A Biblical Understanding of Government, part 1

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This past presidential election left many Christians feeling overwhelmed. Not only were they divided over whom to vote for, many did not even know if they should vote at all. Due to this confusion, I would like to provide a basic understanding about what the Bible teaches on the topic of government. Specifically, I will discuss God’s role in the political process, our responsibility toward governing authorities, the function God has set aside for governments, and what we should do as we approach an election.

With the presidential election quickly approaching, many Christians I meet are feeling overwhelmed. Not only are many divided over whom to vote for, many do not even know if they should even vote at all. As this momentous day for America draws closer, I want to provide a basic understanding on what the Bible has to teach on the topic of government. Specifically, we are going to discuss God’s role in the political process, our responsibility toward governing authorities, the function God has set aside for governments, and what we should be doing as we approach this next election.

God is sovereign

With each election comes warnings of voter fraud. Depending on which side of the political fence you are on, voter fraud is either a real threat to the election process, or a made-up myth by people prone to conspiracy theories. While I will leave it up to each of you to decide where you want to stand on the issue of voter fraud, one issue that is not up to debate is the fact that God is sovereign over all nations. This truth is clearly stated in the following Psalm,

“Let the whole world sing for joy, because You govern the nations with justice and guide the people of the whole world.” (Psalm 67:4).

This truth is also taught in Psalms 83. This Psalm, which is a prayer to God about nations who were conspiring to destroy Israel, ends with these powerful words, “Then they will learn that You alone are called the LORD, that You alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). Throughout Scripture, God is consistently recognized as being sovereign over the entire world (see 2 Chronicles 20:6; Psalm 22:28; 103:19; 135:6; Proverbs 21:1).  In the words of Job,

“He makes nations great, and He destroys them; He enlarges nations, and leads them away” (Job 12:23).

As the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:15), all human governments derive their authority from God Himself. As Paul told the believers in Rome,

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1).

We must remember that it is God who removes kings and raises them up (Daniel 2:21). In the words of Nebuchadnezzar,

“His rule is everlasting, and His kingdom is eternal. All the people of the earth are nothing compared to Him. He does as He pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth” (Daniel 4:34, 35).

So regardless of whether or not there is voter fraud, God’s plan in any election will come to pass:

“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God!  I am God, and there is none like me.  Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish” (Isaiah 46:9, 10).

Our Responsibility

Since God is sovereign over all governing authorities, does this mean that we can just sit back and do nothing. Absolutely not! First, as Christians we need to be praying for all elected officials. Regardless of their positions and hostility to the Christian faith, we need to pray that they will use their power to promote righteous laws and that they will come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. As Paul writes to his dear friend Timothy,

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Second, we need to financially support those in power. As much as we hate paying taxes, it is another responsibility that we have as followers of Jesus Christ (Romans 13:6, 7). When the Herodians and Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with the question of paying taxes to the Roman government, He gave the following response. Keep in mind that at issue was the poll tax, which was an annual fee of one denarius per person. Of all the Roman taxes the Jews hated this tax the most because it carried the connotation that the Romans owned them and their land:

Now tell us what You think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?  ”But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” He said. “Why are you trying to trap me?  Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”  “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:17-21).

Finally, we are called to submit to those in authority:

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1; see also Titus 3:1).

Paul goes on to explain that since God is the one who ordained governments, disobedience against those in authority is in essence disobedience to Him (Romans 13:1b-2). Thus, for conscience sake before God, we should submit to those in authority. Also, Paul notes that we should submit to avoid punishment that comes from civil disobedience (Romans 13:3-5).

Peter also taught this concept of submission to governments. As he states in his first epistle,

“For the Lord’s sake, respect all human authority—whether the king as head of state, or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13, 14).

This statement is profound when you consider that the Roman Emperor at the time was Nero. It was under his reign that Christians were viciously persecuted. Yet, despite facing persecution, Peter recognized that their submission to the Roman authorities would silence those who criticized the Christian faith (1 Peter 2:15-17).

So, as Christians, we need to pray, support and submit to those in authority. However, what do we do when the government calls us to disobey God? We shall examine that issue in the next section.