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Another Bull with Two Horns

Jun 02, 2009

There is another circumstance that puts people on "the horns of the bull." It is where we must determine whether to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29), or else to submit to the authorities that are appointed by God (Rom. 13:1).

This can be a difficult question, and so we need some guidelines and biblical examples to know the mind of God when we face those questions.

The most basic rule is Love, but a more practical summary is provided in Rom. 12:18,

"If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men."

If our hearts are motivated by genuine love, rather than by pride, we will not react negatively to those who mistreat us, whether these be family, neighbors, or the government. Revenge is not an option for us, as Rom. 12:17 says,

"Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men."

In recent decades we have seen many examples of "civil disobedience," which are designed to violate unjust man-made laws to draw attention to the need for change. Are believers to engage in civil disobedience? If so, when and how?

The first thing to recognize is that the type of government we have is the consequence of past generations and their relationship with God. The Babylonian government today is indeed appointed by God, but it is also the result of the sins of our forefathers. In other words, it is divine judgment upon us, designed to cause us to repent by suffering the consequences of rebellion against the law of God.

Our Babylonian government, then, is well deserved, and we should be careful not to malign God for imposing such a government upon us. But does this mean that we should submit to unjust laws and not work to change them? Not at all. But we should recognize that working to change unjust laws in itself does not resolve the root problem. It treats symptoms, but does not cure the underlying disease.

In the original Babylonian captivity, Daniel's three friends were expected to worship an image of gold (Dan. 3:5). They attended the ceremony as demanded by the king, but they engaged in civil disobedience--or perhaps we might call it "religious disobedience." They refused to worship gold when Nebuchadnezzar set up the world's first "gold standard."

Yet these men were also willing to pay the price for their disobedience. They did not try to fight the guards arresting them. They did not show disrespect to the king. They simply told him in Dan. 3:16-18,

" (16) O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you [give a legal defense] in this matter. (17) If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. (18) But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up."

The first commandment of God says, "You shall have no other gods before Me." It is better to obey God rather than man. But the fact that these three men were living in Babylon shows that they had been deported there from Jerusalem. They were in captivity, and they were government employees of the nation that had taken them captive. They submitted to that government and led no revolutions or conspiracies against Nebuchadnezzar. No doubt they did the best job they could do in their daily duties. It was only when they were given a command that directly violated the law of God that they refused to submit to the will of the king.

It is not a sin to be in captivity. It is a sin to refuse to submit to divine judgment (Deut. 17:10-12). One must know how God has ruled in the Divine Court in order to submit to the Divine judgment. It was the function of the prophets to make that clear--in this case, Jeremiah received that revelation.

In the New Testament, the apostles faced a similar situation in Acts 4, when the Sanhedrin decided to forbid them to speak in the name of Jesus.

" (18) So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. (19) But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. (20) For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard."

Peter and John were referring to the law found in Lev. 5:1,

"If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matter--if he does not tell it, he bears guilt."

In other words, we are required by God to give testimony in court if we are witnesses in a case. We do not have 5th amendment rights to be silent, nor do we have the right to withhold evidence. We must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when adjured to do so.

Jesus had told the disciples to preach the gospel to all creation (Matt. 28:19). This was a direct command, and when the apostles were forbidden to obey that commandment, they had to defer to a higher authority. They had been witnesses of Jesus' resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit, and were being adjured by King Jesus to bear witness to all men. So by the law of Lev. 5:1, they were required to speak and could not obey the lower court decision of the Sanhedrin.

Even so, they were willing to suffer the consequences of their civil disobedience. They were cast into prison, and the angel of God released them (Acts 5:19). Rather than hide, they went to the temple and continued to bear witness to the truth (5:25). When they were arrested again, Peter told them, "We ought to obey God, rather than men" (5:29).

They were beaten for disobeying the Sanhedrin. Did they become angry with this unjust treatment? Was their pride injured? Far from it.

" (41) So they departed from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name."

Here is where true Christianity differs from many other belief systems. True Christians do not seek revenge for personal injustice. Their pride is not injured when they are publicly humiliated and shamed by a public beating. Instead, they rejoice that they are counted worthy to follow Jesus' example, for He rejoiced to go to the cross--the just one dying unjustly for the very ones who put Him to death.

Our job as Christians is not to engage in revolution to violently overthrow governments. Our battlefield is in the spirit, and our weapon is the Sword of the Spirit. Many have no confidence in such weapons, and so their lack of faith causes them to take up physical arms to resolve the problems of injustice. To limit one's self to spiritual weaponry is often seen as "doing nothing," when in fact it is the only truly effective action.

When times of judgment come to a close, there are different courses of action that can be taken. Babylon was given a limited time of authority as specified by the divine court. Babylon now refuses to let us go (Jer. 50:33), so God has decreed against her and will use others to enforce it.


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Dr. Stephen Jones


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