Today will be sermon number 33 in my series on the Book of Proverbs.  Two weeks ago we discussed three different Proverbs and concluded with a proverb from chapter 28 where Solomon deals with the issue of working hard to insure an abundance of food as opposed to chasing after fantasies which generally gets you nowhere and can lead to poverty.  Today I want to discuss a set of Proverbs that all deal with the results obtained from the use of authority and power in a righteous manner versus a wicked manner.

       Proverbs 28:28: When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

       Proverbs 28:12: When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.

       Proverbs 11:10:  When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

       Proverbs 29:2: When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

       Throughout human history wicked rulership has produced human misery while righteous rulership has produced joy and contentment. While these Proverbs may be relating to wicked versus righteous government, in principle they apply to any and all wicked versus righteous behavior and the response such behavior engenders.

       When a man or women comes into a position of authority, that authority generally includes a certain level of power over other individuals.  This is true of the boss you may work for all the way up to the leader of the country you live in.  If the power that comes with having authority over others is used in a wicked manner, such wicked use of power can make life difficult and virtually unbearable for those who come under such authority. 

       We have all experienced or at least observed the wicked use of power.  We have all cringed at the wicked use of power and probably have been affected by it at some point in our lives.  We ourselves may at times have been personally guilty of misusing the power that comes with authority we have been given.

       I could give many examples of the misuse of power by those in authority.  Power is misused in all areas of life.  It’s misused in the home, in the workplace, in the world of entertainment, in business, in religion and certainly misused in the administration of government.  

       For example, we all understand that a police officer has authority to exercise power in the enforcement of law.  Police are expected to exercise their power in a just and righteous manner.  When this doesn’t happen, it breeds mistrust, resentment and often violence. It virtually makes people want to go and hide as the Proverb’s under consideration suggest. One example of police misuse of power is when a police officer plants evidence to falsely accuse someone of a crime.  This is a wicked use of power.

       Just recently on the evening news was a report where a video camera captured a police officer planting a bag of cocaine in a person’s car and then accusing the person of cocaine possession. That is a wicked use of power. 

       A wicked person rising to power can occur in any number of ways.  A criminal committing an armed robbery is a wicked person who momentarily rises to power by the use of a deadly weapon.  Several weeks ago, our evening employee Debbie was robbed at gun point at our store.  The criminal who robbed our store did so by using the power of a loaded gun.  It may have been a temporary power but it created a traumatic experience for our employee.

       As it turns out, this was a very stupid criminal. He left his fingerprints all over the counter which the police were able to easily lift off the counter.  They quickly found the prints matched the prints of a felon who had committed around seven other robberies in recent days.  The police caught up with the guy and he is in jail as we speak.  Unfortunately he got away with around $250.00 from our store which we probably won’t see again.  Our insurance has a $ 500.00 deductable.  But, at least one more criminal is off the street and this guy is facing a long prison sentence. 

       Throughout human history there have been countless rulers who have risen to power and used such power to oppress those under their control.  Because such rulers often are backed by military power, there is little one can do to correct the situation.  In many cases, all one can do is bear the misuse of power the best one can or go into hiding as the Proverbs say.  When such rulers are overthrown and replaced with rulers having at least some semblance of righteous rule, there is rejoicing as the Proverbs points out.

       A righteous ruler over a nation is one who does all he can to ensure that all those under his jurisdiction are given opportunity to experience life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness within the context of just law and just enforcement of law.  When rulers rule in this manner, there usually is reasonable peace and tranquility within a society.  When there is an absence of such rule, the people suffer.  In most cases the people suffer in relative silence because they simply don’t have the power to successfully overthrow corrupt leadership. 

       Where an attempt is made to overthrow wicked leadership, such attempt is often squashed by the superior power of the ruling authority.  Present day Syria is a good example of this.  The Syrian people have been oppressed by the current government authority for a number of years.  Recently they began to rise up against this authority only to be severely beaten down by their leader and his armies resulting in a great deal of suffering. Sometimes such uprisings are successful but often they result in new rulership oppressing the people as much or more than the former rulership. 

       The bottom line of all this is that there will never be peace and tranquility between rulers and the ruled unless and until there is recognition by both sides of the ruling authority of the God of the universe.  The God we worship has provided the human race with rules of behavior that if followed insure a righteous relationship between rulers and the ruled.  It is the failure of humanity to submit to and comply with these divine ordained rules of behavior that has created the adversarial relationship that often exists between rulers and the ruled.

       We often see great preoccupation with the attainment of what are called civil rights.  We hear little about civil responsibilities.   When I read through the Scriptures I see very little about civil rights.  What I do see is a great emphasis on civil responsibilities.  I see Jesus teaching us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I see Paul teaching we are to be humble, patience, kind, gentle and self controlled. I see Paul teaching we are to avoid sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions and factions

       These are all civil responsibilities. Any civil rights we humans may have are derived from the practice of civil responsibilities.  For example, when we practice the responsibility of the Golden Rule we automatically uphold what is considered the civil right to be treated with respect, honesty, equality and justly.  Ordering our lives in accordance with the behavioral regulations God has ordained for us automatically leads to upholding civil rights.

       In the Proverbs under consideration, Solomon states the obvious in showing that people are distraught when under the thumb of wicked rulers and rejoice when under the authority of righteous rulers,  While we may not be able to do a whole lot to change rulership at times, we can learn from these Proverbs that when we are personally in a position of rulership and have power over others, we better insure that we exercise such authority and power righteously which is to do so within the context of God’s moral law.

       This brings us to a related issue.  Are Christians required to be subject to and obey all the dictates of civil government?  These Proverbs suggest that wicked rulership should be replaced with righteous rulership so the people can rejoice. Some believe we are to totally submit to civil government regardless of how it governs.  This belief is largely based on what Paul said in Romans 13.     

       Romans 13:1-5: 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. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

       This instruction from Paul has been interpreted by some to mean that we must submit to all governing authorities because their authority comes from God.  If we rebel against governing authority we are essentially rebelling against God since it is believed Paul is saying that all governing authority is instituted by God. 

       Let me be clear in stating that all governing authority is established by God in that all authority given to man comes from God.  Man could not exercise authority if God didn’t allow for it.  Are we then obligated to submit to all governing authority regardless of what such authority tells us to do?  What kind of governing authority has God instituted?  Let’s answer the last question first.

       God has instituted righteous governing authority.  God has established moral law that says you are not to murder your neighbor, steal from your neighbor, lie to your neighbor or commit adultery with your neighbor.  God has instituted governing authority to enforce His moral law.  When we violate moral law we should expect to be punished.

       Paul said that “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong."  We see here that the real issue is doing what is right versus doing what is wrong.  What God instituted is governing authority to enforce the moral standards he has established.  That is why Paul says “For, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong."  Governing authorities have been established by God to facilitate righteous behavior.  We are to be subject to them in their enforcement of righteous behavior. 

       Paul said the governing authority is “God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.”  You see how Paul’s discussion of governing authority all revolves around doing right versus doing wrong.  We see this same theme in Paul’s letter to Titus and also in 1 Peter.

       Titus 1:3: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good

       1 Peter 2:13-14: Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

       We see over and over again that instruction to submit to governing authority is tied to doing right versus doing wrong.  What if governing authority orders you to do wrong?  What if governing authority demands you behave in a manner contrary to righteousness?  We have Scriptural examples that show us how we are to react.

       In Acts chapter five we read of Peter and other of the Apostles being ordered by the religious authority not to preach Christ.  They ignore the religious authority and continue to preach the gospel message and are thrown into prison for their efforts.  During the night an angel frees them from the prison and tells them to resume preaching the Gospel which they did.  The religious leaders bring them before the Sanhedrin and accuse them of not heeding their strict orders not to preach in the name of Jesus.  What did the Apostles reply?

       Acts 5:29: Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!

       The religious leaders had the Apostles beaten and again gave them strict orders not to preach the Gospel.  But what do we find they did after being beaten and leaving the Sanhedrin?

       Acts 5:42:  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

       Now the governing authority of the Jewish religious system gave strict orders to the Apostles to not preach in the name of Jesus.  Yet it is obvious the Apostles did not submit to their governing authority.  So here we have Peter, who in his letter writes that we should submit to every authority instituted among men, and yet here we see Peter not submitting to the governing authority of the religious leaders.  Is Peter acting in a contradictory manner here?  No he is not.  What we see here is the differences between submitting to a governing authority that requires behavior in line with God’s will and a governing authority that requires behavior contrary to God’s will.  This is a principle we see throughout Scripture. 

       Exodus 1:15-17:  The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, "When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live." The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.

       This example speaks for itself. The midwives were told to do something contrary to the will of God and they defied the Kings orders.  Not only were they not condemned for this, they were rewarded by God for their disobedience to the ruling authority of the time.

       Exodus 1:20-21: So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous.  And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

       In Joshua, chapter 2, we have the account of the harlot Rahab hiding the Israelite spies and deceiving the authorities who came looking for them. Scripture shows Rahab was justified in doing this and commended for it.  

       Joshua 2:1-4: Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho." So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there. The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land."   So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: "Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land."  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them."

       James 2:25: In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?

       When King Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon set up the golden image and ordered all under his authority to bow before it, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to do so and were thrown into the firry furnace. God delivered them from the fire and in so doing showed his approval of their refusal to bow before the golden image. 

       We have the same thing with Daniel.  King Darius ordered that no one was to pray to anyone but him for 30 days and if they did pray to anyone else they would be thrown into the lion's den.  Daniel did not obey this degree.  Not only did he not pray to Darius, he openly prayed to God and was consequently thrown to the lions.  God rescued him from the lions, thus demonstrating His approval of Daniel’s disobedience of the Kings order.  

       We have the same thing in the NT.  The extant religious authority persecuted Jesus because he would not conform to their religious perspectives.  Jesus eventually was put to death for his non-conformance.  Apostle Paul resisted the Jewish governing authority at every turn and suffered greatly for it.  Paul reports in 2 Corinthians 11 that he had been in prison frequently, been flogged, been exposed to death again and again, five times received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one and three times was beaten with rods and once stoned

       Throughout history there have been many occasions were opposition and refusal to submit to government authority has been justified and virtually changed the course of history.  Martin Luther changed the course of Christian history by refusing to abide by what he identified as false doctrine promulgated by the Catholic Church.  Luther resisted the power of the Pope and the Roman Emperor in refusing to submit to their authority.  When ordered to recant, Luther said this:

       “Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments, I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I can not and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do any thing against the conscience.”

       The pilgrims came to America in opposition to the civil and religious authority in England.  The American Revolution resulted from a laundry list of grievances against the British government. In more recent times we have had the women’s suffrage movement and the civil rights movement that led to the abolishment of inequities and injustices affecting women and minorities.   

       It is apparent that when Paul and Peter speak of being subject to governing authorities, it is plain they are talking about being subject to the dictates of such authority that are in line with God’s will.  They are not saying we are to follow any and all dictates of civil government.

       Here, however, is where we have to be very careful.  It can be all too easy to conclude a certain government requirement is not in line with God’s will and think it OK to resist the requirement or outright disobey the requirement.  If a civil authority orders me to do something that is obviously contrary to the moral and ethical laws revealed in Scripture, I am justified in resisting and not complying with such an order.  I may have to endure the punishment of the civil authority, but I would be doing the right thing before God in resisting the order. 

       On the other hand, civil government requires many things of us that cannot be specifically identified as being or not being God’s will.  God allows civil government to establish numerous laws for the purpose of regulating society.  Paul and Peter’s instruction to submit to governing authority certainly includes submitting to such laws.  We may not like some of these laws, but we are obligated to obey them. In a democratic society we have the opportunity to have laws we don’t like changed.  That is what elections are all about.  In the mean time, we are obligated to submit to and obey the laws established by civil authority as long as they don’t’ directly oppose the clearly known will of God.    

       God is the source of all power and authority.  God grants man the right to exercise the power and authority He has granted.  God’s will is that man uses the power and authority He has granted in a righteous manner.  However, Scripture shows God allows people to place unrighteous leaders into positions of leadership and reap the consequences.  A review of both Biblical and secular history bears this out.  While it appears God directly choose some of the kings of Israel, other kings were chosen by the people, sometimes to their own hurt and destruction.  

       Our obligation to governing authorities is to be obedient to the laws and regulations such authorities establish provided they do not directly conflict with the behavioral regulations God has established for mankind.  If there are laws and regulations and conduct it is felt are wrong or unjust and there is opportunity to bring about change we are obligated to do what we can to facilitate such change. 

        Proverbs 28:28: When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive.

        Proverbs 28:12: When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding.

       Proverbs 11:10:  When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

       Proverbs 29:2: When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

       Sometimes it may be only through bold action on the part of the righteous that the wicked perish and the people can then rejoice.  Therefore, it is not wrong to become involved in activities that expose injustice and behaviors that run contrary to righteousness.  However, it is critical that such activities respect the rights of others.  This being said, it is evident from the Scriptures that God wants us to live in peace whenever and wherever possible.  Paul made this clear in his letter to Timothy.

       1 Timothy 2:1-2: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.