In obedience to lawful authority, how do we show our love for our neighbor?

Mission Lab

We show our love for our neighbor when we obey all lawful authority, whether it be in the home, in civil society, or in the Church.

With respect to lawful authority in the home, the Fourth Commandment of God says: “Honor your father and your mother” (Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12).

St. Paul wrote: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Even the authority of the civil government comes from God. St. Paul wrote: “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 he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement” (Romans 13:1-2).

God establishes authority on earth to ensure the well-being and common good of those who are subject to that authority, not for the honor or gain of those who exercise the right and duty of governing.

To achieve the common good of the people they govern, those in authority must use morally acceptable means. They may never “do evil for a good cause,” e.g., promote or even support abortion and contraception as a means for population control. Rather, for this purpose, they should encourage chastity, sexual abstinence, and natural family planning.

Those in authority, especially, have the responsibility of loving their neighbor in the persons whom they govern and defend. Out of a pure unselfish love of God and their fellow citizens, leaders must respect their people’s fundamental human rights and freedoms and the conditions necessary for the exercise of these freedoms. Such love, respect, and mercy will move them to seek always what is best for their people. It will guarantee them, in their turn, a merciful judgment at the end of their lives when they are called by God to give an account of their stewardship.

Christians who possess authority should consider themselves as servants of those they govern. Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27).

Although He was God, Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph. He also respected the civil and temple authorities. He did not consider Himself immune to the duty of paying taxes. He obeyed the regulations which had been established for the good of the society in which He lived. In doing so, Christ was really showing respect for His Father in Heaven, for all authority stems from Him.

We who are members of the Mystical Body of Christ are to imitate the reverence which He showed to those in authority. We are commanded to show our parents consideration and affection. As children, we owe them obedience, respect, gratitude, and our assistance. When we respect our parents, we promote unity in the family and in society.

Like Jesus, we must also obey legitimate civil authorities. All just laws, whether they please us or not, are to be accepted as expressions of God’s will. In a special way, the laws of the Catholic Church reveal to us God’s will. Our risen Lord speaks to us through the Church. Therefore, we should look upon Church laws as commands from God Himself.

Christ exercised His authority over others with charity. The manner in which He gave orders to His Apostles and sent them forth was always respectful and kind. He knew that the Father had entrusted to Him the responsibility of leading the Apostles safely back to the Father. We, whom the Father has called to share the life of Jesus Christ, must use our authority over others in a responsible, kind way as our Lord Himself did. Parents should understand that their children have been entrusted to them by our Father in Heaven. It is their duty to instruct their children about Christ and His Church, and to teach them to love their neighbors.

Parents who fail to exercise proper authority over their children, children who fail to honor and obey their parents, and citizens who offend the common good by violating laws are all, in some way, offending God.