The Bible speaks very clearly about the relationship between the believer and the government. We are to obey governmental authorities, and the government is to treat us justly and fairly. Even when the government does not live up to its role, we are still to live up to ours. Finally, when the government asks us to do something that is in direct disobedience to God’s Word, we are to disobey the government in faithful confidence of the Lord’s power to protect us.
Whether the Bible uses the terms “master,” “ruler,” “government,” or any other name for an established authority, the instruction is always the same – obey. We must remember that God created the authorities ruling over us just as He created us. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2). Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Both Peter and Paul also remind slaves repeatedly to be obedient to their masters for the same reasons (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; 1 Timothy 6:1-2; 1 Peter 2:18-20; Titus 2:9-11).
The instructions to government “masters” are just as clear and just as numerous. Jesus modeled the behavior and attitude every leader or authority should take. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:25-28). A government or authority exists to serve those governed.
Many times, however, a government will stray from its purpose and become oppressive. When that happens, we are still to live in obedience. “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:18-19). Both Jesus and Paul used taxes as a way to illustrate this. The Roman government taxed the Jews unjustly and many of the tax collectors were thieves. When asked about this dilemma, Jesus took a coin and said, “‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:20-21). Evidently, the believers in Rome were still asking the same question because Paul instructed them on the matter. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (Romans 13:6).
In the Old Testament, Daniel is a model we should use when it comes to our relationship with government. The Babylonians were given authority over the Jews because of the Jews’ disobedience. Daniel worked himself into the highest levels of this pagan and unbelieving government. Although the rulers respected Daniel’s God, their lives and actions show they did not believe. Daniel served the king as a true servant when he requested the wise men not be executed for failing to interpret the king’s dream. Instead, he asked for the key to interpret the dream from God and saved those, including himself, who would have been executed. While Daniel was in the royal court, his three friends refused to bow to the idol erected by King Nebuchadnezzar and were sentenced to death in the furnace (Daniel 3:12-15). Their response was confident faith. They did not defend themselves, but instead told the king their God would save them, adding that even if He didn’t, they still would not worship or serve Nebuchadnezzar’s gods (Daniel 3:16-18).
After the Medes conquered Babylon, Daniel continued to serve faithfully and to rise in power within the government. Here, Daniel faced the same dilemma when the governors and satraps tricked the king into signing a decree “…that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions” (Daniel 6:7). Daniel responded by directly, and in full view of everyone, disobeying the order. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10). Daniel was completely loyal to any ruler placed over him until that ruler ordered him to disobey God. At that moment, when a choice had to be made between the world and God, Daniel chose God. As should we all.