The Christian and Civil Government
Matthew Lesson #131
August 14, 2016
“Our Father, we’re so thankful we can come together to focus upon You this morning to learn of You: to learn of how You have worked in history, to learn of how You have revealed Yourself to us, and how we are to live and come to understand the provisions that You have made in governing the human race through human government.
Father, we pray that You would help us to understand the principles laid down in Your Word, that we might be able to make wise decisions, especially in this election year—decisions that will honor and glorify You, despite the fact that we have so many flawed candidates.
Father, we pray that You guide and direct our thinking this morning.
In Christ’s name, Amen.”
Open Your Bibles with me to Matthew 22. We’re going to begin approximately where I ended the last time, but as I said at the end of the previous lesson, I want to take what we learned from Matthew 22:15–22 and to expand that in terms of a framework for understanding the role of the Christian in relation to civil government.
It’s important that we understand this today as much as at any time, but I think that in recent years we have seen the function of the government of the United States deteriorate.
Poll after poll demonstrates that the people have little faith in our representatives in Congress and our president, that the direction of the country is not where it should be.
And yet, election after election in the last 20 to 25 years seems to not resolve any of these problems, but things get worse. Some of us think they’re getting worse quicker than they were five or eight or ten years ago.
So we need to think through what the Bible says about the believer and the believer’s role in relation to government.
Recently I was going through files and cleaning things out, and I ran across an article. I’m not sure where it was originally published; somebody gave this to me.
This article was published in October 13, 1975, and it is a review of a document that was discovered in May 1919. I don’t think that anybody here was alive at that point.
In May 1919 in Düsseldorf, Germany, the allied forces obtained a copy of the Communist Rules of Revolution, and if you listen to them, you will see how these rules have been implemented by certain political parties.
Not every one—I’m not painting everything with a broad stroke—but many of these have come true, especially in those who hold to the progressive worldview that is dominating so much of both parties.
There are three major points and “B” has several sub points:
A. Corrupt the young, get them away from religion, get them interested in sex, make them superficial, destroy their ruggedness.
I think we could all agree that has happened more than we ever imagined. I remember the first time I heard this was long before 1975 and that is certainly true.
We live in a world where young people have become so effeminized due to several factors, that we’ve lost our sense. We have young men who don’t know what it means to be a man.
We have middle-aged men who have forgotten what it means to be a man. We have been told that true manliness is somehow chauvinistic, and that’s far from the truth.
B. Get control of all means of publicity, thereby:
- Get the peoples’ minds off their government by focusing their attention on athletics, sexy books and plays, and other trivialities
- Divide the people into hostile groups by constantly harping on controversial matters of no importance.
- Destroy the peoples’ faith in their natural leaders by holding the latter up to contempt, ridicule, and oblique.
- Always preach true democracy, but seize power as fast as and as ruthlessly as possible.
- By encouraging government extravagance, destroy its credit, produce fear of inflation with rising prices and general discontent.
- Foment unnecessary strikes in vital industries, encourage civil disorders and foster lenient and soft attitude on the part of government toward such disorders.
- By specious argument cause the breakdown of the old moral virtues: honesty, sobriety, confidence, faith in the pledged word, and ruggedness.
C. Cause the registration of all firearms on some pretext with a view towards confiscating them and leaving the population helpless.
I think that’s a pretty good summary of a lot of values that we need to definitely eschew and work against because that is what destroys any civilization or culture from the inside out.
Now last time, we were focusing on this section in Matthew 22, which is part of a threefold series of questions that the Sadducees, Pharisees, other religious leaders bring to Jesus to attempt to discredit Him by either angering the masses or angering the Roman government.
Somehow if He falls into the trap, one or the other will go against Him. This attempt failed.
The question they were asking is, “Tell us; therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
During this time—in fact since about AD 6 under Tiberius, up until the destruction of the temple in AD 70— there were and continue to be numerous tax revolts against the Romans. It was a hot issue that fomented a lot of hostile reaction among the Jews.
So if Jesus said, “Yes, pay the taxes,” then He’s going to anger the masses. If He says, “No, it’s a legal tax,” then the Romans will go after them. So how is He going to answer this question?
Last time, I pointed out that Jesus in His answer says, “Show Me the tax money. So they brought Him a denarius.”
A denarius was a Roman coin and on that coin you had a picture of, in this case and at this time, the Emperor Tiberius. There is an inscription on the coin, which makes a claim of deity for Tiberius—it’s a claim of deity for the state.
The idea of the state claiming to be divine is nothing new. The Egyptians did it rather well. Mesopotamian empires and kings did it as well. This is not something that is foreign to a Jewish culture.
They were in captivity in Egypt when the Pharaoh claimed to be the incarnation of a god. They were captives in Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar had an idol constructed of himself to be worshiped by all the people.
This idea of living under a government that claimed the authority of God for itself and to be sovereign over all things was not anything new for a Jewish community. So this was not new, but this was the claim of Tiberius.
What is going on here is that Jesus in His answer says to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
What He is saying is that there are spheres of authority, that government is an authority that is established by God. We’ll see this articulated in numerous places in Scripture—that God Himself instituted human government—despite the fact that human government would be corrupted and would be under the control of many who would abuse its authority.
Nevertheless, God delegated authority to the human race: there is a hierarchy of authority in relation to God and government and other subordinate authorities.
However, there is also an argument out there that I’ve run across a few times that claims that that’s not what is going on here at all, that this is actually Jesus pitting God against Caesar.
Jesus isn’t in some way saying, “Well, the government has a certain sphere of authority, so you should pay your taxes, but nevertheless, the government can’t take over the role of God, and so you need to render to God that which is due God.”
(He is in fact saying that the state of Rome is claiming exclusive authority by divine right—that they are divine—and this is in 100% collision with God’s claim to rule over everything.)
And that what Jesus was saying in a very subtle way was, “You don’t need to pay your taxes because this is based on a false claim of deity; and therefore, don’t pay your taxes.”
There is a certain political view that wants to lean in that direction, but that’s not what’s going on here at all. The problem is that this is taking this passage out of a broader context of Scripture, and we have to understand this.
We have to look at what the Bible teaches about the authority that God has delegated to human civil government and how the believer is to relate to that authority.
It’s one thing to say that we should submit to an authority that is doing what we think they should do and is expecting and requiring of us what we think they should expect to require, but if they go beyond a certain point, then we need to rebel against them.
So where does the line lie if we can even draw a line?
Let’s look at a few passages. Turn first of all to Genesis 9.
In Genesis, as we studied in the past, there are five divine institutions laid out: God established these. In this organization—these five divine institutions—we see that each builds upon the previous one, and that these were instituted by God for the stability and the preservation and the perpetuation of the human race.
What we see in divine institution number one—and though it’s been explained with slightly different terminology by different pastors—is an emphasis on personal or individual responsibility. That means every individual is ultimately responsible to God for the decisions that they make.
This is seen in the first prohibition that God established in the Garden of Eden, where He said to Adam, Genesis 2:16–17, “Of all the trees in the garden you may freely eat” (except for this one). “The day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in that day you will surely die.”
Notice He didn’t say that to Eve—Eve had not yet been created. He’s given that to Adam. This is going to become Adam’s responsibility, that when God creates Eve, it’s his responsibility, as the head of the race and as the spiritual head, to inform and instruct Eve on these realities, which is what took place.
The second divine institution is marriage. Marriage is designed for the perpetuation of the human race. It provides stability, and it provides the proper and only framework for sexual relations, and even though the only purpose for sexual relations is not the propagation of the species, it is to be enjoyed only within that framework of marriage.
In marriage there’s an authority structure: the husband is the authority. So authority is, as we studied in 1 Samuel, authority runs through every one of these divine institutions.
That is so important to understand because there are times, because of sin, that we all want to subvert the authority that is over us. That is part of sinfulness because the orientation of the sin nature is to self-absorption and self-indulgence. We want it to be all about us. Narcissism is the domain of the sin nature.
The marriage produces children. Now even though Adam and Eve did not have children in the garden, the fact that they were commanded to be fruitful and multiply envisions the reality of children.
All three of these divine institutions are given before there’s any sin. So even in a perfect environment, God recognized that authority needed to function. Authority is not a bad thing: that authority needed to function for there to be order, organization, and to be able to accomplish the goals and purposes that God had established for the human race.
We all know that Adam and Eve sinned: they disobeyed God. Eve ate the fruit first, Adam ate the fruit second. And that—his action not hers—plunged the human race into corruption.
It reverberated through all of creation, so that all creation became corrupted by the presence of sin and evil.
There were no established governing authorities in the period from Adam to Noah. The only authority was that which was inherent within the family. There’s a massive breakdown in society; there’s the murder in the first family between two brothers: Cain murders Abel. Then there are subsequent murders, there’s the development of polygamy.
All of this goes on, so that by the time we come to Noah, God—we’re told anthropopathically—is disgusted with the human race, regrets that He created the human race because the thoughts of man’s heart are continuously evil.
He is in rebellion against God, and the only ones that find grace in the eyes of the Lord are Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. And then God brings a judgment on the earth, wipes out all living things that breathe the air, except for those families, and those that are preserved upon the ark.
Coming off the ark the human race gets a second chance, and God establishes a covenant with Noah: we’re going to establish new rules. There are things that are similar, things that are different with the original creation covenant.
But for our purposes, we’re going to focus on two verses; these two verses establish a new system of authority.
God, on the basis of these verses, delegates to mankind the responsibility of self-government. Man is, for the first time, mandated to govern himself; this is what we see here.
God, we have to remember, is omniscient. We have some people—we have Christians, we have non-Christians, we have a lot of folks—who think we should not have capital punishment. Capital punishment is often abused, often someone who is not truly guilty is sentenced to death.
There have been those who have been unjustifiably and wrongly executed because of capital punishment, so we ought not to have capital punishment.
Guess what folks? God in His omniscience knew that that would happen. Now if that’s a justification for not doing it, then why did God go ahead and authorize it and mandate it?
So the fact that man fails is not an excuse for not having capital punishment. Just because we have people who fail at marriage—they are unfaithful, or they have a divorce—does not mean that we should just scrap marriage.
Just because parents are failures at being parents, and that the family unit does not function correctly—and sometimes it’s just extremely dysfunctional and even destructive at times to those that are within those evil families—does not mean that we should just do away with families.
Just because an institution is being implemented by sinful, fallen, corrupt human beings doesn’t mean that we do away with it. Because the institution itself is established to preserve the human race, and especially human government and nationalism, the fourth and fifth divine institutions, are given to help restrain the sinfulness of mankind.
This is what we see: that God created the governing authorities for the purpose that they are ministers of righteousness, in Romans 13 in the New Testament.
What we see here in Genesis 9 is the foundation for human government: God has delegated this human government. The original government was divine, and that was the rule of God, so in principle, government is not flawed.
The reason I’m making that point is I have heard people—solid believers who spend a lot of time under solid teaching—make the point that, “Well, government is always evil.”
No, the people in government are evil, but government as a principle begins with God, and government as a principle is in and of itself not evil.
So we have the delegation of certain government responsibilities here for the first time. We look at this covenant, and one question we should ask is, how long does this covenant last?
Well, the covenant lasts until God destroys the present heavens and the present earth, and that will not be until the end of the Millennium. The Noahic Covenant is a perpetual covenant, so it is still in effect.
The sign of that covenant is the rainbow. So any time that we look outside and see a rainbow—and who knows we may see one today or tomorrow or the next day—this will remind you that this covenant with Noah is still in effect.
That means the provisions to eat meat are still in effect. That means the provisions to take a life under certain circumstances is also in effect. And it means that God’s promise that He will not destroy the earth by water again is also in effect.
The way we’ve been getting rain here in the last this last year, some people need to be reminded that God will not destroy mankind. He may destroy a few villages and cities and small towns along the way, but not the whole earth. But there will be an ultimate destruction.
What we see in Genesis 9:5–6 is the foundation for why Christians and why the Judeo-Christian heritage emphasizes the sanctity of human life and that the role of government, ultimately and according to the Noahic Covenant, is to preserve and to protect human life.
Thus, when a life is taken unjustly, there is to be a judicial framework for evaluating what happened and determining guilt as well as punishment.
The most extreme form of punishment, the most serious form of punishment is taking the life of a human being, and that is what is authorized here.
Notice the text does not say that it is designed to prevent other people from doing it. You often have those who are against the death penalty say, “Well, studies show that it doesn’t prevent anything.” Other sites say, “Yes, it does.” Well, prevention isn’t part of the covenant. Don’t get caught in that trap.
The covenant says that the reason, look at verse 6, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed.” Why? “For in the image of God He made man.”
Now that’s important: The image of God. It belongs to every single human being.
Genesis 1:26–27, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, over all the earth, and creeping things creep on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them.”
As image bearers: men and women—we are from Adam and Eve down, even though the image is corrupted and flawed—we’re still the image of God. We are to represent God.
That’s what an image does, it represents God. So when you take the life of another person, what you are doing is in effect making a theological statement that you are attacking God indirectly through His image, through His representative.
Murder, and were not talking about killing as a form of capital punishment because obviously, God authorizes that.
Sometimes you’ll hear people quote the commandment in Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” In the King James it was translated, “You shall not kill.”
People will quote that and say, “See, don’t kill.” The fact is that there are about seven different words in the Old Testament Hebrew to describe killing. This is the word ratsach, which means to murder.
In fact, in Exodus 21, there is another clear statement about capital punishment and stipulations that under certain conditions the life of someone who commits murder is to be taken. There are numerous places in the Old Testament that authorized capital punishment.
So capital punishment isn’t ratsach. What is prohibited here is ratsach. Taking a life in combat, or self-defense is not ratsach; that is not prohibited. Taking a life in self-defense is authorized; taking a life in combat as part of war is also authorized. We have to be careful to understand what the text actually says.
As we move from the covenant with Noah and we look at the covenant with Moses, we see that there’s a structure at the beginning of the Mosaic Law which we usually refer to as the Ten Commandments. A more technical term is the Decalogue, which is the “Ten Sayings,” but we have the Ten Commandments.
They’re divided into basically two subject categories:
- The first category relates to how we relate to God.
- The second relates to how we relate to mankind.
Jesus summarized the commandments, Matthew 22:37, “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” That’s the first part of the Ten Commandments.
The second part is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
That is often abused by certain people who have a false sense of compassion. For example, I was informed yesterday by one of the men in our men’s prayer breakfast that He was in a conversation with someone and the Ten Commandments came up and he asked him, “Well, what are the greatest commandments?”
And the other person said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and said this is why we need to let as many refugees and people come across the border as possible, that not letting them come is not loving our neighbor.
I thought about that; I said, “That’s typical progressivism that focuses on the wrong person as the neighbor. What about your actual neighbor who is killed by someone who is here illegally? What about your coworkers’ children who become addicted to drugs because of the drug activity that comes across the border due to this illegal immigrant activity? Those are your neighbors also.”
The typical in progressivism—when you see somebody who’s committed murder—you’ll hear the liberals come out against capital punishment because they’re focusing on the criminal and “you’re going to love your neighbor”—that is, the criminal.
They forget about the victim of the crime, who was also their neighbor. It is a selective and wrong application of the principle.
But the second part of the Decalogue focuses on how man relates to man under the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself. Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.” This emphasizes the sanctity of life again: that it is the role of government to protect and provide security for people. And this is instantiated in this commandment.
The second commandment is protection of the second and third divine institutions. Exodus 20:14, “You shall not commit adultery,” and that is to preserve marriage and sexual relations within the framework of marriage and to protect marriage so that it becomes the focal point of providing education and stability within a nation.
When this divine institution begins to fall apart: and if you hadn’t noticed, it is in this nation. We have a lower divorce right now, but that’s not because fewer people are getting divorced, it’s because fewer people are getting married; they’re just living together. And they’ll lived together for a while, and then they won’t. That’s not the divine institution of marriage.
Marriage is the focal point of stability for any culture. Once you change the meaning of marriage and begin to allow people of the same sex to marry, then you are destroying the concept of marriage, and you will destroy your nation.
We already have cases that are coming up through the court systems related to validating and legalizing polygamy because if you are going to change the definition of marriage from one man–one woman, why not two men and four women, why not one man and eight women, or one woman and eight men?
Once you start making the definition of the divine institutions the prerogative of human government, then you will destroy the nation, and its days are numbered.
Exodus 20:15, “You shall not steal.” This protects private property. It’s a recognition that people have the right to own things without it being taken from them by others. So it emphasizes the sanctity of private property.
It’s interesting that in this command, “You shall not steal,” there’s no object. It doesn’t say you shall not steal private property. It doesn’t say you shall not steal cars. It doesn’t say you shall not steal money. It says you shall not steal, PERIOD. So there is an unstated object. It implies that theft of any kind is also wrong.
Then there is the next commandment in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” This protects the privacy, it protects the reputation of the neighbor. You can’t steal his reputation; you can’t steal his integrity.
This is to protect the neighbor’s good name and reputation—also you can’t falsely imprison him or falsely punish him—from those kinds of attacks.
The Lord Jesus Christ went to the Cross because of the Jewish leaders—the governing powers over the Jews—bore false witness against Him. They made claims that were untrue.
The last commandment, Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” This is one of the things that convicted the apostle Paul; it’s a recognition of a mental attitude sin. You can avoid certain overt sins, but the mental attitude sins of lust are just as sinful. This last commandment highlights this and emphasizes that mental attitude sins of lust are also self-destructive, and it destroys one’s own personal integrity.
We see an authorization of government power to oversee these things and to emphasize them in a government. Now the Mosaic Law was designed for the Jewish people it was not intended to be transferred in toto to another country, but it provides a pattern.
This is a system of jurisprudence which has its roots in English common law. This goes back to one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon kings, Alfred the Great, who was quite a biblical scholar.
In fact, He translated many of the Psalms into Hebrew, and he composed a fine legal document referred to as the “Dooms of Alfred the Great.” In Old Saxon, a doom was a law. So this is the laws of Alfred the Great, and provides the foundation for the development of law in England.
The Old Testament establishes and legitimizes human government as delegated by God, even though there would be kings and emperors who would be corrupt and would significantly abuse that authority and also set themselves up to be worshiped as God.
Nevertheless, if we were to take the time to look at Daniel 2, Daniel 4, Daniel 5, we would see an example of believers—who are living under a corrupt pagan government—who recognize the need to still function under the authority of that government.
When they are challenged, for example, they negotiated, in Daniel 1. God gave them wisdom, and in that case, they were successful.
In Daniel 3 is the command to worship the idol of Nebuchadnezzar. They were unable to negotiate a compromise, so they were willing to die in order to stay true to their faith, but they were not going to rebel against the king.
In Daniel 5, Daniel goes to the lion’s den. Even though there is an unjust law, he just quietly does what he knows to be the correct thing to do. Even though he knows that he will be sent to the lion’s den, he just trusts God to take care of what needs to be taken care of.
When we get into the New Testament, Jesus also gives some instruction about human government and also provides an example of dealing with human government.
Some of this is explicit in the form of direct statements, and others implicit in his attitude and relation, to governing authorities. He taught and He demonstrated submission to government. Even when He is brought up on unjust charges based on false witnesses before a tyrannical government represented by Pontius Pilate, He submits to their decision.
In fact, the irony is that if Jesus had not submitted to an unjust tyrannical authority, we would not have salvation. Now that’s something to ponder, because there are many of us who say, “I’m not going to obey a tyrannical government.” Think about it.
So Jesus, in John 19:11, recognizes the authority of Rome; and He says to Pilate, “You could have no power at all against Me, unless it had been given you from above.”
He’s recognizing that the authority of human government is delegated under the authority of God. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive claims. See, that was the argument that I read against the interpretation of the “render under Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”
He’s setting these up as mutually exclusive domains. Therefore, He’s saying you either obey human government or you obey God—that’s His bottom line. That was the crux of that argument.
But Jesus is showing that there is a hierarchy here, that even corrupt governors rule under the authority of God, and God delegates that power.
Another example, we see people going to Jesus to adjudicate civil cases. He refuses to do it.
In one case in Luke 12:13–15, someone in the crowd says, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Here we have a dispute between siblings over the distribution of the inheritance in the property.
And Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” Jesus doesn’t step over the line and take on civil authority.
He says to him in verse 15, “Take heed and beware of covetousness.” Jesus addresses the core spiritual issue: that whatever else is going on here, make sure that you are not being ruled by sin, by the 10th commandment.
Avoid that: “beware of covetousness for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”
In another passage that we have studied in Matthew 17, Jesus also authorized the payment of taxes.
We read in Matthew 17:24, “When they had come to Capernaum,”—that’s the disciples and here specifically, it is Peter and Jesus—those who receive the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does Your teacher not pay the temple tax?” They’re questioning Jesus’ legitimacy trying to trap them on this.
Peter’s response was, Matthew 17:25, “‘Yes’, and when He came into the house, Jesus anticipated what he would say, and said, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?”
I want you to notice how He frames the question. He doesn’t say, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the priests take customs or taxes?” The question He’s asking isn’t narrowed to the temple tax. He talks about kings of the earth. He’s relating this to all taxes.
In the payment of the temple tax—remember the temple is under the authority of the Sanhedrin—and it is being ruled by a very corrupt religious system. Under the high priest family of Annas—of whom Caiaphas is a son-in-law—the priesthood was extremely corrupt, and the family of Annas was kind of like the family of Don Corleone.
They are corrupt through and through. It was a criminal operation, and Jesus could say, which some people would want Him to say today, “Don’t pay the taxes because you’re paying into a corrupt system. So it’s fine for you not to pay the taxes.” But that’s not what He says.
Matthew 17:26–27, Peter answers and says, “‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free.’ ” Jesus is making the point, “Well, maybe there’s a case there for us not paying, but we’re going to do it anyway because it’s the right thing.
“Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money”—that was for the payment of tax—“and then go and give it to them for Me and you.”
Jesus doesn’t challenge the right of paying taxes, but Jesus wasn’t uncritical of governing authorities. He teaches that we are to obey authority but He’s also critical of the way the authorities exercise.
Luke 22:25, He recognizes the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship in an arrogant, tyrannical manner. “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ ”
It’s totally false. It’s doublespeak, like Orwell’s 1984.
Mark 8:15, He challenges the Pharisees: He says, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” He realizes they are illegitimately practicing their authority. Nevertheless, you still pay the temple tax.
Matthew 23:3–4 is a further indictment of the religious leaders. We’ll get to this in the next chapter in Matthew, the woes against the religious leaders.
“Therefore, whatever they”—that is the Pharisees—“tell you to observe, that observe and do, but don’t do according to their works, for they say and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
He’s indicting them for the egregious and horrible use of their authority and the wrong use of their authority—that it’s unrighteous—but He says still do what they say.
Romans 13, two other passages in the New Testament, we’ll hit briefly. I mentioned this last time. In Romans 13:6, Paul says, “For because of this, you also pay taxes.” See, if he says pay taxes and Jesus really meant don’t pay taxes to an illegitimate authority, then you have a problem.
But the Bible is consistent: “pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.”
He’s writing under the early part of Nero’s reign—Rome is still a corrupt tyrannical empire—and he says pay your taxes. Romans 13:7, “Render, therefore, to all their due: taxes to who they are due, customs to whom customs, fear, honor to whom honor.”
He began this discussion in Romans 13:1–2, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.”
In other words, what he is saying is that even if human beings are abusing that authority, the delegation of it is still from God; and therefore, we are to serve the government, obey the government as unto the Lord.
That’s what Peter’s argument will be in 1 Peter 2:13–16. “Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake.” We see the extent of obedience is to every ordinance.
The motivation is because we’re serving the Lord. That’s the same thing: that wives are to submit to their husbands “as unto the Lord”. Every time we submit to authority, we do it as unto the Lord.
As we studied in Samuel a few weeks ago, when Samuel indicts Saul for his disobedience, he says to him that rebellion is like the sin of divination, and insubordination is like the sin of idolatry. It’s wrong inherently because this reflects the first sin of the universe: Satan’s rebellion against God.
So Peter goes on to say we’re to obey “the King as supreme or to governors, as to those sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.”
Remember, Peter writes under the latter part of Nero’s reign, when Nero was out-of-control and crazy and persecuting Christians. And he still says submit to the authority of government.
Why? Verse 15, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
Then he’ll go on to talk about the fact that when you do good, you may get punished, but it’s better to be punished for doing good than for being punished for not doing good.
Because when we get punished for not doing good, we deserve it; but when there’s punishment for doing good then that counts for eternity, if it’s under the filling of Spirit.
But Peter—the same Peter who wrote this—is the Peter who recognized that there were times when you did not obey government. When the Sanhedrin ordered Peter and John to not preach the gospel, Peter and John said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
There are times when any authority over us tells us to do something in direct opposition to what the Word of God says, then we are authorized to disobey.
Not just some principle, but when there is a direct statement of Scripture, “don’t do this” and the government says to do it, then we’re authorized to disobey. Or if the government says “do this” and God says don’t do it, then we are to always obey God.
One last thought this morning: as we all wrestle with issues related to the election, whether it’s national office, state office, or local office. In the past, I encouraged you to go back and think through the series I taught in 2008 on Decision-Making in the Voting Booth; the principles are still very much valid.
But there’s another principle that I think should be added to that. We are exhorted to pray for leaders in 1Timothy 2:1–2. Paul writes, again this is during the time of Nero, “Therefore, I exhort first of all the supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men”—that would include Nero—“for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
I think one criterion in determining who we elect for mayor, who we elect for governor, who we elect for any office is: are they going to have an administration that is inclined to increasing our freedom as Christians to function freely in the marketplace of ideas? Or are they going to be hostile, are they going to pass laws and ordinances that make it a distraction and a challenge?
We had a mayor in Houston that was elected; she had an agenda: she was anti-church in many of her things that she tried to pass. It took a lot of time and energy and money and effort by Christian leaders to fight her agenda.
She should never have been elected. Christians should never have voted for her on this principle alone: that she is going to have an administration that will try to put forth laws and ordinances, and also will appoint people who would be hostile to the practice in the marketplace of biblical Christianity.
That should be applied across the board; that is another principle that we should take into account, as we’re evaluating candidates and the people for whom we are to vote.
But ultimately we recognize that there is an authority in the universe. That authority is God, and He has directed us in His Word that He has delegated authority through the state, in order to provide security and stability for a nation.
But when these principles are violated, it doesn’t justify us in going out in some kind of rebellion, but it will lead to the destruction of the state.
The only hope for this country is Jesus Christ. There can be moral shifts, there can be some political party shifts, but unless there’s an internal heart attitude—a shift of thinking in the soul that moves the culture back to submission to God and to His Word—there will be no restoration at all, and we will just continue on the path to destruction.
But as believers living in that environment, we can have great joy and stability because of our relation to the Lord and the doctrine that’s in our soul.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things, to reflect on what You’ve taught about authority and government in the Scripture. That we may come to understand that yes, government is real and legitimate, but there are those who may corrupt it. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to be obedient and to glorify You through that obedience.
Father, we recognize the only solution to all the problems in life or any problem we have is ultimately our relationship to Jesus Christ; that You sent Your Son to die on the Cross for our sins, and that the great solution for us is to begin with trusting in Him as our Savior because there is no real life for us apart from Jesus Christ. He is the way, and He is the life.
Father, we pray that anyone listening to this message would take this opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior who died for their sins if they have never done that before.
Father, for us as believers, we need to be reminded that citizenship in this world, especially under the Constitution of our nation, involves responsibility: civil responsibilities, related to obedience to the government and also involvement in the governing process. That is part of good civics and good civil responsibility.
Father, we pray for our nation, that there might be a change, that You would continue to raise up men of God who will proclaim the truth of Your Word and people who would respond to that truth. That once again we could see Your Word implemented in the lives of people in this country.
And we pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”