In previous years, I have had a perspective about respecting authority which may not have been Biblical. My perspective was, that to “respect authority” all I needed to do was not break the laws. At least not break significant ones! I feel strongly that God’s law comes first and man’s second. When a non-Christian friendly government was in power, I felt my obligation to the authorities was simply to pray a couple times a year for them; especially at election time, so as to affect the outcome in my favor. The Biblical backbone of a Christian’s response to authority is found in Romans 13. It says,
“1 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. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For 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. 4For 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. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:1-7)
Over the years I have been in Cambodia I have noticed a very concerning trend. Often, when I am around foreign missionaries or expatriate workers, they talk bad about the government. Then, in the midst of their sharp criticisms, they then highlight why their project is the best and finest solution to the nation’s need. Why is it that so many Christians, who have the Bible clearly telling us to respect the governmental authorities, have so much spite for the leaders of Cambodia (and other nations as well).
These are the common excuses you will hear given, when confronting such attitudes:
- The government is corrupt.
- The government is not fully democratic.
- The government doesn’t care about the people (implied: like me).
- The government is not Christian.
So, when the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans by Divine inspiration, was the Roman government pro-Christian? There is not a government on earth today which could compare to the violence, oppression and greed of the Romans. They butchered everyone who opposed them, or who they considered a threat. Jesus himself was a victim of this regime. After Paul wrote these words about respecting the authorities, he was also executed by the Romans himself. This demonstrates, even more so, the power of these words.
A year ago I was eating dinner with the Governor of Banteay Meanchey province where he was talking about his past. He went from a poor village boy and having no shoes, to being a two star general, special advisor to the Prime Minister, and governor of a whole province. One of the other guests posed him a question. The question was simple, “How did you go from having nothing, to have much wealth and influence over a whole nation?” I will never forget his answer. He didn’t even have to think about the answer; it was short and clear.
Governor Oeung Oun said, “I never did anything that I wanted to do or for my self-interest, but I only did what the authorities over me wanted me to do.” I knew when I heard this, this was God’s intent. This is exactly what Romans 13 is talking about. This is how the Kingdom of God is to operate.
I have been in Cambodia for 16 years. I have done much to help the country and I previously avoided the authorities of the land at all costs. Why? Because they are corrupt, they are not fully democratic, they appear to not care about the people and it is officially a Buddhist government. Hmm. . . sounds like some pretty good excuses. God calls it “rebellion”. In 2009 I determined that I would do what the Governor asked me to do. He had requests of me which included: They were to help the poor people, bring education to hurting children and help stop trafficking. So together, in 2009 we have worked toward that goal. I consider myself a “servant” of the Government. In one year my whole perspective has changed.
I found out that the government is not all corrupt. I found out that there are many officials who love the people. I found out that the government has huge dreams, but little money and they want to work with foreigners. I also found out that many foreigners come here with their own ideas, own agenda and own self-interest. I found out how to live out Romans 13 in my ministry and my service to the nation of Cambodia. As I strategize for the coming year, I ask myself and the authorities, “How, with my talents and abilities, can I help you accomplish your vision for Cambodia.” The Holy Spirit will guide me to what he wants me to do.
After only one year with this new mindset my ability to help the Cambodian people has been exponentially expanded because I submit to the authorities. After only one year of work, God’s way, I was awarded the highest honor in the land for foreigners, the “Royal Order of Sahametrei”. Romans 13:3 says, “Then do what is right and he [the government] will commend you.” God’s word is true.
I have never watered down my beliefs. I have never hid my faith. I have never paid one bribe. I support, to the fullest extent, the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In so doing, I am able to reflect the Kingdom of God to them.