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The Church and Civil Government – Part I

"The Republican form of government is the highest form of government; but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature - a type nowhere at present existing." British economist Herbert Spencer - 1820-1903

I suppose as long as the church has existed its members have held differing ideas about how the church should respond to or live in light of unrighteous, wicked and unjust civil government officials over them. Perhaps one of the more well known examples of this was in Germany when the Holocaust was taking place. Many in the church stayed silent. Others on the other extreme tried to assassinate Hitler (like Bonhoeffer). And I’m sure there were some in the middle. We know some believers helped hide Jews such as the Ten Booms (Corie’s family) and the Wurmbrands. Only God knows the real story of how His church responded and what was in their hearts.

Since dissension or at least disagreement is alive and well in the body of Christ today over this issue, and since I happen to live in a State wherein the State Government is led by some who are clearly wicked and evil, and since another election is around the corner, and since I’m not personally as clear as I would like to be on how I should respond to this reality, I’ve decided to blog a bit on how the church should feel about Civil Government and how the church should live and operate in light of being under the authority of Government leaders, some of whom are clearly wicked and evil.

I’m going to start our discussion by a walk through the book of Proverbs as it speaks to Government. And here is the first principle I see therein:

Only wisdom from God enables a Government leader to lead justly and rightly. Wisdom from God is the source of so much else a government leader needs.

I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion….. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine. By me kings reign, And rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly.” Proverbs 8:12-16

A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the threshing wheel over them.” Proverbs 20:26

Comment: Wisdom personified is speaking in Proverbs 8. For a government leader to rule rightly and justly he will need boat loads of prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, understanding and power. Only as wisdom from God is obtained will these other qualities be obtained. They flow from wisdom. (Please note that Proverbs when speaking of government leaders uses terms like: prince, noble, king, ruler, etc. It never uses more modern words like: governor or president).

One of the byproducts of a government leader who walks in wisdom is he will be able to not only identify the wicked, but also will know how to stop them from carrying out their wickedness. Foolish kings ignore wickedness and procrastinate forthrightly dealing with it/them at great cost to the people they rule over.

A Government leader must make just decisions. He must rule justly.

A divine decision is in the lips of the king: His mouth should not err in judgment.” Proverbs 16:10

A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes.” Proverbs 20:8

Comment: Perhaps what is meant in this first phrase of 16:10 is that the authority of a king comes from God. It is God who ultimately put him or at least allowed him to be in that position according to Psalm 75:6,7 and Romans 13:1. Therefore he is accountable to God and in a sense is God’s instrument. The decisions that comes from his lips therefore should not err but be in keeping with who God is and what He is like and how He feels about things.

Government leaders who rule justly see evil for what it is. They are not afraid to call evil evil. And they know it must be dealt with forthrightly. One of the primary responsibilities of a government leader over a nation is to do away with evil and/or evildoers whether within one’s own nation or outside of it as in its enemies. This of course demands or requires that a government leader be familiar with what God has revealed in His word about evil.

Government leaders do not define evil. They do not on their own determine what is evil and what is not. Political parties do not determine what is evil and what is not. Only God can do that. They must humbly learn from God and His word what He has clearly revealed along these lines.

The level of stability in a given government is based on the level of righteousness, truth and kindness in that government. Qualities which only come from God.

It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, For a throne is established on righteousness.” Proverbs 16:12 Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld.” (ESV) Proverbs 20:28 “The king gives stability to the land by justice,…” Proverbs 29:4

Comment: In the Bible an “abomination” is something God loathes or hates intensely. Because government leaders are intended by God to serve the peoples of the nations, and to guard them against oppression and injustice, etc., wicked acts by the said leaders have grave consequences. Righteousness brings stability not only to the administration of a government leader, but it also brings stability to the people he rules over. Wickedness does the opposite. These wicked acts whether in the process of leading and governing, or when the leader is off duty – either way they are abominable to God because either way they have grave consequences both for the government leader committing them and the people whom he rules over. The consequences of sin are always far greater and much more far reaching than we tend to realize. As the saying goes, whatever is at the top tends to trickle down.

As to Proverbs 20:28 above, “Steadfast love” is translated from the Hebrew word “hesed”, which can also have the idea of mercy, kindness, covenant love or lovingkindness.

I suppose one might surmise in this day and time that it is hard to imagine one’s president or governor exhibiting this quality. But it is a quality that is often praised re: our God such as in Psalm 136:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” And it is a quality God expects in those who govern the people He has created, and for whom Jesus died. And it is a quality that ensures longevity and stability of one’s reign. And it is only obtained by walking with the God who exudes it. Having this quality ensures that a given ruler will treat people the way God would have him treat them.

It is imperative that Government leaders are men of truth and integrity. They should be known as such.

“Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool; Much less are lying lips to a prince.” Proverbs 17:7

“If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, All his ministers become wicked.” Proverbs 29:12

If a king judges the poor with truth, His throne will be established forever.” Proverbs 29:14

Comment: The negative effects in one’s leadership, one’s administration, and eventually on the whole society ruled by the said leader cannot be overstated when falsehood and lying is tolerated. Falsehood and lying is a deadly poison that spreads and creates tremendous instability. For a people to trust their rulers these rulers must be men or women of integrity. They must be men or women who know how crucial truth at all levels is to preserve a society. Otherwise sooner or later that society will be characterized by instability, mistrust, pervasive lying, etc.

The living God throughout human history has intervened whenever He chose to with Government leaders and He will continue to do so as He sees fit.

The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1

Comment: God knows every thought, intention and aspiration in every government leader’s heart and mind on the planet. He hears their every word. And He reserves the right to change their heart or mind by divine intervention whenever it serves His purpose. He is the potter and they are the clay whether they realize it or not. This reality should give great impetus to our praying for our government officials.

Closing Thoughts:

- Please do not conclude that these principles were fine for Israel, but are not binding for today’s government leaders in more secular societies. God will judge every nation on the planet for how they respond to these principles. "Secularism" is merely a copout for rebellion.

- Our praying for government leaders per I Timothy 2:1,2 should be in light of the principles above. Regular fervent prayer by believers for their government officials is the biblical norm for believers.

- Many of us need to repent for how low we have allowed the standard for government leaders to fall; and for how we really do not believe God can or will do anything about it. May God have mercy on us all!

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