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What the Bible says about Respect for Authority
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Numbers 16:1-3

They are accusing Moses of appointing himself. "You take too much upon yourself. We're just as good as you." Yet, that is not the issue. The issue is respect for God through the office He had appointed the man to.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Unity (Part 2): God's Pattern of Leadership

Proverbs 24:21-22

This is an overall principle: "Do not rebel! Do not associate with revolutionaries. Have respect for God. Have respect for the authority that He has constituted to rule over the land—the king!" The warning can be taken two ways. One, when one rebels, the ruler and the rebel are ruined: "who knows the ruin those two can bring?" Two, the rebel may be ruined by the both of them. God wants us to realize that there is no real liberty in rebellion.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)

Ecclesiastes 8:4

To a person with long experience of the Western world, the degree of acceptance called for by this verse is almost beyond belief! Our cultures value such a high level of freedom of speech that our “kings” are called into account in the public media virtually second by second! Every word they utter is parsed for secret meaning, and every phrase is analyzed until all aspects of possible meaning are mined for insight as to how to criticize them. Every leader is considered fair game.

We certainly live in a different age than that of Solomon. However, we must keep in mind who we are, who is giving this counsel, and why this counsel is given. We are dealing with God and His purposes, so the counsel fits these realities above all other considerations.

Two examples of the need for the wisdom of giving deference appeared in recent news broadcasts. The first involved a young woman stopped by a policeman for a minor driving infraction. She had either given a wrong signal as to which way she intended to turn or had, for some reason, given no signal at all. As the patrolman began questioning her, she suddenly became irate to the point that she needed to be restrained, arrested, and imprisoned. A few days later, she hanged herself in the prison cell. Nothing indicates that the patrolman mistreated her in any way.

The second incident occurred a few days later under similar circumstances. A patrolman stopped a man for a minor moving violation and asked the driver to produce his driver's license. The man at first merely hesitated but soon began expressing angry resistance. A second time the officer asked him to produce his license. Suddenly, the driver jammed the car into gear, stepped on the gas pedal, and began driving away. The patrolman shouted at the man to stop and at the same time drew his weapon. The man would not stop, so the patrolman fired one shot, hitting the driver in the head and killing him.

Both of these incidents escalated to high intensity within a few moments. There were no drawn-out arguments and no prior history between those involved, just a citizen confronted by a public authority figure whom the citizen heatedly refused to submit to. Their resistance to a simple legal request became their death sentence.

As humanists have risen to leadership in virtually every aspect of society in the Western world, self-centered disrespect has surged to the fore. Nevertheless, Ecclesiastes 8:4 continues to stand as a reminder of what Romans 13:1-4 confirms to Christians regardless of when they live: Rulers in their position of authority in society stand in the place of God to us because they are ordained of God. Despite the rapidly declining social conditions on earth, God still rules His creation. Therefore, He counsels us to give those in leadership within our nations, not merely respect, but some measure of reverence as well.

In addition to this instruction, Ecclesiastes 8:1-4 also contains an implied promise of favor to those who have made the covenant with God and are honestly and consistently striving to remain faithful to their responsibilities within it. Such a person is indeed wise because he understands the nature of his duties as a citizen. Thus, this verse provides practical wisdom to pass through life smoothly. Such a person is thought to be an excellent citizen.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Ecclesiastes 8:5-8

In these verses about dealing with those in authority over us, the focus of deference appears to shift to facing a leader with a reputation for unusual discernment and perhaps stern, unbending judgment. Is the king here the Creator God or an earthly king? Even though Solomon is, in an overall sense, providing us wisdom about how we should approach an earthly king, he never completely loses sight of God, who stands unseen behind the earthly king's power. He seems to be giving the earthly king here a great deal more than the usual level of respect.

If it is God that he writes of, then it appears to make more sense because we can learn of the real power behind the throne. We can learn to fear God more deeply and readily by observing nature and applying to our lives what we discern there of His character. If we do this, we will see some of His attributes and come to respect them more deeply.

Does not God say that He upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3)? Careful and thoughtful observation of the natural world reveals the compelling, harmonious, and sometimes breathtaking beauty of the mind of our great Creator. It also at times displays His awesome and mysterious power that, almost like a machine, seemingly appears to move on inflexibly, not knowing or caring what it inflicts. Who can stop the weather from happening?

Everybody and everything gets caught up in God's movements. A blizzard, tornado, earthquake, flood, or drought seems unsympathetic about what or who is caught in its devastation. It is as if, once God's purpose is formed, nothing can turn it aside, despite human woes. These are displays of power that everyone should rightfully fear. Yet, the wise person will discern that God's purposes come to fruition slowly, so he patiently waits, having perceived that, behind all the outward appearances of harshness, there is good within it. Such a wise use of power can influence a human king.

Verse 7 appears to say that God, the great and awesome King, operates without regard for man's desire to know the future. Why is this good? Because not knowing the future with any certainty tends to keep man dependent on God. It makes faith in His love a necessity for his spiritual survival. When a person stands before a human ruler, he should keep his utter dependence on God in mind.

In verse 8, Solomon touches on death as perhaps God's ultimate power over man. When a man's time arrives, only God has the power to give him continued existence. The breath of life is in the hand of God, and if He allows this last enemy to grasp us, there is no escape. Solomon is reminding us that God's rule of His creation is not helter-skelter but operated with order and specific, individual attention to detail. No man has power to retain life beyond his appointed time. There are no grounds on which a person can procure exemption. Rebellious opposition to God will not avail us. Deference is clearly the order of the day to the Christian.

The overall point of Solomon's sobering exposition is that the Creator God must absolutely be treated with the greatest of respect and reverence. The human king, who stands in God's place before us as His agent, should also be treated with a measure of the same respect. In his office, he shares in some aspects of the Creator God's governing power. We must learn that the human ruler does not have to consult us, his subordinate, for permission to carry out whatever judgment he makes in regard to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fifteen): Deference

Romans 12:1

To paraphrase, he says, "In light of all I have just told you, this is what you are obligated to do." Chapter 12 primarily concerns relationships within the body and to a lesser extent to those outside. Chapter 13 begins by stating our obligation to submit to civil governments, respect those in authority, and pay taxes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover, Obligation, and Love

1 Timothy 6:1

Slavery is not prevalent today, but the principle is obvious: Respect the boss. Ephesians 6:5-8 says we should sincerely obey, respect, and serve a boss as if he were Christ Himself. Nowhere does Paul say our boss must first act like Christ before being given that respect.

Staff
A Matter of Honor

1 Peter 2:17

Peter, in three words, teaches a very difficult concept. He commands us to "Honor the king." The historical background of his words should give us a better perspective and teach us a powerful lesson.

Peter, having already written that we should honor all people, knew some brethren would resist honoring Nero, the heathen Roman emperor. Nero was a perverted madman, eventually hated by the Romans themselves. He had mercilessly tortured and killed hundreds of Christians in various cruel and demeaning ways. It is very difficult to expect Nero to be honored by someone whose mother had been crucified and used as a human candle for one of Nero's garden parties!

The pattern that we have seen all along surfaces again here. Nero was king. A king is to be honored, for he represents the office given him by God (Romans 13:1). Whether the king is honorable or not, he is king, and God says we should honor him as such. If we are resisting the power he has, we are resisting God's ordinance (verse 2). Paul even calls the civil authorities "ministers" or servants of God (verse 4).

At times in America's history, even the Office of the Presidency has been dishonored, the President's reputation sullied by political or even sexual scandal. If Peter were writing today, he might say “Honor the President.” No matter how besmirched his name may become through media exploitation, God's people should resist the pressure to dishonor him or his office.

That is a tough order! Many of the early Christians no doubt despised Nero's reckless, godless behavior. Some had personal reasons to hate him. The commands from our King, however, remain the same: Forgive those who trespass against you (Matthew 6:14). "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Honor the king.

When we obey God's command to honor all people, we are following our heavenly King and honoring Him. Then what happens? Jesus answers in John 12:26: "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

So first we humble ourselves, then give honor and respect even to those who might appear to be unworthy of honor and respect. The result? God the Highest, the Supreme Being in the entire universe, will personally bestow honor and glory on those who have obeyed this and other commands. This is God's way: The more we give, the more we receive. The more honor we give, the more honor we will also receive.

Tough as it may be, we should make it our aim to honor everyone—all the time.

Staff
A Matter of Honor


 




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