It would be an experiment in independence, a nation comprised of free people-citizens who could speak, write, assemble, and worship without fear of a tyrant’s intervention. Prior to the American Revolution, the crown of England imprisoned, mutilated, exiled, and even killed men and women who voiced opposition, who belonged to minority political parties, or who dared to offer a dissenting view. But our Founding Fathers would choose a different path with these stunning words: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting of free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Independence, that prized possession for which some have paid the ultimate price, is mine to celebrate today.
But at times I find it easy to forget that freedom is a two-sided coin. It is enjoyable to celebrate the privileges that our freedom affords, but I find it more difficult and humbling to flip the coin over to responsibility and submission. Government is established and ordained of God to protect and to serve her people. Jesus Himself would model the behavior and attitude every leader, authority, and government SHOULD take, as Christ states that His mission on earth was “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” What a selfless example He set! A government exists to serve those governed, but sadly, history shows that power has a tendency to stray from that purpose and become oppressive. Then what?
When that happens, when the government fails and disappoints, when she does not live up to the role that she has been given, we are still instructed to live in obedience, to submit ourselves “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake…for so it the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Paul, who would be unjustly imprisoned and eventually martyred by a vicious Roman Empire bent on stamping out Christianity, would be inspired of God to remind us to “be subject unto the higher powers. For there is NO power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God…for he is the minister of God to thee for good…Render therefore…honour.” Render honor…ouch…that hits close to home for me. How often have I not rendered that honor, spoken out of turn and in anger, not prayed for that one placed in authority over me by God, finding it much easier and more convenient to criticize and complain instead.
But there are those occasions when government digresses to a point when we are asked to do something that is diametrically opposed to God’s Word, something in direct disobedience to God’s revelation to His children, and it is then that I “ought to obey God rather than men.” “Peter and the other apostles” would be commanded by the “council and the high priest” not to teach “in this name” of Jesus, commanded to forsake the Great Commission of Christ and to silence their witness. But they could not forsake the instructions of their Savior for the edicts of man. They “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” And God blessed!
Daniel would find himself in a similar situation, working in the highest levels of a pagan and unbelieving government, a government given authority by God over the Hebrew nation as punishment for Israel’s idolatry, disobedience, and apathy. This choice young man would rise to power and serve that government faithfully, demonstrating complete loyalty to any ruler placed over him…until that ruler ordered him to disobey God. In those moments, when a choice had to be made between the world and God, Daniel would choose God. He would not eat of the unclean meat; he would not cease his prayer to and worship of the one true God. And God would richly bless Daniel for his boldness and devotion.
As I celebrate independence in the midst of a divided, confused, and astray nation, I pray for the wisdom to know the difference, to recognize the battles that need to be fought, and to muster the humility to honor, obey, and submit when the line of God’s Word has not been crossed by those with whom I may vehemently disagree. May God grant me the understanding to be a godly child of the King, yet a good citizen of an earthly, flawed government. And may God find me humbly on my knees seeking His wisdom as I navigate confusing waters.
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