Should we walk the extra mile for the government?

First some background. My pastor often mentions that children should obey their parents “right away, all the way, and the happy way” during the part of the weekly worship service when he addresses the children, and of course, this exhortation applies to both children and adults when it comes to obeying God.

Now for the situation provoking my question. Last week I was summoned to jury service, and for those readers unfamiliar with the American justice system, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to trial by jury for both criminal and civil cases, which in modern times the government enforces by requiring a random selection of citizens to appear every day at the courthouse for jury service. The duration of jury service ranges from one day to multiple weeks, and the monetary compensation is so low that it won’t even cover the cost of daily parking. I am one of the lucky few with an employer who will continue to pay my salary while I serve on a jury, but no one does my work for me while I am away, so jury service is still a tremendous burden on my time.

When I found out that I had been selected as a prospective juror for a four week civil trial, I immediately wanted off. Jury service on criminal trial might be a moral obligation, but I saw no reason why I should be compelled to devote four weeks of my time gratis to help resolve a contract dispute between two private parties (Luke 12:13-14). So when questioned by the attorneys, I answered honestly but in such a way that I thought would likely induce one or the other of the attorneys to ask the judge to excuse me from service on that jury. And indeed, I was excused on the second day.

As I walked out of the courthouse, the thought occurred to me – I had dutifully appeared at the required locations at the required times and truthfully answered all questions asked of me, but did I obey the happy way? Certainly not! Outwardly I submitted to all of the commands of the civil magistrate, but inwardly I did everything I could to escape them. Following the logic of going the extra mile (Matt. 5:41), once I learned that I was compelled to four weeks of jury service, should I have cheerfully offered eight weeks?

After more thought, I decided that civil government in America expects nothing more than outward submission to the letter of the law, so by that standard, my actions were righteous and respectful of authority. But does anyone have a different perspective?

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If you explained your rationale in the courtroom just as you did here, citing Luke 12:13-14 as a basis for not being concerned with disputes over earthly riches, then I think you were justified in doing so and the lawyers were right to excuse you.

When I was on jury duty there were a number of potential jurors who made merely plausible statements that had the effect of getting themselves excused. Some were excused for more legitimate reasons. Since I was chosen for the ten day trial which ended up being a waste of time, I now have more sympathy for those who got themselves excused. I still wouldn’t feel comfortable saying something insincere in order to be excused, so I appreciate your reasoned stance towards civil trials.


Great question. I’d like to hear what others have to say, too.

It really looked like this trial was going to be a clown show between a couple local celebrities with many local celebrities as witnesses regarding whether or not an oral promise was made that gave a stake in a local business now worth $$$. I was about the only person in the courtroom who had never heard of any of the people or the business, so at first I was worried that I was going to end up on the jury because the systems prefers jurors who are completely ignorant of all issues relevant to the trial.

It turns out that I never got as far as that, nor did I mention my estimation that the trial was going cost more than $60k in total juror time (based on the average hourly wage rate for the area). But simply asking, in response to an attorney question, whether it was worthwhile to commandeer the time of so prospective jurors just because two private parties couldn’t resolve a conflict earned me a response from the judge, who schooled me on the solemn constitutional right to a jury, to which I replied that I would submit myself to the authority of the court.

No need to say anything insincere. The key is to understand how the process works. For readers unfamiliar with the American judicial system, the attorneys on each side are allowed to remove a substantial number of prospective jurors without offering any reason (peremptory challenges). In my situation, forty prospective jurors were going to be whittled down to twelve with two alternates. The attorneys will spend hours asking questions of prospective jurors to suss out which way jurors might lean in the case and then try exclude any jurors who they think might be inclined towards the other side. So if an attorney asks how people feel about oral promises in business, be sure to raise your hand and offer your sincere opinion that you think they are inadvisable. And if an attorney asks if anyone has ever had someone break a contract with them, be sure to raise your hand and describe how you sublet your house for a year and then had the subletters back out after three months, but you let it slide. And whenever an opportunity arises for you to share your sincere views, be sure to do so, because this provides more information for the attorneys to work with and indicates that you might dominate the jury room. The end result will be that one or the other of the attorneys will think it will be dangerous to their cause to have you on the jury, and they will use a peremptory challenge to get you off the jury. And once that happens in my state, you will be excused from any jury service for at least a year.


I guess I’m not really tracking with your citation of Luke 12:13-14. I don’t see how the context of that passage allows it to be instructive to the situation at hand.

When Jesus asks rhetorically, “Who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” the obvious answer is no one. Jesus didn’t come to take civil authority during his incarnate ministry. Caesar hadn’t given it to him. Herod hadn’t given it to him. The Jews hoped that he would take this authority by force, but it isn’t what he came to do. Satan offered it to him, but he rejected it. The Father had not appointed the Son to come and wield civil authority over the nations. One day he will rule visibly over the nations. But for now, he came to destroy the works of the devil, to ransom Adam’s race from sin and save us from his holy wrath. Hence, the thing Jesus went on to speak to is the covetousness that leads to hell, which was the real problem with the man’s inquiry, and the problem that Jesus came to resolve.

In your case, however, you were appointed as the earthly arbitrator over such a situation. Who made you a judge or an arbitrator over this situation, you ask? Well, the State of California did, apparently – but beyond that, it would seem that God did (Romans 13:1).

I don’t think the text teaches that it is wrong for God’s people to ever, in any context, be involved in judging the affairs of unbelievers in the civil sphere. So I don’t think you are able to answer as Jesus does, citing this text as your authority.

Outward submission is all that the government ever really expects. Let’s not forget that all Caesar wanted was the pinch of incense, and all Nebuchadnezzar wanted was a bowed knee. Neither cared what was going on in your heart.

But God does. :slight_smile:

All true. The first reason I mentioned the passage in the post is that I had the same question as did the Lord, although the answer was different, as you point out. The second reason I mentioned the passage is that I think it supports the view that Christians are under no universal moral obligation to be involved in judging the affairs of unbelievers in the civil sphere. My concern was not whether it was wrong for me to be involved but rather whether it was wrong for me not to be involved. And since I concluded that it was permissible for me under the moral law not to be involved, it was permissible for me to seek to escape my civic obligation. Accordingly, I did not ask the judge to excuse me on religious grounds but instead I answered questions from the attorneys truthfully but also in a way that I thought would induce one of them to excuse me.


I like the question. Based on your observation of the other potentials, did you think you might be needed on the jury in order for the outcome to be just? If so, seriously weigh the need for justice against your duty to others (employer, family.)

If not, or if you were unable to tell, I think it is okay to just be honest and let the selection system work as well as the lawyers and judge can work. Being honest can mean looking like someone who would have too much power over the other jurors if that’s who you are (based on your writing here, they probably correctly identified you as persuasive!)

I don’t think you can apply “go the second mile” to trying hard to get on the jury because to do that you would have to try to look ideal to both lawyers, deceiving them or at least under-answering the questions. That is not what is meant by obedience in that command.

Going the second mile would apply once on the jury, though. A Christian should cheerfully serve even if the case drags on twice as long as planned. It would also apply if the court could appoint jurists without a selection process.

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Smiling, I say you should have served, but who am I to question your own judgments of how to spend your time. I’ve never been called up. My wife has and the account was interesting to me, partly because truth and justice were the coin of the work and I was pleased to hear how they prevailed. I’m doubtful the service would not have provided you many opportunities to be salt and light, both legally and personally, and through you the fulfillment of the calling of the church to serve the world as God’s pillar and foundation of the truth.

Whether I would have done as you did is an open question, but I’m trending yesward. Smiling I is.