Ethics: Government and Citizenship (Part 2)

Man living in what John Locke has described as “the State of Nature,” that is man living without earthly government has great freedom. He is amenable to God’s law. He, in certain relationships, is to be in subjection to others: (1) Children to parents (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20). This is an involuntarily entered relationship as far as the children are concerned. This subjection is to continue until the leaving (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Galatians 4:1-2). (2) Wives to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-ff). This is a voluntarily entered relationship. The subjection is to continue as long as the marriage continues, ideally for life (Romans 7:2 cf. Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). (3) Employees to employers (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25). This subjection should continue so long as this relationship exits. (4) Church members to the eldership of the local church (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:5a). Moreover, (5) all are to have a humble, submissive spirit one toward another (1 Peter 5:5b). However, He is not subject to the laws of an earthly government.

Societies form and earthly governments develop for protection, order and mutual benefit. Man living under earthly government gives up some of his freedom for these benefits.

Citizens’ and Residents Responsibilities

1. Submit.

We are to live submissively under the government’s authority. Consider the following words: (a) “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men” (Titus 3:1-2). (b) “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to the governors … for this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men… Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.Honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17). Watch the fact that different levels of government are mentioned in this passage. (c) “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities of God, and those who resist will bring punishment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2).

What if I do not like a law? The general rule is that we are to submit to the government. My personal dislike of a law is not, in itself, justification for my disregarding of that law.

Are there any exceptions? There are two exceptions to this general rule: (1) When the government orders me to do what God does not want me to do, then I am not to submit myself to the government. (2) When the government forbids me to do what God wants me to do, then I am not to submit myself to the government (Acts 4:19; 5:29). The reason for this is sometimes explained that God’s law is higher than man’s law. Therefore, if the two are in conflict, we should follow God’s law. Brother, Kerry Duke has offered this—“The appeal to a higher/lower law distinction … ignores the fact that obedience to rulers is a part of God’s law… (The real answer is) Rulers have no right to contest any item of divine legislation. When they do so, they have overstepped the bounds of delegated authority. (However) As long as they operate within the confines of this realm, they function as agents of God” (ox in the Ditch, p. 83-84). All authority resides with God. He has given government certain authority. When they do things contrary to His authority, they are claiming power He has not given them.

2. Obey the King.

We should understand from where authority comes (see the last paragraph under the previous point). Jesus has all authority (Matthew 28:18; John 17:2a). He is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16).

Earthly governments typically have layers of officials (I Peter 2:13-14). The lesser official has delegated authority from the greater authority. The lesser authority is subject to the greater. The United States of America has no human being as king. However, we do have a Constitution to which earthly officials are subject. The Constitution serves as “king.” The officials in the government have overstepped their bounds if they operate plainly outside the authority the Constitution gives them. However, as Christians we are to “bend over backwards” to live peaceably. We are to “pursue peace” (Hebrew 12:14). “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). We are to “go the second mile” (Matthew 5:41).

One other thought, just because something is not listed as criminal behavior by an earthly government does not necessarily mean that it is not sinful. Earthly governments pass laws to maintain peace, safety, and order. They, likely, will not criminalize all sinful behavior. Such would not be practical or feasible. Moreover, God’s law concerns itself with not just external behavior, but also internal thoughts. John Quincy Adams remarked, “Human legislators can undertake only to prescribe the actions of man … the Legislator gave them rules not only for action but for the government of the heart” (David Barton, Original Intent, p. 327).

3. Pay Taxes.

The government is funded by tax revenue. We’re instructed in God’s word to pay the taxes we owe to the government. Consider: (a) “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Romans 13:7). Note: The first word is a general term; the second word refers more specifically to taxes on imports and exports. (b) “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). The word “therefore” connects these words with the previous stated fact that Caesar’s image was stamped on the coins they were using. Healthy economies have a universally recognized and trusted system of exchange. Jesus’ point was that they were using Roman coins and thus they should pay taxes. If you accept government services, then shouldn’t you pay taxes? However, watch the words “… and to God the things that are God’s.” Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; 9:6; James 3:9). He created us. We belong to Him. We owe Him far more than we owe earthly governments. We owe Him our very being. “All things were created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).

What if the government is corrupt? (Please, tell me what government isn’t in some way!). The ESV Study Bible contains this comment on Romans 13:6-7: “Christians must not refuse to pay taxes simply because they think some of the money is used unjustly, for the Roman Empire surely did not use all of its money for godly purposes!” God will judge government leaders for any corrupt use of tax revenue. However, we are to pay our taxes. I find no biblically justified exceptions. If things get so bad that one can’t in good conscience support the government, then maybe it is time to renounce citizenship and remove to another’s jurisdiction (many emigrated from Nazi Germany for this very reason).

4. Prayer.

Christians are instructed to pray for government officials (1 Timothy 2:1-2 cf. Jeremiah 29:4-7). The reasons we are to pray for the government rulers are mentioned: (1) “that we may live a quiet and peaceable life” (1 Timothy 2:2). The Jews of old were instructed to pray for Babylon while in Babylon “for in its peace, you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7). Christian’s prayer is not primarily about “the good of the human ruler, but the Christian subjects” (David Lipscomb, Civil Government, p. 80). (2) God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4). We’re praying for an environment which provides maximum opportunities to preach the gospel.

5. Honor.

We’re to honor and respect government officials for their position (1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13:7). Men of old knelt and bowed before kings and those in great authority (Genesis 37:7, 10; 41:42-43; 43:28; Mt. 27:39). We do not have a human king. We do not bow before our government officials in this country. However, we are to respect their position. We don’t want to be among those who “reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries.” (Jude 8)

6. Motives.

Why should we so behave? (1) Such behavior gives us a clear conscience before God (Rom. 13:5 cf. 13:2). (2) Such behavior avoids wrath (Romans 13:2, 4-5). (3) Such behavior properly represents Christianity (1 Peter 2:14 cf. 2:12-14).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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