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What perspective should Christians have towards human authority? Should believers pay taxes? The followers of Jesus wondered these very things in the first century. Let’s look at what the Bible says about officials and other leaders.
A. The Lord ordains all authority.
Leaders rise to power only through the will of God. Daniel 2:21 says that the Lord “changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings.” Read Daniel 5:1-31.
* What did both Nebuchadnezzar and his son Belshazzar have in common before God punished them?
* How did king Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude change after his mind was restored to him?
* Why do you think God’s judgment was more severe on Belshazzar than on his father?
We frequently attribute a political candidate’s success to his or her ambition, education, campaign strategy, popularity, or financial backing. But no one is placed in public office apart from the will of God. Sometimes the Lord deliberately selects a person to accomplish His purposes. Other times, His permissive will grants people the leader they demand.
Israel insisted on having an earthly king. Read the story in 1 Samuel 8:4-20.
* What were some of the burdens a king would place on the people?
There will always be a cost associated with demanding the leader of our choice.
B. What respect is due to human authority?
Given that leaders don’t always honor God with their choices, should Christians still respect their position of authority? In general, yes. Jesus Himself indicated that believers should be subject to secular authorities.
* Read Matthew 22:17-22. When the Jewish leaders tried to trick Jesus into sounding as if He was rebelling against Rome, how did He answer them?
* What does this indicate about whether or not believers should pay taxes?
The apostle Paul also affirmed the authority of the Roman government—a totalitarian dictatorship that often persecuted Christians and Jews.
* Read Romans 13:1-7. For what reasons are we to be in subjection to secular authorities (vv. 1-5)?
* According to verses 5-7, why should we pay taxes?
This passage includes more than just the governmental authorities; it can be expanded to include all those in leadership over us.
* List a few of the authorities over you, whether at home, work, or school.
* According to Romans 13:7, what do you owe these people?
However, there are times when believers must disobey human authority. If the law of the land contradicts clear biblical teaching, we are to obey God’s Word instead.
* Explain why the apostles chose not to follow the instructions of the Jewish religious leaders in Acts 5:27-29.
* List a few circumstances under which you would be justified in choosing to disobey governmental or other human authority in order to obey God.
C. Leaders are accountable to God.
When you find yourselves subject to ungodly leaders, remember that everyone—including those in positions of authority—will one day answer to God (Rom 14:11-12).
* What are some reasons why we should we submit to leadership within the body of Christ
* When anyone—including a leader––becomes prideful and arrogant, what does the Bible predict will result (Prov. 29:23)?
God rewards authority figures who humbly look to Him for strength, guidance, and wisdom. Those who are overconfident He will eventually humble and punish––if not in this life, then at the judgment.
D. We are called to pray for leaders.
Read 1 Timothy 2:1-3.
* How does Paul instruct Timothy to speak to God about authorities?
* What will be the result?
Here are some suggestions on how to intercede for elected officials. You can pray that they would:
1. Recognize their personal sinfulness and need for the cleansing power of Jesus Christ, if they aren’t already saved.
2. Become aware of their inadequacy for the tasks before them, and pray for God’s wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and courage.
3. Reject all counsel that violates the spiritual principles of Scripture, and be willing to trust divine guidance.
4. Resist the pressure of those who would mislead them or tempt them to violate their consciences and the will of God.
5. Work to reverse the cultural trends of humanism, which deifies man and dethrones God.
6. Ready themselves to abandon their political careers and personal ambitions if this is in the best interest of our country.
7. Rely upon the Word of God and prayer as their primary sources of strength and success.
8. Maintain dignity, honor, trustworthiness, and righteousness in their offices.
9. Strive to be good examples to the people of this land.
10. Remember that while they are in office, they are accountable to God for their attitudes, actions, and motives.
For a printable version of these prayer points, click here.
* Do you faithfully pray for government officials and others in leadership? If not, what hinders you?
Closing: Whether we approve of their decisions or not, the authorities in our lives have been appointed by God. As long as their commands do not violate scriptural principles or our conscience, we have a responsibility to obey them. And no matter what, we are always called to honor and pray for our leaders.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the privilege of lifting up those in authority over me. Convict me when I criticize and complain instead of taking my concerns to You in prayer. Make me into a prayer warrior for this nation, so that believers may practice their faith peacefully. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.