In recent years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to become actively involved in our nation's political system. I've been given opportunities to work for a few campaigns, write for a couple of political action groups and just generally do a few minor things here and there to make a difference. In the process of all this, I was astonished to meet with opposition from other Christians, and I soon learned that there are a significant number of Christians who sincerely believe that we should not be involved in the government in any way at all.
There are many logical justifications that could be given in support of their position and just as many that could be given for the opposite. We could easily spend a couple of lifetimes just listening to all the arguments, but as Christians, our goal should not be to follow the wisdom of man but that of God. With that thought in mind, I would like to look at what the Bible says about this topic. Let us set aside our human reasoning and ask of God what sort of relationship He desires for Christians to have toward their government.
There are many passages of Scripture which deal with this topic, and they can be arranged into four categories: Subjection to the Government, Speech about the Government, Support for the Government, and Supplementation of the Government. Let's look at each of these categories individually.
1. Subjection to the Government
The idea that Christians are to be subject to the government as good citizens is accepted in nearly every Christian community. Most of us recognize that the instruction given in Titus 3:1 that we "be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work" was given specifically for Christians, but what does it mean to be subject to the government?
Of course, we recognize that obedience is a major part of that subjection. After all, we're told in Hebrews 13:17 to "obey them that have the rule over you," but there's more to it than that. According to I Peter 2:17 and Romans 13:7, subjection also means giving honor to those that are in the government. Does this mean that we as Christians are to give honor to those in the government who are adamantly opposed to the gospel of Christ? Yes, indeed. Did not Daniel and Nehemiah give honor to the heathen kings that were over them? (Daniel 6:21; Nehemiah 2:3) Surely God expects no less from us.
2. Speech about the Government
If we truly follow God's command to give honor to those in positions of government, then that honor which we have in our hearts will be heard in our mouths. II Peter 2:10 and Jude 1:8 clearly warn us against despising and speaking evil of those in government, and we are warned no less clearly in Exodus 22:28 and Ecclesiastes 10:20 that we should never curse our rulers.
A great example of this principle can be found in the twenty-third chapter of Acts. In this passage, we see Paul declaring his innocence before the council of the Jews. When he did so, the high priest commanded that he be struck, and Paul immediately and rightfully accused the high priest of violating the law. When it was made known to Paul that he had spoken against the high priest, he quickly apologized not for his accusation, but for the lack of respect that he showed toward a member of the Jewish government.
3. Support for the Government
One of the most intriguing passages of Scripture can be found in Jeremiah 29:4-7. Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, had witnessed the destruction of his beloved nation and watched through his tears as thousands of his countrymen were marched off to captivity in Babylon when God asked him to write a letter to the captives. From a human viewpoint, Jeremiah had every right to advise the captives to form an underground movement to overthrow their new rulers, but he did not. Instead, God had him instruct the captives to "seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives." In other words, God told the captives to actively support their new government. If God expects captives to support the government of their captors, then how much more support does he expect us to give in our freedom?
4. Supplementation of the Government
In I Corinthians 7:21, there is a little kernel of advice given to servants which I think provides the most succinct statement of the Christian’s role in government that can ever be found. The verse reads: "Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather."
There are two truths that we can learn from this verse. We can see first of all that Christians are not to worry about any lack of freedom that they may be experiencing. God is always in control, and if He chooses to place one of his children in bondage, we can rest assured that He will provide the strength to endure that bondage. It is the second part of the verse, however, that has gripped my attention over the past few years, for it is there that we learn of God's desire for Christians to take advantage of every opportunity to be free.
An excellent illustration of this verse can be seen in the life of Joseph. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery and then cast into prison by his new master, but he never stopped trusting in God. He recognized his position of bondage and fulfilled his duties willingly knowing that God was still in control of his life. He was perfectly content to be a slave in Potiphar's house, and I am convinced that he was just as content to be in prison. Nonetheless, when an opportunity arose for him to increase his freedom, he recognized it as the provision of the Lord and took it. His acceptance of a position in the government of Egypt enabled him to save many lives including those of his own family.
This is the role that I believe God has in mind for American Christians. Throughout our nation's history, He has showered us with opportunities to increase our freedom. Our fathers often took advantage of these opportunities, but this present generation has been content to let many of them pass by unheeded. Let us determine today that we will not just be subject to our government and lend them our support in both word and deed but that we will also seek all opportunities to serve God within our government to aid it in serving others.
This article was actually written several years ago for the Baptist View. Since writing this article, I have written several additional articles which are available on this website at the following links:
The Source of the Law - A condensed explanation from Sir William Blackstone
We the People - Popular sovereignty and the political theory of the Bible
The Lesser of Two Evils - Should Christians vote for a non-Christian candidate?
A Biblical Strategy for Voting - Are you voting for the candidate that God would vote for?
A Duty to Principle - God's qualifications for elected officials
Pragmatism or Principles? - Which one should guide the Christian vote?
The Real Mitt Romney - Six Reasons for Every Christian to be Concerned
Voting Perspectives - Why Christians differ on the candidates
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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