What Does the Bible Say About Civil Disobedience?

What Does the Bible Say About Civil Disobedience?

In our study of 1 Peter, chapter 2 has some very controversial commands to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” including godless government. This raises the question of what does the Bible say about civil disobedience?

As a general rule, the following is a summary of the heart of what 1 Peter 2 is teaching us:

We are to submit to authority unless it:

1) forbids us from doing what God commands
2) commands us to do what God forbids 

Over everyone and everything, including ever structure and leader, is God’s perfect Kingdom. God’s Kingdom is orderly with authority. Satan’s counterfeit kingdom is one of rebellion with disorder and anarchy. Anarchy tears down authority and laws so there is demonic lawlessness. Godly civil disobedience is the opposite of anarchy in that it appeals to God’s highest laws for order.

In the Old Testament there are many examples of godly civil disobedience. The midwives who refused the governmental order to murder babies are an example (Exodus 1:17). When Daniel and his friends would not eat the king’s food, which was a counterfeit communion to a demon-god, that was godly civil disobedience. The same is true when his friends refused to bow down and worship a graven image of the king of Babylon. And, when told to stop praying to his God or be sentenced to death, Daniel prayed publicly.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon from jail. Peter is also an interesting case study in ungodly and godly civil disobedience.

At the arrest of Jesus, Peter took a sword and chopped a soldier’s ear off. Peter was rebuked by Jesus for ungodly civil disobedience, and Jesus then healed the soldier arresting Him (Luke 22:47-51). This example should give everyone pause who gets worked up and runs to action as not every act of disobedience is approved of by Jesus Christ, even if it is done in His name and seemingly done to honor Him.

Some years later, Peter and the other Apostles were commanded to not preach about Jesus, were arrested and beaten. They were told not to preach Jesus, but they decided that they had to obey God rather than man. Upon being released, they rejoiced that they were treated like Jesus and suffered for Jesus and kept preaching the gospel as an act of civil disobedience (Acts 5:27-42). Two important observations can be made here. One, the issue was people getting saved through the preaching of the gospel and that issue is the most important. Two, Peter and the other Apostles were not benefitting from their disobedience, they were seeking to benefit others and in this way they were unselfish. When we are off the issue of the gospel, or just fighting for our own benefit, it should clue us in that we may not be practicing disobedience that is godly. Conversely, when the issue is people getting saved by meeting Jesus and it comes at a real cost to us to bring the gospel of forgiveness of sin, then the odds are better that our cause is just in the sight of God.

To download the free e-book ODD LIFE: Good God which is a study in 1 Peter for individuals, groups, and families from Pastor Mark click HERE. To listen to Pastor Mark’s 9 sermons on 1 Peter preached in the summer of 2020, click HERE. These and other resources are made possible by our ministry partners who support Real Faith as a Bible teaching ministry of Mark Driscoll Ministries to whom we say THANK YOU! 

Mark Driscoll
[email protected]

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