Religion and Government

Religion and Government – A Biblical Perspective
We are beset by unsolvable problems. Selfishness and death rank at the top, turning human history, especially political history, into mere wanderings. A cynic might describe government like this:

  • Flawed people ruling a flawed populace in a flawed place.
  • One ego telling another ego how to live.
  • Washing a mud floor.
The mother of two brothers, both Jesus’ disciples, came to Him with a request. Her sons probably sent her. She asked that in heaven they be made highest in command, second only to Jesus. The other ten disciples became upset. Jesus went on to tell them all this:
    “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
Despite its many weaknesses, human government tends to be the lesser of two evils. Anarchy and chaos are usually worse. During the life of Jesus, and for many generations after, Rome ruled a large part of the ancient world. It was brutal to those who defied it, but Rome also brought a sense of order under which many people lived relatively stable lives. Here is part of God’s command through the apostle Paul to Jesus’ followers:
    “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. … For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1, 4).
The command of God through the apostle Peter is similar:
    “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:13-17).
Of course, when rulers require us to do evil, we cannot obey them, and we may have to bear the consequences. An ancient Babylonian king required that all his people worship a gold idol. Three Jews politely refused and were thrown into a huge fire. But God protected them and they survived. Likewise, some followers of Jesus would not worship the Roman ruler. They were sentenced to death and killed by beheading, fire, or wild animals. History tells us that the apostle Peter was crucified as a follower of Jesus. The apostle Paul, being a Jew with Roman citizenship, was probably beheaded. He accepted his pending fate because, as he put it, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

Some religious leaders tried to trick Jesus into creating trouble for Him. Should He compromise His beliefs by paying taxes to a pagan Roman government, or should He compromise His life by breaking Roman law? Jesus would have none of such sophistry.
    “… knowing their evil intent, [Jesus] said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’ (Matthew 22:18-21).

Religion and Government – Our Relationship
Much could be said about the relationship between religion and government, and each of us should carefully consider our own situation and circumstances. But after that, we should remember the great people of faith who’ve gone before us. The sufferings they endured, often at the hands of unjust rulers, taught them a great truth.

    “… they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

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Compliments of Scott Munger, PhD, Biblica, All rights reserved in the original.

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