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Government in the Bible: Basic Principles

by Andy Davis on November 15, 2018

Audio Download

This content is taken from the sermon titled The Christian and Government, Part 1 (Romans Sermon 98 of 120), preached on April 9, 2006 at the First Baptist Church of Durham.  The full sermon can be found here.  

God Actively Rules Heaven and Earth

Let's talk first about basic principles of government from Scripture. First, God actively rules heaven and earth. He reigns over all things. In Acts 17:24 the Apostle Paul says, "The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth." Also in Psalm 103:19, it says, "The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all." He is sovereign, he is king, he rules over this earth.

God Delegates Some of His Authority to Created Beings

God delegates some of his authority to created beings. He gives his authority to created beings and they are to use that authority. Genesis 1:16, it says that God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, (that's the sun) and the lesser light to govern (the moon). In like manner then he creates human beings in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule…" "Let them rule, over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

So God delegates to created beings some of his authority. This is true also in the heavenly realms, which we cannot see nor can we  perceive it by five senses. Nevertheless we know of archangels, ruler angels who ruled over other angels. There is order in the heavenly realms, and this is reflected even in terms of Satan's kingdom, which is spoken of in terms of rulers and authorities, and powers, and dominions. There is order in the heavenly realms, though we cannot see it. So also, there is order here on earth. Ephesians 6:1-3 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." So, God delegates some of his authority to created beings.

God Will Judge Both Governors and Subjects

God will judge both governors and citizens, both governors and the subjects of their reign for how they carry themselves. God holds created beings accountable for their actions. He will judge kings for how they govern. He will judge their subjects or citizens for how they respond to the government. A clear example of this is in Ephesians 6:9 where it says, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism with him." In other words, masters, you're going to stand before your master some day and give an account for how you treated your slaves, and so therefore, handle it properly. God will bring to judgment both kings and subjects based on how they handle the relationship.

God Sovereignly Rules Over Both Governors and Subjects

In addition to the judgement mentioned above, God actively and sovereignly rules over governments day-to-day. He doesn't just delegate to them and then lets it go. But he is actively guiding human history, ruling over all things. Jesus is the King of Kings, isn't that marvelous? To know that he is actively reigning over governments, no matter how wicked they may seem to us, and they are wicked, still Christ reigns. It says in Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse whichever way he chooses." And I like this in Daniel chapter 7, a great chapter. Daniel has a vision of the sea and up out of the sea come beasts one after the other, four beasts. Each of these beasts represents a human government, a human empire one after the other, the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire coming up out of the sea, one after the other. They are beasts, and he looks at it.

And it says, concerning that fourth beast (interpreted to be Rome), in Daniel 7:23-26, "The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on the earth, it will be different from all the other kingdoms and it will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The 10 horns or 10 kings who will come from this kingdom, after them another king will rise different from the earlier ones and he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and he will oppress his saints, and he will try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time. But, then the court will sit and his power will be taken away and he will be completely destroyed forever." You see the active rule of heaven over these evil kingdoms. The best example of this is in the death of Christ.

In Acts chapter 4, the church met together to consider the escalating persecution by the Jews, the Sanhedrin, and by the Romans. And they prayed about it, and in their prayer they quote Scripture. Psalm 2, "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed, they say Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in the city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire against your holy servant, Jesus. They did what your power and will had determined ahead of time should happen." God actively rules over human governments day-to-day.

Good Government is a Blessing

Good government is a blessing from God. That's the basic idea of Romans 13, good government is a blessing from God. Listen to the preamble of the Constitution. It says there, "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America." Well, that's a list of blessings. Those are good things. All of them can be supported in Scripture. That's why the Constitution was written, that's what the government was for. Good government is a blessing from God.

"Without government, people's sin nature runs wild and loss of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law occurs constantly."

Government Restrains Chaos and Evil

So, how is government a blessing from God? Well, it restrains chaos and evil. Do you remember the conquest of Baghdad by the American troops? April 9, 2003, Saddam's statue was pulled down, perhaps the most visible symbol of the toppling of his regime. But even a wicked government has this good effect: it restrains evil and chaos. Do you remember what happened after the government was toppled, the anarchy that ruled in Baghdad? While the military was still pursuing military targets, there really was no police force in Baghdad. The Washington Post wrote a story about a month later, May 13, 2003, and this is what it said,

"The reports of carjackings, assaults, and forced evictions grew today, adding to an impression that recent improvements and security were evaporating. Fires burned anew and several Iraqi government buildings and looting resumed at one of former President Saddam Hussein's palaces. The sound of gunfire, rattled during the night, many residents said they were keeping their children home from school during the day. Even traffic was affected as drivers ignored rules in the absence of Iraqi police, only to crash and cause tie-ups. Police officers, prohibited by US forces from carrying anything other than a side arm, are wary of confronting antagonists who can outgun them. The overall situation is further complicated by a disabled court system and a lack of functioning jails. Carjackings have been particularly frequent. A furniture salesman, Abdul Salam Hussein, [probably no family relation, I would hope anyway] said he watched through the picture window of his store as gunmen chased down a Peugeot sedan on a busy square, ordered the occupants into the street and sped away. 'They had weapons,' he said. No one could do anything to help."

Now, the government of Saddam Hussein's was a wicked government, evil. It's better that it's not there, but in the absence even of that evil government, look what happens. People's wickedness floats to the surface, people take advantage of the situation. We saw the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. You see pictures or reports of looters going all over the place, and then private citizens guarding their possessions with weapons and willing to gun down anybody who steps on their property. It's anarchy. So even bad government restrains evil and chaos. Without government, might makes right and anarchy rules.

1 John 3:4, it says, "Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, sin is lawlessness." Without government, you'll see that all over the place, sin is lawlessness. Now, some intellectuals in the West have openly espoused anarchy based on a utopian view of society and an overly optimistic view of human nature. "We can get along without government," they say. Well, the problem is Romans 3:10-18 has already diagnosed the human heart. "There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now you take government away and this is what you have. You'll see it lived out right in front of you.

Without government, people's sin nature runs wild and loss of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law occurs constantly. Without government, we Christians who are basically sheep-like, peace-loving kind of people would have to hide in the hills, as in the days of the Book of Judges with Gideon and just venture forth to see what's left in the streets to eat and then go back up in the hills. It would be a very dangerous place to live.

Government Demonstrates God’s Passion for Justice

Government also demonstrates God's passion for justice. Governments, police, court systems give daily picture of judgment day. Every night, on the local news, you can see somebody getting arrested, or somebody being arraigned, or somebody being convicted, or somebody being brought off to prison, and these images are in our minds all the time. They are a picture of judgment day, aren't they? We see it everyday, it's just a display of God's basic nature to bring things to justice, to deal with things. The court was seated and the books were opened, it says in Revelation 20. Well, we have a picture of that because of government.

Government Promotes Order and Peace - Essential to the Spread of the Gospel

Government promotes order and peace. With the natural tendency of humans to evil being checked and restrained, then a basic level of peace and order can be established. This enables people to live orderly and peaceful lives, and this order and peace is essential to the gospel advance. How can we preach the gospel if there's rioting and looting in the streets? If you're cowering up in the hills and you're not sure where your next meal is going to come from, how are you going to share the gospel with your neighbor? It's going to be hard. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul talks about this in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, he says, "I urge then, first of all that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and for all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness, this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." Do you see how Paul connects government and the orderliness of society with the advance of the gospel? God's desire is to get people saved, and so you need to pray for governments that they would do their job well so that we can advance the gospel. So we need the quiet orderliness that government provides so that we can share.

Order and Peace is Also Essential to General Productivity

Order and peace is also essential to general productivity. Governments maintain infrastructure, like roads and bridges and ports and emergency things like 911, hospitals, ambulances, fire departments. These things come from government. Good governments also manage economic opportunities in a way conducive to the general welfare. Now this enables Christians to obey Paul's command in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where he says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." Without government keeping everything under control, you can't do this, God can't put your daily quiet life on display, your hard work with your hands. Instead, again, you'd be running and cowering and trying to survive the day. And so as a result, good things happen with the order of government.

And government encourages love and good deeds. It says in Romans 13:4, "The ruler is God's servant to do you good." So, good government is a blessing from God.

"...bad government is in the image of the devil."

Bad Government is a Curse

Bad government is a curse from the devil. He's a governor, he's a king, he's a ruler, and he rebelled against God, not God-ordained authority, he rebelled against God. And so bad government is in the image of the devil. And it is essentially rebellious, it promotes evil and chaos.

I was reading a book about the history of the civil rights recently and a civil right leader quoted Saint Augustine and he said, "Without justice, government is nothing more than a band of armed robbers." In other words, without justice, a government itself becomes a lot like anarchy. Look at, for example, Nazi Germany in 1938, October 9th and 10th, what's called Kristallnacht in which government permission was given to anti-Semites to roam the streets, destroy Jewish businesses, arrest Jewish people without any charges, hold them, bring them to concentration camps and they were executed without a trial. How is that different than the anarchy I was just describing? Very little difference.

And so, bad government is a curse from the devil. The key passage on good government being a blessing from God is Romans 13. The key passage on bad government being a curse from the devil is Revelation 13. It's a good kind of parallelism there. Romans 13, government is a blessing from God. Revelation 13, evil government is a curse from the devil. There it shows in Revelation 13:1-2, the dragon stands on the shore of the sea. The sea in Daniel 7 represents the churning of the nations and up out of the sea come these beasts in Daniel 7. Well, Revelation 13 picks up on the image, and there the dragon, Satan, is standing by the sea, and he looks out over the churning sea and up out of the sea, comes a beast. It has ten horns and seven heads with ten crowns on its horns and on each head a blasphemous name. "The beast I saw resembled the leopard but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and throne and great authority." That's government, but it's wicked government, it's from the devil, Revelation 13.

Now, the future of bad human government is the reign of anti-Christ. Anti-Christ will reign over this beast, this wicked human government. He is the man of sin mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2. He sets himself above all things, even wanting to be worshiped himself and he will be destroyed by the breath of Christ and by the splendor of his second coming. Amen and amen. And at last, human government will be finished. But that's the future. We have yet a future of bad human government.

So in summary, we see in Romans 13 that government is established by God. The government official is God's servant to do you good. In Revelation 13, government usurped by the devil is wicked. The wicked government is the beast from the sea. The final form of wicked human government is that of the anti-Christ whom Christ will destroy.