What Does God Think of Civil Government?
God likes respect and honor. Positions of rulership are not evil. His angelic kingdom has rank and file. Delegated authority is the way God works through humanity and the spiritual realm.
Here’s the thing, God’s delegated authority, men and women in positions of rule, don’t necessarily honor Him. Their sin will produce ungodly laws, rules, mandates, decrees etc. Stories in the Gospels show that the sin of Jewish leaders produced laws that Jesus rejected. (Luke 13:15, Matt. 23)
We must remember the origin of civil government. Way back in the Old Testament, the people begged for a king, and God finally complied. Before this, we can glean that God wanted his people to govern their own hearts in a posture of worship to Him (Gen. 4:3-7) but we know this didn’t work very well. God tells Cain that he has the ability to “rule over sin” that is tempting him, but Cain chooses not to. This is an amazing revelation regarding what God thinks about choice. He doesn’t control, he come down and forcibly stop Cain from killing his brother; instead He warns and exhorts, and then lets Cain choose whether he is going to rule over sin or not. Cain’s choice affected his generations, perhaps even stil today.
Another important point to note about self-government and God’s instructions to humankind: God is clear about our role of authority before civil government was established. After the Flood, God repeats the dominion mandate of Gen 1:28 but expounds on it because sin is now affecting the realm of Earth.
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. 2 The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.
7 And you,a]”>[a] be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”
The passage goes on and there are so many wonderful things we can learn from studying it and considering the times in which we live, but my one point is that us being created in God’s image is a significant point for God, especially when we are dealing with a person’s life/blood. (v.6) The instructions in this passage pointed Noah and future generations to the heart of the Ten Commandments: surrender our hearts to the Creator God, and conduct ourselves in ways that promote life-giving relationships based on what God deems right and wrong.
Later in the OT, we learn that adhering to what God said was “right” was difficult for everyone. Even the prophet Samuel’s sons started “taking bribes and perverting justice” (1 Sam. 8:2). Sin is really that powerful. Those called into a leadership role are not immune.
Civil government was allowed because the Israelites wanted to look like the idolatrous nations around them that had a king: a man in authority that ruled as ultimate authority. In fact, God said that their desire for a king was because “they have rejected me from being king over them.” (v. 7)
Did God allow the establishment of civil government to oversee every aspect of life? NO! But I think He knew it would happen. He knew that the temptation to control and dominate would be hard for leaders to resist. In addition, the kings of the other nations were self-proclaimed gods. God knew Israel’s desire to look like other nations would become a problem for His chosen people because of the sin of tyranny.
God established roles, functions and jurisdictions. (Gen 3, 14:18, Ex 18, Num 3) Civil government was to deal with the jurisdiction of justice: making wise decisions when the people had complaints with one another. God had already established the authority of parents to govern family life; priests and prophets to oversee and declare God purposes to the people. God established elders, heads of family clans, judges and officers (Joshua 24:1) as delegated authority roles over their assigned jurisdictions. So God is not opposed to delegated authority even though sin is a problem for everyone.
What God wants is for human beings to know is that to prosper in our leadership roles, we must worship Him alone, surrender our reasonings to what He says is good, right, pure, and just; and that the condition of sin needs atonement.
No parent, teacher, governing official, doctor, or scientist is without weakness. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So forgiveness is tantamount for moving forward when authority figures take bribes, pervert justice, ignore widows and orphans, worship other gods like Molech (child-sacrifice), etc. But consequences are to be expected as well. God is just. Eternal forgiveness is one thing, natural consequences and penalties are another. Delegated authorities in every jurisdiction can avoid those sinful pitfalls by 1) worshipping the one true God and Creator of all (Col 1), being accountable to those they serve, having integrity and humility and acknowledging a person’s God-given freedom of choice and the right to question anything that could impact our image-bearing role in the earth.
Consider all of that and ask yourself, is it sin if we ignore Paul’s charge (Romans 13:1-3) and imitate Jesus by rejected ungodly laws?
(Was practicing civil disobedience a sin? Did the colonists sin when they resisted British tyranny? Did slaves sin when they ran away from their masters to get freedom? Did abolitionists sin when they hid slaves even though that was illegal because a slave was someone’s property?)
First, what is sin? Sin is missing the mark of God’s will. Getting out of alignment with His intents and purposes.
If delegated authorities honor their jurisdictional limitations, enact laws that do not infringe on our God-given purposes, then YES we obey. Let’s remember who Paul was, a man who followed orders to kill Christians. so we know he believes in submission to authority. As a transformed man we know he realized how sinful and oppressive civil authority can be.
It is true that we don’t see Jesus have much direct contact with civil authorities in the gospels, which is why Matthew 22:21 is so important for us to understand. (see Part 1) Civil authorities have enticed citizens to do sinful things. Civil authorities have enacted laws, regulations, rules, mandates etc. that citizens have broken to protect their divine rights, and to maintain their ability to fulfill the dominion mandate. When civil or (other) authority imposes on our lives in a way that affects any of these things, we can flee or refuse and expect God’s favor. Here are some examples:
1. Mary and Joseph fled Bethlehem because of a tyrannical order to murder babies.
2. Daniel refused to comply with the King’s order about his diet. It worked out.
3. Noah must have refused to comply with the laws of his day, since God found him to be the only one righteous. (Gen 6:8-9, 11-13) It worked out for him too.
4. Jesus regularly resisted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, ate with “defiled hands” (Mark 7:6-8), and healed on the Sabbath.
Paul’s instruction also considers church leadership, but there is a safety mechanism in place: 1 Timothy 5:19 teaches that a believer can bring an accusation against an elder as long as he has two or three who can support the claim. The next verse is astounding. If an elder doesn’t change their mind about whatever they were doing or saying, then believers can bring a public rebuke.
Always honor a God-ordained role (secular or spiritual), but sometimes the person in that role brings dishonor upon himself or herself and faces a consequence.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Believers today must ask themselves, what regulations are being submitted to that cross their own jurisdictional authority? Where are their inalienable rights being ignored by a delegated authority in another jurisdiction? Our inalienable rights go back to Gen 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Regulations, laws, mandates, rules etc that potentially deny your ability to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth etc…should be questioned or resisted if necessary. Any of these that compromise your identity as an “image-bearer” (Gen 1:27), or your biological health should be resisted.
In God’s eyes, civil government/the state cannot ignore or cross the delegated authority of parents and the jurisdiction of a family as defined by God.
No one can cross the jurisdiction of a man, woman, girl, or boy’s “personhood”, because of their image-bearing significance. This is why value of life, even at conception, is important. Anything that violates a person’s dignity, function, and significance as being created in God’s image is a violation of His intents and purposes for human beings in the earth.
Coming soon Part 3: The Consequences of Civil Disobedience