Some Thoughts on Citizenship

We are very blessed in the United States because the government is mostly made up of elected officials. That is what makes us a Republic. We can choose to vote for people who have opinions and ideals that we agree with, and hopefully, which are in agreement with the Word of God. God has given us a voice in this country; what has always baffled me is how many people choose not to use it. What has also always baffled me (and I’ll admit I’ve often been sucked into this mire) is how many of God’s people speak ill of the very government our nation has elected.

Romans 13:1-7 says “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Verses 1-2 make it clear that whether we agree with the governing authorities or not, or even whether they do good or not, we are to be subject to them as their authority is from God, and that to resist them will bring judgement because we are resisting what God has appointed. We make all sorts of excuses to ignore these verses but that doesn’t make the word of God any less true. Those who are in authority are God’s servants, and per verse six, God’s ministers. The same Greek word is used here is that is used for “decans” elsewhere in the new testament (Strongs G1249: diakonos). The governing officials, whether good or bad, are God’s ministers (though the officials themselves may not see themselves as such).

But… But… No buts. They are God’s ministers appointed by God himself. It is interesting that we are to be in subjection, not simply to avoid God’s wrath, but for the sake of conscience. As Christians, we should desire to be in subjection to the government. Participating in government is not a sin (and to my friends who think it is an offense to God if we exercise our right to vote, I would add – if the government encourages us to vote, and if we wish to honor God’s Word in Romans 13, we should do so).

We like to make excuses so we often use the argument that “the government does wrong” and then use that to say that the government or the current administration doesn’t count and we don’t have to show respect and honor to them. But this isn’t what the Bible says. The Bible says that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Consider who was in charge when Paul wrote these words – Nero. People in the U.S. today can’t even fathom what it would be like to live under such a despot. Nero was known for tyranny. Many think Nero instigated the great fire of Rome to pave the way for his palatial complex and then used Christians as scapegoats, burning them alive. Other commentators state Nero was the first great persecutor of Christians and a true hater of Christians. But it was under this very Nero that Paul, guided by the Spirit of God wrote “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

In today’s world, would we expect a Christian author in a country such as North Korea to say “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” and then encourage his people to give honor and respect to their oppressive leader? Probably not, but if the writer held to the words of God in the Bible, he might say just that.

In the above Romans verses, it is interesting that Paul states that we should pay our taxes and revenue, not to increase our infrastructure or for the necessity of keeping the government afloat, but for the sake of our conscious and because the authorities are ministers of God. Paul doesn’t make a pragmatic argument at all.

Titus 3:1-2 adds “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

1 Peter 2:13-17 says “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”

Proverbs 8:15-16 says “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly.”

Psalm 22:28 says “For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.”

Even Jesus acknowledged in John 19:11 “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” And in Luke 20:25 he said “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (See also Matthew 22:21)

1 Timothy 2:1 adds “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

We should be praying for our government. We should honor those in power – not because they are intrinsically good, but because they are the servants of God (again, whether they realize it or not). God does not call us to mumble and complain about our government, nor does he call us to resist the government because of the wrongs she does, but to pray for those in authority for they are God’s ministers.

So many of us only seem to like government when government is going our way. That is not biblical. Government is God’s design and if government is God’s design, then all government is God’s government. This does not mean government always does what is right but this does not give us a loophole to not do what the Bible says. (Romans 13:3 is a principle, not a rule, but this principle was applied while Nero was the emperor!). This does not mean governments are aware they are being used by God. This does not mean that governments even respect God. This does not mean these institutions will not be overrun by evil (we see in the book of Revelation that they will). This just means what the Bible teaches – that government is God’s design and no leader is in power without God’s knowledge and permission; they have been instituted by God.

Philippians 3:20 says that we are citizens of heaven, but the fact that we are in Christ does not set us free from civil government. At this time we are also citizens of earth, and of our country. Our heavenly citizenship should make us model citizens of the earthly government, even if that earthly government is under the leadership of someone less than honorable, or even someone tyrannical. Consider Daniel. By anyone’s standards, King Nebuchadnezzar was a tyrant.  Jeremiah 4:7 says he was a “destroyer of nations.” Daniel and his friends weren’t just “citizens” of Babylon, but they were captives of the king. Yet Daniel, speaking for God, said when interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:37-38 “You, O king, the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, and the might, and the glory, and into whose hand he has given, wherever they dwell, the children of man, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the heavens, making you rule over them all—you are the head of gold.”  (also see Daniel 2: 20-21).

Before Nebuchadnezzar’s mind was taken from him for a season, Daniel says in Daniel 4:17 “The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’” Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah 27:5, the Lord says “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me.” Verse 6 adds “Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him.” The tyrannical king is called God’s servant. God is in charge of electing both the governments that we like who seem to do good and those we don’t like who clearly do evil. It may not be until we are on the other side of heaven, but someday we’ll see that God’s plan in this was perfect all along. The decision to make now is will we respect the Bible’s words on the matter or will we not.

There is one place in the Bible where we are told to disobey those in authority. When told to not teach Christ, Peter in Acts 5:29 says “We must obey God rather than men.” There are times when that will be true, but what’s really interesting here is these words were not spoken against the civilian government of the time (though many preachers use these words as if they were). These words were spoken specifically to the Jewish council and the Jewish high priest. While it is true that if our government tells us to murder another or refuse Christ we should not do so, the greater point to be taken in the Acts story is that if those claiming to represent the Church tell us to hide the truth of God, we should instead obey God and proclaim his truth, despite what the church leaders say (there are many areas in our current Christian society where this teaching is growing more and more applicable).

We must consider, as we rebel against God by seeking to overturn the very structures that God in his kindness has given for the wellbeing of society, maybe, in God’s divine justice, he allows these very structures to become corrupt and ultimately work against us. Maybe on some level our governments are the way they are because of our sins in speaking against them and not honoring the word of God regarding our earthly citizenship. The thought reminds me of 2 Timothy 4:3-4, which says “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” By rejecting the true Word of God, I wonder if certain preachers have risen to great fame as a sort of divine justice, drawing our deceptively greedy hearts away with their preaching void of acknowledgement of sin and filled with nothing but the prosperity and blessings of a selfish Christian life. But that’s another topic for another day.

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