The Christian’s Attitude Toward Government (1)

The following is the text of a lecture given in the First Protestant Reformed Church, Holland, MI, November 6, 1998.

 The question before us tonight is occasioned by the scandalous behavior of our nation’s president. For the second time in a little over twenty years the House of Representatives is considering whether to impeach our president. There’s no disputing what the president did. He admitted finally that he repeatedly transgressed the 7th commandment of God’s Law and that he had lied to the nation.

It is my opinion that his behavior renders the president unfit to continue in the high office of the presidency of the United States. He ought to resign. If he does not resign, the president ought to be impeached by the House of Representatives and put out of office by the Senate.

But, the question is what must be our attitude toward Mr. Clinton? Must we still honor and obey him?

This is a real and serious question also in countries where saints are persecuted. Must the persecuted saints be subject toward their persecuting government?

In regard to the Christian’s calling toward the civil government, the Bible speaks clearly. In Romans 13:1- 7, Scripture requires that we obey the government. There can be no doubt about the fact that this passage speaks of the civil government. The passage speaks of the “higher powers.” “Powers” is really “authorities.” And, authority has to do with the right to rule or govern. “Higher” means to be superior in rank, to stand over others. That these superior authorities refer to the civil government is obvious from the reference to their bearing the sword (verse 4). And they are called “rulers” (verse 3). It is obvious as well from the fact that we need to pay them tribute, i.e. we must pay taxes to them (verses 6 and 7).

In this connection we note too that Scripture nowhere sanctions a particular form of government: an oligarchy, a monarchy, or a democracy. Hence, regardless of the form of government, every soul must be subject to the superior authorities.

The Christian, therefore, must not resist the authority! To resist is to range in battle against, or to line oneself up against the authority. It’s to oppose the authority. We may not do this. To do this would be just plain disobedience to the clearly expressed will of God.

Positively, the passage says, “Let every soul be subject to the superior authorities. To be subject means to arrange under, to be submissive to another. In plain language it means to obey the superior authorities. We must live our lives in harmony with the laws which the superior authorities promulgate and enforce. This is true for “every soul,” i.e., for every person, every citizen. No one is exempt. But, especially does the inspired apostle mean every Christian. He’s writing to the church in Rome. Of all citizens it is especially important that the Christians be obedient to the superior authorities.

Being subject, obeying the superior authorities means we do not do evil. If we do evil we have every reason to be afraid of the authorities, for they must avenge evil and they bear not the sword in vain. Rather we do good: out of faith, according to the law of God, and to God’s glory. That’s doing good. This is obeying the authorities.

This is God’s command. Here we have no options. We must be subject, submissive, obedient to the superior authorities. This is a divine imperative! God requires this of us.

That this is the case is emphasized in Scripture. Titus, the preacher in Crete, is instructed to remind God’s people to be “subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates” (Titus 3:1). In I Peter 2:13-17, God’s Word demands that we submit “to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme or unto governors sent by the king to punish evildoers,” and we are to, “fear God and honor the king.”

This, first of all, is the Christian’s calling with respect to the civil government. We are to obey the superior authorities.

Second, Christians must pay their taxes. Holy Scripture is perfectly clear on this matter. Verses 6 and 7 of Romans 13 clearly state that we must pay tribute to the authorities. Tribute is tax. And, we must render to all their dues (what is owed them) tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, and honor to whom honor. Both tribute and custom are forms of taxes. Jesus taught the same. The Savior instructed Peter on the necessity of paying tribute or tax (Matthew 17:24-27). Jesus also told the wicked Pharisees, “Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:15- 22).

Scripture tells us why we need to pay taxes. The authorities are God’s ministers/servants who “attend continually on this very thing.” They work full time at maintaining good order in society, at ruling. For this reason they deserve our support. We pay tribute or taxes to maintain the civil government which God has ordained.

Thirdly, our calling as Christians is to pray for those in authority over us. This is the teaching of I Timothy 2:1- 4. The inspired Apostle writes, “I exhort,” in other words, this is a command from God to Timothy. This is what Timothy must do. He must make supplications or entreaties, prayers (a more general term, all types of prayers), intercessions, i.e., he must ask God to help and guide those in authority. And, Timothy must do all this along with “giving of thanks.” Thanksgiving is part of all true prayer. This Timothy must do “for kings and for all in authority.” Still more, the passage says that Timothy must do this, “first of all.” This is a priority! So important is it that it’s first!

We in the Protestant Reformed Churches are not very good at this. We need to take this to heart and do it. In our congregational and other public prayers, in our family devotions and in our personal prayers, we should pray for those in authority over us.

Why do we need to do this? Because God demands that we do so. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.” And, we must do this for the sake of the church, “That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Everything exists, also the civil government, for the sake of the church and her salvation.

This then is the threefold calling of the Christian with regard to the civil government. We must be subject to the superior authorities, not resist, but obey them. We must pay our tribute or taxes to support and maintain the government. And, we must pray for those in authority over us. (cont.) ❖