Our Relationship With Our Government-1
The Government’s Responsibility To The People
Pastor David L. Brown, Ph.D.
Text: Romans 13:1-7
God has established three institutions. The first and oldest institution established by God is the family or home (Genesis 2:18-25 & 4:1). Today there seems to be confusion when it comes to the definition of a family. Now remember, it is God who established the family and therefore defined what a family is. A family is made up of one male human husband and one female human wife who are united together in marriage and who seek to produce offspring and rear them to maturity. That’s what a family is. Anything outside of that definition is a human perversion of what God established! Our Lord Jesus Christ reminds us, "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Matthew 19:6
Another institution that God established is the church (Acts 2). By that I am referring neither to a building nor some denomination such as Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, etc. I am referring to those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and who have been biblically baptized by immersion into the local body of believers led by a pastor(s) and assisted by deacons called "the local Church."
Today the institution that we are going to be looking at is human government. God established human government when Noah came out of the ark for the order human society and the punishment of evildoers (Genesis 9:1-17). The first legal provision that God instituted was the capital punishment of the murderer. Why? Because human life is sacred. Man, unlike any other creature of God’s creation, is created in the image of God. Neither human government nor capital punishment by that government has ever been proscribed or rescinded by God! "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man." Genesis 9:6
In Romans 13, the Apostle Paul points out the Christian’s responsibilities and duties to the government. Yet, what has often been overlooked in this passage is the government’s responsibility to the people. Let’s begin with the later.
The first phrase in Romans 13:4 says, "For he is the minister of God…" It is important to note that the word minister is the translation of the Greek word diakonov diakonos (dee-ak'-on-os; 1249) which means a servant, a table waiter, one who executes the commands of another. In this case it is clear that the commands that are to be executed are God’s commands! (Our English word deacon is from this same word) Therefore, the civil magistrate, saved or unsaved, is a servant of God because it is God who instituted human government as a means of regulating the affairs of the human race and punishing evildoers. I should note that those who hold public office will give account to Almighty God as to how they discharged their office. While there are those who do not know or will not acknowledge their responsibility to God, that does not release them from their responsibility. Nebuchadnezzar is a prime example of this responsibility (See Daniel 4:27-37).
Now we come to the second responsibility of government.
The purpose or design of government is to promote the good of society, to punish evildoers, and a praise to them that do right according to Romans 13:3-4 "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."
In fact, God has ordained human government for the natural, moral, civil and spiritual good of society. When I refer to natural good I mean that government is to protect men’s natural lives from wicked men who would seek to do us bodily harm. When I refer to moral good I am referring to restraining all kinds of vice and encouraging virtue. Civil magistrates or leaders are to enact and enforce laws that forbid immorality, lewd behavior, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. When I refer to civil good I mean that the government is to enact and enforce laws for the preservation and protection of men's families, properties, estates, rights, and liberties, which would be continually invaded, and made a prey of by others. Finally, when I refer to spiritual good I mean magistrates are to insure the liberty to worship God according to our consciences, without the threat of reprisal. No man should be punished for what he believes. My point is simple. Human government is to promote good and punish evil. That is how public officials are the servants of God.
But, what is a believer to do when civil leaders are corrupt, evil, and lawless? Are we to obey them?
No, I do not believe that is what Romans 13 is telling us to do! I want to read a quote to you from J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on Romans 9-16.
I think McGee is right. When civil authorities go against "the laws of nature and natures God," they are to be opposed and not to be obeyed. Here is why I say that. Acts 5:29 says, "Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
When civil authorities enact laws or demand obedience in things that God disallows, God is the higher authority and it is His laws that we must obey! The Bible includes many illustrations of this truth. Two clear examples are the three Hebrew children (actually teenagers) before Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:14-23) and the Egyptian midwives who refused to kill Israeli newborns (Exodus 1:15-21). The prophets of God regularly opposed the evils of Kings and those in civil leadership. Consider Elijah’s confrontation King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:19-26; 2 Kings 9:35-37).
I believe it is necessary and right to oppose lawlessness, injustice and corruption (i.e. SIN). Political leaders are not above the Law! The Apostle Paul opposed the scourging he was about to receive pointing out that it was illegal for them to whip a Roman citizen (Acts 22:24-30). Further, the Jews were lobbying to put Paul to death and might well have been successful in their efforts had it not been that Paul resisted their lawless plans and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:7-25). It is right to oppose lawlessness, injustice and corruption. That’s exactly what John the Baptist did. "For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife." Mark 6:18 He lost his head, literally, because he refused to overlook the lawlessness of the King and spoke out against it.
Many Christians were torn apart by wild animals because they refused to obey the command of Caesar to drop a pinch of incense on the pagan altar and affirm "Caesar is God." These believers were not disobeying Paul’s injunction in Romans 13 when the refused to subject to Caesar in this matter.
Likewise, in the future, we know that the One World Dictator, known as Antichrist, will compel everyone to receive his diabolical mark in their foreheads or right hands (Revelation 13:16-17) but the Tribulation Saints will refuse that mark (Revelation 14:9-13). They will not be disobeying Romans 13:1-7.
Allow me to make my position on Romans 13 crystal clear. I do not believe the Apostle Paul is saying we are to be subject to every law even if it is and evil law. The context clearly indicates that a civil official "is the minister (one who executes the commands of God) to thee for good." Romans 13:4. Lawlessness, corruption and injustice is to be met with "obeying God rather than men" when you are asked to break God’s law, and opposing (speaking out against) lawlessness, corruption and injustice. Having said that, I must tell you that I find neither permission nor mandate in Scripture to take the law into our own hands and dole out vigilante justice to lawless magistrates. Yes, refuse to do what they demand if it is clearly against the command of God. Yes, protest their lawlessness peacefully. Yes, call for their removal. Yes, use any legal means you can to get justice. But do NOT take matters into your own hands. For instance, abortionists are murderers! But, do not get an abortion. Oppose the lawlessness of abortions. Call for an end to the slaughter. Push for laws that will be righteous laws. Pray for the abortionists to repent and be saved and if they will not come to Christ, pray for God’s judgment to fall upon them. But do NOT take matters into you own hands and murder the murderer.
"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." Proverbs 14:34
"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn." Proverbs 29:2
Next: Our responsibility to the government