The Christian and Government
Government: An Authority Given by God
Over the past 2000 plus years of the existence of Christianity the believer has lived under many types of governments, including dictatorship, communism, fascism and democracy. The question is, what should be the believer's response to government? Is it something to be obeyed, ignored, or fought against? Scripture is clear about this point and in order to be obedient to God, we must know what it tells us.
I. There is An Order of Submission
Paul teaches that, as Christians we are to be subject to one another in the fear of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). God is a God of order and there is an order of submission that God has placed all of us under, for the common good. And the people whom we submit to are ultimately responsible to God for how they lead.
Starting in Ephesians 5:22 and going through 6:9 , the Apostle talks about who is responsible to submit to whom. For instance, the wife is responsible to submit to her husband as she would to Christ. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Children are to obey their parents and honor them. In the mean time, fathers are not to provoke their children to wrath. Slaves are to be obedient to their masters, which today is equal to the employee obeying the employer. However, it is the responsibility of the master to treat the slave well and not to threaten them.
This section of Scripture talks about most of the relationships that the Christian may encounter. But it doesn't say anything about our relationship with government. It does, however set up the precedant for our submission to authority.
II. We Must Submit to Government Authority
To look at what role the government plays in our lives, we first look to Jesus. We find in Luke 20:19-26 that the scribes and the chief priests were trying to get Jesus in trouble with the government. They sent spies to ask him if it was right to pay tribute to Caesar or not. So the Lord asked them to show Him a denarius. When they did, then He asked: "Whose likeness and inscription does it have?" They told Him that it was Caesar's. So our Lord wisely told them: "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. So the Lord gave His blessing to be obedient to the authority of the government.
Paul, in Romans 13, gives the ultimate teaching of Scripture on government authority. He tells the Christian:
"Every person is to be in subjection to government authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinances of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves" (1,2).
III. Government Authority is Given for Our Good
It is hard to imagine what this sinful world would be like if there was no government to restrain the evil. That is what Paul says is its job. He tells us:
"For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avengeer who brings wrath on the one who practices evil" (3-4).
We sometimes run into Christians who wonder if capital punishment is something that the government should be allowed to do. Well, the government bears the sword according to this passage. This seems to give it the right under certain circumstances to do this. A sword is used as a means of force and punishment to carry out its job. The ultimate use of the sword as a punishment and enforcing power is capital punishment for those who have done crimes to deserve it, namely those who have committed murder. So those who do evil should fear the wrath of government.
III. We Are Obligated to Pay for the Protection of Government
Paul teaches that we should not only be in subjection for fear of government wrath, but also for conscience sake. By that he means out of a sense of obligation to God. Through obedience we keep a clear conscience before Him. The obedience goes as far as paying taxes. Government needs money in order to operate. And we already found out that Jesus said we should pay them. Paul is following the Lord's lead here. He tells us that rulers are God's servants who devote themselves to the work of government. So we need to render to them what is due them.
IV. The One Exception to Obedience
There is a time when the Christian is allowed to go against government authority. We find this in Acts 5, where Peter and the other Apostles were imprisoned and brought before the governing authorities. The high priest questioned them and said:
"We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, (i.e. the name of Jesus), and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man's blood upon us."
This didn't deter Peter or the other Apostles. They replied to the High Priest:
"We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one who God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him" (29-32).
This is an incident where Peter chose civil disobedience rather than disobedience to God. We must always obey God, even if it means that we go against government authority. In that case, we still have to face the consequences of our actions before the government. However, God is pleased with this.
So we see that government is indeed a good thing, and given to us by a loving God to keep us safe from evil. Of course sometimes the government is the source of evil, and those in it will be held responsible on the day of judgement by God for how they governed.
We sometimes complain about the government that we've been given in the United States but compared to many in existence today, we are blessed. And we have the right to vote on who governs us. Rather than complain, we need to remember that God has given us our government for our good, and thank Him for it. If we can change it for the better by our vote, then we have an obligation to do so. But once it's in place, we have to pray for those in authority and to obey the laws they make. May the Lord help each of us to be in submission to the government He gives us.