In recent years, articles critical of our governing authorities and leaders in the media and internet have multiplied. The volumes and scope of which have escalated to an alarming level. And often the caustic and scandalous language used are beyond reason and decency. Yet the perpetrators can continue to do so, hiding behind the shield of anonymity for their mischief.
Some articles are legitimate critics of government’s shortcomings. But most of them are obvious hearsay, untruth or fakes. But the common objective is the same, which is to mislead the people, discredit the government and to eventually destroy it.
It is so invasive that even Christian groups are enticed to be highly sceptical about our governing authorities and making such criticisms the subjects in casual and serious discussions. As Christians and citizens of Singapore, what should be our attitude towards these veiled attacks on our governing authorities and their leaders?
Thinking about these issues leads me to reflect on Paul’s letter to the Christian churches in Rome. The city of Rome was the capital of the mighty and pagan Roman Empire. Paul was fully aware of the oppressive circumstances under which the churches existed and their strained relationship with the merciless and highhanded Roman rulers. They considered the Christians a branch of the Jewish religion which they despised. And they have no qualms of inflicting harsh punishment on them if they showed any sign of rebellion against Rome.
Under these difficult circumstances Paul wrote to the churches in Rome: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:1-7)
With “Let every person” in the opening verse, Paul addresses the responsibility of everyone, Christians and non-Christians. They are to obey the government because it has been ordained by God. “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad”. Without government there would be anarchy and good citizen will suffer under the bad. They are God’s servants to carry out his “wrath” on evildoers. They do so “for your good”, therefore Christians should be thankful. He “does not bear the sword in vain” emphasise that the government can impose capital punishment. Christians should submit not only to avoid “God’s wrath” but also because their “conscience” will tell them that it is right to do so. They are not to evade or refuse to “pay taxes” and to “honor” and “respect” their leaders even if they may not be admirable or agreeable. We need to note that this passage teaches us that we are all under the Sovereignty of God.
Rome was a prosperous, well organised and outstanding city, in terms of urbanisation. We can describe Rome as a 1st century equivalent of 21st century Singapore. As far as Paul’s exhortation given above is concerned, I believe that it is very relevant to us today. We can adopt his teaching in our relationship with our governing authorities. How then should our response be as citizens of Singapore according to Paul’s exhortation?
But before considering the answer, let us look at Singapore. Every person who ever lives in Singapore and discerning visitors also will realise that Singapore is richly blessed in every respect. What was lacking naturally had been overcome due to diligence of the governing authorities. The fact is that rising from 3rd world to 1st world the nation of Singapore pay a high price and it will be increasingly costly to sustain such a high position in the coming years.
I think the answer lies in ourselves, which is to be consistent and conscientious Christian citizens, submitting to the governing authorities, honour their representatives. Pay taxes, revenue and dues and pray for their welfare, so that they will fulfil their God-appointed roles. We should also pray for all leaders that we may continue to live in peace and have the freedom of worship.
One important thing we must do is not to be a distributor of whatever comes to us in the internet and the media undermining our governing authorities. Where necessary take time and effort to counsel those who may be drawn to it for whatever reasons, for it is the duty of the governing authorities and leaders to give an account of their assigned roles, as God is the ultimate Judge of each person, each community, each governing authority and each nation.
Eld Yang Soo Suan