How should we respond as Christians to governing authorities which are illegitimate, bad at their work and sometimes even persecute us? Pastor Antony Dandato from Zimbabwe looks to Paul’s letter to the Romans and 1 Peter to help us answer this question in our modern, African context.
“The issue of leaders and living subject to them, or being submissive to them, is something that Paul in Romans talks about and also Peter in 1 Peter talks about. And the reasons are very explicit in the passages.
I come from Zimbabwe and at the moment there are persecutions happening. Not only from other citizens but even from those who should be protecting us and helping us prosper as a nation. And so the question definitely comes up. How should we respond in this situation? And why does the Bible call us to respond in this way?
All Authority Comes from God
So, beginning with Paul, I think the passage to go to which pertains to submission to authorities is Romans chapter 13. And he clearly says it: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God” Romans 13 1. So, being subject is the same word sometimes translated as ‘be submissive’, to those in authority. And he gives the reason because no authority exists except that which God has established.
But What if the Governing Authorities are Bad?
Thinking of this day and age you might ask the question “what if the authority is bad? And you begin to think, “Oh, OK, bad. Were the Romans good to the Israelites first – before Jesus died – and now even to the Christians after Jesus has resurrected and ascended?” And you know that it was not a very good relationship. There were taxes that were being given to the Christians and to the Jews. That’s exactly what Paul is going to address in the next few verses. He’s saying actually, you should pay those taxes. Give them what is due. Pay what is due to the government. So in a sense, he is saying be obedient to the authorities.
What if the Governing Authorities are Illegitimate?
And why? What about if there is a question of legitimacy as in Zimbabwe? Where the question of presidential legitimacy is real? Well – the Romans – were they elected into power? No. They fought the Israelites and they conquered them. But Paul is again still saying submit to them. So, the call for the Christian to be submissive has nothing to do with whether they are legit or they are being good to you. It has to do with every authority is established by God.
the call for the Christian to be submissive has nothing to do with whether they are legit or they are being good to you. It has to do with every authority is established by God.
Christians are Called to be Loving
Whereby, just before this, in Romans 12 9 the bigger call is for Christians to be loving. Romans 12, 9: “Let love be genuine.” ” Do not be overcome by evil. but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12, 21. And if you go afterwards to Romans 13, 8 “Owe to no one anything, except to love each other.” So, it’s sandwiched. This submission to authority is sandwiched by the concept of loving one another. Loving even your enemies. Chapter 12, 20. Whereby, if you do that you are pouring coals on them. And this is brilliant. Because when you go to 1 Peter you get to realise that the idea in 1 Peter 2, 12 “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honourable.” Here is the purpose “so that when they speak agains you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
In Romans… this submission to authority is sandwiched by the concept of loving one another. Loving even your enemies.
By Responding in Love, we can Draw them to the Gospel
I think what Peter has in mind here is the idea of winning the non-Christians, or the persecutors, through your actions. You undermine whatever they are saying, whatever they are doing against you – the persecutions they are loading on you – through how you respond to them. Responding to them in love. Actually caring for them, respecting them, even as they do evil upon you. And by that they are going to even question themselves. “Should we be doing this? Is this good?” And that will open them to the conviction of the Gospel. To be open to the Gospel. To say “maybe these guys are actually genuine. Maybe what they actually believe is true!” And when they do that we have the opportunity of sharing the Gospel with them.
Sometimes it the hopelessness seems like it’s there forever. But, the Romans were not there forever.
We have a Living Hope
And so the “day of visitation” here can mean the day they hear the Gospel! And there Christ has come to them in the Gospel message. Or it can mean the day when Jesus actually returns in judgement if they refuse to respond to the Gospel. And as you do that we pray that God in his sovereignty will help us to cope with the struggles. Will help us to live peaceful lives. Will help us to prosper despite the situations we are going through. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Sometimes it the hopelessness seems like it’s there forever. But, the Romans were not there forever. Neither are all the issues. Why? Because we know, even in 1 Peter, there’s hope.
I pray that God will give us the grace to actually not only love but bring the Gospel message to those who persecute us with the hope of sharing eternal life with them
A living hope. When Jesus is going to come back and introduce a new heaven, a new earth, Revelation 21. Where there’s no more tears, no more crying, no more pain and we will be with Him forever. So this is temporary. According to 1 Peter we are exiles on this earth, and that should be our mentality and our mindset. Even as we submit to authorities that might be bad or cause suffering or persecuting us. Because our future is sure. Jesus has secured it for us. So, I hope that we will respond in love. And I pray that God will give us the grace to actually not only love but bring the Gospel message to those who persecute us with the hope of sharing eternal life with them, to God’s glory.