Christ teaching illustrates submission to lawful authority despite possible grounds for objection. To understand, we discuss examples from the bible to illustrate choosing battles to avoid to focus effort better. In one example, Jesus chose to pay the temple tax despite recognizing grounds for objection based on unfair implementation of the tax law. In another, Paul recommended circumcision of Timothy despite an existing church ruling that the circumcision was not necessary. In a third, David postponed punishment of two subordinates for offenses they committed during his reign but proclaimed a severe sentence against them as he passed their cases to his successor Solomon. He chose to avoid potential problems of punishing them at the time of their offense to focus instead on his overall mission.
We conclude the bible study series on submission to lawful authority, whereby we seek understanding of Christ interactions regarding the temple tax. We recall that he chose to pay the tax despite recognizing possible grounds for objection. In the first two sessions, we discussed the basis for submission to authority (Christ Teaches Submission to Lawful Authority) and the requirement for conforming to due process in the event of an objection (Submission to Lawful Authority—Due Process for Objections). The current session focuses on understanding that an objection could be better not raised even if justified. We discuss examples from the bible to illustrate choosing battles to avoid in order to focus effort better.
The decision on whether to avoid or fight a battle could be made by categorizing potential battles based on how they might affect the overall mission. Avoid a battle if the objective of the overall mission can be accomplished without fighting the battle and the message of the mission would not be diluted by avoiding the battle. In contrast, fight a battle if the battle is necessary to accomplish the objective of the overall mission.
Christ interactions regarding the temple-tax law provide an example based on his choosing to pay the tax despite recognizing potential grounds for an objection regarding the implementation of the law [Matthew 17:27]: “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” He chose to pay the tax “so that we may not cause offense.” By paying the tax, he avoided potential problems that could arise with raising an objection against the tax law. There could be future opportunities to address the fairness of the tax collection.
The bible provides several other examples of choosing to avoid a battle in order to conserve effort. In one example, Paul recommended that Timothy be circumcised to join the team for the 2nd Missionary Journey, despite an existing ruling of the Jerusalem church that such circumcision was not necessary. He chose to circumcise Timothy to avoid potential controversy regarding his circumcision.
In another example, David postponed punishment of Shimei and Joab for offenses they committed during his reign. However, he later proclaimed a severe sentence against each of them during his handover to Solomon. He did not punish them at the time of their offense to avoid potential problems that could have arisen from punishing them. He chose to avoid the battles to focus effort on his overall mission.
Christ interactions regarding the temple tax convey a message of submission to lawful authority as an aspect of human relationship with God. He chose to pay the tax despite potential grounds for objection. Submission to authority is God’s mandate conveyed through Prophet Samuel’s interactions with the people of Israel, when God delegated to government the responsibility to reign over the people and authority to execute the responsibility. Paul summarized the relationship in his letter to Romans—Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
This bible study begins a three-part series on understanding human interactions with lawful authority. We discuss Christ interactions regarding the temple tax to understand the basis for submission to lawful authority and assessing potential grounds for objection. We see that he chose to pay the tax despite recognizing potential grounds for objection. We begin the series with a discussion of the basis for submission to lawful authority.
We see that submission to lawful authority is rooted in God’s mandate conveyed through interactions between Prophet Samuel and the people of Israel, when God approved a government based on kingship for Israel. He delegated to government the responsibility to reign over the people and authority to execute the responsibility: “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” [1 Samuel 8:9].
As we discuss in a previous bible study under Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King, the responsibility and authority that God delegated to government based on the interactions include the authority to collect taxes and other revenue, raise military and security forces, own landed property, and represent the nation among other nations.
To understand the basis for submission to authority, we discuss Christ interactions regarding the temple tax and the interactions between Samuel and the people of Israel regarding their demand for a government led by king. The second session in the series will discuss respect for due process in any event of raising objections against lawful authority. The third session will discuss submission to authority despite grounds for objection: to emphasize the principle of choosing battles to avoid in order to direct effort to more fruitful objectives.
Samuel Addresses Israel at Inauguration of King Saul
Prophet Samuel explained the principle of separation of state and worship in his formal address at the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel. He explained God delegated state functions and authority to government but expects every individual to relate to him directly based on the covenant. He will be God to every person that lives up to the covenant but will turn his back against those that don’t. Government is not an intermediary and does not have authority to regulate worship.
Samuel spoke to Israel at the inauguration of King Saul to explain their relationship with God in the new era that includes “a king as your leader” [1 Samuel 12:1]. He explained that hitherto God had been both God and king to them but from now on has delegated to the king the state functions and authority to perform the functions (see previous bible study under Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King). However, he remains their God and holds everyone by covenant to worship and serve him. He will be God to those that “fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart” [1 Samuel 12:24] but will turn his back to those that “persist in doing evil.” Every person including the king is individually responsible to live up to the covenant. Thus, every person has opportunity to relate to God directly. The government (king, in this case) is responsible for state functions but is not an intermediary and does not have authority in the people’s relationship with God.
Thus, Samuel defined the principle of separation of state and worship. The government has responsibility for state functions and authority to perform the functions but does not have authority to regulate worship. Instead, every person is individually responsible and free to choose a relationship with God based on his covenant (conditional promise) to be God to those that worship and serve him. Also, Samuel used the occasion to illustrate accountability of state leadership to the people by inviting public examination of his record of service before God, the new king, and all people [1 Samuel 12:3]: “Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
We discuss Samuel’s formal handover of state functions to Saul and declaration of the principle of separation of state and worship. He performed both functions as part of his formal address during the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel.
Based on Samuel’s interactions with Israel regarding demand for a king, we understand the authority of government comes from God and is exercised on behalf of the people to fulfill government responsibilities. The authority includes collecting taxes, raising military and security services, redefining use for landed property, and representing the people in international affairs. The interactions define general principles for relationships between a people and their government.
We begin a bible study series on The King and the People focused on understanding God’s purpose for relationships between people and their government. The study will be based on information described in the bible, particularly several messages that God sent to Israel regarding interactions with their rulers. We pray for understanding the messages to potentially contribute toward reducing the apparent gap in expectation between people and governments in several parts of the world. What should governments expect of the people and what should the people expect of their government? We believe the bible provides answers to these questions in enough details to guide our everyday interactions as government leaders or recipients of government leadership.
The study begins with Prophet Samuel’s interactions with the people of Israel in responding to the people’s demand for a king. At the time, Samuel was spiritual leader and judge over Israel: he guided them through interactions with God and in all matters requiring a leader. However, the people of Israel became increasingly dissatisfied with their form of leadership as time approached for a leadership transition. They asked Samuel to appoint a king for them, with the expectation that their dissatisfaction with the current form of leadership will be resolved through the appointment of a king: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” [1 Samuel 8:5].
Samuel prayed about their demand and received God’s direction to accept the demand: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you …” [1 Samuel 8:7]. Furthermore, God directed him to explain to the people that the leadership they demanded will come with certain authority and expectations: “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” [1 Samuel 8:9]. He directed Samuel to accept the people’s demand for a king and their expectations of the king that they conveyed through the demand. Additionally, Samuel would explain to the people that the form of government they demanded will come with expectations and authority to compel them to fulfill the expectations.
Therefore, we discuss Samuel’s interactions with Israel in these events to understand how the interactions define government responsibilities to the people and people’s responsibilities to government. Furthermore, we discuss the source of government authority as defined through the events. Information from the events indicate God delegating authority to government to provide a range of services for and on behalf of the people, obtain resources from the people to support the services, and interact with the people according to rules determined by them through the government.
GODLINESS OPENS OPPORTUNITIES Ruth’s interactions with the community during her first season in Bethlehem highlight humility, politeness, respect for authority, sensitivity to needs around her, and persistent effort at contributing what she could to alleviate the needs. The interactions opened opportunities for her to step into the life for which she is known today. As we discuss in a subsequent bible study, the events that happened during this time led to Ruth marrying Boaz, becoming the grandmother of David, therefore, a grandparent in the lineage of Christ. Ruth’s Godliness opened opportunities for fulfillment of a grand blessing in her life.
This installment of our study series on Ruth focuses on events that occurred during the first season after her arrival in Bethlehem. Her interactions with mother-in-law Naomi and with family relative Boaz highlight the value of humility, politeness, respect for authority, sensitivity to needs around her, commitment to doing what she could to alleviate the needs, and persistent diligence at accomplishing her task.
Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem during barley harvest. Having been away for a long time, they likely faced economic hardship because they did not have any farm to harvest. Ruth recognized their hardship and determined to do what she could to alleviate the condition. With the approval of her mother-in-law, she decided to go gleaning (i.e., picking grains leftover from regular harvesting) in any farm that would accept her. She was accepted at the first farm she applied, which happened to belong to Boaz, a close relative of Naomi’s husband. Boaz did not only welcome her in his farm but also offered her protection and preferential gleaning access, because of her humility, politeness, positive work habbit (diligence and persistent effort), and his prior knowledge of her positive interactions with Naomi.
During trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea after his return from Ephesus, Paul demonstrated respect for Jewish laws and custom and for constituted authority. Also, he invoked his civil rights several times to win protection under the law.
BASIS FOR RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY As Paul explained in his letter to the Romans several years later [Romans 13:1–7], and Peter in his epistle [1 Peter 2:13-18], respect for authority is part of God’s mandate and a key aspect of Christian responsibilities to society. People in authority positions (such as president or prime minister, king or queen, governor, clergy, teacher, supervisor, parents, or any person in a position of leadership) help to preserve and propagate natural order and are God’s channels for protecting the good elements of society from the bad. Therefore, we honor God when we respect human authorities.
TWO-PART BIBLE STUDY In this two-part bible study, we discuss Paul’s trial in Jerusalem and Caesarea and subsequent transfer to Rome, to highlight interactions with his Jewish accusers and the Roman authorities and his invoking his rights of citizenship as part of his defense. The current discussion builds on the discussion of his Jerusalem trials in Part 1. Here, we discuss the trials in Caesarea and his transfer to Rome, where he preached the gospel as he did previously in Jerusalem, thereby fulfilling God’s promise to him regarding the trials.
RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY Respect for human authority is part of God’s mandate and a key aspect of the civil responsibilities of a Christian. As Apostles Peter [1 Peter 2:13–18] and Paul [Romans 13:1–7] explain, people in authority position; such as president or prime minister, king or queen, governor, clergy, teacher, supervisor, parents, or any person in a leadership position; have been assigned rights and responsibilities to preserve and propagate one or more aspects of natural order and to protect the good elements of society from the bad. Every authority has been established by God to serve one or more such purpose. Therefore, respect and honor for authority and for laws and customs that define or establish the authority is part of our responsibilities to society.
TWO-PART BIBLE STUDY This is a two-part study of Paul’s civil trials and defense after his return to Jerusalem from sojourn in Ephesus. The trials started in Jerusalem, continued in Caesarea, and eventually took him to Rome. During the trials, Paul demonstrated his respect for authority and invoked civil rights when necessary to support his defense. In Part 1 of the study, we look at his interactions with the authority and his accusers in Jerusalem. Part 2 discusses the trials in Caesarea and Paul’s transfer to Rome thereafter.
INVOCATION OF CIVIL RIGHTS At several points in the trial, Paul invoked his civil rights while respecting the authority and due process to influence the trial proceedings. In one remarkable example, his invocation of civil rights and respect for due process and the authority of Emperor Caesar triggered a chain of events that led to fulfilling God’s promise to him that he will proclaim the gospel in Rome as he did in Jerusalem. Going to Rome not only provided him an opportunity to extend his ministry there but also ended the trial that started in Jerusalem. Therefore, one can say that his respect for civil rights and responsibilities placed him in position to work in alliance with God.
Most people likely will not seek to overturn a will of God that is identified specifically and clear to the human eye. But he often works differently, identifying his will to us through basic principles of human interaction that are discussed in various ways in the bible. For example, if you want something so much that you are willing to disregard parental or other established authority or procedure in order to satisfy your desire, you need to stop and think again because you could be seeking to overturn the will of God. He defined our relationship with parental authority through the 5th commandment [Exodus 20:12] and other established authority through Paul’s letter to the Romans [Romans 13:1–7]. Established procedures, at times referred to as due process, define how we should interact with the authority, such that circumventing an established procedure invariably implies disrespecting the authority.
In this study we will learn that human beings are endowed with unlimited authority under God to seek understanding of the nature of things and use the understanding to manage relationships and provide for the needs of the earth and its inhabitants. The authority implies collective and individual rights and responsibilities regarding relationships among people and between people and other living and non-living inhabitants of the earth.