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Christians and Politics – A Biblical Look at the Relationship between Church & Government

Well, I have preached probably a few hundred sermons over the last ten years, but I’ve never spoken on this particular topic that I am going to speak about this morning. In fact, this topic had never even appeared on my radar until the latter part of this past year.

And not that the Bible is silent on this issue. As I’ve been preparing for this, it’s actually been surprising for me to see just how much the Bible has to say about it. So over the last several months, God has been helping me wrap my head around about all this – and I believe He is leading me to share some of what I’ve been learning with you. And so this morning I’m going to wade into the issue of church and politics.

Let me start by saying that pastoring this church has been very stretching for me. It has taken me way out of my comfort zone and has caused me to think about and to address issues that I never imagined that I would have to deal with. And of course, politics has been one of those issues. Part of that comes from the particular make-up of those in our church, part of that has to do with the relationship that we’ve developed with our town as we’ve tried to share the love of Christ with our community, and part of that has to do simply with the times in which we live.

And maybe this is just my experience, but I’ve found that more and more I’ve needed to wrestle with the question of: What are our responsibilities as a church, what are our responsibilities as individuals – as followers of Jesus Christ when it comes to the issue of politics and government?

So the first thing I looked for as I began to explore these questions was some Biblical precedent. As we read through the Bible, do we see God’s people engaging in government and politics? Does God concern Himself with what laws get passed or which people are in places of authority and power?

Very quickly I found that there were all kinds of examples of that kind of involvement! In fact, pretty much the entire narrative of the Old Testament focuses around the nation of Israel, it’s leaders, and it’s laws – in other words – governments and politics.

For example, the book of Leviticus and a large part of Exodus is pretty much the constitution and the charter of rights for the nation of Israel – the centre piece of which was the ten commandments. But of course, beyond just those ten commandments, those books contain the civil and criminal laws as well as prescribing the means for justice. It lays out the Israelites’ rights and freedoms – as well as their responsibilities.

We don’t always think of it in those ways, but God was absolutely and directly involved in setting up that government by which the Israelites were to live under. We also see God directly involved in choosing the people who would govern Israel.

Moses, of course, was kinda the first. When the Israelites were slaves under the Pharaoh of Egypt, God sent Moses to go and lead them out.

10 Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.” Exodus 2:10

That’s pretty clear direct involvement. We see this again with Israel’s first king – King Saul. Samuel was the prophet of the day when the Israelites asked for a king to lead them, and so God directed Samuel to anoint Saul as King.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said, “That’s the man I told you about! He will rule my people.” 1 Samuel 9:17

However, as you know, Saul did not whole-heartedly follow God, and so again, some years later, God got involved and directed Samuel to anoint the next king – King David.

Now the Lord said to Samuel, “You have mourned long enough for Saul. I have rejected him as king of Israel, so fill your flask with olive oil and go to Bethlehem. Find a man named Jesse who lives there, for I have selected one of his sons to be my king.” 1 Samuel 16:1

So we can pretty clearly see that God is concerned and involved with which people are in the positions of authority and power – and not just when it involves Israel.

I was actually kinda surprised to realize just how many of the Old Testament stories revolve around kings and queens and other government officials. For example:

  • A major part of Genesis is the story of Joseph, whom God brings into the position of second in command over all of Egypt.
  • We have Esther as Greg mentioned last week – as the Queen of Persia – influencing the king to make certain laws to save her people.
  • We have Daniel who was prime minister of sorts – under the king, but over 120 provincial leaders.
  • We have six entire books of the Bible – 1 & 2  Samuel, 1 & Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles – all of which follow all the kings and queens of Israel & Judah. You could even lump the book of Judges in there – the Judges were all the leaders of Israel as well.
  • We also have all kinds of prophets – many of whom directed their messages towards the kings – both the kings of Israel as well as the kings of many of the surrounding nations.

So the Old Testament is packed full of the stories of how God is involved in governments and politics and how he empowers people to influence those in positions of authority and to shape the laws of the land.

And it shouldn’t surprise us that He does. It’s important to note in this conversation about government and politics that God is the ultimate government. He is the King of Kings and Lord of lords.

“At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.” 1 Timothy 6:15

We see this throughout the Old Testament, but the point really comes out in the story of Daniel – or more specifically, in the story of Nebuchadnezzar. For those who don’t know the story, the King of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) was pretty much the most powerful man in the world at that time. He had conquered the last world power (the Assyrians) and as far as kings go, he was a tremendous success! But as such, he had become very proud. And so God sent him a message through a dream. Of course, he didn’t know what the dream meant, and so he called for his wisest wise man – who was Daniel and this is what Daniel said in Daniel 4:24

24 “‘This is what the dream means, Your Majesty, and what the Most High has declared will happen to my lord the king. 25 You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses. “ Daniel 4:24-25

It’s a pretty wild story, but that last part is so important for us to remember. That the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and he gives them to anyone he chooses. God is still sovereign even today. There are no governments in power that God has not allowed them to have that position. And there are no governments in power that God cannot choose to remove. We saw that briefly already as God rejected Saul as king of Israel and choose David instead to replace him.

We also see this with Nebuchadnezzar here. Just as God had warned him in this dream, Nebuchadnezzar basically went insane for seven years. This is recorded even in secular history – I read an article that talked about how “Nebuchadnezzar survived a seven-year bout of insanity – the cause of which is still not known today.” Well we know the cause. God intervened and removed him from power until he acknowledged that God is sovereign. And he did. It’s a pretty cool story. Let me read the last bit of it in Daniel 4 – picking it up at verse 34.

34 “After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever.

His rule is everlasting,
and his kingdom is eternal.

35 All the people of the earth
are nothing compared to him.
He does as he pleases
among the angels of heaven
and among the people of the earth.
No one can stop him or say to him,
‘What do you mean by doing these things?’

36 “When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before.

37 “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” Daniel 4:34-37

There is so much good stuff in there. In fact, the entire book of Daniel would be a great book to study concerning politics and government. Daniel is a fantastic example of how to be faithful to God even while serving in the highest levels of government – even when that government is in opposition to your faith.

But before we get too side-tracked, I want to get back to our original question. We’ve seen that God is certainly active and involved in governments – He is sovereign over every government and he brings people to power and he removes people from power. But of course, most of us are not going to be those people. We’re not going to be kings or queens or even prime ministers or presidents.

So what role do we have to play in all of this? Well, first of all, as Christians, we need to remember that God is our king – and we are first and foremost under his authority. Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:20 that:

20 “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” Philippians 3:20

Yes, we may be citizens of Canada, Alberta, Penhold – but that’s temporary. Our true home is heaven. There’s that old country Gospel song – “This world is not my home – I’m just a passin’ through.” It’s true. Peter uses the language of us being foreigners and aliens here on earth. I once did a sermon series on 1 Peter called “Living as Aliens” – because we are citizens of heaven. And so it’s important that we keep that in mind. Governments and laws and leaders will come and go – But we have a permanent King who is right now, establishing a permanent kingdom – and we get to be part of that.

Paul tells us that, not only are we citizens, we are also ambassadors. 2 Corinthians chapter five has a great passage on that. Let me just read you a snippet.

And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:18b-20

We need to remember that this is our prime directive. In anything we do, political or otherwise, we need to make sure that we are faithful ambassadors, speaking for Christ, inviting people to be reconciled with God. Anytime we see God involving Himself in government or politics – its to this end – to reconcile people to Himself. That’s always the end goal – that’s always the bottom line. All that stuff in the Old Testament about Israel and it’s kings and laws – all of that was to point us towards Jesus. Everything in the Old Testament all points to Jesus.

And so our main responsibility in this life as followers of Christ, as a church – is to do the same – to point people towards Jesus. To share that message of verse 19 that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them”. That’s the Gospel message and sharing that message always needs to be the our primary goal and and our primary concern. Everything else is secondary.

Our purpose as a church is not to oppose or support certain legislation or political leaders or parties. Our purpose is to share the hope of Jesus Christ with a hurting and lost world.

However, that doesn’t mean that we should never be involved politics. Rather it means, that when we are involved in politics, we do that with the ultimate goal of sharing the hope of Jesus with our world – inviting them to be reconciled to God. And I’ll talk more about what that might look like in a minute.

But I know I’m certainly looking forward to the time when the Kingdom of God is fully realized – when Christ returns and God is our only King. But until that time, it’s almost like we have dual citizenship. Yes, we’re citizens of Heaven – but for this brief time, we are also citizens here on earth.

And God has placed us under different worldly authorities. We’ve already talked about how God is the one who establishes kings and kingdoms. And so we need to recognize that God has placed us under these governments – We have our municipal governments, our provincial governments, and our federal governments. And if God has established those governments over us, what are our God-given responsibilities then to them? Or do we have any?

Well, there certainly seems to be some strong Biblical evidence that we do have some responsibilities when it comes to our involvement with government.

And so I want to share four of those responsibilities with you this morning. There may be more than that, but I think this will cover the basics.

Every Christian has the responsibility to:

  1. Submit to the government, expect where it asks us to disobey God.

“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” Romans 13:1

For the Lord’s sake, submit to all human authority—whether the king as head of state,14 or the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish those who do wrong and to honor those who do right. 1 Peter 2:13-14

The Bible seems pretty clear on this point. We have a responsibility to submit to all human authority – whether they are good or bad. And remember that this was written while under the rule of the Romans – who were not particularly kind to Christians. In fact, tradition has it that both Peter and Paul (who wrote these two passages) were martyred by the Roman Emperor Nero – probably not too long after this was written. So if Peter & Paul instructed Christians to submit to the rule of Nero – then I don’t think we can claim exemption.

The only exception to this is when the government asks us to do that which disobeys God. In that case, obedience to God is our first priority. When Peter & John were preaching about the resurrection of Jesus, the authorities arrested them for doing that. And it says in Acts 4:18…

 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

19 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

Acts 4:18-19

So yes, we have a responsibility to submit to the authority that God has placed over us – but we have a greater responsibility as citizens of heaven, to obey our heavenly commander-in-chief. I suspect this will become a greater challenge for us North America in the years to come. But regardless, we have the responsibility to submit to the government, expect where it asks us to disobey God.

The second responsibility of all Christians (and this is tied closely to the first) is to:

2. Give proper honour to those in authority.

Along with submitting to them, we are also to respect them. I think David is a great example of this. David always respected Saul because God had put Saul in the position of King. Even while King Saul was trying to kill him, David refused to strike him, because he was the king. That’s a pretty impressive example.

Peter, I think, did likewise. Even while being persecuted under Nero, Peter wrote:

“Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:17

I think we need to be careful, particularly when we oppose the actions of those who are in authority over us, that we do it with the utmost respect. We can certainly voice our disagreement and our opposition – but we need to do it with respect because the are the ones that God has place in that position of authority. Paul tells Titus in Titus 3:1 to…

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. 2 They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Titus 3:1-2

Let me ask you this: Does that sound like the kind of politic discussions that you have? Not slandering anyone. Avoiding quarrelling. Being gentle. Showing humility. In my experience, that’s not usually how most political conversations go. But it should be. And Colossians 4:5-6 affirms that.

5 Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. Colossians 4:5-6

Generally speaking, I don’t know that this is the picture that many unbelievers have of Christians when it comes to politics: being gracious – attractive – having a right response for everyone. That’s certainly not what they see in the media. 

We need to give proper honour to those in authority. And then #3….

Every Christian has the responsibility to:

3. Pay Taxes

Now I know this is not what you want to hear – but this is a pretty specific command for us. The Pharisees once tried to trap Jesus with the question of whether or not they should pay taxes to the Romans. (Again, keeping in mind that the Romans were their enemies who had conquered them and were now ruling over them.)

“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

“Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” Matthew 22:16-21

And of course, Jesus’ point had more to do what we’ve already talked about – how God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of earth are very different, but we have certain responsibilities in both kingdoms. Taxes being one of our responsibilities here on earth.

But of course, this passage isn’t the only place we we might get the idea that we should pay taxes. Romans 13 is probably the clearest example – and it re-emphasized much of what we’ve already said. And just to give you the context to what Paul is saying, let’s start back at verse 3.

For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 4 The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.5 So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

6 Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Romans 13:3-7

So as much as it pains us, the Scriptures are pretty clear. We have the responsibility to pay our taxes – because those who work for the government – are in essence, working for God. Twice in this passage it tells us that the authorities are God’s servants – and as such, they deserve respect, honour, and a fair wage.

Now of course, there have been a lot of governments and people working for the government who have not always acted as God’s servants. They don’t always punish those who do wrong – and they don’t always honour those who do right. Throughout the course of human history, we’ve often seen those things reversed. There have been governments have done terrible things. And that shouldn’t surprise us too much, because sin always corrupts God’s good design.

And allow me to go on a bit of a rabbit trail here….

God’s purpose for government is for the good of the people – to protect those who do right and punish those who do wrong – as was pointed out in this passage. But because of our sinful nature, no government will ever get that just right.

And that just reminds us again that legislation and politics and governments will never fix the problems of the world. The problem is sin and Jesus is the only answer to that problem. I had someone tell me a few weeks ago “Rachel Notley is not the devil – and Jason Kenney is not the Savior.” I think that’s a good point. Paul reminds us that…

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

I think that’s why its so important to approach these potentially divisive issues with grace and humility and respect – because that other person who has a different opinion or a different political leaning is not the enemy.

That person is someone for whom Christ died. That person is deeply loved by God. So our real goal is not to defeat people – our real goal is to win people and defeat sin.

And so while we can and we should encourage and promote government actions that align with God’s purposes for government, we have to remember that real change comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s what our world needs more than anything else.

And that brings us to our fourth responsibility.

Every Christian has the responsibility to:

4. Pray for those in authority.

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. 5 For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

I think that just re-affirms what we’ve just being talking about. We need to pray for all of those in authority over us – first and foremost, because Jesus gave His life for them and wants them to be saved and to understand the truth. Also, we are to give thanks for them – leadership of any kind is difficult. Ask God to help them. Intercede for them – pray for their families and their well-being. Ask God to bless them – even if you don’t agree with them.

The love we are to have for others is never contingent on whether or not we agree with them. We love them regardless. So pray for them.

In fact, that’d be a good rule of thumb – before you vote, before you sign a petition, before you post anything on facebook or twitter regarding any political leader – pray for those people in authority first. I know there are many in our congregation that are fairly politically active – so I’d encourage you to be equally active prayer. And not just praying that your candidate or your issue wins – but pray for those on both sides. Pray for them as real people dearly loved by God.

I think that will make a real impact on how you engage with them.

So those are four responsibilities that are very clear in Scripture that every Christians has regarding their relationship with the government.

  1. To submit to the government, expect where it asks us to disobey God.
  2. To give proper honour to those in authority.
  3. To pay taxes.
  4. To pray for those in authority.

Of course, there may be more. These are just four key ones that I’ve identified. And of course, we’re certainly not restricted to engaging with government in just these four ways.

As we’ve seen through many of these passages and examples, there may be times when individuals become a lot more involved in governments and legislation. It’s quite possible that God will raise up some – like Queen Esther or Jospeh or Daniel – to be significantly involved for such a time as this.

We live in a fairly unique time in history where any and all of us can be involved government to a certain extent. Democracy as we know it wasn’t really thing back when the Bible was written, so we don’t have a lot of specific instructions regarding some of these democratic processes that we can be involved in today.

But certainly we have responsibility to promote good and justice and mercy and truth – so long as we do it in the ways we’ve already talk about – with respect and humility and grace – recognizing God’s sovereignty and his great love for every person.

If we do that, then I think there is a lot of room for Christians to be involved the process of government.

And that can be as simple as learning about the issues so that you can promote good, justice, mercy and truth as you vote or voice your opinion in other ways – or it can be as complex as running for office – depending on gifts and abilities and passions that God has given you.

And I know there is much more than could be said about this – and probably much more will be in the conversations that follow – But I think if we can just master these four things:

  1. To submit to the government, expect where it asks us to disobey God.
  2. To give proper honour to those in authority.
  3. To pay taxes.
  4. To pray for those in authority.

If we could do just those four things, I think we’d be surprised to see what God would do in us and through us to bring about His Government – His Kingdom here on earth.

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