True, devout Christians should, as a rule of thumb, be upstanding citizens and pillars in the community.
Christian doctrine, as taught by the apostles of Christ in the New Testament, urges followers of Jesus to be diligent workers, respectful to bosses, and doing all their labors as if they were working for the Lord, not for men. (cf. 1 Peter 2:18; Ephesians 6:5-8) Christians are likewise admonished that if any man will not work, neither should he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10). For those Christians who are employers, the Bible likewise teaches that they should be loving, kind and gracious towards those under them, remembering that God will call all men to judgment (Ephesians 6:9).
In matters of civic duties, Christians are admonished to pay their taxes and be respectful of those in authority (cf. Romans 13:6-7). Paul admonishes the church in Rome to remember that government itself is a divinely appointed institution, and that rebelling against it is tantamount to rebellion against God. (cf. Romans 13:1-5) Peter taught the same thing in his epistles, telling Christians, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13-14)
These commands become even more potent when one realizes that the Roman government was sometimes antithetical to Christianity and that the Roman emperors, under whom the apostles lived, were frequently unsavory characters. Nero, for instance, murdered his own mother, married multiple times, including twice to men, and notoriously had Christians tortured and killed for the crime of being Christians. Yet, even in the face of such a tyrant as Nero, and other unsavory Roman emperors, Christians were told not to take up arms, but rather submit.
Indeed, Christ Himself warned that the man who lived by the sword would die by the sword, and He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of the sort that would raise physical armies to fight physical wars. (cf. Matthew 26:52; John 18:36). Rather the Christian battle is spiritual, fought with words and ideas, and Christians are to seek to win hearts, not take lives (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
For these reasons, we can truthfully say that devout Christians should be upstanding citizens: obeying the laws, working hard, loving their families, and supporting the community with taxes and generous charity. Yet, this civic minded Christian must also be unwavering in their support of truth and righteousness and sometimes this spiritual duty comes in conflict with other civic duties.
The apostles for instance, were persecuted by the Jewish government and were commanded not to preach. They declined to obey. When told not to speak about Christ anymore, Peter famously replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) Yes, the same apostle who told us to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, refused to submit to a decree that told him to disobey God.
Years later, the Romans government commanded Christians to verbally hail Caesar as Lord. Christians largely refused. Their faith would not allow them to participate in government mandated idolatry. Though worshiping Caesar was law, they could not do it and remain faithful to the commands of Christ also. This did not make Christians bad citizens. Rather, their faith informed them that the law of man, contradicting the Law of God, was itself the problem and that they had to remain true to the great Lawgiver, from whose laws all just laws derived.
In a similar fashion, John the Baptist, as he prepared the Jewish nation for Christ, denounced the marriage of Herod to Herodias, saying, “It is not lawful for you to be married to her.” (Matthew 14:4) Roman law allowed the marriage, but John was more concerned with God’s law.
So too today, Christians should strive to be the very best citizens they can be. But they must also recognize: if ever the government forces a choice between obeying man or obeying God; the rule of God must always prevail.
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, as we seek to be the very best citizens we can be in both the kingdom of men and the Kingdom of Christ.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.