The Christian’s Behavior Toward Government

Many of you know that in my pastoral role, I do not endorse political candidates, nor do I think a church is meant to endorse a particular political party. The church’s allegiance is always and only to Jesus Christ. Every issue, political or otherwise, is governed by his Lordship. Therefore, our stand on any issue is to be in submission to the Word of God.

Yet, as a pastor I do speak to some issues raised in the political sphere, not as a political pundit influenced by political motivations and pressures, but because the Word of God speaks to many of these issues. My role, as a pastor, is to teach the whole counsel of God. I’m not a pastor in order to pick any political side. I’m a pastor to present God’s Word faithfully and truthfully.

In this tumultuous political climate it is more important than ever to be sure that we are behaving in a Christian manner. A manner that reflects God’s Word and therefore the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must be clear that our allegiance is to him alone.

So, what does God’s Word say regarding a Christian’s behavior toward government.

Peter wrote to the early church saying, “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.” – 1 Peter 2:13-17

Peter gives two main behaviors befitting of Christians: 1) be subject; 2) honor.

During the tenure of our former President Barack Obama, I was given what I considered to be an appalling gift. It was a toilet paper role with the President’s face printed on it. Clearly it was meant as a joke, but it was also dishonoring to my President. As Christians we are not allowed to make judgment calls on who we honor and dishonor in government based upon who we like or dislike or who we agree with or disagree with. We honor all our Presidents because our God has commanded us to honor them.

You might object by saying that some Presidents may not be worthy of honor, and you are correct. But notice, Peter does not give this as a caveat in the text. Honor is not bestowed because of the leader’s worth, it is to be given because God commanded it. Christians are to “be subject” to our leaders “for the Lord’s sake” not because of a leader’s worth. This can be highlighted even more by researching the man, Nero, who held the title of Emperor when Peter wrote these words. If any man was unworthy it would be him. “He became infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances … putting to death of his mother at his orders in 59 and his similar treatment of his wife Octavia in June 62.”[Britannica] While the extent of Emperor Nero’s persecution of Christians is debated, it is clear he did persecute Christians and was responsible for the deaths of Peter and Paul. Yet, God moved Peter to write to the churches both to “be subject” and to “honor” this unworthy man as their Emperor.

Paul also wrote to the early church regarding our behavior toward government, “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.” – Romans 13:1-7

Paul gives the same two main behaviors that Peter gave: 1) be subject; 2) honor.

Christians are to give respect and honor to those we owe respect and honor, not based on their worth but on them having been instituted by God. Our resistance of these authorities, including our disrespect and dishonor, is a resistance of God’s will. We are resisting “what God has appointed.” And Paul was not dealing with a Trump or an Obama. Paul was dealing with a Nero.

Paul also wrote of some other behaviors befitting a Christian in his letter to Timothy. “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. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Paul calls Christians to 1) pray and to 2) seek to live peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified lives.

Paul says that the Christian’s response to a hostile, imperfect, and sometimes evil government is to pray for them, as an extension of God’s heart that desires all people to be saved … even these unworthy and hostile leaders. Christians are also to pursue peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified lives even under unworthy or hostile leaders.

Unfortunately, these biblical behaviors are not always encouraged or followed by Christians or churches. I have often been saddened by the political climate of our country, but monumentally more saddened by Christians and churches that get pulled into that political climate and have spoken dishonorably and disrespectfully about their government (disagreement is okay, but not dishonor and disrespect); trading their allegiance (and obedience) to Jesus for a political banner. May it not be so with us.

May it be clear to everyone around us that we are followers of Jesus Christ before we are followers of any political party or politician and that this truth is shown in our biblical behaviors.