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On Obeying the Governing Authorities

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

(Romans 13:1-2)

So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

(John 19:10-11)

This morning, my wife and I realized that we have symptoms which overlap with Coronavirus. She has a mild sore throat and I have a nagging cough. We actually think it’s more a result of our allergies to the live oak pollen that’s been falling nonstop for weeks. (Thank God for the rain last night). Nevertheless, it means that we are having to change our plans for the live service scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10:30am. (Here is the link to the channel: Woodland Church NOLA.) A couple of healthy folks will lead worship live from the sanctuary, but I will deliver a pre-recorded sermon from home.

Some of you may see this as a wise response while others will feel like it’s an overabundance of caution, even silly. But actually, your personal judgment on the matter is not relevant. And neither is mine. And the reason is because it does not break God’s law to stay at home when you are feeling sick.

Governors of our society (council members, mayors, etc.) derive their authority from God. This is more or less explicit depending on which government counts you as one of its citizens or subjects. But the teaching of Scripture is rather clear. “There is no authority except from God,” Paul writes in Romans 13. Even Jesus said as much during his (false) trial. “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). All governing authorities find their ultimate roots in the authority of God. And of course, we have to remember that the Roman government would be judged dictatorial by our modern standards.

It’s a mandatory caveat to say that there are certain grounds for disobeying the governing authorities. You might point to Moses or Daniel for resistance to a “secular” government, or you might look to Peter defiantly stating, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) for a “religious” example. True enough.

But if we’re not careful, we’ll turn legitimate exceptions into grounds for rule-breaking, substituting our own personal authority for the God-instituted authority of our local and national governing bodies. Right now, they’ve asked me to stay home. Do I have legitimate grounds to disobey?

I wonder how many of you have already begun to protest in your mind as you read this. Perhaps you’re shrugging it off, or feeling like I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But let me ask you—and be honest—how much of it is simply because we just don’t like authority, period? Remember, rebellion is in our nature. More than that, all sources of authority have lost ground in our current culture. Are you more influenced by that than you might care to admit?

Let’s walk through it again: Are legitimate governing authorities instituted by God? Yes, they are. Am I as a follower of Jesus under obligation to obey the governing authorities so long as it does not require disobeying God? Yes, I am. Does it break God’s law to stay home? No, it does not. Therefore, you should stay home. In fact, not to do so is to disobey God.

And I hope you can see the irony to all of this. I want to go to the church and do the live service. I think it would be a huge benefit to our people for their pastor to lead them in worship in real time. More than that, how much would you benefit from me stopping by, visiting with you, and praying with you. I want to do that. I'm disappointed that I can't. It all feels like it's impeding ministry and threatening unity.

But in this whole context, I am compelled to take God at his word, and to heed my mayor's call to stay at home. I trust that God in his mysterious ways will make something out of all of this. Our hope is still in him.

Don’t forget to be in prayer for one another. And pray for your pastor and his family, too. We need it.

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