Christian Citizenship Part 3: The Duty of Obedience and Civil Disobedience

mvlnw09fdoIt has been a while since I have touched on the subject of how we as Christians live as citizens of two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and whatever kingdom we live in this world. Partly because of the election year and the nature of it, I have wanted to avoid political themes.

But I think now would be an excellent opportunity to return to the subject. A few weeks ago, I taught a Bible study on the issue as found in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and 3:13-17. Here are some truths found in these verses.

1. We should submit to the just laws of the kingdoms of this earth. Because God created all humans in His image, everyone, not just Christians, has some understanding of what is right and just. Just because the source is secular, it does not make a law evil. By obeying just and right laws, we silence our critics. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are free in the kingdoms of this world, but our freedom does not give us the right to disobey the law.

2. We should give to everyone what he or she is due from us. And according to Peter, we owe honor to everyone. So no matter if we like a person’s political views, ideas of sexuality, appearance, or attitude, we owe them honor. We should treat them with respect and courtesy. Yet, we owe special love to the brotherhood, our fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. In a situation with persecution, such as the context in which Peter wrote, the care of each member of Christ body for the other is of even greater importance than normal. Even in that situation, Peter said that Christians should honor the Emperor. We don’t have an emperor in the United States, but the principle applies as we relate to our political leaders as well.

3. But above all else, we should fear God. In Peter wrote in 3:14-15, “Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.” Because Jesus is our Lord, conflict with our earthly country’s laws is possible. Peter instructs us in those cases willingly to endure the consequences and to follow the example of Jesus who unjustly suffered. As Peter expresses it, if we are going to be persecuted and suffer at the hands of earthly authorities, we need to be sure we are doing so for the right reasons. When God’s command and human law conflicts, we obey God and not human authority. (Acts 5:29) But our disobedience is tempered by the other commands in this passage—commands to honor those in authority. (Acts 23:3-5). Even in civil disobedience, we must seek to be redemptive and share the gospel. Our willingness to suffer gives credibility to our verbal sharing of the gospel.

All Work Is Service To God

Recently, I read through Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Colossians is similar to Ephesians, and like Ephesians includes a section on the Christian household, husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and slaves. It was the message to the slaves that stood out to me.

Slaves, obey your human masters in everything. Don’t work only while being watched, in order to please me, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:22-24 (HCSB)

These verses, if taken out of context, could raise cries of injustice. However, they must be balanced with Paul’s words to masters in both Colossians and Ephesians, as well as his letter to Philemon, which I understand to be a subtle stand against slavery. We should not see in these verses any lessening of the tragedy of human slavery and human trafficking.

What Paul is saying here is that slaves should see their work as being more than just work for their masters. Their work is service to the Lord. Can we apply this to workers today? If it refers to slaves, I believe that applies even more to those who work voluntarily and for a wage. In fact, implied in these verses is that fact that all work and labor is service to Christ. All labor and vocation are ministries for Christ.

Paul’s exhortation contains important aspects of serving Christ in our work. First, our work is not done to please others, but to please God. This point raises the standard for quality and motivation of work. We do not work primarily to get ahead or to get paid, but rather to serve Christ and bring glory and honor to His name. Therefore, our work should be done wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. Nothing done for God is routine or unimportant.

Also, Paul recognizes the potential for masters to mistreat slaves. The same is true in employer-employee relationships today. Employers potentially could treat employees unfairly. Paul’s assurance is that such suffering does not go unseen by God. God is just. He will repay the wrongdoer. In the meantime, we are to see our work as service to God and not to others. He will repay excellent work done in His name.