A Christian Perspective on Government
Rebellion! It’s in the air. Ravi Zacharias said that there is a feeling of uncertainty and that this feeling was in the air. Well the feeling of uncertainty has given way to a spirit of rebellion. Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya, Greece, France, England and even here in America…there is a growing spirit of rebellion as people abandon former standards to embrace ‘change.’
But what kind of change are these people seeking? To be honest, they don’t know! What we are witnessing is mob mentality. Someone yells fire and everyone runs to see. Francis Schaeffer back in 1976 spoke of ‘titanic pressures being brought to bear on society by what he called a manipulative elite. Some of these pressures include economic breakdown in many countries, war and the threat of war from terrorists, the chaos of violence which is evident every time you turn on the news. Then there are those who are pushing for a radical redistribution of wealth thinking that will solve all of life’s ills. ‘Just give me somebody else’s stuff and I will be happy. Let them suffer for a while.’ And finally he spoke of a growing shortage of food and natural resources. All these things are fuel for the fires of rebellion. And behind all of this there rulers and spiritual forces in high places which direct the souls of wicked men to rebel against God. And they are instigating rebellion everywhere for the purpose of trying to free themselves from what is perceived as a burden. It is a burden of morals which come from the Law of God. Their battle cry is “Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!”
Can I back up my premise? Let’s let scripture speak for itself.
Our text is found in Ro 13:1 where we read that “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. This is the biblical perspective on government. All governments are from God no matter what form they take. The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and sets over it the lowliest of men.” So you can have a King Saul or a King David, an Abraham Lincoln or an Adolph Hitler. Each has been put in place by God and the Christian is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. To rebel against a government is to rebel against God who has established all governments!
The rebellions that we are witnessing around the world are part of the cosmic battle that has raged since the devil father of rebellion decided he wanted to take over heaven and was kicked out. He was the first rebel and he has been leading all rebellions ever since, from Adam and Eve through to our day. And we as Christians are called to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil.
Paul identifies government as an institution established by God in all its forms for the punishment of those who do evil and for the protection of those who do good. Our responsibility is to submit to that God ordained governing authority and pay our taxes. Even if we don’t personally like what is being done, our responsibility is clear. Remember this; as God’s slaves, we are duty bound to obey Him. And He says submit! This ties in with our theme of the marks of a true Christian and one of the key marks is unquestioning obedience to God our Father.
Consider a biblical example of this unquestioning obedience to God. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac there were no questions, no protests. There was only obedience because as the scriptures say, he considered that God is able to raise even from the dead. This is the testimony of Abraham before God: Jas 2:23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. So we must ask ourselves the question; do we have the faith of Abraham who held nothing back in his service to God? Do we trust God to the point of laying down our own lives upon the altar and dying to self, knowing that he who loses his life for God’s sake shall find it? Are we willing to submit to Him without reservation? This, as we have seen is authentic Christianity. The true Christian loves God, walks with God, trusts God, and obeys God, for the glory of God. And he does so in good times and bad, when godly men rule and when wicked men rule.
Consider the world back in the days of Paul. Romehad conquered the known world. The Caesars were absolute rulers. What does that mean? Lets take Augustus for an example. We saw in “How Should We Then Live” that the Roman Senate declared Augustus to be Pro Consul and Tribune of Rome for life. He was Commander-in-Chief of all soldiers, ruled all senators, controlled all civil affairs and could do whatever he wanted without question. In 12 B.C. he took to himself the title Pontifex Maximus, the head of the state religion. Augustus had so much power that he could command the whole world to be taxed; everybody was ordered to go to his own city to be identified for the purpose of taxation. This is what the absolute ruler of the world looks like
In this world slavery flourished. There were millions of slaves and slavery could be very abusive. But even at its best, it still involved the purchasing and owning of people.
InIsraelthe Herods of Idumea ruled. They were puppet kings set up byRome. They too wielded great power. Herod the Great for instance ordered the slaughter of all male babies 2 years old and under because he didn’t want any ‘messiah’ horning in on his territory. In the days of Jesus, Herod’s son, Antipas reigned. He too had great authority to the point that he could behead a prophet with no temporal, civil, or criminal consequences.
Taxes were heavy and tax collectors, men who had purchased tax franchises fromRomewere extortionists of their own people. They were allowed to take as much as they could get, as long as they paid the authority what the authority required. They had thugs who would beat you up, or terrorize your business if you didn’t pay.
So things were quite similar to our ‘modern’ society.
And all of these rulers, the Herods and the Caesars were established by God!
What about the world today? Surely some of these rulers have slipped in apart from the overruling of God right? I mean, how can somebody like Hitler take power according to the will of God? Again, from Daniel 4:17 we saw that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.”
All governing authority, whether it be David or Nero has been established by God and will accomplish His purposes.
Then there isAmerica. We have enjoyed tremendous freedoms for over 4 centuries if you count the days of the pilgrims and the Puritans. As far as I know, no American president has ordered troops to march on cities and massacre children like Herod did. Consider the poor people in or land. Though there are people living on the street, there are also many poor people who have low income or government housing. Even the homeless have shelters they can get a meal and a shower and a bed for the night. There are myriads of benefits such as food stamps and ACCESS, and transportation. It is interesting to me how that in some of the most run down of houses that I have seen there is always seems to be a Satellite Dish mounted there. So we can see that even the poor have priorities. There are even professional bums who make a living off of pan handling. They balk at any suggestion of a job. So even though our society may not be the ‘utopia’ that certain people ‘envision’ I would have to say that as a nation, we are incredibly well off.
And we as Christians understand that all these blessings come from God Who rules in the affairs of men! We are to trust in Him and rest in His Sovereign will for our lives and seek with all of our being to obey Him come what may and this is a mark of a true Christian. The true Christian, in obedience to the command of God, and because of the mercies of God that have been lavished upon him, has offered up himself as a living, holy sacrifice acceptable to God which is our reasonable service. He has turned away from the world with all of its lusts and rebellious thoughts and has been transformed by the renewing of his mind so that he can prove; understand what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is.
Further he has become like his Master Jesus, humble and lowly of heart. His mind is clear of all self exaltation for he knows that he is but a part of the whole family of God. Therefore he seeks to do his part, to exercise his gift before God and for the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He prophesies, serves, teaches, exhorts, gives leads and shows mercy in service to them. He loves truly, hates evil and clings to what is good. He is a devoted brother, exalting others, serving the Lord with diligence and burning zeal.
The true Christian is rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. He blesses his persecutors, returning blessing for cursing. He rejoices with those who rejoice, weeps with those who weep, sees all men the same, is not filled with self importance, never pays back evil for evil but does what is right before all men. He is a peacemaker, leaving retribution to God who alone is judge! Indeed he seeks to do good to those who hate him from a heart of love for their souls; seeking if possible to overcome evil with good.
Now in the world in which these people were living, evil could come in the form of thieves and robbers but it could also come in governmental forms. And yet the true Christian understand that he is to submit to the Governing Authorities because he knows they have been established by God. The true Christian never pays back evil for evil to anyone. No matter what society does, no matter what the authorities do, we never pay it back with evil. As far as we can, in verse 18, we seek to be at peace with all men. We leave vengeance to God.
We serve our enemies and so we are not overcome by evil but we overcome evil with good. This is the mark of the true Christian and it is so other than what we see in the worldly mindset that it sticks out like a sore thumb. The world says revenge, and God says leave that to Me! You obey, I will repay!
This is how the Christian is to live in the world.
Let me go back to the world of Paul’s day and get some perspective on how this would look in comparison to the natural disposition of the world. The Jews, who had been conquered byRome, were very zealous for their national identity, so zealous that they were almost in a constant state of rebellion againstRome. Next considerRome.Romewas ruler of the known world at the time of the writing of this letter but did you know that they were very beneficent conquerors? Did you know, for instance that when they conquered a nation they allowed much independence for instance, letting them maintain their own language, customs, and religion?
And the Jews enjoyed these same privileges. Under Imperial Rome they had built theJerusalemTemplewhich was one of the 7 wonders of the world. Imperial Roman Law safeguarded the worship of the Jews. They could keep their Sabbath laws, and their food laws. They could maintain the prohibition against idols. One time when Pilate came to town with an image of Caesar, the Jews stood up and said ‘we don’t want that idol here and Pilate and the Romans backed down. Even though Caesar’s picture still remained on their coins the Romans were not allowed to bring images of Caesar inside the walls ofJerusalem.
The Romans allowed the Jews to uphold the death penalty for trespassing Gentiles who came in to the inner courts of the temple. So they gave the Jews amazing freedoms. In spite of this, the Jews hated the Romans, they hated the Roman occupation, they hated Roman domination and they always questioned its legitimacy. Does this sound familiar? My sister once told me that George Bush wasn’t her president. I had to ask, “Are you an American?” “Yes,” she replied. “Then he is your president since he isAmerica’s president.” Barack Obama is American’s president now and that means he is my president. He won the election and that is that.
We must not become delusional like the Jews who were in denial of reality. How far were they in their delusion? Look at John 8:33. Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders and was telling them that He could set them free. Now He was speaking of bondage to sin but they couldn’t understand Him. All they heard was something about bondage and they said, “We’ve never been in bondage to anyone.” This is insanity to the nth degree. They had been in bondage to many, many nations and at that very moment they were under Roman rule. So they were in clear denial of reality.
But the Jews didn’t like being in the bondage they denied being under and so they fought back. You of course remember the name Barabbas. What crime did Barabbas commit? Barabbas was a murderer. Under what circumstances did he murder somebody? According to Mark 15:7 he murdered someone in an insurrection. This is a terrorist act againstRome by Barabbas and is just one example of the kind of behavior that was common among the Jews as they resisted the Roman presence and the Roman power, even though it gave them so much freedom.
In Acts chapter 5 we are introduced to a man named Theudas who rose up claiming to be somebody. And a group of about 400 men joined with him. So here’s a somebody who thinks he’s a somebody any way who gets 400 men to strike a blow against the Roman occupiers, but he was killed and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man there comes another one, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him. He too perished and all those who followed him were scattered. Now from the Jews standpoint they were basing this attitude on Deut 17:15 which says, “You shall surely set him king over you whom the Lord your God shall choose. One from among your brethren shall you set king over you, you may not set a foreigner over you who is not your brother,”
This of course was the prophesy thatIsraelwould want to be like the other nations and have a king even though God was their king. Indeed when Samuel asked God about it God told him that the people had rejected God! Up to that point Israel had been a theocracy but they rejected God and embraced the world and became a monarchy.
But at the time of the writing of this epistle, the theocracy was long gone. God was no longer their king, the monarchy was gone too andIsraelwas under divine judgment; judgment exemplified by the very presence ofRome. And instead of being taught by this that they needed to repent, they continued to rebel against God and His chosen vessels of judgment.
There were the Zealots whose life’s verse was Deuteronomy 17. They were living under the delusion that Israelwas still a theocratic kingdom. And they were operating under this idea that there was no king but that one appointed by God which is true because all authority is from God and there is no authority except that which has been established by God. But what they didn’t see is that God is the one who raises up kings and deposes them. They had the words but no understanding of them. They didn’t understand that Romewas there to punish them for their sin and so they carried on their rebellious ways and didn’t repent and give God the glory. Instead they became terrorists…sicarii, they were called. They carried daggers and went around stabbing Romans and starting insurrections. Their aim was to make civil government impossible.
So you see, Middle-Eastern terrorism isn’t something new.
AndRomewas patient for many years but finally in 70 A.D. they had enough and the Legions came and put the rebellion down. They not only put it down, but they tore the temple to the ground. After that, they went throughIsraeland massacred people in 985 towns. Do you see the truth of the scriptures when they say that “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” and like witchcraft it will be judged by God!
It is interesting how much freedom the Jews had been given. How gracious God was to them! Even though they had been kicked out ofRomeby Claudius they still had great freedom throughout theRoman Empirebefore 70A.D. Paul capitalized on this freedom to preach throughout the Empire and his only opposition was from the Jews and some Gentiles who were stirred up by the Jews. But as Paul traveled and preached souls were saved, from among the Jews and the Gentiles both. And the gospel spread throughout the world. And because of the wickedness of men, and their propensity for rebellion, God directed Paul to show them that rebellion is not acceptable behavior.
And this does not come from Paul alone.
Look at 1Pet 2:12 where we read these words “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Peter is writing to believers, scattered in Gentile areas and is telling them that they are going to be slandered as evil doers. And he is telling them that the way to change the minds of their oppressors is to overwhelm them with good deeds. This is what Paul said in Romans 12:21 “You overcome evil with good.”
How are they to do that? vs13 “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority” This includes absolute monarchies, or any other form of government, such as governors who are put in place for the punishment of evil doers and the praise of those who do right.” That is an exact parallel of what we see in Romans 13. These authorities have been established by God and to rebel against them is to rebel against God. Our behavior is to be excellent before the world, not like the zealots who may have looked like law abiding citizens on the outside but their hearts were full of rebellion.
15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men. Do not use your freedom for a covering of evil but use it as slaves of God, honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God and honor the king.” 18 Slaves, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. Here is how we are to live before men. And this brings glory and honor to God!
As you can see, we have a serious responsibility to live out our faith before men.
Look again at our text and let’s take it apart and examine the language. Ro 13:1 “Every person literally every soul is to be in subjection hupotasso it is a military word that means to line up under a commander. The idea here is that we are to get in line underneath the governing authorities, the existing civil government. The text makes no distinction between good ones, bad ones, moral ones, immoral ones, fair ones, unfair ones.
For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” And here were not so much talking about persons though we are to honor the king which we will see later but we are talking specifically about governing authorities, institutions that exist whether they are monarchies with all their elements, or democracies with all their elements. The obedience of Christians to the laws and the rulers and the authorities of the system in which they live, even though they are persecuted, is a matter of obedience to God and a clear conscience before the Lord.
Now inAmericawe have had many godly Presidents. Were they perfect men? No. But they loved God and their country and sought to govern from a biblical perspective.
But today we do not have such a president. Indeed as I said at the outset of this message, there is rebellion afoot in the land as men seek to throw off the last vestiges of any restraint; that being the restraint of Christianity. Did you know thatHawaiihas just outlawed prayer in their legislature simply because someone might mention the Name of Jesus? They are the first and others are sure to follow. And in reality it is not so much that someone might be offended that is the excuse given but it is just another step in ridding society of the name of Jesus.
How are we to respond? How should we then live? Should we take up arms and seek to overthrow Hawaii’s ‘government?’ What does the word of God say? Turn to 1Tim 2:1 where we read, 1Ti 2:1 “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
This is a far cry from a revolution or terrorism. This is real Christianity and real Christians are marked by obedience to the commands of God! And the command here is to pray for our rulers, those who are in authority over us that they may be saved.
This is how true Christians act, they don’t kill people, they don’t start revolutions, instead they pray for the governing authorities and they seek to lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity because this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” We don’t want to be the problem: we definitely want to be part of the solution because we have the solution to the problems of men. And how do we show men the reality of this solution? It is through obedience to the commands of God; by demonstrating true love to a loveless world! We aren’t called to just preach the gospel; we are called to live the gospel! And that includes the command we are looking at today, to be in submission to the authorities that God Himself has established for His glory and our good.
Titus 3:1 “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities: to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, 2 to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.