During the days of the former USSR, members of a little church in southern Moldova had always wanted their own church building. But they were living in Soviet-occupied territory under a government that had little sympathy for Christianity.
These church members were determined. With much prayer, they took all the necessary steps to obtain permission for purchasing the land and building the church.
At last, permission was granted! They wasted no time in beginning construction, and soon, the members were worshiping inside, even before the interior had been finished.
But when officials in Moscow found out about the church, they ordered it to be closed. Local officials invited the pastor to a meeting and requested him to bring the paperwork and building permits with him. Sensing that he was in danger of losing the church, the pastor contacted the members who wasted no time in coming up with a plan. The women and children would move into the church to prevent the government from taking it and using it for storage. “If the government wanted their church, it would have to remove them first!” reminisced one of the group’s former leaders.
After the women and children had lived in the church for a month, the police arrested them and loaded them into a vehicle. What will happen to us now? Will we be killed? the women wondered. “The Communists want to kill us!” they began to scream out the windows of the vehicle. Three miles outside the city there were unloaded and abandoned in the forest and forced to walk home. Meanwhile, the government locked the church and set up guards around it to prevent anyone from going inside.
But the church members would not be deterred. They made plans to return to the church and hold a Sabbath worship service in the church’s yard, even if they could not enter inside.
As the members arrived that morning, the police warned them, “Do not make trouble; do not enter the church.” Soon, more police arrived on the scene, concerned about what might happen.
But the members were not there to cause a riot. Instead, they began singing, praying, and reciting Scripture. Onlookers gathered to watch the scene. Though some of them urged the police to destroy the church, other neighbors joined the Christians in defense of their church. That afternoon, 500 more Christians from neighboring villages came to support the small congregation.
As a result of the courage of these Christians, the public prosecutor chose to investigate the church’s case and gave the members opportunity to speak. Eventually, the government removed its items from the church, and the members were once again able to worship in their own building—all because they were willing to take a stand.
According to the Bible, how should God’s people stand for what is right as well as their own rights? What is the balance between standing for truth and “being subject to the higher powers”?
Ivan Gumenyuk, “Surrounded by Soldiers,” Mission, April–June 1995.
1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
Just because you and I have the right to do something—whether it be a moral, constitutional, or personal right—does not mean that it will be the most beneficial in our relationships with others or in our attempts to lead others to a true knowledge of God.
2. What mindset are we called to have?
Philippians 2:4–8 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
3. What is the purpose of showing humility and acting in a non-offensive manner when relating to others?
1 Corinthians 10:32–33 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
Paul avoided offending others when doing so did not conflict with obedience to God. His goal was that as many as possible would come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Here is a good litmus test for whether or not we should stand for a particular matter: Will taking this stand be a means of drawing people to Christ?
4. What rights must we always be willing to stand for?
Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
The Bible clearly calls God’s people to stand for justice for the oppressed and the defenseless. It’s about having the mindset of Jesus that looks out for the interests of others.
Matthew 22:18–21 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Shew Me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him a penny. And He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.
Jesus’ wise response emphasized the balance between obeying ruling authorities and obeying God.
2. How are we to relate to earthly governing authorities?
Romans 13:1, 6, 7 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God…. For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
Titus 3:1, 2 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
Paul echoed the principle laid down by Jesus in Matthew 22. Despite living under a corrupt Roman empire, he encouraged believers to obey their governing authorities, fulfilling civil requirements as long as they did not conflict with the duty to obey God.
3. How are we to relate to parental authority, even that of godly parents?
Ephesians 6:1, 2 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.
God calls us to obey our parents in the Lord. If our parents ask us to do something contrary to God’s will and call for our lives, we cannot conscientiously obey them. We can still respect them, but we won’t be able to follow their instructions.
Acts 5:27–29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? And, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
2. Daniel, a prophet of God, was living in the kingdom of Persia when the king decreed that every person in the kingdom could pray only to the king for 30 days on penalty of death. (Read Daniel 6 for the whole story.) What report was brought to the king in regard to Daniel?
Daniel 6:13 Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day.
In choosing to honor and serve God above an earthly king, Daniel was made to seem like a lawbreaker.
3. How did Daniel view his actions in this situation?
Daniel 6:21, 22 Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before Him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.
Daniel was an upright citizen who respected the king in every way that he could. In choosing to honor the King of the universe above an earthly king when the duties conflicted, he knew he was innocent in the eyes of God.
4. What will God’s faithful people in the last days be known for?
Revelation 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
Though God’s last-day people will be placed in a situation where they will be forced to decide between honoring an earthly ruler or the God of heaven (Revelation 13:8), the faith of Jesus will enable them to remain true to God and His commandments.
The Bible calls us to have an attitude of respectful submission toward government while also standing firmly in our duty to obey God and defend fellow humans. Sometimes, this may involve standing for our rights, while at other times we may be called to lay down personal liberties. Will you ask God to give you the mind of Christ to discern the biblical balance and remain faithful to Him above all else?