Romans 13:1–7. Lesson 24. The Christian and His Government.
KeyNotes: Examples of OT and NT civil disobedience. Tertullian and the early Church. The Puritan covenant. The divine right of kings. Advantages of the democratic system. Legislating morality.
The topic of the citizen and his government is the subject of an enormous amount of literature and discussion. There is almost universal agreement that government is necessary for human life. This lesson will say what the Bible says about it. A little American history will help us apply Scripture to government.
13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities.
There is no authority except from God and it exists by God’s institution.
13:2 Anyone who resists, resists what God has appointed.
3:3 Those who resist are under judgment for doing evil.
Do good and you will be approved. Do wrong and be afraid.
13:4 He is God’s servant, wearing the sword to execute God’s judgment on the wrong-doer.
13:5 Be subject to avoid wrath--God’s and the administrator's-- for the sake of your own conscience.
13:6 Pay taxes, revenues, respect, and honor as required.
The word "God’s servant" (Gr. diakonos; deacon in English) is used twice in 13:4. The Greek word for God’s minister in 13:5 is leitourgos in Greek; liturgist in English. That word was commonly used for those who did public service. So the governor is our deacon and our mayor is our liturgist, our public servant.
There is little doubt about what Paul says. Three other voices in the NT echo this teaching.
“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for any honest work, to speak evil of no one…” Titus 3:1–2
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors sent by Him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” I Peter 2:13–17
Jesus said, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Matt. 22:21
God has instituted human government for our good. We must respect it because we respect Him.
We are also to give the government our prayer support.
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.” I Tim. 2:1–2
The OT also advocates godly and just leadership in government.
“You shall not revile God nor curse a ruler of your people.” (Ex. 22:28)
“I charged your judges at that time…judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien that is with him. You shall not be partial in judgment; you shall hear the small and great alike. You shall not be afraid of the face of man for the judgment is God’s....” Deut. 1:16-
The Psalmist admonishes Israel’s judges in Psa. 72 and 82.
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psa. 82:3–4
“By me (Wisdom) kings reign and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule and nobles govern the earth.” Prov. 8:15
Jeremiah exhorted the last king of Judah: “Do justice, and righteousness; and deliver from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless and the widow nor shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3
Civil disobedience and revolt, however, were an inevitable part of OT life.
The midwives refused Pharaoh’s order to kill the Hebrew boy babies. Ex. 1:17
Israel had seven or eight revolts against the neighboring countries that oppressed it, as described in the Judges.
Twice in the OT, God authorized an uprising against the authority of an Israelite king.
*Jeroboam was authorized by a prophet to revolt against Rehoboam. I Kings. 11:26–40
*Elisha commissioned Jehu to wipe out the house of Ahab. II Kings. 9:6–9
David, on the other hand, was not permitted to attack Saul or his kin.
The OT shows that God’s authorizes the powers in government. However, that does not imply that God exercises complete control over them or approves of whatever they do.
*He let the Pharaoh of the Exodus defy Him so that His glory might be demonstrated. Rom. 9:17
*He authorized Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Jerusalem and the nations around with a threat to those who resisted (Jer. 27:6 -11). Isaiah prophetically denounced the King of Babylon’s “unrelenting persecution”: “the staff of the wicked that smote the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows….” (Isa. 14:5–6). Later God forced Nebuchadnezzar to his knees. Dan. 4:25–27
*He called Cyrus of Persia His “Anointed” to bring Israel back from captivity, although Cyrus did not know who his Master was. Isa. 45:1
*The Angel of God fought with the Prince of Greece and the Prince of Persia (Dan. 10:20), a contest we would love to know more about.
The NT also has a few examples of civil disopedience. Peter and the other apostles withstood the Jerusalem authorities. Acts 4–7.
The NT addresses other political problems.
The Zealots were a sect of the Jews that refused any king but God. They refused to pay taxes and killed some of their countrymen whom they considered collaborators with Rome. They were terrorists and were instrumental in provoking the final destruction of Israel by the Romans, and the Second Diaspora.
The Jews may have rioted in Rome, explaining why they were expelled by Claudius. (Acts18:2). Paul wanted to make sure that the Church stood clear of any rebellion.
The Church was protected by the Romans in its early days because an edict of Gallio (Acts 18:14) made the Christians a sect of Judaism, which was a minority protected by the Romans. Paul suffered much more from the Jews than the Romans on his missionary journeys. He ultimately was carried off to Rome to escape persecution by the Jews. So the church was under pressure from multiple sources: the Jews, the Romans, and its own people.
The Roman Christians must not revolt and bring disrepute on the name of Christ. Even though He was crucified as a criminal, His followers must behave as saints to refute the prejudices of the pagans. The early Christians who had been freed from sin were tempted to think of themselves as freed from everything. A similar problem erupted after the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, when radical reformers acted out in scandalous ways that hurt the cause of the Reformation.
The Christians' perception of the Roman government changed remarkably by the time John wrote the Apocalypse. Rome was now The Great Whore of Babylon, “drunk with the blood of saints and the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.” (Rev. 17:6–18). The saints were instructed to “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues….” (Rev.‘:4). How much of this description of Rome is prophetic for the future as well as descriptive of New Testament times is a problem of interpretation.
The early Church nevertheless took Paul and Peter’s instruction to heart.
“We offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favor, beyond all other things, they must themselves desire…. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection for the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest—whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish.” –- a quotation from Tertullian, b. 160 AD. (The Letter to the Romans; W. Barclay; Westminster,’75; p.172.)
Paul’s command not to resist authority has not been universally appreciated.
“These seven verses have caused more unhappiness and misery in the Christian East and West than any other seven verses in the NT.” They are the basis of the Divine Right of Kings and have been used in the defense of many dictatorial regimes. The verses were used by southern pastors who opposed emancipation of the slaves. However we can see from the Scriptures that the command to submit is not absolute. Conscientious civil disobedience is also required.
The whole concept of government changed drastically in the 200 years after the Reformation. We owe much to the English struggles between the Crown and the Church and the impact of the French Revolution. There are two religious influences prominent in the development of our government, the Puritan and the Republican.
The Puritans are the evangelical church’s spiritual ancestors. They developed the concept that God made a covenant with Christian nations as an application of God’s covenant with Israel. The Puritans interpreted national prosperity and peace as God’s reward for righteousness. Conversely, they regarded wars and famine as evidence of God’s judgment. The Puritans tried and failed to purify the Church of England. They feared God’s wrath on England’s corrupt government and moved to “New England” where they hoped to form a just and godly society with Scripture as its basis. It was to be a theocratic state.
As the Colonies became wealthy and diverse, the prospects for a regenerate society faded and even a regenerate church membership became a disappointment. They tried to make the celebration of communion universal for the sake of unity of the society. This also failed. Jonathon Edwards came forward preaching a regenerate church membership. That sparked the first of several national revivals. The Puritans virtually disappeared after two generations in the New World, but traces of their influence on government remain, such as “one Nation, under God, indivisible…”
The other influence was Republican, a secularizing mind-set from Europe that emphasized freedom, basic human virtue, an emphasis on the common good (commonwealth), a faith in human reason, universal salvation, Jesus as a moral guide, and Unitarianism. In short, modern liberalism was showing itself in the early 1700’s. However, there was enough Christian influence among the Founding Fathers, that Republicanism did not win either. The two influences were melded using the deistic language of the Founding Fathers. America managed to combine the spirit of religion and the ideal of liberty.
The outcome of governmental struggle in the US is unique.
We have a written constitution so that we are not vulnerable to arbitrary laws or decrees.
We have a separation of powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) which is intended to prevent one person or group from dominating the country.
We do not try to compel moral or religious virtue, a policy which led other governments to great cruelty in the past.
Our separation of church and state protects us from interference with our spiritual work. We have many voluntary institutions that do good all over the world.
We are not the subjects of a king. We are citizens, voters, participants in democratically elected governments. We have the right of referendum on important financial, ethical and political issues. We have a voice in the choice of officials from the sheriff to the President.
Our government is decentralized into cities, counties, and states.
We can become public officials ourselves.
A group of students discussed this question: Shall we impose our religious beliefs on our society?
They said “no” and gave five reasons:
A. We cannot legislate morality.
B. We have a separation of Church and State.
C. People should not be denied their civil rights (e.g. homosexuals).
D. We have no right to impose our beliefs on others.
E. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
I offered some rebuttal:
A. We certainly can and do legislate morality. The Civil Rights Acts of’60 changed the minds of many people about African-Americans. Sales of cigarettes and liquor are heavily taxed in order to curtail their use. Prostitution is prohibited. Laws against rape, murder and theft are partially effective. Graft and corruption in government are prosecuted.
B. The separation of church and state is intended to prevent the State from establishing a religion, or a religion from dominating the government. It does not prevent religious people from participating in government. Congressmen meet in their offices for Bible study. The President quotes Scripture. The Senate opens with prayer.
C. Civil rights are not the same for everyone. People who endanger others by their practices must be restrained. It is necessary to quarantine people with certain infectious diseases. People who have committed a felony cannot vote and cannot be employed in sensitive intelligence work. We cannot have pedophiles working with children. People who drive while intoxicated lose their drivers' licenses.
D. Every group tries to impose its beliefs on others. The philosophy of liberalism is worked out in the political life of the Country. Marxism influences social legislation. Atheists try to privatize religion. Evolutionists have prevented discussion of intelligent design in the public schools. Christian groups oppose abortion.
E. Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, but our government is in the hands of its citizens. We are admonished by our government to get involved, vote, join a party, work on city committees, write to our representatives, and speak to public issues. We must monitor the education of our children.
There are plenty of political issues for us to confront:
Abortion, embryonic life, euthanasia
Promiscuity, homosexuality, pornography
Poverty, homelessness, medical economics
Racism, justice, immigration
Education, family life, divorce
Terrorism, war, diplomacy, climate change
These cannot be solved by government alone or by our participation in it.
A revival of spiritual life is a crying need.