For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
1 Peter 2:13
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
It is often said that the two subjects not to mention in casual conversation are religion and politics. In this lesson, however, we are going to discuss both religion and politics as we look at the relationship between the normal Christian and the government. Thus far we have studied the institutions of marriage and the church, but the Bible mentions a third institution: government. The truest and best form of government is a theocracy where God alone is ascribed the power and authority to govern. From the millennium on throughout eternity, this will be the only form of government. However, for this lesson let us consider only human government. There are two great passages in the New Testament that we shall use as our text: Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17.
First let us lay down some Bible principles concerning government that we can use to help us build a foundation for the normal Christian Life.
The first principle we need to understand concerns the function of government as defined by the Bible.
Romans 13:4 presents the most obvious function of the government which is to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil (verse 4). Peter refers to these ministers of God as those sent by Him "for the punishment of evildoers" (1 Peter 2:13). The government is the institution used by God to punish men for breaking the law.
Paul questions in Romans 13:3 as to why a Christian would be afraid of the government. He says of those in government, "he is the minister of God to thee for good". Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. These ministers of God do no bear the sword in vain. Thus another function of the government is to protect those that do good from those that do evil.
Peter says that we are to obey the ordinances of the government (1 Peter 2:13). Another function of government is to promote the general welfare of the nation. This is also brought out in 1 Timothy 2:2 where Paul relates the government with our ability to "lead a quiet and peaceable life". The government is to preserve the peace and quiet of the commonwealth.
Another principle that we must fully acknowledge is the obligation of the Christian to the government.
Paul says, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1), and Peter says, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man" (1 Peter 2:13). There can be no confusion here - the Christian is to obey every ordinance of the government! Peter strengthens the force of this command by adding the plea, "for the Lord's sake". He says, after all that Jesus has done for you, for His sake submit yourself to the laws of human government. Paul adds force to the command by reminding us that to disobey the government is equivalent to resisting God.
Both Paul and Peter say as well that we are to honor those in government (Romans 13:7 and 1 Peter 2:17). Paul put this into practice in Acts 23:1-5 quoting from Exodus 22:28. Both 2 Peter 2:10 and Jude 8-9 state that speaking evil of dignities is a sin committed by apostate and false teachers.
Should a Christian tell or listen to jokes about the President?
Daniel Webster said, "Whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens". We have an obligation to maintain the testimony of being good citizens, as Peter says, "that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:15). We ought to have that testimony that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you (Titus 2:8). Our text passage in 1 Peter 2:13 was probably prompted by the statement about our testimony in verse 12. Christians ought to be known as the best citizens, but unfortunately many carnal Christians and false professors have given Christianity a bad testimony (2 Peter 2:2).
One final obligation that we have to the government is to pray for them! Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:2 that we are to pray "for kings, and for all that are in authority."
Now that we have laid some foundational principles relating to human government, we shall use them to settle some popular issues that are very relevant to the normal Christian life. We cannot resolve all of the issues in this lesson, so we shall leave several for the next.
Have you ever seen religious people demonstrating against capital punishment claiming that God is against it? These people take the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill, given in Exodus 20:13 to mean that God has commanded that government should not kill a person, no matter what the crime (It means thou shalt not murder). Others take the statement made by Jesus in Matthew 26:52, "all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" to prove that God is not for capital punishment. It seems amazing that anyone could read the Bible and get this idea, for Scripture is just full of examples showing that capital punishment is ordained by God. Let us consider just a few facts from the Word of God:
1. Originated from God
Human government was first instituted by God just after the flood. In Genesis 9:6, a new commandment was given, Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This was the first time that God gave man the authority to judicially take another man's life. This is exactly the definition of capital punishment.
2. Organized by God
Reading through the Old Testament, you will find that God explicitly prescribes death as the punishment for sins such as children striking their parents (Exodus 21:15), killing an unborn infant (Exodus 21:22-23), witchcraft (Exodus 22:18), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), and sodomy (Leviticus 20:13). The kings of Judah that practiced capital punishment under these situations were recognized as being good kings (for example, Asa in 1 Kings 15:12 and Josiah in 2 Kings 23:24). The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New - He has not changed (Malachi 3:6).
3. Ordered by God
In our text it is obvious that capital punishment is still something ordered by God. What other purpose is there for one that "beareth not the sword in vain" (Romans 13:4)? It is still the God given authority and duty for the government to use capital punishment!
We cannot study all of the functions that the government improperly tries to fill, but let us consider a few of the more pertinent examples. As we have seen, God has three very distinct institutions: the home, the church, and the government. Each institution has its proper role and function in God's economy. We get into trouble when we try to make one of these institutions fulfill the responsibility of another.
1. Educating Children
Our text says nothing about the government being responsible for educating and raising children. What institution did God ordain for this purpose? The home, of course. It was to parents that God gave the command, "And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:7). Ephesians 6:4, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is addressed to fathers. The function of educating children is the responsibility of parents.
2. Feeding the Poor
Our text does not place the function of feeding and caring for the poor with the government either. What institution did God ordain to carry out this role? The answer is two-fold. First, family is to take care of family. You will find this in the story of Ruth and Boaz and you will find it spelled out as well, directly in Scripture. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:4, Paul says that widows are to be taken care of by their children or nephews. So the home has the first responsibility toward the poor and destitute. In the situation though when no family exists, the church is to care for these people. Such is the case found in 1 Timothy 5. When a widow had family, the church was not to be burdened (verse 16), but otherwise the church would be responsible. No where in Scripture do we find that the government was set apart for this role.