“Situational Obedience”?

Situational ethics deals with questions such as, “Does an action that is wrong become right in certain situations, and vice versa.”  A classic example is found in Joshua 2 when Rahab the harlot hid the two spies of Israel and lied to the men who came looking for them.  Was her lie considered right under the circumstances?  The short answer is no, God does not justify lying in any situation.  Revelation 21:8 says that all liars will be cast into the lake of fire.  It is also true that a person may be forgiven of lying (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Jn. 1:7).  Thank God! 

“Situational obedience” deals with the specific question, “Is it ever right for me to disobey God if the situation demands it?”  King Saul tried to argue that when the situation necessitates (?) disobedience then it is okay (1 Sam. 15:15).  Samuel responded, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22).   

In our current political situation in the United States there is much division and bickering and malignity.  (The biblical word is “enmity.”)  When the president or governor or other elected official that we support is in power then we “talk up” that person with words of praise and support.  But when a person that we do not support is elected to office then our words become derogatory, and every rumor that maligns that person is repeated with the facial grimace.  In other words, our respect for our rulers changes with the situation. 

The question is pertinent because God has spoken about how Christians are to act toward those in power. 

  1. Christians are to be subject to governing authorities – Rom. 13:1, 5; 1 Pet. 2:13-14 

  1. Christians are not to resist governing authorities – Rom. 13:2 

  1. Christians are to obey “every ordinance of man” – 1 Pet. 2:13 

  1. Christians are to pay their taxes in support of government – Rom. 13:5-6 

  1. Christians are not to “despise authority” – 2 Pet. 2:10 

  1. Christians are not to “speak evil of dignitaries” – 2 Pet. 2:10 

  1. Christians are to “Honor the king” – 1 Pet. 2:17; Pro. 24:21 

It must be mentioned that anytime a governing authority requires or a law is passed that contradicts God’s law then Christians must obey God and not man (Acts 5:29).   

On the other hand, when Peter and Paul wrote these instructions they were living under a very corrupt governmental system.  Abortion and “exposure” were common.  Homosexuality was openly practiced.  Bribery was the order of the day.  Marriage and remarriage were political “steppingstones.”  Justice was bought and sold.  Caesars were stabbed in the back and poisoned by their friends and own relatives. 

It is intriguing and quite profound that the inspired writers of the New Testament were moved to included instructions for Christians to obey and not despise those in political power.  These divine instructions do not change when the political party in power changes.  Christians must not practice “situational obedience” concerning our God appointed leaders (Rom. 13:1) . 

Christians must continue to speak out against lying, abortion, homosexuality, injustice in every form and all other things that contradict God’s instructions.  But we must be very careful not to “despise authority” and dishonor the king.