An Outline of Biblical Attitudes & Actions Toward Government
Pastor R. Hammond. Long Hill Baptist Church, Trumbull, CT.
At a time when many people are concerned that civic discourse has become anything but civil, we would do well to examine the Bible for principles that should guide both our attitude and our actions toward our civic leaders. Below, I offer an outline of relevant biblical insights:
1. Instead of viewing our government as inherently evil, we must recognize that God has ordained civil governments for his righteous purposes, including the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” (1 Pe. 2:13-14).
- 1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
- Rom. 13:3a “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil
- As such, we should reject Satan’s claim in Luke 4:5-6 that “all the kingdoms of the word” (Lu 4:5) are under his “power” that is “delivered unto him” (Luke 4:6). Indeed, Satan “is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
- Accordingly, we do not view Luke 4:6 as revelation that all government is inherently evil and demonic. Indeed, we must understand that our real battle is with spiritual enemies:
- Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places
2. The Bible teaches that specific individuals are “ordained of God” (Ro. 13:1b) to serve in positions of authority in civil government; God gives rule to “whomsoever he will” (Dan. 4:17). Rulers are “sent by him.” (1Pe. 2:14a)
- Examples where God placed a specific individual into a position of civil authority include:
- Pharaoh. Exodus 9:16 “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.”
- Cyrus king of Persia (prophesied in Isa. 44:28-45:1; fulfilled in Ezra 1:1ff);
- Daniel 2:21 (Daniel said) “And he changeth the times and the seasons: he removeth kings, and setteth up kings: he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding
- Daniel 4:25 That they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and they shall wet thee with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over thee, till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.
3. The Bible teaches that the LORD is sovereign over the hearts of civil rulers.
- Proverbs 21:1 The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.
4. The Bible calls God’s people to refrain from cursing, “railing against” or speaking evil against civil authorities
- Ex 22:28 Thou shalt not revile the gods (judges), nor curse the ruler of thy people.
- Ec 10:20 “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; ….”
Instead, Peter calls us to “to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pe 2:9). Similarly, when Jesus was “reviled” and “suffered,” he “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (despite the threat of the cross!) – (1 Pe 2:23);
5. Rather than choosing to “speak evil of dignities” (those in authority) (2 Peter 2:10), we are called to pray and give thanks “for kings, and for all that are in authority; (1 Tim. 2:1-4);
- 1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
6. The Bible repeatedly calls us to submit to the civil authorities. (Rom. 13:1-7;
Tit. 3:1; 1 Pe. 2:13-17; Mat. 22:21)
- Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 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. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
- Titus 3:1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,
- 1 Peter 2:13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men … 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
- Matthew 22:21a … Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
7. We should obey the civil authorities up to the point at which doing so would cause us to disobey God.
Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
- Biblical examples of individuals who disobeyed civil authorities for the sole purpose of remaining obedient to God:
- The Egyptian midwives (Ex. 1:15-21)
- Moses’s parents, Amram and Jochebed, hid Moses to protect him from Pharaoh’s command
- Daniel (Dan 3:1-27 – to worship; 6:10 – to pray)
- The wise men (Mat 2:1-12)
8. We should recognize that there is considerable biblical precedent for seeking to respectfully exert a biblical influence upon civil authorities.
- Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar to repentance. Daniel 4:27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility.
- John the Baptist “reproved” Herod Antipas. Luke 3:19 But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.
- Paul witnessed to governors Felix (Acts 24:24) and Festus (Acts 24:27);
- Paul appealed to Caesar (Emperor Nero) (Acts 25:11-12);
- Paul testified to King Agrippa (Acts 26);
- Luke addressed both his gospel and the book of Acts to Theophilus, a man who he addressed as “most excellent” (Luke 1:3). That title that was used to address a person of high civil authority. Claudius Lysias, the chief captain, addressed Governor Felix in the same manner (Acts 23:26). As such, more than ¼ (27.8%) of all the words of words of New Testament appear to be addressed to a Roman official!
A concluding prayer: Lord, help us to take-up a biblically-proper attitude toward our government. Give us a heart to obey those rulers who you have ordained for your good purposes. And give us wisdom regarding an appropriate level of effort to influence our leaders to rule in accordance with your words.
Keywords: leaders, president, elected, congress, legislature, legislators
Sources consulted: All the Men of the Bible by Herbert Lockyer; Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Gleanings In Exodus by A. W. Pink; Naves Topical Bible; Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem, Zondervan (2010) [Note: We would not necessarily endorse all of the positions argued in this book]; Treasury of Scripture Knowledge; Personal communications with several pastors.