Managing Editor: David Sper
Cover Photo: Hilary Wilkes/International Stock
©1996, 1988 RBC Ministries--Grand Rapids, MI 49555 Printed in USA
Should we respect leaders and political systems even if we believe they are godless and corrupt? Is flag-waving patriotism a form of idolatry? Do we have the right to withhold taxes if we don't think our government is using the money wisely? Should people who have pledged allegiance to Christ become involved in politics, or should we distance ourselves from the process? How can we pray for our leaders, even if we don't like them?
The answers to these and many other questions will be discussed in the following pages. This booklet will explore the biblical teaching on what God says we owe the government--no matter where we live in the world.
Kurt De Haan
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When you hear the word government, do you have a positive or a negative reaction? Do you look upon government as:
- a friend or an enemy?
- a servant or a master?
- a teller of truth or a master of lies?
- a fountain of justice or a sewer of injustice?
- a defender of freedom or a tyrant of slavery?
- an advocate of morality or a voice for sleaze?
- an instrument of God or a tool of the devil?
Your response to the above choices says a lot about where you live, your political views, your theological perspective, your current involvement with politics, and your past experiences. You may love your government, hate it, or have an uncomfortable love-hate relationship with it.
If you live under a repressive dictatorship where civil rights are withheld, where religious freedom is severely restricted, or where the government is run by self-serving "gangsters," then you're going to have a negative reaction. Maybe those in leadership ignore or even ridicule the moral standards of the Bible. Or perhaps you are in a country where people have been imprisoned because they dared to talk to another person about Christ.
On the other hand, you may find it easy to praise the government for its efforts to uphold freedom, justice, and good morals. If you enjoy a comfortable relationship with the political system and agree with the laws of the land, you may feel that you can honor and obey the government without having to be caught between what God says is right and what man says is necessary.
Perhaps, though, you feel somewhat ambivalent
about government. You applaud some of what you see but you are disgusted
by other activities. Your convictions about judicial decisions relating
to unborn infants, pornography, and sexual values may cause you to have
some struggles in your relationship with the legal authorities. You may
believe that the laws are unjust, taxes are too high, or money is misused.
Although you wouldn't want to overthrow the government, maybe you have written
notes of protest to your public leaders, have been involved in picketing
against government policies, or have participated in acts of civil disobedience--and
you may have wondered if you were right to do so.
Then there are other people who try to pretend that government doesn't exist. They have chosen the road of apathy and noninvolvement. They think that a Christian should wipe his hands clean of the political process. They think that our allegiance is to God, not man. They think that government officials aren't worthy of our prayers.
This booklet will outline what the Bible says our attitude and action should be toward the government--no matter where we live or what kind of political system we have.
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Fred was disgusted. He had just heard on the evening news that another politician had resigned after being caught red-handed and red-faced while taking a bribe. "They're all corrupt," Fred muttered. Fred's wife, Bernice, was in the other room talking on the phone with another member of the PTA. "Did you know that if the school board closes the elementary school down the street, my first-grader will be bused across town?" Bernice then exploded, "They make me so mad!"
Earlier in the day the postman delivered the latest income tax forms--an unpleasant reminder that taxes were going up again. And that very day Fred and Bernice's oldest son, Jeff, was on an aircraft carrier steaming toward a conflict in the Middle East. To Fred and Bernice the governments of the warring countries were acting like little brats who couldn't get their way. It wasn't a good day to ask Fred and Bernice if government was a blessing or a curse. They wanted to pack up and move to an uninhabited tropical island.
Fred and Bernice are fictional characters, but the situations are all too real. Government can seem like a necessary evil. In fact, it sometimes seems as if we could do better without it. Why then do we tolerate government? What does the Bible say about our attitude toward our political leaders, taxes, becoming involved in the system, and even the value of praying for governmental leaders? Let's examine what the Bible has to say about these issues.
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We may find it easy to respect government leaders who are honest, just, and who uphold biblical morality. But what about leaders who lie, who pass laws for personal gain, and who hold opposite political views from us on just about everything? According to the Bible, all government leaders deserve our respect.
In the following section we'll look at the reasons why it is so important to have the right attitude toward those in leadership over us. We will also study the closely related issue of how that proper respect is to be displayed in the way we obey or disobey the governing authorities.
The key Scripture on this topic is Romans 13:1-7. Take a moment to read the passage and notice what it says about why we need government, who gives government its authority, and what is the rightful role of government.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
What does it mean to respect government? Paul used the words be subject in Romans 13:1,5. He was telling his readers to recognize the authority of the government and to submit to it. This willing subjection involves obedience to the laws that are established by those in authority.
In verse 7, Paul used the words fear and honor. These terms further explain the kind of respect that we should show toward those in authority. To fear involves not only the aspect of respect but also the proper dread of the punishment that the government has the power to execute upon wrongdoers. To honor our leaders means that we behave in a way that shows we recognize their authority over us. Even when they are far from perfect, they should receive from us the honor and respect that such God-granted authority deserves.
Why do we need to respect government? Paul told us not only what to do but also why we should do it. He explained that God established government with our best interests in mind. Romans 13:1 states, "The authorities that exist are appointed by God." Although there are repressive and God-denying governments that have perverted their divinely appointed roles, God intended government for noble purposes.
Romans 13:4-5 points out that civil authority acts on God's behalf to maintain order, uphold justice, punish wrongdoing, and restrict the practice of evil. Laws against murder, rape, robbery, vandalism, bribery, and fraud reflect God's value on human life and personal property rights. Even traffic regulations like speed limits, parking restrictions, and stop signs serve to uphold order in God's universe.
The apostle Peter joined Paul in emphasizing that governments are part of God's plan to keep order on earth (1 Pet. 2:13-17). Peter went on to say that our obedience to the government will be a positive testimony to unbelievers. On the other hand, a rebellious attitude toward governmental authority will cause people to look down on our faith in Christ.
Must we respect corrupt and tyrannical leaders? Does God really expect us to honor and obey brutal dictators or grossly immoral elected officials? The answer is yes if we mean respecting their position of authority and being willing to obey them when their laws are just. But the answer is no if we mean unthinking obedience that involves us in immoral or unjust actions.
We have to remember that when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Rome, they were living under the powerful and often immoral Roman rulers. Although Roman law was admirable in many ways, it was under Roman rule that Christians were to suffer some of their most severe persecution. The people to whom Paul wrote probably had seen the good and bad of government and were tempted to rebel against the Roman rule. Even after Paul himself had been imprisoned for his faith, he wrote to Titus and told him to remind believers "to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work" (3:1).
Paul once had to face leaders who exercised both religious and civil authority (Acts 22:30--23:5). Even though he was mistreated, Paul upheld the principle that leaders should be respected.
Can we disobey and still show respect? Honoring leaders and being subject to them does not mean that a believer must blindly obey everything. There are limits to obedience. But we cannot show disrespect simply because we are not shown the respect we deserve.
What if the government tells us to do something immoral or antibiblical, or if the government tells us not to do what God said we should do? The apostle Peter gave us perhaps the best statement of a principle to follow when he said, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Peter made that comment because the religious leaders (who had a great deal of power over Jewish life even under the rule of the occupying Roman forces) were trying to get Peter to stop speaking publicly about Christ. Peter and John had previously told the authorities that if it came down to whether they would obey God or man, they would obey God (Acts 4:19-20).
There are times when we must disobey those in authority over us. God is the ultimate authority, the Final Judge, the Highest King. All rulers must answer to Him. We must obey Him first and last and all the time in between.
How can we disobey respectfully? Should we be willing to be arrested for protests over public policy on abortion, nuclear arms, international relationships, judicial decisions, civil rights, laws that encourage immorality, or other such issues? Should we be involved in acts of violence (bombing an abortion clinic, defacing public property)? Should we picket, boycott, participate in a sit-in, trespass on government property, or withhold taxes to protest government policy? How far can we go without violating the principle of honoring the government?
Well, the views of Bible believers on this topic are widely varied. But two basic principles should be carefully considered.
1. If you must disobey, do it respectfully. We must use every legal channel of expressing our protest. If we resort to anarchy to promote our cause--no matter how noble--we are violating the principle of submission to authorities.
2. The end does not justify the means. Violence, vandalism, and other destructive acts are to be avoided. Bombings, assassinations, harassment, and deceptive propaganda have no rightful place in pursuing biblical objectives.
In the Bible we can find several examples of people who resisted evil government policies.
We need an attitude of extreme caution when considering acts of civil disobedience. If we take matters into our own hands, we are in effect saying that we don't think God has things under control. By resorting to unethical practices to promote our idea of a just cause, we may actually be shortcircuiting how God wants to use us and others in that situation.
Thinking It Over. Is
it a sin to run a stop sign or exceed the speed limit? What is your attitude
toward your governmental leaders? Do you have to like them to show them
proper respect? Do your discussions at home or at work show respect for
government or point out the good that it is doing? What laws do you have
a hard time obeying?
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A person who enjoys paying taxes probably also enjoys hitting himself on the head with a hammer. Paying taxes is kind of like going to the dentist for a root canal. It's something that has to be done but it's oh, so painful! As the saying goes, two things are certain in human existence, death and taxes--and people will do anything they can to avoid both.
Taxes have been a part of life as long as there has been any form of government because it costs money to provide protection and services for a group of people. We have to pay income tax, sales tax, gasoline tax, import tax, property tax, vehicle tax, road tax, social security tax, and on and on it goes. You just can't escape taxes.
Why should we pay taxes? Some people question whether or not the government has a right to collect taxes. Other people question whether or not we should pay taxes if we don't like the way the money is being spent. Still others feel that giving money to a government that encourages ungodliness is the same as supporting ungodliness directly.
Jesus addressed the issue of taxation when He was questioned by representatives of two opposing viewpoints, the Pharisees and the Herodians. They asked Him, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Mk. 12:14).
The Pharisees were champions of the Jewish religious tradition and resented Roman rule with its paganism and its deifying of the emperor. They resented the inscriptions on the Roman coins, which on one side ascribed divinity to the ruler and on the other side called the emperor "highest priest." They would accuse Jesus of supporting the Romans and their blasphemy if He said that Jews should pay Roman taxes.
The Herodians, however, were more interested in political issues than religious matters. They felt that the Jews' best interests were accomplished through supporting the Herodian dynasty, which ruled over Palestine and derived its authority from Rome. The Herodians, therefore, would accuse Jesus of treason if He said that Jews should not pay taxes.
The answer Jesus gave to their question about paying taxes shocked both the Pharisees and the Herodians. He said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mk. 12:17). Jesus' answer recognized Caesar's political authority and God's spiritual authority. So Jesus did acknowledge the right of the government to collect taxes.
Paul also left little doubt about our responsibility to pay taxes. After mentioning our obligation to subject ourselves to the rulers, he wrote, "For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:6-7).
Should I pay taxes even if the government uses the money for unjust or immoral causes? In his book God & Caesar, law professor John Eidsmore stated:
The Roman government of Paul's day deified Nero, ran a welfare state, and sponsored many pagan practices. Rome certainly did not use its tax money as Christians would desire. The tax-collectors of Jesus' time, who usually were paid no salary but rather became rich by overcharging and cheating people, certainly did not employ fair methods of taxation. Yet Jesus and Paul both spoke very clearly on the subject: the Christian ought to pay his taxes (p.37).
So from a biblical standpoint, we can't use the argument that the government's misuse of funds is an excuse for not paying taxes. Some people would disagree by saying that we are morally responsible for the government's actions if we help pay for immoral activity. They've become impatient with the political process. We must be careful, though, that we do not promote anarchy or short-circuit the political system. This can only bring disgrace on Christ's name.
Christians have no justifiable excuse for cheating on their taxes, for misrepresenting their income, for filing false claims, or any other illegal means of not paying what the government demands. If we feel taxes are unjust or too high, we should do all we can legally to change the system.
Thinking It Over. What government policies do you resent having to pay taxes for? What government activity are you thankful that your taxes support? How can you influence those responsible for establishing government spending habits?
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As the story goes, a pollster walked up to a house, rang the doorbell, and was greeted by a man with a drink in one hand and a television blaring in the background. After introducing himself, the pollster asked this question: "What is the biggest problem in our nation today--ignorance or apathy?" Just before he slammed the door on the pollster, the man answered, "I don't know and I don't care!"
Why should we care? There is more truth to the preceding story than we would like to believe. Most of us are woefully ignorant of political issues, and few are actively involved in influencing the political process. But there are good reasons we should care enough to be involved.
Jesus said to His followers, "You are the salt of the earth . . . . You are the light of the world" (Mt. 5:13-14). Salt functions as a preservative and adds flavoring to foods. Light drives away the darkness. At the very least, then, for believers in Christ to function as salt and light means that by our words and actions we are to uphold and promote God's standards and help people to see the truth about life and God. Our lives are to make a difference in preventing the decay of our society and to promote true worship.
Should we try to make our country a Christian nation? We have to remember that our country, no matter how many Christians live here, is not the present-day equivalent of ancient Israelnor should it be. We should not work to legislate Christianity to be the official state religion, nor should we seek to outlaw other religions.
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn. 18:36). He acknowledged that He was a King (v.37), but He also taught that until He comes again His kingdom would not be a visible bureaucracy but the invisible rule of God in the hearts of people who willingly submit to Him (Lk. 17:20-21). When He comes again, He will set up a visible earthly kingdom (Mt. 24:30-35; 25:31-46; 26:29-64), but for now He is preparing people to enter that kingdom (Mt. 28:18-20; Jn. 3:3).
We can encourage men and women to submit to Christ's rule in their lives, but we cannot force the arrival of Christ's coming kingdom. His kingdom will come when He comes again as King.
How can we make a difference right now? Are we just supposed to sit back and let God's enemies dominate the political forces so that godlessness reigns? Are we to evangelize but not politicize? We've already mentioned that we are salt and light in the world, and the political world needs our influence. Here are some suggestions for involvement:
How involved were people in biblical times? Both the Old and New Testaments contain numerous examples of how believers influenced government. Here is a partial list:
Should a Christian be a flag-waver? Is patriotism, saluting the flag, or pledging allegiance a form of idolatry? Can we honor the government's authority and God's rule at the same time? I doubt that anyone would accuse Joseph of being an idolater because he was loyal to the Pharaoh and the Egyptian government (Gen. 39--50). Daniel certainly was not an idolater even though he faithfully served in the administrations of the powerful Babylonian and Persian empires.
It would definitely be a conflict of interest if the government required a form of patriotism that demanded loyalty that only God deserves. Few countries, however, demand outright idolatry or denial of one's Christian faith--though some are definitely anti-Christian in their policies.
When Jesus answered a question about paying taxes to Caesar, He clearly implied that we should not give governments the worship and loyalty that only God deserves. But that does not mean that we cannot work for our country's stability and well-being or defend it from enemy attack. In fact, working to improve our government is in our best interest as believers. We are good citizens when we obey the laws and become involved.
Should a Christian go to war for his country? Should a believer be a pacifist or a "conscientious objector"? Are soldiers committing murder in war? Is there such a thing as a "just" war? Whole books have been written on these subjects, and there are theologians on both sides of the issue. So how can we address this issue briefly and simply? A few basic principles should be considered.
War is never an ideal situation. If we lived in a perfect world, there would never be a cause worthy of war. But we live in a fallen world in which sin has divided man from God and people from people.
War is sometimes necessary. It is noble and right for a nation to defend itself against oppression, injustice, and other advances of evil in our world. For example, Nehemiah was willing to fight to defend the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Neh. 4). The spiritual battle of which we are a part (Eph. 6) is seen as well in the physical realm between conflicting nations. The war between Satan and God has spilled over into human time and space. We are involved, whether we want to be or not. And God will one day unleash all His forces in a final battle to defeat Satan's army (Rev. 19--20).
In war, the state bears responsibility for the loss of human life. Soldiers on the battlefield are not committing murder. Old Testament law distinguishes between murder and killing in war (Dt. 5:17; 20:10-18). Taking human life is a tragedy no matter how noble the cause. But soldiers are acting as representatives of the state, and the state is ultimately responsible.
Pacifism has its limits. When Jesus talked about turning the other cheek, He was not encouraging pacifism on the national level (Mt. 5:39-48). Rather, He was discouraging vengeance and retaliation when we are personally insulted. The Bible does not support national pacifism. Instead, it demonstrates the need, as in Old Testament times, for nations to take military steps as part of our responsibility to "bear the sword" (Rom. 13:4) to thwart the spread of evil.
"Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mt.5:9). Jesus did not say, "Blessed are those who pick fights or start wars." Our goal should be peace, both on a personal and a national level, even though there will be times when self-defense is justified.
We should not violate our conscience (Rom. 14:22-23; 1 Tim. 1:5,19; 1 Pet. 3:16-17). If we are ordered to join an army like Hitler's, do we fight for him or refuse? Do we carry out orders to exterminate thousands--even millions--of innocent men, women, and children? If the government asks us to go to war and we cannot in good conscience participate, we should seek exemption from the battle. Some countries allow such exclusion and allow civil service for the government as an alternative. In other nations such a person would be treated as a traitor. If our convictions conflict with government demands, we must be willing to take the consequences.
Are human governments the tools of Satan? They can be. Satan is doing everything in his power to corrupt every element of society. In Old Testament times, he worked through the wicked nations that surrounded Israel to make them a constant source of irritation to God's people. In New Testament times, Satan worked through the religious and political authorities to crucify Christ and persecute Christians. And when Christ comes again, His forces will battle the nations who have been aligned against God (Rev. 19:19).
Thinking It Over. Should Christians demand that the Bible be used by those in government to provide foundational principles for all legislation? Should we seek to achieve a Christian nation through political action or some other means? What action can you take to influence upcoming elections or legislation? Why would holding a political office put a Christian in difficult dilemmas at times? When would you be willing to fight for your country?
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Does the world seem to be getting worse and worse? Are governments becoming more oppressive and more corrupt? Other than complaining, becoming a hermit, or starting a revolution, what can we do about it?
Paul believed that prayer could change our lives and even our governments. He said:
I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
Why should we pray for our leaders? Paul said that the goal of our praying should be that we as believers will be able to live "quiet and peaceable" lives (see also Jer. 29:4-7). In such a peaceful atmosphere we will be able to live and speak so that others will come to a knowledge of the truth about Christ. The ultimate aim of our prayers, then, is that men and women would come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
What specific sorts of things should we pray about? Paul mentioned that we should pray for kings--those in positions of highest authority and the most power. But his call for prayer also included all government leaders who exercise a degree of authority over us.
We need to pray in general terms for matters such as the upholding of justice, freedom for the oppressed, protection of citizens, efforts against crime, free exercise of religion, economic health and stability, and unhindered ability to communicate the gospel to those who have never heard.
We also need to pray for specific issues such as a particular piece of legislation, an election issue, candidates, specific court cases we become aware of, and much more.
In order to remind ourselves of this responsibility, it might help to keep a list of our local, state, and federal government officials in a place where we will see it during a time of daily reading and prayer. It may be a long list, especially if we include people's names like those on the school board, neighborhood associations, city councils, county commissions, and state and federal legislatures, judges, governors, cabinet members, presidents, and prime ministers.
What kinds of prayers did Paul have in mind? In 1 Timothy 2:1, Paul used four different words to describe the kinds of prayers we should offer on behalf of our governments: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and the giving of thanks. Although the first three of these words are very similar in definition, it is possible that Paul intended to emphasize the different ingredients that should be part of our prayer life.
Supplications are those requests that spring from a sense of need in a specific situation. Therefore, when applied to our requests for government, supplications are those appeals to God that a certain law would be passed or that a judge would make a certain decision or that the authorities would take a certain course of action.
Prayers can be any sort of request. In the New Testament, the term refers in a general sense to all kinds of communion with God. Bible commentator William Hendriksen, however, suggests that in the context of 1 Timothy 2 this term possibly refers to the ongoing general needs in government--like wisdom and justice.
Intercessions are those prayers during which we come close to God and speak to Him on behalf of the best interests of other people. In regard to government, then, these could be prayers for specific individuals and their situations.
Giving of thanks refers to our expression of gratitude. In relation to government, we are to be thankful for the good that is happening in our country, in our political system, and in our leadership. Instead of always concentrating on what is wrong or in need of improvement, we need to take more time to thank God for all the good things that we have in our particular country.
If the leaders are evil, how am I supposed to pray for them? Are we to support evil, corrupt leaders with our prayers? Yes, we should continue to pray that God would work in their lives and thinking so that they would govern wisely and promote truth and justice. But that does not mean that we have to like them or approve of their evil.
Throughout history there have been leaders who
were enemies of the cause of Christ. Our world today has many leaders who
are self-serving and who would rather "throw their weight around"
and oppress the citizens than be a servant of the people (Lk. 22:25-26).
Prayers against such leaders are appropriate.
The prophet Samuel learned that if he was to pray according to God's will, he could not pray for the success of Saul, the first king of Israel. Saul's power had gone to his head and he ignored God's way of doing things (1 Sam. 13:1-14;15:1-23). When the Lord announced that He was no longer supporting Saul's rule, Samuel prayed all night in anguish (15:11). From that point on, if Samuel was to pray according to God's will, he could no longer pray for the success of Saul's rule. Instead, he was to pray for and support Saul's replacement.
The psalms of David include many prayers against those who perverted justice, opposed the king, or who were in other ways working against God's purposes (55,59,69,79,109,137).
Jeremiah was told by God not to pray for people who were hopelessly wicked (Jer. 7:16; 11:14). God had decided to judge them, so praying for their well-being would have been futile.
The key reason for praying against those in government should be our concern for God's purposes and for what is true, pure, right, and just. We can't presume to know what God will do to wicked rulers, but we can pray that He would uphold His own honor and that He would create an atmosphere where the truth about Christ can be proclaimed (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
God listens when we pray. We have the great promise that "if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us" (1 Jn. 5:14). The activities of the governments are very much a part of the spiritual battle that will one day be over when Christ returns to set up His kingdom.
Thinking It Over. How can you remind yourself to pray for government leaders and issues? Do public prayers in your church include requests for those in political office? What current issues need your prayers?
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The following questions are for you to use in leading a group discussion or in discipling someone. We suggest that the questions be discussed prior to studying the corresponding section of this booklet.
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Government--even good government--does not hold the ultimate answers to our social and personal problems. No political system, no leader, no parliament or congress, can create the type of society that meets our most fundamental needs.
The goals of some governments, as stated in their constitutions, present some worthy objectives. But the vision of those words is often an elusive dream that shatters when confronted by cold reality. For example, here's a well-known introduction to one such historical document:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.
Those are great goals. They're the kinds of purposes that help a government function as a servant of the people and not a cruel slavemaster. But let's not fool ourselves. If we're looking for a government to actually fulfill those goals, we're deluded.
If we're looking to our Constitution and our leaders to give us a sense of security and well-being, we're not looking high enough. Only the King of kings, the ultimate Ruler of the universe, has the ability to fulfill all these needs and desires. Our high hopes must be centered on the One who is called God Most High (Ps. 57:2).
Our tendency to expect too much from government is an age-old problem. When the people of the infant nation Israel marched into the land of Palestine, they lacked the symbols of leadership and the kinds of defenses that they saw in the nations around them. They had, however, seen God time after time miraculously fight on their behalf. After an unsettled period in which they were led by several different judges and prophets, they asked the prophet Samuel for a king. They wanted a leader "like all the nations" around them (1 Sam. 8:5,20). They wanted this person to give them a visible sense of security. The Lord, though, saw this as rebellion against His rule (vv.7-9).
The Lord warned them that putting their trust in a king would lead to disappointment. Aking could offer them only limited protection and he would demand the best of their people and products for his own use (vv.10-18). The nation, however, wanted a king--and they got the impressive-looking but ultimately disappointing King Saul.
What the young nation of Israel sought in human leadership back then is something that citizens continue to look for in government today. But what we long for from a good government is ultimately fulfilled only in God. He alone can protect us, provide for our needs, give us worthy work, ensure justice, provide infallible leadership, educate us with eternal truths, and provide lasting peace, an abundant life, true liberty, and enduring happiness. God's kingdom provides what human kingdoms can only partially provide.
Protection. Nations spend billions of dollars building military forces to protect their borders and their interests around the world. But no defense is impenetrable. Security is tenuous at best. World history tells a story of the rise and fall of nations and empires who once felt they were immortal.
The Lord, though, offers protection that will not fail. David, who became king of Israel, recognized that his ability to rule well and his nation's security were not in his own power to provide. He wrote, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust" (Ps. 18:2). He also wrote, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (20:7).
Provision. We not only look to government for defense against our enemies, we also can mistakenly see the state as being the one who provides us with food. Yet the Lord demonstrated by His miraculous supply of manna and water in the wilderness during the exodus of the Jews from Egypt that He can provide food and drink when no one else can. Jesus taught us to recognize God as our ultimate Provider when He told us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Mt. 6:11).
Justice. Our judicial systems are flawed by prejudice, incomplete evidence, political power, even bribery. Even the best courts struggle with sorting out truth, bringing about justice, and trying to close up loopholes that allow the guilty to go free.
In the book of Proverbs, however, we are reminded, "Many seek the ruler's favor, but justice for man comes from the Lord" (29:26). God alone knows all the facts of every case. He perfectly interprets and will enforce His flawless laws. Right now we do not see God's justice displayed in human courts, but "He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man [Jesus] whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:31).
Life, Liberty, and Happiness. The United States Declaration of Independence declares that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The government is supposed to uphold and protect these rights.
Our ultimate source and preserver of life, however, is the One who gave us physical breath and who grants to us spiritual life through Jesus Christ. The greatest liberty--freedom from sin (Rom. 6:23)--can be enjoyed even by those who are bound in chains by a tyrannical ruler. True happiness is not dependent on circumstances, and it can be experienced by those who know that they are pleasing God (Mt. 5:1-12).
Governments come and go but the Lord remains the same. He alone fulfills our deepest needs and provides the kind of protection, provision, justice, life, liberty, and happiness that can satisfy us both now and forever. He alone is the King who deserves our pledge of absolute allegiance. He alone has the ability to fulfill our highest hopes.
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The decision is up to you. At this moment the only vote that counts is yours. Your future depends on your choice right now. In regard to your relationship to human rulers,
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Even more important, though, is what you decide to do about God's right to rule your life. He is the King of the universe. Do you live as if you believe it and want to please Him?
If you have been living in rebellion, confess your sin. And if you've never done so before, put your trust in Jesus Christ alone to bring you complete forgiveness of sin and to bring you to heaven. Tell Him, "God, I admit I'm a sinner, a rebel who has been living for myself. I believe Jesus died for me. I accept the gift of life You offer to all who trust Him. Help me now to live for You."
If you have found forgiveness in Christ but have strayed away, take time now to acknowledge your failure to live for God and renew your commitment to Him. Resolve to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs to hear the life-changing news about Christ and that needs to see how transformed lives can revolutionize society. The best way to change society is not through altering forms of human government, but by changing the human heart and putting Christ on the throne of our lives.