A Promising Commandment5 min read

Last Fall, our confirmation class was studying the Fourth of the ten commandments. To refresh your memory, it’s the one about honoring your father and mother. Lutherans understand this to include not just parents but all God-given authorities in our lives because Martin Luther explained the fourth commandment in the Small Catechism like this: “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise or anger our parents and other authorities, but honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them.” One of my Cuban relatives, Rev. Dr. Alberto Garcia, told me that when he went to Cuba with cases of Bibles in Spanish, the authorities welcomed them because they had Luther’s Small Catechism printed in the back of each one and in this commandment (and in the Table of Duties) it calls for honoring the government.

Political Rebels or Holy Nation?

The fact is, as Christians we are not called to be political rebels, revolutionaries, or anarchists. The Bible plainly says that “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” and “that all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33–40). By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome at a time in which they were being ruled by an evil pagan emperor and said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1–2).

Likewise, St. Peter wrote to God’s “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) that was at the same time living under the same pagan Roman rule: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13–17). So Christians don’t really have a leg to stand on when we see the government as inherently the bad guy. Now granted, there may certainly be times when government oversteps its God-given authority and contradicts God’s law, and at those times we do in fact join with the early church in saying “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Jesus Came Teaching

When we look back at the history of our country and see it founded by godly people who based much of their morality on the Bible, we Christians don’t have any qualms about pledging allegiance to our flag and being patriotic lovers of our country and its government. But when we don’t like who is currently in power, and when we take serious issue with their policies, and get disgusted with their morality, then many of us find ourselves feeling rather rebellious and might strongly resent and resist the government telling us what to do or not to do. The more extreme will fly a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and might even begin to stockpile weapons. But Jesus never advocated rebellion against the government, for He knew that “rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23). Instead, Jesus instructed us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). While He did indeed call a political rebel to follow Him as one of His original twelve disciples (“Simon the Zealot” – see Matthew 10:4), Jesus came teaching, not leading a rebellion (see Matthew 26:55), and He never advocated an insurrection against the Roman government. Instead, when His enemies came to arrest Him in Gethsemane, He told His disciples to put away their swords (see Matthew 26:52). In love, and in obedience to the authority of His Heavenly Father, Jesus was willing to endure a terrible injustice at the hands of corrupt leaders so that through His innocent suffering He might thereby earn our forgiveness and eternal salvation.

Active Involvement

So just because the government mandates something that we see as an imposition on our day-to-day living, and that seems like an infringement on our personal rights or freedom, doesn’t mean that it is “the mark of the beast” (Revelation 19:20). For the government to overstep its God-given Fourth Commandment bounds, and thereby require our Christian rebellion, it would have to mandate something that requires us to engage in idolatrous worship, or some such thing that clearly violates the rest of God’s ten commandments or clear scriptural truth. As Americans, we have the special privilege of being citizens of a country that has a government (as Abraham Lincoln famously said) which is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” That means that we have a unique responsibility to be actively involved in our government by voting, protesting, running for office, and engaging in any and every area of public service. But Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians should in fact lead the way in honoring our government and praying for them fervently. The Fourth Commandment, after all, is the “first commandment with a promise—that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2–3). Honoring and obeying our government is indeed good for us.

Photo by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS

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About the Author

Rev. Dr. Paul R. Naumann currently serves as Senior Pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Portage, Mich. During his over thirty-five years of ministry, Naumann has been active in positions in the Circuit, District, and Synod, working especially in the areas of Youth Ministry, Outreach, Worship, Campus Ministry, and Small Group Ministry. He has been published in various periodicals and has been a speaker at a number of seminars and workshops.

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Rev. Robert Ben Appold - January 20, 2022

Good word and thanks for the message Pastor Naumann. It comes at a great time for me, as I have a member asking some of those types of questions you addressed.

Jennifer Connelly - January 20, 2022

Especially as a resident of Michigan, I am questioning the timing and tone of this article.
“For the government to overstep its God-given Fourth Commandment bounds, and thereby require our Christian rebellion, it would have to mandate something that requires us to engage in idolatrous worship, or some such thing that clearly violates the rest of God’s ten commandments or clear scriptural truth.”
Michigan’s governor has definitely violated God’s ten commandments through her executive orders and mandates — especially during these past two years. Her perpetration of fear and apparent love of money and power could certainly be considered idolatrous. The entire nation, even other countries, have watched Governor Whitmer worship the idol of her political party and her own career aspirations while she knowingly endangered our loved ones in nursing homes and closed our churches while promoting the killing of our unborn children — as well as tried to scare people to death, remove livelihoods, and make citizens more dependent on the government. Her agenda has pitted friends and family members against one another, she is divisive not a peaceable person. I will continue to pray for those in government authority, but I disagree that Christians shouldn’t be politically active to the point of rebellion. Too many have fallen into a false sense of security and have been steered towards wrong doing. For example: Christians need to ask themselves why abortion is legal up to a child’s natural birth. Why didn’t we stop that law 49 years ago? Unawareness? Inactivity? Lack of righteous outrage? Christians need to be aware that many politicians only have a career in mind, and not their constituent’s best interests. Just like we should be as the Bereans (listen and then research) when hearing God’s word preached, we should be actively aware of what our representatives are doing. This provides opportunity for educating our leaders, even while we pray for them to have wisdom in decision making. Of course, our Heavenly Father works all things out for our good — but He can use a political rebel sort of person for that as well, especially when politicians repeatedly refuse to use sound judgement and promote evil instead.

Michele - January 20, 2022

What a remarkable and timely message. Thank you Pastor Naumann! I suggest we all post this to our Facebook pages or other means to get the word out. This is what “the Church” can and does stands for in these difficult times. I would also add that the Bible is so much about putting others before yourself. That is useful to remember to help make decisions on whether or not you are thinking of others or yourself.

Cindy - January 20, 2022

That is amazing coming from someone living in America. Our ancestors revolted against the tyranny of an oppressive government. The present governments God is abortion and indoctrinating our children with pagan ideologies. It is times like these that require christians to stand up against the government. The Lutheran Church during WWII took a stand like yours. Do nothing. Be quiet.
It was the black robe clergy going town to town that led the people to stand up for their God given freedom in the revolution. If not for them we would still be part of England. “To ignore evil is to become accomplice to it.” MLK. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke. Let’s not let history repeat itself

Debby Fall - January 24, 2022

Response to Cindy and Jennifer from author, Rev. Dr. Paul R. Naumann:

As Bible believing Christians, we unfortunately often find ourselves just preaching to the choir, and in so doing it’s tempting for us to “pile on” to the already worked up disgust that many of us have with how sinful and misguided many other people are, including and especially the government.

Clearly the world has much from which they need to repent, and we should call them to it, and as Lutherans for Life puts it, be “Gospel motivated voices for Life.” But as we do, let us also remember that our Lord calls His disciples to take the log out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck in another’s. Among the logs in the eyes of many evangelical Christians is our overly critical, rebellious, and uncooperative spirit when it comes to God given authority over us that is not behaving godly. Their ungodliness is indeed a serious speck in their eye. But the fact is when we remove the log from our own eye, we can see much more clearly as we attempt to remove the offending specks in another’s. What’s more, whomever has something in their eye really would like it removed, but they’re going to be much more accepting of another’s attempts to remove it if it is done gently and carefully.