Freedom Under Authority

MEMORY VERSE: “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.” —I Peter 2:16

ROMANS 13:1-7

“THE powers that be are ordained of God.” This statement was written by Paul at a time when the Christian Church was under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, so it was more literally true then than today; although it is always appropriate that followers of the Master be obedient to the civil laws of the land when those laws are not contrary to the expressed commands of God.

God’s ordination of Gentile civil powers as mentioned by Paul began during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Through the Prophet Daniel God said to this Gentile king, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And whosesoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heavens hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”—Dan. 2:37,38

The “head of gold” which Daniel mentions, explaining that it represented Nebuchadnezzar as head of the Babylonian Empire, is the head of a metallic, human-like image with breasts and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron which Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream. Daniel’s interpretation of these was that the Babylonian Empire would be succeeded by three other empires, each, of course, with the same facts applying to them, an important one of which was that the God of heaven would give them a kingdom.

Rome was the last in this succession, so to Rome also, even as to Babylon, the God of heaven had given dominion. Thus in a very special way Paul could write in his day that the powers that be are ordained of God. And while Paul admonished obedience to Rome under all ordinary circumstance, we are not to suppose he meant that if Rome demanded something of the Christians which would be contrary to their conscience because contrary to the will of God, they should obey. They could not, for example, at the behest of Rome, renounce their faith, and because they could not do so, many of them suffered martyrdom.

A Christian is forbidden by God to take human life, so today, if the government under which he lives demands this act of obedience, in clear conscience he must resist. We are thankful that in America and certain other countries provision has been made for those who cannot conscientiously participate in war. In this one area there has been some advance in civilization.

I PETER 2:11-17

The true follower of the Master will indeed “abstain from fleshly lusts,” and to the rulers of the world in Peter’s day this would be unusual. In place of the expression, “having your conversation honest among the Gentiles,” the Revised Standard Version reads, “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles.”

Peter explains that the Gentiles, seeing the good conduct of the Christians, will glorify God in “the day of visitation.” The followers of the Master enjoy their “day of visitation” now. They are drawn, called, and enlightened by God to follow the Master, but the day of visitation for the world will be in the Millennial Age. It will be then, when awakened from the sleep of death, that rulers and others who have in this life been impressed with the good conduct of the Master’s true followers, will recall their impressions and glorify God—many of them, no doubt, by devoting themselves fully to him and to the laws of the messianic kingdom then in force.

Peter, even as Paul, urges the brethren to obey the civil rulers: “For so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.”

“Honor all men. Love the brotherhood” Notice the difference: we are to “honor” all men, but “love” the brotherhood. What a vast difference there is in the meaning of these two words! We are to “fear [reverence] God,” but “honor the king.”


When and how were the Roman rulers of Paul’s day “ordained of God”?

When will the unbelieving world have their “day of visitation?”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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