By Dick Blackford
A true Christian is the best friend any government can have. This is not usually understood, especially by governments that have never grasped the meaning of true Christianity. Thus, Christians have often been persecuted as subversive to the government. In the Old Testament their own people governed the people of God, with God at the top. It was a theocracy. The Jew’s religion and his government were intertwined. Apparently God felt this was necessary to insure that the promise he made to Abraham would be fulfilled, for God saw no need for such an arrangement after Christ came. In the New Testament, a man’s government and his religion were separate. One could be a Christian while pagans ran his government.
The New Testament has very little to say about the role of government. God did not believe in big government. He separated the “things of Caesar” from the “things of God”
(Matt. 22:21). But he did provide for support of the government. There are certain things God’s word teaches about the role of government, to which we should give note.
The Government’s Rights And Responsibilities
1. God ordained government and citizens are subject to it (Rom. 13:1). If citizens resist the power of the government they are withstanding God and will be judged as to how they do in this matter (Rom. 13:2).
2. Government is to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. “For rulers are not a terror to the good work but to the evil. And wouldst thou have no fear of the power? Do that which is good and thou shalt have praise from the same” (Rom.13:6). The government is to protect its citizens by taking vengeance on lawbreakers (1 Pet. 2:14).
3. Government has a right to punish even to the point of death. “For he is a 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 a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). This extends even to the right of capital punishment, “for he beareth not the sword in vain.” The sword was an instrument often used in capital punishment. Paul recognized that there were some crimes worthy of death and said if he had committed any of them he would be willing to die (Acts 25:11). “If any man shall kill with the sword, with the sword must he be killed” (Rev. 13:10). Jesus told Pilate that his (Pilate’s) power to release or crucify was given from above (John 19:10, 11).
4. Government has a right to collect taxes (Rom. 13:6, 7). Officers of the government must be paid since “they are ministers of God’s service.” Jesus taught that taxes should be paid (Matt. 22:15-22). Civil government would be needed even if everybody were Christians, for there are things to be done that are not the work of the church or the family.
The Christian’s Responsibilities
1. To obey the law. “Let every soul be in subjection to the higher power” (Rom. 13:1). No one is exempt.
2. To honor, fear, and pray for civil rulers. “Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).
Supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings are to be made for all men — “for kings that are in high places, that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life . . .” (1 Tim. 2:2). “Fear to whom fear . . .” (Rom. 13:7). “Render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; . . .” (Rom. 13:7). Even if the man is dishonorable we should honor the office (Acts 26:25). One is not required to agree with the government before he agrees to pay taxes. Jesus paid taxes to the government that crucified him.
What The Christian Cannot Do
1. He cannot obey the government if it means disobeying God. Some governments have required idolatry (Dan.3:7). Others have outlawed Christianity (China, Iran, North Korea, etc.). “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
2. He cannot participate in an illegal overthrow of his government. We are sympathetic toward those under an oppressive regime, particularly those who were under the former Soviet Union. There are yet many areas of the world that do not enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. Let us be reminded that Christ and the apostles lived under one of the most oppressive governments in history. Never do we read of Jesus or the Twelve seeking to overthrow the government, though it certainly would have made it easier on them. They never led a march or demonstrated against the Sanhedrin or had a “sit in” or went on a “hunger strike” at the halls of Pontius Pilate. There is no record that they picketed or threw rocks and bottles at their leaders, or tried to “out shout” their leaders or tried to shut down the government, or take the law into their own hands.
The Jewish rulers had a figurehead government with limited authority under the Roman Empire. They were intolerant of Christians and ordered Peter and John to stop preaching. The apostles were beaten on that occasion. Talk about a good time to call for an overthrow of the government. But they did not.
The Romans were also harsh with Christ and his disciples. Paul and Silas were imprisoned and beaten (Acts 16). They didn’t call for an overthrow of the government but they did exercise their rights as Roman citizens (Acts 16:35f). A disciple has the right to use any lawful means at his disposal for protection. Paul did (Acts 22:25-29; 25:11, 12). In a free society citizens are given the right to vote and decide peaceably who their rulers will be. Though one may be outvoted, he has the lawful right to express his preference. However, the teaching of Christ and the apostles is clearly against overthrowing the government under which he is living, regardless of its corruption.
3. He cannot take personal vengeance on lawbreakers. “Avenge not yourselves beloved, but give place unto the wrath of God: for it is written, Vengeance belongeth unto me; I will recompense, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). One of the ways God does this is through civil government. The civil ruler is “an avenger for wrath to him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). The Christian cannot take the law into his own hands to render vengeance.
Because the Christian (out of honesty and conviction) honors, respects, and prays for his rulers, obeys the laws, pays taxes, and does not try to overthrow the government or take the law into his own hands, he is really the best friend any government can have. “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov.14:34).