Did Paul Really Mean Obey Rulers?
Today the Church commemorates the memory of the Apostle Titus, one of the 70 Holy Apostles, who had come to the faith through the missionary efforts of Saint Paul. He lived to an old age and served the Church in Cyprus as Bishop. We see in Saint Titus, the fruit of Saint Paul’s efforts to teach and preach the word of God. That’s where it can be confusing for today’s Christian. Did Saint Paul really mean that we had to obey civic leaders?
PAUL, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised ages ago and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by command of God our Savior; To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. Declare these things; exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men. When I send Artemas or Tychicos to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there. Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing. And let our people learn to apply themselves to good deeds, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not to be unfruitful. All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen. – Titus 1.1-5, 2.15, 3.1-12, 12.15
In the reading above, we hear solid advice for Christian living, including being gentle and not quarreling, being honest and speaking evil of no one. These exhortations we can accept without hesitation, though they may be difficult to accomplish every day since we are fallen human beings. It is the “Be submissive to rulers and authorities,” part that chokes us a bit in our contemporary world. Naturally, with more and more civic leaders not only living non-Christian lives, but endorsing non-Christian behavior as good, we might question Saint Paul’s advice.
This is not the only Epistle in which Saint Paul teaches to submit to authorities. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13.1) In our reading above from Titus, it may be thought Saint Paul was referring to Church authorities, but combined with the verse from Romans, we can be assured Saint Paul was referring to secular rulers.
Christians of every generation face the same dilemma. Should we submit to God or the State? In 20th Century Soviet Russia, thousands were martyred because the State attempted to crush the Church, but the people stood up to the State and practiced their faith anyway. Were they disobedient to Saint Paul? When the time came for Saint Paul to choose State or Christ, of course he chose Christ and paid the price for it. In being arrested and put on trial, he submitted to authorities.
I guess maybe that is the answer. We don’t stop believing in Christ. We don’t stop worshipping Him. We don’t stop living as Orthodox Christians. We maintain all our Orthodox way of life and submit to authorities at the same time. That might mean losing a business license if the State no longer endorses our way of life. That might mean being expected to quit a job if our employer no longer tolerates our Orthodox Christian way of life. Submitting to authorities doesn’t only mean obeying them. It means being willing to endure the penalties when following our Faith is no longer acceptable to the authorities. It is why we commemorate as many martyrs as we do. They submitted to torture, exile, and death, never giving up faith in Christ.
I won’t bother in this blog post to begin to list those expectations of the State that we should or should not obey with the exception to say, if the state asks us to stop confessing Christ, we will have a problem on our hands. I haven’t seen that much yet. We may be asked to keep our faith to ourselves in our workplaces, but Saint Paul had advice for that too. “If it is possible, as much as depends upon you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)