Throughout history the Bible along with secular history records men/women who willingly chose to live righteously, (ex. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Peter and John, Jesus, Paul) amidst unrighteous leaders and unrighteous governments. How were they able to stand tall, strong and brave? I often wonder if I could do the same? After reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography along with the examples from scripture I have come to some conclusions.
First some principles: In Romans 12 Paul gives some basic life principles or life guides as to how to conduct ourselves as we live side by side with our family, our neighbors, our co-workers. Paul furthers this thought in 13: 9 ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ which is the commandment Jesus gave the rich young ruler as well. When we have love for others all of our own personal ideas are tossed aside for we put others ahead of ourselves. It might be helpful to remember this simple equation to keep our priorities straight.
“J –Jesus, O-Others, Y-Yourself = JOY.”
I noted that Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit placed our obligations to government between the obligations to others, [Rom 12:9-21 and Rom 13:8-14], which he followed by admonitions to godly conduct. I don’t think I ever saw that before! Therefore, it behooves that we can surmise that our societal obligations to one another are the guide to how we live in an unrighteous world. When Jesus is first, others are second; we find that ourself falls nicely into the last spot with all humility. Jesus reminded us that when we render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars we can then render unto God the things that are God’s. (Matt 22:21). Thus know God’s Law and then know man’s law. When we follow God’s Law as the primary we can thus obey those that God has allowed and those that are not opposed to the supreme Law.
Our first mandate is to be the best citizen possible by obeying the governmental authorities over us for they are ordained and are in place by the will of God. The second one is found in Rom 12:19 “as much as possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.” The third one is found in 1Tim 2, again written by Paul, “I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority…(why) that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Lastly, when the government is opposed to the ways of God one must take a stand as Peter and John did in Acts 4 “Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide,” Down through history we have seen men who, like Peter and John as well as many others like Daniel, took a stand and God honored their stand. They chose God’s way over man’s way. The guiding principle is to obey the installed government until such time comes that it dishonors the Law of God given through Moses.
Now the reason why. The world is watching how we act, react, and respond. Our prayer must be that offered by the believers when Peter and John returned: “Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage.” Jesus is our prime example who when reviled did not revile in return. Paul and Jesus lived under monstrous rulers and yet they obeyed and encouraged us to do the same. We are then brought back to this Tit 2:12 “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” and how Romans began “The righteous will live by faith.”
My conclusion is this: May God grant us wisdom to live righteously this day and the days ahead.