Should We Submit to Governing Authorities?
"Man refuses to wear mask at Costco."
I saw a video from NBC news about a man who went shopping at Costco, and when confronted by an employee to wear a mask while shopping, he declined, saying, "We live in a free country." He was asked to leave the store. The employee explained that this is the store policy to wear masks to protect the people and employees while shopping there.
The story was re-posted on LinkedIn, where I found several comments, this is one:
"My wife works at Costco. They went from 'Heroes' for working during the pandemic to goats for enforcing a Costco policy. Everyday someone comes in without a mask swears at all the employees. The rant usually begins, "this is a free country."
It is a free country, and I agree with that statement. You are free to shop elsewhere. Costco is not the only place to buy goods. Stop yelling at employees. They didn't make the rules. Use your freedom and shop somewhere else."
Just a few months ago before the pandemic hit us, we were free to fly anywhere, go anywhere, shop anywhere, and eat anywhere, whenever we wanted. We did not have to think about rules, regulations, and governmental authorities interfering in our everyday lives as we do now…
The law of the United States comprises many levels of codified and uncodified forms of law, of which the most important is the United States Constitution, which prescribes the foundation of the federal government of the United States, as well as various civil liberties.
Hebrews 13:1- "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." This scripture is referring to ALL leaders, not just believers!
Titus 3:1- "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work." 1 Samuel 15:23- "For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." Leaders have someone to answer to!
Keep an open mind with what I'm going to teach.
Let us make sure we are all being obedient citizens, which historically has led believers into all kinds of problems.
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities..." Romans 13:1 Peter wrote something very similar: "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority…" 1 Peter 2:13
I call these ruling passages because they are too often used to crush dissent, stifle protest, and discourage civil disobedience. But we live in times where dissent is more important than ever. All around the world, we are witnessing the rise of the "strongman" – brutal leaders like Putin. These are hard-line men who rule with an iron fist and with little regard for justice or the oppressed.
During the time of Hitler's regime - too many good citizens – good believers - stood by while their vulnerable neighbors were crushed by the governing authorities.
So, let's take a closer look at these passages.
After Yeshua's death and resurrection, King Herod got mad and arrested some of the Believers, including James and Peter, and put them on public trial. The night before the trial, an angel of the Lord woke Peter up, removed his chains, opened the prison doors, and led him out the main gate of the prison. Yet after escaping from jail, where he had been imprisoned for breaking the law, Peter went on to write in a letter:
"Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." 1 Peter 2:13-15
And similarly, while Paul was in Damascus, he escaped from a strongman city governor who was trying to arrest him, by concealing himself in a wicker basket and having himself lowered down the city wall through a window. Then after reaching safety, Paul wrote a surprising letter:
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities which 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
So, are Peter and Paul hypocrites, asking Believer's to do as they say, but not as they do?
Though these passages have been used to maintain the status quo, there is a BIG disconnect between Peter and Paul's actions and the way we have traditionally interpreted their words.
The key to understanding is in the word "submit." Take a look at this. The Greek word hupo-tasso, which is translated as "submit" or "be subject," literally means to arrange things respectfully in an "orderly manner underneath."
This simple meaning of "social orderliness" would have been understood by original readers, but it is a little obscured in our English translation.
This word is used in Ephesians 5:22 to encourage husbands and wives to submit to one another, and it reflects God's concern for order and respect.
Here's the main point – Paul and Peter believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping the peace. God is a God of order – not anarchy or chaos.
But here's where we go wrong. There's ANOTHER word, hupo-kouo, which is best translated as "obey," which means to conform, to follow a command, or to kowtow to an authority as a subordinate.
Peter and Paul could have used this word, "obey," but they chose not to.
Used twenty-one times in the New Testament, hupo-kouo always suggests a hierarchical context, as in the relationship between children or slaves and their parents or masters (Ephesians 6:1 and 6:5). And so here's the most important thing to remember - in the New Testament Greek, to submit does not always mean to obey! They are two separate actions or postures.
Though Paul, Peter, and other followers of Yeshua deliberately disobeyed laws that conflicted with God's commands, they still submitted to the authorities by accepting the legal consequences of their actions.
This form of disobedience is nothing particularly new. As far back as the book of Exodus, the Hebrew midwives refused to carry out the Pharaoh's repugnant order to murder newborn babies.
The first people who sought to worship Yeshua, a trio of spiritual gurus from Asia, deliberately disobeyed the orders of King Herod, a criminal offense punishable by death (the first recorded act of civil disobedience in the New Testament). Many of the disciples ended up in prison.
Simply put, the law does not dictate our ethics. God does.
But when my friends break unjust laws, you won't see them struggling to avoid arrest. You won't see them acting violently or promoting chaos. Instead, they gladly submit to the legal consequences of their actions.
They show us the way to interpret Romans 13, as Peter and Paul meant. If we break an unjust law to highlight and protest its injustice, we should be willing to submit to the punishment for violating such laws, so that we demonstrate our respect for the role of government in general.
We do not follow a God of chaos, each doing whatever we want, but a God of order and respect for one another and the governing authorities.
There are times when we, as followers of Messiah, will be called upon to stand up with a holy 'NO!' in the face of evil and injustice.
Romans Chapter 13 does not undermine that posture - it informs it.
Now, let's look at the Costco story based on what you just read. The man refused to wear and a mask. Consequence: he had to leave the store! The rule was there to protect employees and people who shop there! An excellent example of hupo-kouo!
So what does all this mean to us? Do we have the freedom to disagree, or don't we? Do we have freedom of God or freedom from God?
Freedom does not only mean your freedom - but everyone's freedoms, collectively. The character Spock from Star Trek, played by Leonard Nimoy (a Jewish man), had a very famous phrase he used, he said: "The good of the one does not outweigh the good of the many." We must be conscious of other's people's well being and welfare when exercising our freedom. I think this is the message Paul and Peter were trying to convey.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.