Today, I want to look at the topic of Christians interacting with the government and the responsibilities that we have, as described in the Bible. It seems like the appropriate topic, this time of year with the election coming up this Tuesday.
The way I see it is, on Wednesday, 30% of the population will wake up excited that their chosen candidate won. Another 30% will wake saddened or upset that their chosen candidate lost. The other 40% could care less about who won the election. So, whether our candidate wins or loses, the Bible instructs us on our responsibilities to those who are in authority.
You may not realize it, but we interact with the government more than we probably realize.
When we drive in our cars, we are to obey the laws of the road, you must get licensed by the state to operate a vehicle and have insurance. All of these are requirements set by the government.
When you are in the process of building a home, there are building codes that are set by authorities that must be followed. If you own a home in Texas, you pay property taxes, which go to city and county government, as well as the local school district. The list of examples could go on and on. So, let us consider what the Bible says about Christians interacting with the government.
I plan to look into the book of Romans, 1 Peter, and 1 Timothy. Paul and Peter wrote this instructions to us as they were inspired of God. I want you to keep in mind the context that they are writing from.
Peter and Paul are both living as subjects of the Roman Empire. At the time when Peter wrote, which was around AD64, the Romans were making life pretty hard for Christians. Christians were often punished or killed for treason for not obeying the Roman Emperor. The Romans were suspicious of early Christians, suspecting them of trying to overthrow the empire.
Actually, Paul and Peter were both persecuted by the authorities in their day and were executed (Paul was beheaded and Peter was crucified upside down). Keep that in mind as we read these passages and see what the word of God says.
Read Romans 13:1-7
Who is omitted from this statement in verse one? Absolutely no one. Every soul, every person is to submit to the higher powers. In this context, Paul is speaking of the governing authorities. That refers to the federal govt, state govt, city govt, police, etc.
The word, submit, used here is a military term meaning “to arrange in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When used non-militarily, it meant “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, or yielding to.
Verse 1 says that his power comes form God and they they have been delegated to carry out this work. So, it is God himself who has established the authorities and allows them to rule over us.
We find many examples in scripture of this. God bringing governments into power and out of power to accomplish his will. For the sake of time, we won't go and look at many of the passages, but I have them listed on the board for you to study and confirm on your own.
Daniel 2:21 – We read that it is God who changes the times and the seasons. It is God who removes and sets up kings.
Isa 10 – Throughout the Bible, we can read about the major world empires during Biblical times. This passage in particular talks about how God raised up the Assyrians to come in and punish his people.
Then, after they served their purpose, he allowed them to be overtaken by the Babylonians. Then they were overtaken by the Medo-Persian empire, and then the Greeks, and then the Romans...
READ John 19:10-11 – This passage is Pilate speaking to Jesus right before he was crucified. Pilate was questioning Jesus about the charges against him, but Jesus wouldn't respond.
Jesus tells Pilate that although he is in control of this situation, the control was given to him by God.
What good is the government that God has ordained? Why do we need them? Some may think that way or believe that society would get along without anyone in charge or control. But is that really the case?
Can you imagine waking up tomorrow morning to find out that no one is in charge? The world would be utter chaos. There would be no-one to punish those who do wrong and no one to protect the innocent, no one to make laws and keep order in society.
The fact is that there is an enormous amount of order in this world precisely because God has set it that way. There is no chaos with God. And so as He gives authority to men to take the chaos and bring in order. When we see our government functioning properly, we are seeing God's hand at work in the world.
Now, we may have our own questions about the types of governments that exist and wonder why so many people must suffer under communism or harsh dictators. There is no easy answer to this. God has established the authorities and given them rule over us, but man still has free will and the choice to do wrong or right, and govern in just ways or unjust ways is still there.
No matter what we think of it, God has ordained the government for our good. To rebelresist against it is to rebelresist against God Himself.
The Bible tells us that these rulers aren't in place to be a terror or for us to live lives in fear. Now granted, there are evil people in power all over the world that do bring harm to their citizens, but fortunately, here in the United States, that is not the case for us.
The Bible is telling us that good people don't have to be scared. We don't have to be scared while living our daily lives.
But evil people should be. They should be scared of being caught and punished.
If you don't want to live a life of constant fear, then you should do what is right and relieve yourself of that stress. Paul says that no matter where you live, life goes better and you live free from fear when you obey the ruling authorities.
It's like a person who always speeds when they are driving. Every time you're driving and see red/blue lights in your rear-view, your hearts almost stops in fear, thinking you are busted. Or every time you see an officer on the side of the road, you're quickly putting on the brakes and checking your speed because you know you're in the wrong. If you want to get rid of that stress, then drive the limit; otherwise, you will be justly punished for doing wrong.
On the other hand, if you do good, you will be praised by the authorities. Now, I imagine that so much $ is spent on law enforcement that we will rarely praise for obeying the law.
Have I ever been praised or rewarded for obeying the law. I can't think of any instances, but I did find an instance in the Bible of a man who was rewarded for doing good.
READ Esther 6:1-3 – Mordecai – Bible says in chapter two that he overheard men talking about attacking and killing the king. Well, he reported this, and after an investigation was about his accusations, they guilty parties were executed. However, Mordecai never was rewarded for doing good. This account was recorded in the oracles/records.
In chapter 7, the king had a sleepless night, so he called for someone to come and read the oracles, where he heard about Mordecai and sought to reward him.
Verse 4 calls the govt workers, ministers of God.
We don't usually think of the govt in this way (as ministers), but they are servants of God, carrying out the work that God has given them.
So for those who do evil or wrong, he's not bearing the sword for no reason. This talk about swords goes back to the Roman culture, for the sword was the standard weapon used for execution (beheading). Roman authorities actually wore swords to indicate their authority over life and death.
God has given our rulers the authority to execute this judgment on us.
If those reasons (God ordained them; fear of being punished) aren't enough to be obedient to the authorities, Paul gives us another. We must do it for the sake of our own conscience.
This means that if we can't find any other reason to submit to our leaders, then we are to do it because it is the will of God, and as Christians, it should always be our desire to be in the will of God.
Our consciences would weight heavily against us if we did oppose his will. Obeying allows us to have a good and clear conscience towards God.
Also, how can we be called to do good works for our fellow man in spreading the Gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world and at the same time, be known for breaking the law? How can your conscience as a Christian let you get away with that. You can't. There is no way that we can be effective Christians, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, if we are known lawbreakers.
Therefore, assuming we have decided to submit to the authorities, we are to give them all that they require of us.
If we are required to pay taxes, then we should pay them.
What about when they don't, or we don't think they deserve our honor or respect or whatever it is we owe them. The Bible doesn't address that. It is silent about how we feel about people. There are no preconditions that it sets before we can give fear, honor, respect to those in authority.
The Bible mentions honor, as something we are to give. This may be tough when our leaders are immoral people, but we can at least give honor to the office that they hold and respect their authority.
This passage reminds me of a story that I heard from another person in the pulpit. It was about a high ranking officer in the military, who was black. He was flown to a military base overseas and it was the custom for the lower ranking troops to assemble and salute. However, upon seeing that he was black, many of them refused to salute him as an officer.
The officer didn't rebuke them. He simple went inside, took off his uniform, folded it up and brought it back to the assembled men. He told them that they might not respect him as a person of color, but they would respect the office that he held and they were forced to salute his empty uniform.
In the same way, we can despise our govt, hate the laws, hate the character of those in charge, but we still ow the government what it requires of us and we have no right to hold it back.
So, from this passage, we see
Govt is essential and is established and recognized by God
God has delegated authority to them but still retains control over them, as they are accountable to him
Submit to them because they have been given authority from God
Submit to them for the sake of your own conscience
Give them what you owe them
This same subject is addressed by Peter. Once again, we are admonished to submit ourselves to every ordnance. Ordnance here is, referring to all authorities that exist.
Why are we to be in submission? Peter gives a different answer from Paul. Peter tells us to do it for the Lord's sake. It brings glory to him. Obeying the laws of the land is just another way that we can glorify God.
We are told to obey all the levels of government from the king to the governors, down to those who are sent by him. We are not to be partial, based on position or rank. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the President of the United States, or the local policeman, we are called to submit to every human institution, and we obey the state and the laws out of our obedience to Christ.
Christians behavior, at this time, was called into question by many because of the Christian's allegiance to a higher authority. In Rome, worship of the Caesar was common. They worshiped him like a god and everyone was expected to do it.
This fact caused people to speak out against Christians because they weren't willing to bow the knee and worship the Caesar as a god. Many accused the Christians of being cannibals because they partook of communion. Also, since Christians were followers of Christ, who was crucified by the Roman govt, they were concerned that Christians might try to overthrow the Roman govt. There were all kinds of misconceptions about Christians.
This ignorant talk was to be silenced by the good behavior of Christians, not by fighting and arguing against it. This was God's will for them then, as it is now today.
This surprisingly applies to us today. To many in the world, we are no different than some of the cults and lunatics like David Koresh. Some people assume that we are all the same. Those thoughts are silenced by our moral behavior.
Many Christians at this time felt that they were “free” people and only owed their allegiance to God. Technically, its true. They were free in Christ, but they also felt they had the right to rebel against a government that was hostile to them. So they used this so called freedom to rebel, assuming that they were in God's will, in doing so.
But Peter corrects that misconception. He says that they are to be as servants of God, obeying those in authority, who God placed there. Likewise, we are to submit for the same reason.
1 Tim 2:1-3
The Bible also discusses another responsibility for us. We are to pray for those who are in charge. Offering supplications, prayers, petitions, as well as thanking God for the leaders that we have.
We are to pray for God to guide their decisions that they make that have the potential to affect many and pray that they allow us to live quiet lives that are pleasing to God. We are to pray that God will work through the good and evil leaders to accomplish His will and that the gospel will continue to spread.
God finds our actions to be good and acceptable when we do this. We never know the impact that our prayers have on our leaders, but it must have some since God wants us to do it.
Keep in mind, the cruel Nero was on the throne. How can Paul tell the people to pray for him. When Paul wrote this letter to Timothy around 64AD, Nero was trying to exterminate all Christians. He was known for having Christians attacked and killed by wild dogs, lighting them as human torches, feeding to lions, gored to death by bulls, and the list of torture goes on. Yet, we don't see an addendum to the scriptures. Paul didn't revise the text for ungodly rulers. Actually, we should probably especially pray for the evil rulers.
Even when we cannot respect the one in office, we have a duty to pray for them. Paul says that when we pray, it is for our own good so that we can live peaceful lives.
As we reflect on these passages, its very easy for us, as Americans, to read these passages from the Bible and have no problem with them. Submitting to our form of government isn't that hard. We should be thankful for our form of government that we can participate in by voting people in/out and also by getting involved, we can disagree with them, we can protest, etc. We don't have ruthless dictators that are hostile towards us and we don't fear for our lives, as Christians.
Now for people in other places like North Korea, China, with limited rights as citizens, does the Bible change? We have seen in the scriptures today that it doesn't. The message is the same. We are to submit.
God has placed rulers in authority and expects them to do his will. In the end, God will hold all of them accountable for their actions as he will hold us accountable for ours. We find a few Biblical examples of this:
2 Samuel 12:8-10 – God has sent Nathan the prophet to David, the king, to speak to him about his conduct in dealing with Uriah and Bathsheba. Even the king, who was after God's own heart, was not off the hook. He was being held accountable for his actions.
Now what about leaders that we just don't trust. Perhaps they are known crooks that we can't remove from office or perhaps, we just don't like their character or something along those lines.
We will always have leaders that we don't trust, laws that we don't care for, and taxes that we don't want to pay, but the Bible is clear on our responsibilities. There is no fine print. There is no asterisk. Our responsibilities are the same, whether we are under a godly govt or not. Whether we are governed by good leaders or bad.
While we'd prefer to submit to a democratic government where we can be involved in it and influence policies, Peter nor Paul do not list any pre-conditions for our obedience. We can't simply rebel because we disagree.
However, this doesn't mean that we are blind sheep that support the government in everything. We can use legal, peaceful means of bringing change in our government. Certainly as Christians we should seek to have a good influence on our government and society by electing good leaders and being involved in the political process.
The duties placed on Christians toward the governing authorities are clear and simple:
- Submit to them
- Give to them what is required (taxes, honor, respect)
- Pray for those in authority
Outside of that, the Bible is silent, so it is up to our judgment as Christians.