What Should be Our Attitude Towards Government?

In the February 9, 2009 devotional I wrote about how we must not trust in our government to meet our needs, but rather put our trust in Jesus, the ruling King of the Kingdom of God which is the Kingdom of Light. His Kingdom is an everlasting and perfect Kingdom, and Jesus is worthy of our trust and able to meet all of our needs, whereas human governments are not.

So what is our attitude towards these imperfect, temporary human governments supposed to be? We have excellent examples in the Bible, as well as direct New Testament teaching on this subject to help us understand this topic.

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, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

According to the apostle Paul, our first attitude towards government is to be an attitude of prayer, praying that our government leaders would come to a knowledge of the truth and be saved by God’s grace through the forgiveness of sins. This is our starting point. We are to do our best to serve our government and to desire their good welfare. We have just completed studying the lives of the Old Testament believers who lived in Babylon/Persia during the captivity, often serving very ungodly kings who did not follow the law of Moses that the Jewish kings ruled by, and they always served their government wholeheartedly seeking their good welfare. Do you pray for your government officials and desire their good welfare, even if you did not vote for them to be elected, or don’t agree with their policies?

During the days of the apostle Paul there came to be quite a few believers living in Rome, the center of government in those days. Paul had never met these believers face to face, and wrote a letter to them about the Christian faith. In that letter he gives even more specific instruction and teaching about our roles with human government:

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. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

It is important to note that the Roman government was anything but a godly government. And yet this passage makes it quite clear that we are to submit to our government authorities, and respect them, understanding that God, the ruler of the universe, has allowed them to come into power fulfilling his own master plan for the universe. The Roman government would actually go on and become antagonistic towards Christians, persecuting them and even killing them. But it is clear that those of who are born again into God’s kingdom and walking in the light are to be model citizens, giving no cause for being punished for breaking the laws of the land. This is the standard by which we must live our lives in relationship to our government.

So what about instances where the human government directly commands us to worship and serve other gods besides the one true God, our Creator, or to do things God has specifically commanded us to do otherwise? We have very clear examples of this in scripture, and we have already studied quite a few of these cases in the lives of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Mordecai, and Esther. All of these believers at one point were faced with the decision of having to choose to either obey God, or obey their government and its laws, and they chose to obey God and face the consequences of disobeying their government. We see the same thing happen in the early church, where Christ commanded his followers to tell everyone about the gospel message of salvation, and then their government officials told them not to:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:13-20)

So remembering all of the principles we have covered here, that we are to pray and seek the good welfare of our government officials, and that we are to submit to them and be model citizens, I think we have very clear direction and examples in the Bible about what to do in those situations when we have to choose to obey God rather than men, realizing where our ultimate citizenship is within the Kingdom of God, and who our ultimate allegiance to must be. In those situations where we must make a choice to disobey human government, it is to be with an attitude of submission, even to the point of offering up our lives for the sake of obeying God. This is what Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Mordecai, and Esther all did, and in doing so changed their culture and the world in which they lived. They did not fear death or punishment from human governments, realizing their positions in God’s eternal kingdom. At no point do we see them joining forces with rebels who wanted to oppose the government with physical force.

Jesus, of course, is our supreme example. When the government forces came to arrest him and his disciples tried to defend him he said: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:52-54) Jesus’ Kingdom is not yet in the physical realm, but in the spiritual realm, and his voluntary death by submitting to the human government of his day accomplished a tremendous victory in defeating once and for all the ruler of the kingdom of darkness, Satan.

Those of us who have been reborn into the Kingdom of Light belong to a kingdom quite different from the kingdoms and governments of the world, but while we still walk this earth temporarily we are to pray for our government officials, seeking their good welfare, and submitting to them and their authority. When we are faced with difficult choices and must choose to obey God over man, we do so humbly without rebellion, even to the point of offering up our physical lives as a sacrifice to God, knowing that our future is secure in the eternal Kingdom of God.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)