I would like to look at what the word of God teaches about the Christian’s role in human government. This is probably not considered a controversial subject as most evangelical Christians believe that it is their moral responsibility to vote, and that the governments of nations can be useful in advancing the cause of Christ. Where it can get controversial however, is when an individual believes that Christians are not called upon to vote for human leaders, and that we are not called on to advance God’s kingdom through “carnal” means, such as human government. It is important to look at the Bible to gain a proper understanding of what God desires for us a followers of Christ, and not at what someone else teaches or believes.
To begin, we should look at Israel in the Old Testament. What was their government like? We find Israel, God’s chosen people, in bondage to the Egyptians, when their cry reached God’s ear (Exodus 3:7). At this point, God raised up Moses, to go before Pharaoh, and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the land God promised them. Israel was considered a “theocracy” where God was their ruler. It was God’s law they were to follow, and it was God alone they were to worship and serve. God spoke to Moses, who led the nation.
Moses was succeeded by Joshua (Deut 31:7-8). It was Joshua who led the nation over the Jordan river, and into the land of Canaan. Following the death of Joshua, the nation spiraled into sin, and as a consequence, they came under attack from the surrounding nations. Once again, as they cried unto the Lord, He heard them, and raised up judges to deliver them from their enemies, and to lead them (Judges 2:12-16).
We next read of the prophet Samuel, who judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Sam 7:15-17). When he grew old, he appointed his sons as judges. However, they were dishonest, and the elders of the people approached Samuel, and asked for a king to rule over them. This was the day that Moses foresaw,
When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me…(Deut 17:14 KJV)
Moses warns them to be sure to set the king over them that God would chose, not a stranger, but of their own brethren. This was not God’s will for His people, but a concession similar to that of divorce. Jesus stated that a provision for divorce was contained in the law because of the hardness of your hearts (Matt 19:8).
This was God’s response to the request of the people to have a king,
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:7 KJV)
God viewed this as a rejection of Him, of His leadership over His own people. Nevertheless, He allowed Israel to set a king over themselves. It is kind of like when you say no to someone, but at their stubborn persistence, you let them have their own way, even though they will have hard consequences to face because of the choice they have made.
From that time on Israel was governed by kings. There were godly kings who led the nation wisely, desiring for the nation to worship and serve God, and there were evil kings who turned the people away from God, and instead embraced idolatry. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided with ten tribes in one kingdom, and the other two in another kingdom. Look at what happens when men try to do things their way.
We do not see examples in the Old Testament of men getting involved in the affairs and governments of the surrounding nations except for a few instances which we will now look at.
In Genesis 19:1, we read that Lot sat in the gate at Sodom. While this does not present concrete evidence that Lot was involved in the governing affairs of Sodom, it yet leaves the possibility open. The city gate was a place where judgments were given, agreements made (Ruth 4:1-9). Obviously, his presence in the gate of Sodom had little effect on the evil in that place. In fact, the wicked men of that city turned on him when he defended his visitors from their advances (Gen 19:9). This is what the Bible tells us of Lot,
And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds. (1 Peter 2:7-8 KJV)
It is one thing for a Godly man to stand up and publicly rebuke the sins of the nation, and quite another to align himself with a governing body just as wicked as the nation it serves, and try to legislate morality through them.
Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. His brothers grew jealous of him, and sold him into slavery. God prospered him in all of his adversity, and he eventually found himself elevated to rule over Egypt with only Pharaoh over him (Gen 37, 39-47).
In a similar fashion, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were also favored by God. Having been taken away by the Babylonians, they also found themselves in places of leadership during the Babylonian exile (Daniel 1-3),
We also read the story of Esther, how she became queen of Persia, and was able to save her people from annihilation at the hand of Haman (Esther 1-9).
We must keep in mind however that these individuals did not seek these positions of leadership. They were all captives in foreign lands, not there by any choice of their own. Through miraculous events, they found themselves in authority, where they were all used by God to preserve His chosen people, the nation of Israel, thus ensuring the promise of redemption through Jesus Christ.
We find the New Testament lacking any concrete evidence of, or encouragement for, involvement of Christians in the governmental affairs of their respective nations. You just do not see passages of scripture laying down principles for godly leadership within civil government. We read of qualifications for elders and deacons within the Church, but that is the Church, not the state.
There are plenty of examples of government in the New Testament, but we see no mention of Christians taking an active role in it. Many people may say that they were not allowed to participate, which may very well be true. I believe there is more to it than that however.
It goes back to the principle of two kingdoms. The early Christians recognized that they belonged to another kingdom, the heavenly kingdom. although they lived in this world, they were not of it (John 17:16). Jesus calls us to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33). Paul exhorts us to set our affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life, shall appear….(Col 3:2-4 KJV) Did you catch that? Christ is to be our life! It is really all about Him, not in some figurative sense, but in reality. Paul is not being poetic here. What he is trying to impress upon our minds and hearts is that we are not living in this world to please ourselves, or to advance our own purposes, or to do things in our own way (even things we attempt for God), no, we are to be absolutely about His business, making His will, His kingdom, our utmost priority!
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. (2 Tim 2:4 KJV)
As Christians, we have been born again into the kingdom of God. We are indeed soldiers in the army of Christ. We are at war, a spiritual war, against the powers of darkness, with the souls of men at stake. How can we think that we have the time and privilege to get ourselves embroiled in the temporal affairs of this world, while eternity stares us in the face? We are here to please Christ, and Him alone.
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? (2 Cor 6:14-16 KJV)
How can we expect to advance godly principles through ungodly means? The governments of this world are filled with ungodly individuals. How can we expect them to champion the cause of Christ for us? A Christian who enters politics, enters into a life of compromise, and divided allegiance.
The governments of this world are ordained by God to take care of the things of this world. Their purpose is to promote restraint, and execute justice in a sinful world (Rom 13:1-4). To execute wrath, involves the punishment of those who do evil. This is the role of human government as ordained by God. Jesus however tells His followers to resist not evil (Matt 5:39). In this portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek. If we are wronged we are not to retaliate, in fact we are to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despitefully use us (Matt 5:38-45).
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans 12:19 KJV)
As Christians we are not called to avenge ourselves. We are called to forgive. It is the job of human government to execute justice. Once again, we are not of this world even though we live in it. We belong to the kingdom of heaven, and our job is to abide by the teachings of Christ, and expend ourselves in the promotion of His kingdom, not the kingdom of this world.
This does not mean that we live without government however. This same passage of scripture exhorts Christ’s followers to submit themselves to the government because it is ordained by God (Romans 13:1-7). We as Christians are not above law. We are called to submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the King, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men (1 Peter 2:13-15 KJV).
As Christians we are to be respectful of those in authority. We are to pay our tributes and taxes (Romans 13:6-7), rendering unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21). Finally, we are to pray for those in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life (1 Tim 2:1-2). think how much could be accomplished for good if men would only seek God in prayer.
As citizens of another kingdom, we are to be living as foreigners in this world (Heb 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1). It is not for us to fix this world’s problems. We are not called to run it through government. Our task is to perpetuate God’s kingdom through the great commission, the making of disciples (Matt 28:19-20). Let us leave the world and its problems to the world, and instead, be concerned with the mandate of our Lord.