It may surprise you to learn that the Bible has much to say about how people are to relate to the government, wherever they may live. The Bible speaks about fiscal responsibility, national defense, and more.
The first-century followers of Christ had to really seek the Lord’s wisdom on how to relate to their government. In addition to the wasteful spending and excessive taxes of their government, there was more for them to consider. The Roman government was hostile toward those who followed in the way of Christ, sometimes even resulting in the execution of Christians simply because they claimed total allegiance to Jesus as their Lord.
Within this context, God inspired the apostle Paul to write a letter to a group of Christians in Rome, explaining how they should relate to their government and explaining what is the government’s God-given role. Notice some important truths in these verses.
Romans 13:1-7 (HCSB)
1 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
1. Government authorities are established by God; they are God’s servants. Verse one says, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” Twice in verse 4 we read, “For government is God’s servant.” The Bible declares that God is sovereign over all of the governments of the world. Ultimately, He is the one that causes governments to rise and fall. All governments are accountable to Him for how they lead.
1 Chronicles 29:10-13 (HCSB)
10 Then David praised the Lord in the sight of all the assembly. David said, May You be praised, Lord God of our father Israel, from eternity to eternity. 11 Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to You. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and You are exalted as head over all. 12 Riches and honor come from You, and You are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in Your hand, and it is in Your hand to make great and to give strength to all. 13 Now therefore, our God, we give You thanks and praise Your glorious name.
Proverbs 21:1 (HCSB)
1 A king’s heart is like streams of water in the Lord’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.
2. Government authorities have a responsibility to protect its citizens from evildoers. This would include national defense as well as local police enforcement.
Romans 13:2-3 (HCSB)
2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval.
Exodus 20:13 (HCSB)
13 Do not murder.
Exodus 20:15 (HCSB)
15 Do not steal.
3. Government authorities have a responsibility to enforce laws that are just and fair to everyone. The Bible speaks to issues of justice and fairness in laws over and over again. In Romans 13, the Bible declares that all people and governments know that you can and should declare some things “good” and other things are “bad;” some things are “right” and others are “wrong.” And as you declare these in laws, the enforcement of these should be just and fair for everyone.
Romans 13:3-5 (HCSB)
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience.
Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (HCSB)
18 “Appoint judges and officials for your tribes in all your towns the Lord your God is giving you. They are to judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 Do not deny justice or show partiality to anyone. Do not accept a bribe, for it blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 Pursue justice and justice alone, so that you will live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Exodus 23:6-9 (HCSB)
6 “You must not deny justice to a poor person among you in his lawsuit. 7 Stay far away from a false accusation. Do not kill the innocent and the just, because I will not justify the guilty. 8 You must not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and corrupts the words of the righteous. 9 You must not oppress a foreign resident; you yourselves know how it feels to be a foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.
4. Government authorities must be good stewards of the resources entrusted to them. As the government collects taxes and tolls, they have a responsibility to their citizens (and to God) to wisely use those resources. Here are a few guiding principles that should shape the policies and budgets of governments.
- Do not go into debt, because a borrower is a slave to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7 (HCSB)
7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is a slave to the lender.
- If a man will not work, he shall not eat. This doesn’t say that those who cannot work shall not eat. This speaks to those who are able but refuse to work. There should not be policies and systems in place that reward those who refuse to work. I have found that the stomach is a strong motivating factor to encourage people to find meaningful work.
2 Thessalonians 3:10 (HCSB)
10 In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”
- Remember, God is the One who provides you the ability to earn wealth. Be humble.
Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (HCSB)
17 You may say to yourself, ‘My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,’ 18 but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today.
5. No matter what the government does, God calls His people to help those in need. When God changes your life, you have a desire to help others. Share with others (see Ephesians 4:28 below), find ways to help the poor to work to provide for their needs (see Deuteronomy 24:19 below), and find ways to help those most vulnerable (see James 1:27 below; in the first century, widows and orphans were the most vulnerable of society).
Ephesians 4:28 (HCSB)
28 The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need.
Deuteronomy 24:19 (HCSB)
19 “When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
James 1:27 (HCSB)
27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
As our nation approaches election day in November, through these posts and at the chapel Bible study at Hebron Church I want to explore what the Bible teaches about important issues that are facing our nation. This is post #4 of 5 on these topics.