Will Christians participate in civil disobedience?

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men. For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (Titus 3:1-5)

The commandments in this passage are very important, therefore the Apostle asks Titus to remind the Christian believers of them. And all true believers are supposed to know these things by the Spirit who is in them, as this is included in the very message of the Gospel that the Apostles had already preached to them (and to us by the Bible), therefore these words are not given as new commandments, but as a reminder.

In every civil disobedience or revolution, we should remember that man wants to control his destiny, therefore he wants to have a word in any change, and he wants to prove that his way or his opinion is the right one concerning any civil or social change. But Christians should not be disobedient to the authorities in an effort to do what THEY think is right. Christians should know that God may use to His Glory what they think is not right, just as He used the greatest crime in history (His Son’s crucifixion) to His Glory. Christians should pray that God may give wisdom to those who are in authority.

People may think they are in control when they make some laws pass or they impose their opinions in politics, but the real fact is that God is in perfect control and He is using every change to His Glory and for a greater good. God’s Plan is not being affected by any human decision, but on the contrary everything is finally serving His good and eternal Purpose. The changes that result from human decisions in politics will inevitably lead to more persecution for the Church, as it is impossible that the world may love us. Our Lord has foretold: “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you. Remember the word which I said unto you, The bondman is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep also yours.” (John 15:19-20) It is through these persecutions that we can have a big awakening if we as Christians obey the Lord and do His Will without compromising with the world. But “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). Many of those who are called Christians in Egypt disobeyed this commandment in the recent Egyptian revolution, and now they are reaping the results. In the hot days of the Egyptian revolution, I was warning my friends that the Christians are doing wrong by putting their hands in the hands of the worldly evildoers to disobey the authorities, “For there is no authority except from God; and those that exist are set up by God. So that he that sets himself in opposition to the authority resists the ordinance of God; and they who [thus] resist shall bring sentence of guilt on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2) Yes, God will set up anyone He wants in the position of authority, and He may even use the revolution of worldly people to do that, as the vessels of wrath also are under His sovereign control (see Romans 9:21-22), but the vessels of honorable use, the children of God, should not participate in the evil of those vessels of wrath. The children of God are vessels for honorable use, so “Suffer the dead to bury their own dead, but do thou go and announce the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60) The Christians should not put their hands in the hands of evildoers to achieve worldly purposes. Many Christians in Egypt have done this, and now, just as I had warned based on the teaching of the Bible, they are reaping the results, the less of which is that they have given a false witness, making the cross a political sign appearing side by side with the Islamic crescent… And now they will be persecuted for the wrong reasons, and not as Christians; they will be persecuted for denominational and political reasons, as they have not given the Christian testimony during the revolution by obeying the authorities back then and at the same time loving all men without partiality against anyone, be it a person in the authority or in the revolution… This was an example, the example of Egypt, and this may happen anywhere in the world. And a civil disobedience doesn’t need to be a bloody revolution in order to be a disobedience; it may even be through a vote for Barabbas to be released, as we will see.

So let’s listen to the warning of God’s Word very carefully: “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). If we disobey the commandments given in the passage quoted at the top of this article, then we will be evildoers who deserve to suffer as evildoers. Then our testimony will be a bad testimony, and the Lord will not be glorified by our witness. In Titus 3, the Apostle reminds us that the way we live as Christians among non-Christians and in our worldly culture should glorify God. If we live and behave like the corrupt culture, then God will not be glorified by our testimony. Christians should not be like the worldly culture which is around them and should not be seeking the same ambitions and worldly goals as the world around them. They should be lights in the darkness of this world. And of course Paul explains how the Christians will give that light in their particular countries and societies. Let’s read together what he says:

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” (vv.1-2)

As you see oppression from the political system in your country, as you see injustice happening, you get angry. It is very good to get angry at injustice and sin. But what does the Bible warn us about? “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26) We should not react to injustice and corruption by committing the sin of disobedience to rulers and authorities, as that will be disobeying God’s ordinance: “he that sets himself in opposition to the authority resists the ordinance of God; and they who [thus] resist shall bring sentence of guilt on themselves.” (Romans 13:2) When the Apostle Paul wrote these things, the ruler or the authority was a despot, a Caesar or even a Nero who persecuted the Christians! Paul said be subject to that authority and obey it! In the day of Jesus, Romans were occupying the land of Israel and oppressing the children of Israel, and there were armed forces resisting the Romans (like Zealots), and there were people expecting that the Messiah would come to save them from the Roman occupation and oppression… But Jesus simply called to obey Caesar: “Pay then what is Caesar’s to Caesar” (Matthew 22:21). And He added later: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus did not come to change a political system or to save the children of Israel from the Roman occupation. Jesus did not come to make the worldly culture better or good. There will not be a perfect system in this world, and people will never be satisfied of any system. Unrepentant sinners who live in a great worldly system will still go to Hell, so that’s not the issue. Jesus came to save the lost, to change hearts! That’s why Paul reminds us that we should not oppose the authorities; we should obey them, as it’s in the character of our new nature to do that: we are by nature obedient to God’s ordinance. It doesn’t matter if our ruler is Caesar, Herod, Pilate, Felix, Fetus, Agrippa, any Ottoman ruler, Stalin, Hitler, Winston Churchill, Barack Obama… it doesn’t matter who it is; Paul clearly says be subject, teach them and remind them to be subject. It doesn’t matter if the system in authority is a monarchy, or democracy, or communism or Islamic republic or whatever; the Bible clearly says be subject.

Rulers in the days of Paul were tyrants. Would you like to compare your present conditions to the conditions of Christians back then under those rulers? Well, those rulers were bad, and they lacked integrity. They were murderous. They were not noble. Governments made laws and maybe all the laws weren’t equitable, just and fair. There were some people called citizens, and others called slaves, and slaves had no human rights; they were treated like objects or animals… Imagine yourself in those conditions (and I remind you that many of the Christians back then were slaves…), and Paul tells you to be subject to those rulers, not to make revolution against them, to stay obedient, to do good to them, and — yes, believe it — to pray for them: “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings be made for all men; for kings and all that are in dignity, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all piety and gravity; for this is good and acceptable before our Saviour God, who desires that all men should be saved and come to [the] knowledge of [the] truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) What does this mean for us today? We should fast and pray for our president and for those who are in authority in our country! We should pray even for the people who are revolting against the authorities that they may repent. We should present to God supplications, intercessions for all of them. We should ask for wisdom for our rulers. Is this what the Church in our country is doing today?…

This doesn’t mean that you will disobey God to obey the human authorities; don’t misunderstand. Jesus didn’t just say give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but He continued and said give to God what belongs to God: “Pay then what is Caesar’s to Caesar, and what is God’s to God.” (Matthew 22:21) The Apostles and Christians in those times understood this well. And the best illustration of that is in Acts 4: the authorities told the Apostles not to preach in Christ’s Name. They summoned them in Acts 4:18, commanded them not to speak or teach in Christ’s Name. Peter and John said to them: “If it be righteous before God to listen to you rather than to God, judge ye” (Acts 4:19) In other words: we should not obey you against the Will of God. In chapter 5, they said this again: “God must be obeyed rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) What happened as a result? Did the Apostles call for demonstrations against that authority? Did they call for a revolution to change the system? No. They got flogged, whipped, and they were ordered to speak no more in Christ’s Name. Oh, now, you may say, those authorities did not respect the human rights of those Apostles and they mistreated them unfairly, so the Apostles should call for their followers to make great protests and to ask for their rights as a Christian community… Did they do this? No… They went on their way from the presence of the council rejoicing they had been considered worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake, and every day in the temple and from house to house they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as Christ… Yes, and the same happened among the Gentiles: Caesars considered themselves lords and gods and asked their people to worship them and bow for them, but the Christians refused to do that; they had to refuse to give what is God’s to Caesar! The Apostles explained this very clearly; they said Caesar is not lord or god, but our Lord is One, Jesus Christ: “For and if indeed there are [those] called gods, whether in heaven or on earth, (as there are gods many, and lords many,) yet to us [there is] one God, the Father, of whom all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom [are] all things, and we by him.” (1 Corinthians 8:5-6) This cost them their lives… Note it well: they refused to disobey God for the human authorities, but they did not rebel against the authorities in order to obey God. They did not call for a change in politics or for a revolution against Caesar or against any ruler. They didn’t revolt against the authority; they were ready to die for Christ’s sake, obeying Him and NOT disobeying His commandment that says that they should be subject (and not revolt) to every human authority. We should do like them; the Church anywhere in the world should do like them. Even if we see social injustice and oppression and political corruption, we should not respond to that by revolting against the authorities. Yes, we should confront injustice, but we know that oppression and injustice are not the real problem; the real problem behind all that is sin, and we know that the solution for that is the Gospel. What is more oppressive and unfair than the system of slavery that was legal and part of the social system back then, in the times of the Apostles? Did you see any Apostle in the Bible calling anyone to revolt against that system and try to abolish slavery? No. Worldly people today misunderstand this and they wrongly think that this shows the Bible is not against slavery. That’s wrong! The Apostles did not want to make revolution against the human institution, against the political system. They knew that it is only when the hearts are liberated from slavery that the real change will happen. If the Apostles got preoccupied with all the unfairness in society and in politics, they would leave the Gospel and do politics… We should think like them. That’s how Jesus also thought; that’s the mind of Jesus who bore injustice with patience and did the right thing. He didn’t become a worldly king. Luke 9, verse 60 — Jesus talks to a man who wants to be His disciple and to follow Him wherever He goes — He tells him: “Suffer the dead to bury their own dead”. It is not the work of Christians to be preoccupied with worldly things in a worldly way; we leave it for the lost to do that, and we know that God is in control of their acts to make it all work to His good purpose, even if sometimes it looks like only bad things are happening and that all is chaos and out of control. It takes faith to trust in God’s Sovereign control. So it’s not our work to be preoccupied with worldly things. What is our part? Luke 9, verse 60 continues: “but do thou go and announce the kingdom of God.” Our part is the Kingdom of God, the Gospel; Christ is building His Kingdom in the hearts of people; that’s where the real change happens. It is not our concern to be worried about legislation. It is not our concern to be worried about what Mr. the president is doing in politics. It is our concern to live holy lives and call people to Christ. And our citizenship is in another world. We are only strangers and aliens here: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

In Titus 3, Paul continues and says that Christians are “to be ready for every good work”. When we obey the authorities and we submit ourselves to them by faith (i.e. for the Lord’s sake), that’s a good work. When by faith we pay our taxes, that’s a good work. When by faith we love our enemies and do good to them, that’s good work. When we are ready to do good even to those who are revolting against the authorities, yet without taking part in their evils done against the authorities, then that’s good work. We should not have partiality, and we should not disobey the authorities. Those in the opposition should see in our acts that we are not submitting to the authorities because we agree with their evil practices or because we are on the side of the authorities against them. We should not stand with a side against the other. We should do good to everyone. This is indeed “aggressive” goodness: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) One of the practical meanings of this is that you won’t say: “Well, I won’t oppose the government; I will just shut my mouth and pay my taxes, and yet in my heart I hate them…” No. You won’t just pay the taxes and be a good silent and passive citizen, but you will also do good to the people in authority (and also to all people). As we have seen above, one of the practical applications of this is to earnestly pray for those who are in authority.

Then Paul adds: “to speak evil of no one”. In other words, speaking evil is defamation. It’s when you make a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report about someone. It’s when you curse someone and you blaspheme. Christians should not do this about anyone, and especially about the person(s) in authority. In Exodus, God says: “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” (Exodus 22:28) Who doesn’t know that this evil speaking happens all the time in all kinds of protests? People shout against the ruler, and they say bad things about him. Christians should not do this. Yes, Christians will confront the evil deeds of a ruler; they will clearly say what is good and what is bad. But they will not blaspheme while doing that. They will be respectful. And they will not do that confrontation in a political or military way. And note it well: Paul says Christians should speak evil of no one, even if that’s their enemy. They will not make false and disrespectful statements about their enemy. We are “to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.” So making revolution against the government is the exact opposite of a Christian’s character, because a true Christian is peaceable and gentle and humble, never asserting his own rights, but seeking only God’s Glory. Christians don’t fight for their own rights; we don’t have any political agenda. 2 Timothy 2:25 says if we live like this, meekly, gently, God may use us to lead people to repentance and the knowledge of the truth. So we should do good to all men, because God desires all men to be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4), and that’s what we seek in ALL what we do, because we seek God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness as the Lord Jesus told us to do. We are not to become the enemies of the same people whom we seek to reach with the Gospel of God’s love and to win them for Christ.

So we will be in a biblical subjection to the authorities and we will continue in the virtues described above so that we do not mar our testimony, because that is the greater and compelling issue. In 1 Peter 2, Peter explains in verse 12 that we should keep our behavior excellent among the Gentiles or unbelievers, so that in the thing in which they slander us as evildoers, they may because of our good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. So this submission to the authorities is very important for our testimony in the world, as God will use that to reach the lost around us in the day of visitation. How we live in a pagan culture is crucial to proclaiming the good Message of the One who saved us, to demonstrating our transformed life. If we put our hand in the hands of those who rebel against the authorities, we give the exact opposite of the Gospel Message, and that’s not profitable for the people around us. Peter says we should submit to the authorities for the Lord’s sake (vv. 13-14). Peter even explains that we should submit to the authorities or masters, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:18) Even if they are not good or gentle, even if they are unreasonable, our response should be submission for the Lord’s sake. And Peter explains why: “For this [is] acceptable, if one, for conscience sake towards God, endure griefs, suffering unjustly. For what glory [is it], if sinning and being buffeted ye shall bear [it]? but if, doing good and suffering, ye shall bear [it], this is acceptable with God. For to this have ye been called; for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, [when] reviled, reviled not again; [when] suffering, threatened not; but gave [himself] over into the hands of him who judges righteously; who himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, in order that, being dead to sins, we may live to righteousness: by whose stripes ye have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:19-24) As you read, this is in our calling; this is what we have been called to: to be in submission like Christ and to suffer even injustice for the Lord’s sake, so that we may give naturally the true testimony, the true fruit of faith. We don’t do this as a heavy duty which should be done against our will or against our real desire. This is inherent to our very calling; this is how our nature is a new creature in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17); this is what we really want. Peter explains this in 1 Peter 2; he had already told us that this is our calling as a new people consecrated to God: “But ye [are] a chosen race, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a people for a possession, that ye might set forth the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness to his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9) This is our natural calling now that we are in Christ: to be a kingly priesthood that proclaims the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness to His wonderful light. We don’t just proclaim this by words, but in deeds. Our calling is not to change political systems or to impose some legislation in the world. And this indeed is what Paul also says in the next verses of the passage that we have quoted at the head of this article:

“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (vv. 3-5)

That word “for” at the beginning of these verses links what comes after it to the preceding verses with a link of causality. Why should we submit to the authorities? Because it’s inherent to our new nature as saved sinners to obey God and to be submitted to His ordinance. We are children of obedience. We are not children of disobedience anymore; He saved us! It is not in our new nature to rebel against the authorities, or to participate in worldly revolutions, or to hate people who are in authority or in the revolution, or to make partiality with this side or that, because we’re not foolish anymore, we’re not disobedient, we’re not deceived, we’re not serving fleshly lusts and pleasures, we’re not living in malice and envy, we’re not hateful and we’re not hating one another. God saved us by His mercy, and not because of anything good in us, and this means He made us pass from darkness to light, from unrighteousness to righteousness, from disobedience to obedience, from wickedness to holiness, from death to life. We are now obedient by nature, because we are dead and now Christ lives in us (cf. Galatians 2:20). It is not worldly ambitions and lusts and rights and gains that we are looking for, but what we want is to glorify God whether by death or life, by what we eat and what we drink, and even by the air that we breathe; we want to glorify Him Alone. That’s why we can’t do like those who are children of disobedience, because we’re not with them in the same camp anymore: God saved us in Christ.

Besides this, this word “for” also means that this is why we will be able to love those lost people and do good to them: because we were in their place before, and we know how blind they are. We don’t expect them to act in any way but as unbelievers, as blind people. We expect them to act as depraved people. Depraved people need God’s saving love! So how can we curse them and not love them? How can we not have compassion for them and not reach them with the Gospel of God’s love? Instead of expecting from our rulers or from the revolutionaries to do as God commands in the Bible, let us pray for their Salvation and let us do good to all of them and reach them with the Good News. We once were foolish, so now we know that a foolish man needs the wisdom of God, and not more foolishness from our side… We once were disobedient, so we now know that a disobedient person needs the obedient and repentant faith that God gives, and not more disobedience from our side… We once were deceived, so now we know they need the truth, and not more deception from our side… We once were serving various lusts and pleasures and we had worldly ambitions, so now we know that these people need the heavenly hope, and not more worldly and political ambitions from the side of the Christians. We once were hateful and we hated, and now we’re saved and we love, therefore we know that the sinner needs the love of God, and not more hatred from our side… We once did all those bad things in ignorance, so now we can understand that those who are lost can’t do anything about it, as they are lost and blind and ignorant. They need our compassion in Christ just as we needed it back then. If we are now different, that’s not because we are better than them, but because God saved us. It’s all God’s work, God’s Grace, not us. Understanding this will keep us away from self-righteousness in our reaction to the sinfulness of the lost around us. We experienced the kindness and saving love of God our Savior, and they need to experience that as well.

Brief, what are we to do in our country as Christians? What are we to do concerning any legislation or rebellion against that legislation? Don’t expect that those depraved people who are rebelling against the authorities will seek a godly system of laws. And don’t expect the present political system to work as God wants. When Pilate asked the people whom they choose, they chose Barabbas who was a murderer and a robber; depraved people will choose evil. And Pilate also released Barabbas! He could not do anything but that, because he also is depraved and wants to keep his position. But God fulfilled His eternal plan even through all that rebellion of depraved people, as Christ died for our sins through the rebellious decision of those depraved people, but God was in control to fulfill our Salvation (cf. Acts 2:23). If those people didn’t ask Pilate to release Barabbas, Christ would not die for our sins, and we would die in our sins! God controlled even their evil. So instead of putting our hands in the hands of the protestors who are rebelling against the authorities instituted by God, and thus doing sinful things on the way, we should pray for them, love them, do good to them, and reach them with the Good News. We should pray that God’s Will be done.

By James


This article was re-written on the occasion of the SOPA/PIPA protests. Adapted from To our brethren in Syria concerning the revolution.

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