Daniel 3 : 16-23
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
19 Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. 22 And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. 23 So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.
Romans 13 : 1-5
13 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. 3 For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. 5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.
Oftentimes people will ask me, with sincere hearts, Pastor John, how do we know when we should and when we should not defy government orders? How do we discern when we should submit to ungodly authority and when to resist? How do we know when we should apply the prescriptive text of Romans 13 that teaches us to submit to governmental authority, versus when we should apply the descriptive Scripture verses like Daniel 3 and many more that teach us to defy ungodly government authority?
As day by day, we accelerate into what we see in Scripture as an end times narrative unfolding in the world around us, I think this question becomes more and more pertinent to our everyday lives.
How do we respond, as the Church, in relationship to an increasingly more secular government? How do we stand firm in our witness to Jesus, while at the same time remaining honoring towards a government and culture that is hell bent on becoming more and more anti-christ in nature? As is typical, the answer is more obvious then it seems but requires we cultivate a heart motivated by God’s love, instead of the fear of man.
To fully understand what Paul was prescribing in Romans 13, we have to have a basic understanding of the culture and government surrounding the Church he was writing to. The Roman Empire was one the most violent, and paganistic empires to ever rule the ancient world. At the time of Paul’s writing this letter to the Church in Rome, it was especially brutal and oppressive toward what were considered rebellious sects. Which would be a mis-label that would cause much persecution from Rome toward believers in the coming years after Paul wrote this. The prescription of Romans 13 to the Church would ultimately help them to endure and prosper when the empire would formally begin to persecute them during the latter years of the reign of Nero.
Paul wrote this letter primarily to a Church that was facing persecution, not from Rome, but primarily from Jewish synagogue leaders. Though it’s my belief that the Holy Spirit was using Romans 13 to help the Church brace for the horrific persecution that would follow later from the Romans.
So let's go back to our original question. I think the descriptive scripture of Daniel 3 (and other similar passages ) revealed to Paul the prescriptive scripture of Romans 13. We see in Daniel 3, a similar paganistic, government, culture and the people of God or the Church trying to navigate their relationship to this government and its ungodly rulers. I will say it simply before I go any further, our allegiance to our government stops wherever we are required to dishonor our commitment to Jesus. Not when we are uncomfortable with what a law will cost us personally, or when our political preferences are trampled upon. We are submitted to our government until our government requires us to rebel against our relationship with Jesus. Even then, we don’t defy anti-christ law to gratify our own personal motives we defy in order to Glorify Jesus’s name through our laid down lives. This means that even when we defy an order to honor God, we don’t make ourselves enemy to the person we are defying. We stand before them in defiance not so that we can be rebellious, rather so that they and those who they are leading can see Jesus through us.
The best example of this is Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, openly defying the order to worship a false idol their government demanded they worship, but then immediately submitting the consequence of execution for not doing so. “ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
It’s abundantly clear that their heart motive is not to be rebellious or to fight against their governing authority. They are not starting an underground rebellion to overthrow their government. They are simply stating that they can proceed no further in what their government is asking of them because it violates their faith. It’s this position of humility that creates an opportunity for the three men to glorify Jesus through their lives. Through the whole engagement the three men maintain the fruit of humility before men while staying resolute in their faith to God . Juxtapose this concept with the idea of these three men forming a secretive rebellious sect trying to overthrow the Babylonian empire as was common in Rome during the time Paul wrote Romans 13. Imagine Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego secretly working through usurping, deceit and manipulation to overthrow Nebuchadnezzar. They would have been fighting his fire with a man-made fire of their own, and would have completely missed the opportunity to bring cultural reformation to Babylon through the sacrifice of their lives.
Being more angry and rebellious toward an earthly ruler who is angry and rebelling toward God’s leadership is a perpetuation of the same sin. Humbly giving our lives away is how we make space for God’s glory to manifest through any necessary defiance toward government authority.
Paul’s letter is also demonstrated through Jesus’s actions the night leading up to His crucifixion. He publicly surrendered Himself to a wicked government while simultaneously and publicly defying their attempts to diminish His authority and divinity. It was only through this position that He could fully demonstrate His glory to the world He came to save. It remains the same for us today. Our lives are a seed on this earth, we must plant ourselves faithfully into the dirty soil of this world and endure breaking to produce a harvest of righteousness. Sitting in isolation and anger in rebellion from the world we are called to, does nothing to change anything. I can disagree with my governmental leaders, I can be critical of their choices and leadership, I can publicly denounce their policy and choices, but at the end of the day my primary responsibility is to give my life away on behalf of Jesus so that my persecutors may see Christ through my life. More and more as our culture shifts further and further from the Christian influence it was founded upon, I believe it becomes more imperative that we as believers engage with our local governments and be willing to call out any unrighteousness that needs calling out. But we also must be willing to submit and give our lives away when the time comes so that Jesus could be fully glorified through us. My prayer is that the Lord would give us a spirit of humility and boldness like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. That we would never be afraid to speak the truth or to humbly give our lives away when the occasion calls.