture of honor toward civic leaders. They deserve our respect because of their God-given role, not personal merit. We must be slow to speak evil against them (Acts 23:5). We are to pray for those in authority over us, that God would guide them to govern well (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
However, this scriptural principle has limits. While officials’ roles come from God, they remain fallen people. When their commands contradict the Lord’s clear direction, civil disobedience becomes necessary (see Acts 5:29). More on navigating these tensions later.
First, we must acknowledge that human government is a divinely-ordained institution, even if imperfect. Our starting posture should be one of reverence and intercession, not complaint. This brings glory to the God who is over all earthly powers.
There Are Biblical Limits to Submission
The Bible’s call to submit to governing authorities is not absolute. At times, faithfulness to God requires civil disobedience. When human commands violate the Lord’s standards, the choice is clear: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Scripture offers many examples of godly people resisting ungodly decrees. The Hebrew midwives refused to obey Pharaoh’s order to kill newborn boys (Exodus 1:17). Daniel continued praying to Yahweh, violating a royal edict (Daniel 6:10). Peter declared before the Jewish Council, “We must obey God rather than men!” after being barred from preaching Christ (Acts 5:29).
In these cases, the human authorities overstepped their rightful power by commanding people to directly disobey God. The believers’ loyalties belonged ultimately to the Lord, not temporal rulers. Their courageous stand called leaders to account for unrighteous decrees.
For Christians, this means civil disobedience can occasionally become necessary. Our commitment to obey the state is not unconditional. When officials’ demands clearly conflict with God’s revealed will in Scripture, we must obey the Lord first.
This requires deep discernment. Not every disappointing policy or law warrants resistance. We need wisdom to assess when obedience to God precludes compliance with civil authority. Issues like injustice, protecting life, and religious freedom may require conscientious objection. We must seek the Spirit’s guidance in applying God’s word faithfully.
In these rare cases, we must still aim to honor leaders and institutions. As much as possible, objection should be humble, avoid violence, and accept consequences. We represent Christ in how we dissent. The goal should be redeeming broken systems, not just proving a point.
With much prayer and care, there are times civil disobedience honors God over flawed rulers. Scripture offers guidelines for the rare occasions when obeying the Lord necessitates respectfully resisting human commands.
Honor Brings Blessing and Witness
A final biblical principle regarding authority is that honoring leaders brings blessing and gospel witness. While humbly resisting unjust decrees may occasionally be needed, our default should be showing honor, not hostility:
“Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17 NKJV)
“Remind them to be subject to rulers…to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” (Titus 3:1-2 NKJV)
“I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)
Submitting to authorities with a gracious attitude brings favor and enables our witness. It protects the church and allows us to live peacefully while pointing people to Christ. Even amid disagreement, we must aim for honor, not hostility.
This requires persevering even when leaders disappoint us. We should avoid speaking evil against them (Jude 1:8). Our posture should be prayers for their wisdom and redemption, not insult or complaint. We leave room for God to change their hearts, just as he patiently works in us.
When Christians respectfully model honoring authorities, it makes the gospel attractive to others. Our hope rests not on flawed human institutions, but on God alone. We can engage temporal realms graciously while belonging ultimately to an eternal Kingdom. What a powerful testimony!
Of course, this does not prohibit expressing disagreement or advocating reforms. We can engage public issues humbly while still honoring leaders. When done with grace and truth, this can provide important prophetic witness. The goal is to take the high road at all times.
As God’s people, we live in the tension between two biblical callings regarding authority: honor leaders graciously, but follow Christ over all. This requires much wisdom and discernment. As we submit to God’s word, the Holy Spirit will guide us to represent Jesus well amid imperfect human systems. What an opportunity we have to be salt and light!
Practical Applications for Today
The biblical principles we’ve explored have profound implications for relating to authorities today. Here are some practical applications for Christians seeking to honor God in our current times:
- Pray regularly for your leaders, even those you disagree with. Their burden is great, and they need God’s help and wisdom.
- Avoid speaking evil against governing officials. Disagree graciously, but steer clear of insult or attack.
- Consider writing notes of encouragement to leaders expressing thanks for their service. Affirm what they are doing well.
- Discern carefully if and when civil disobedience may be needed to obey God over men. Get counsel from mature believers.
- If engaging in civil disobedience, do so humbly, peaceably and ready to accept consequences. The goal is redeeming society.
- Don’t put ultimate hope in human governments; they will always disappoint. Entrust your life fully to God’s sovereign care.
- Refuse to spread partisan political gossip or be manipulated by fear. Model grace, truth and honor in all engagement.
- Praise leaders when they enact just policies, regardless of political alignments. Commend good decisions.
- Advocate humbly for biblical values in the public square. Season words with grace and love for opponents.
- Remain focused on the gospel. Politics can’t truly transform hearts; only Jesus can do that. Keep priorities clear.
Far from avoiding the public arena, Christians have a vital role to play as salt and light. With the Spirit’s help, we can represent Christ amid imperfect authorities. What an honor God gives us to be his ambassadors in a broken world that so desperately needs redemption!
Navigating the intersection between faith and authority requires wisdom and discernment. Through exploring God’s word, several key principles emerge to guide us:
- Governing authorities derive their legitimacy from God, even if flawed.
- There are rare times when obeying God necessitates civil disobedience.
- Our default should be honoring leaders, which brings blessing and witness.
The way we engage temporal realms reflects on our heavenly Father. As Christians, we have the privilege of modeling Jesus’ pattern of courageous obedience paired with grace. There is no simple formula, but God promises to give wisdom as we seek him.
My prayer for you, dear reader, is that you would flourish in the tensions of our times. May you thoughtfully discern when and how to honor leaders. And may your overridding commitment to God give you the courage to stand – or kneel – when obedience to him requires it. What an opportunity we have to represent Christ to a watching world that desperately needs his redemption. God give us wisdom and grace for the challenging but holy calling to respect authority for his glory.