Our relationship with our governments
God’s people were under heavy political oppression when Jesus was on earth. Many Jews expected Him to take over their government. In fact, they wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king”. Yet Jesus withdrew from such advances and secluded Himself in a mountain. What’s more, He submitted to the unpopular Roman authorities to be executed by them. What does this mean for believers when it comes to our relationship with our governments?
John 6:14-15 ESV Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
By deferring to political and church leaders, Jesus set an example for us to “be subject to human institutions and governing authorities because any that exists have been instituted by God”. God’s Word calls us to do this “for the Lord’s sake“.
Romans 13:1-2 ESV Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Earthly governments will always be flawed
Man-made governmental systems were not God’s original intention for His people. He was our perfect Governing Authority, Judge, and Warrior, until mankind rejected Him in favour of human rulers.
The Jewish people first asked the prophet Samuel to appoint a king for them. In spite of their offensive request, God granted their desire – after warning them twice that any human ruler would eventually oppress them. Rather than be set apart and follow God, the people still insisted on choosing a fallible human being to be their ruler, judge, and army commander, because they wanted to be like “all the other nations“ around them. History goes on to show that their kings did indeed eventually oppress them and lead them astray.
1 Samuel 8:4-5,7,9-10,17-20 ESV Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “… Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” … And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them… Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him… He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Exodus 14:14 ESV The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Some of God’s people also rejected Jesus Christ in favour of earthly rulers. At Jesus’ trial, some of the Jewish chief priests who wanted to gain political favour from the Romans declared that they had “no king but Caesar“ in the face of the King of the universe standing before them.
John 19:14-16 ESV It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Ultimately, God controls all political leaders
Every political party, no matter how well-intentioned, has eventually faltered. No one is as perfect as God – unaffected by fleeting political agendas or personal interests, and always wise, impartial and selfless. Thankfully, God works through political systems and leaders that honour Him as well as those that don’t.
The Egyptian pharaoh whom Moses confronted was a harsh ruler. Yet the Bible states that God was the One who allowed the oppressive ruler and his kingdom to grow rich and powerful. He also allowed the pharaoh to keep hardening his heart towards God’s people, so that it would lead to a dramatic culmination of God’s plans to free His people from Egypt in haste and with great wealth.
Romans 9:17-18 ESV For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
We need to remember that our political leaders today can only operate within God’s plans. Whether our political leaders have been fairly elected or not, every one of them has been appointed by God to carry out His will. They may not know it, but the directions they have chosen have long been ordained by God for His higher purpose.
Proverbs 21:1 ESV The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
Proverbs 16:4-5 ESV The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.
When we criticise or curse our political leaders, however, we show that we do not trust God or His judgment. God is so mighty and powerful that nothing accomplished on earth can derail His plans from heaven. Regardless of our political views, we need to remember that God is at work in every single government on earth.
Daniel 2:20-21 ESV Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
Our relationship with our governments
The Bible provides some guidance on how followers of Jesus Christ are to relate to our governments.
1. Only judge those inside the church
Our government leaders are entrusted with the duty to serve people. This is not an enviable task, given the many different interest groups – both in and outside the government. When our political leaders fall short of our personal standards, our disappointment and frustration may lead us to criticise, slander, curse and judge them.
The Bible reminds us to only judge those inside the Christian community who fall into sin, not the shortcomings of those outside the church. God is only true Law Giver and Judge. He will not neglect to judge those who pervert justice or take advantage of the oppressed. Unpopular or corrupt political leaders may escape retribution now, but they will still face God’s fearsome, eternal Justice System one day. Hence, in spite of all the hostile political news reports and social media posts, we must be careful not to follow the masses and judge those that others judge. This would make us no different from the world.
1 Corinthians 5:12-13 ESV For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Deuteronomy 27:19 ESV “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
2. Do our part to defend the rights the weak and poor
God has assigned to every believer the responsibility of defending those who lack the power to speak up for themselves, such as orphans, widows, refugees, the poor, the unborn, the trafficked, the fatherless and so forth. We too sin when we fail to help the needy around us.
Psalm 82:3 ESV Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
3. Remember to check our attitudes and motives
Seeking to stand up for justice without the right motives or a clean conscience will not please God. He calls us to remove the evil in our own hearts before we seek to address the evil in the world. Otherwise, we will simply be hypocritical crusaders.
Isaiah 1:16-17 ESV Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Neither are we called to fight for justice due to some personal bitterness or agenda. We are to check the conditions of our hearts and be a source of love and grace. God calls us to strive for peace with everyone, including those we don’t agree with, and even when we face great persecution as we stand up for righteousness.
Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Hebrews 12:14-15 ESV Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
Matthew 5:10 ESV “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4. Represent our Chief-of-Justice in gentleness and humility
God loves justice and chose Jesus to bring His justice to all nations. The Bible describes Jesus, God’s chosen Chief-of-Justice, as gentle, humble and not easily discouraged. Similarly, we are called to “be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” This means that when we do speak up against policies that oppress or neglect the weak and needy, we ought to be careful not to criticise, sabotage or threaten the people behind them. We ought to seek to foster peaceful, respectful conversations on policies and programmes to care for the needy, keeping in mind that we represent the universal Chief-of-Justice, whom we have to answer to for our attitudes and behaviour one day.
Isaiah 61:8-9 ESV For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong…
Isaiah 42:1-9 ESV Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.
Titus 3:1-3 ESV Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
5. Beware authorities that demand we deny God
The only time we should refuse to submit to governing authorities is when they ask us to deny Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. No person or human institution can decide our eternal fate on our behalf. That is our choice.
Matthew 10:22,26,32-33 ESV and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. … And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell… So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
6. We are called to pray for our governments
Disciples of Jesus are called to pray for and bless our governing leaders and those in high positions. This is what pleases God. Here is an opportunity to pray right now with a sample prayer for our government.
1 Timothy 2:1-3 ESV First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,
We look forward to God’s eternal rule on earth
The politics we see around us today may be disheartening. Sadly, we can expect it to only get worse, not better.
Timothy 2:3 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.
But even as things get worse, we can rejoice that this means that Jesus’ return to earth is all the more imminent. Praise God that we have a much greater hope because Jesus will remove every earthly governing authority and power when He returns to set up His Kingdom on earth. This is the eternal Government that we wait for – God’s perfect Rule that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 15:24 ESV Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.
Daniel 2:44 ESV And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever,
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