Taxes, Authority, and Persecution

Today is Tax day. Many people grumble about paying taxes. Some find relief in receiving a refund, others find despair in knowing that they owe more than they already paid. The month of April and especially this week tends to remind people of the aspects of government that most citizens like the least – giving to Caesar what is his.

Over the last several years I have had some opportunities to work with leaders in registered churches in China. These leaders desire to share Jesus without acting in opposition to their governing authorities. When I think about how they respect their authorities in the face of some volatile times, it causes me to really pause and reflect on the American Church.

Americans (even the Christians) may not like paying taxes, but we should be very grateful to live in a place where our beliefs allow for so much freedom. In recent times some of those freedoms have been challenged, but to date we have relatively little oversight.

In 1 Peter 2:13-16 the Bible states:

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Through my observations of our culture it seems that we (Christians) often want to find ways around being subject to our rulers. We want to know when it is acceptable to rebel; we want to know when we can fight against our rulers in the court of law. We want to speak in a manner that dishonors those elected to govern us (all across the political spectrum).

It is fine to disagree with our rulers. It is fine to share those disagreements, but in Peter’s mind, we are always to do so in a respectful manner.

Peter goes on to say:

14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them [anyone who persecutes you including those with authority over you], nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Christians should live in such a way that if they suffer at the hands of their government, it should be unjust suffering. If Christians are being punished for their poor behavior, it is of no value to the kingdom of God and it does nothing to further the cause of Christ. If Christians suffer for the cause of Christ let it be for living in obedience to God.

Part of living in obedience to God means respecting our authorities and treating them with honor.

If persecution for Christian beliefs really became a problem for Christians in America, I wonder how many Christians would suffer for reviling the government as opposed to suffering in submission to authority simply because the authority opposed a Christian value.

When Peter was arrested, he submitted to the authority of Rome and the authority of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish courts). He told his captors that he would honor Christ but that he would face any punishment they deemed appropriate for his obedience to the Lord. In fact, Peter was eventually put to death by his government. He even wrote 1 Peter in response to another church leader being put to death by governing authorities.

This week think about how you talk about your government. Think about how you talk about the current President and presidential hopeful’s. Think about how you respect local, state, and federal Law. Think about how the way you act politically speaks about your character as a follower of Christ. Do your actions foster a bridge to the Gospel or do they give people a reason to slander Christians as hateful or as hypocrites?