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Bible verses about Government
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Who were the dignitaries the filthy dreamers spoke evil of in Jude? I John 1 suggests it was the first-century apostles, even as today some speak evil of those God uses to lead his end-time church. But it does not stop there. They say, "I'll never follow another man," as though following a man is inherently evil. Those people speak either from ignorance of God's Word or by design to get a following for themselves. They are forgetting, however, God's sovereignty over His creation. Is there any place in God's Word—except for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—when a man is not included in the mix between Him and men?

Though God has occasionally stooped to speak directly to one of His servants, He has always used men as messengers to and leaders of those He was working with, including all the prophets and apostles and even some of the kings. These men may have held high positions, being close to God and at times directly inspired by Him. Nonetheless, all of them built upon what they had learned from those who went before. Thus, they too followed men.

These people may also say, "I'm just as good as he is and more intelligent." They might also say: "I can read the same resources he uses." "I can learn apart from him." "Ordinations don't mean a thing." "I've been in the church longer than he has." "My marriage is better than his." All of these may be true, but they are not the issue. God's sovereignty is the issue! It is whether God put that person in the position to shepherd a flock! A shepherd leads, and the rest, the flock, follows. Obedience to this principle is why Paul repented so quickly after reviling the high priest: "Then Paul said, 'I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:5).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Introduction


 

The result of idolatry in our culture has been immorality on a scale unparalleled in the history of the United States. This will never change until the values, the system of morality that people use to determine right from wrong, change. This change will not occur until a governmental change of such magnitude sweeps aside all existing institutions and standards. We have seen in our lifetimes that the mere replacing of political affiliation, names, and faces of those in positions of leadership really changes nothing. It may temporarily moderate immorality, but it does not change the fundamental reasons for it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)


 

Realizing the tremendous growth in the federal government from 1930-1980, Americans in the nineties have taken "Reduce the size of government!" as a battle cry. Grassroots movements have sprung up everywhere to lobby for handing control of the country back to the people. The national government is the "bad guy" who has over the years taken more than its constituted powers allow, and the people have organized to wrest it back.

Such a scenario was the backdrop for the 1994 "Republican Revolution," where voters booted scores of career politicians from their congressional seats and replaced them with conservative republicans who campaigned on a platform of reducing government. Because the polls showed this to be the country's mood, President Clinton embraced the idea, appointing Vice President Al Gore to head a commission to streamline Washington's bureaucracy. In its ever-so-slow manner, Congress began to return some power to state and local governments. Calling "town meetings," a form of "pure democracy," is a favorite ploy among politicians to seem to be acceding to the people's demands.

Is it any surprise that government and turning control over the church to the laymembership are also primary concerns of many brethren? They have been immersed in this worldly mood for a few decades! No wonder they think government of any kind is the enemy of the people; power should be spread among many to limit the control of any person or group over the church; and all the members of the church are holy, so all should have a say in all its functions.

Some have become so dead-set against government in the church that any attempt to show government from the Bible is harshly rejected as twisting Scripture. No amount of proof will satisfy them! They deny verses from the Old Testament because they are "Old Covenant." They turn plain, literal meanings of New Testament scriptures on their heads to say the opposite. Arguing with such people, as Paul says, just "increase[s] to more ungodliness . . . [and] generate[s] strife" (II Timothy 2:16, 23).

Does God support democracy any more than totalitarianism? What does the Bible say? Basically, it says that God has set up His government like a family, with a father in authority. All His governmental systems contain one person in authority, constrained by His law and motivated by His Spirit. If the members, also likewise constrained and motivated, work in harmony with the person in charge, they produce great fruit.

However, any government—even those using God's form—will make mistakes because fallible human beings run it. Rejecting government in the church because of past mistakes is "throwing the baby out with the bath water." The government is not the problem—sinful men are!

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Scratching Our Itches


 

Genesis 9:5

Some people vehemently oppose capital punishment for murderers. They view it as nothing more than legalized murder committed by the state and a punishment that has no deterrent effect. But how does God, who should be our final authority, weigh in on this matter? His instruction to Noah, upon leaving the ark following the Flood, covers Genesis 8:15Genesis 9:17, part of which involves governments of men: "Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man's brother I will require the life of man" (Genesis 9:5).

Although man has a moral responsibility to God—"render . . . to God the things that are God's"—we must also give a reckoning to men—"render . . . to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21). God has thus delegated to human governments certain areas of His authority in which man obeys God through subjection to his fellow men. God instituted human government to regulate the corporate relationship of man to man, and this includes the authority to take life as punishment for crimes involving murder.

One of the highest responsibilities of government is the protection of life. From this commitment to protect the lives of the innocent arises the very serious responsibility of capital punishment. Humans are not only commanded not to murder, but they are also not to avenge murder. That responsibility falls on the state.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

1 Samuel 8:7-9

Shortly after the marriage took place on Mount Sinai, even while they were yet in the wilderness, Israel was already deviating from faithfulness. Recorded here is an especially significant event following the marriage, and in it Israel formally rejected God as her ruler, thus taking a major step to being a worldly nation. This occurred somewhere between 1100 BC and 1000 BC, or roughly about 350 to 450 years after the making of the covenant. Except for brief periods when Israel had a judge or a king who did right in the eyes of God, the spiritual harlotry continued unabated, as God testifies here, until He divorced her (Isaiah 50:1; Jeremiah 3:8) and sent Israel and Judah into captivity.

The truly important part of this is largely glossed over as we read through this, but it helps to point out the real problem in Israel's relationship with God. Having a king is not the real issue, because God had already anticipated Israel having a king (Genesis 17:7; Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Every organization needs or requires a leader. What he is called—what his title is, whether it be judge or king—is of virtually no importance.

God was planning that Israel would have a king, so He laid down regulations in Deuteronomy 17 to show how He expected that the king should conduct himself within the office. These regulations are designed to ensure that the king does not overly elevate himself above the people and rule as an autocratic despot. Instead, he is to be thoroughly familiar with and guided by the attitudes and laws of God. He must comprehensively know that his own nature is just like those he serves and be humbled.

But the key to understanding the significance of what Israel has done in I Samuel 8 is that they wanted a king just like the other nations, not that they should merely have a king. They wanted, not a king as God detailed in Deuteronomy 7, but an autocratic, despotic king like Babylon, Assyria, or Egypt. They thought that, with such a powerful man in control, everything would be great. This is why God has Samuel spell out what will happen as a result of having such a king: The sum and substance is that he would enslave them. What this of course does is confirm Israel's whorish behavior. They wanted to do things just like all the other nations, even to the point of having a ruler like them.

This occasion here in I Samuel 8 is, on Israel's part, a complete rejection of her marriage vow. She wants her benefactor and husband—God—to have no say in her life. She wants be in control (she thinks), and thus she has declared herself "free" of Him, completely and totally a nation of this world and no longer the type of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The issue between God and man is simply a matter of government. This is shown no later than Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve reject God's rule over them and choose Satan. Once God reveals Himself through His calling, this issue of government clearly comes to the fore in our life, and thus it is what we are confronting in decision-making. As the Bible has recorded in great detail, man has shown that he wants to retain this authority to himself. But the naked truth is that we cannot retain sovereignty to ourselves and still have what God offers: entrance into the spiritual Kingdom of God. We cannot have it both ways. Either we will be submissive to God and His will, or we will be submissive to our own fickle drives.

It is a simple thing. It is a matter of government. Who is going to rule: God or us? Israel rejected God's rule. God makes that very plain. Will we? That is the issue.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)


 

Proverbs 21:1

The Living Bible paraphrases Proverbs 21:1 as, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts. He turns them wherever He wants to." This helps us to understand God's sovereignty and history as well. If the thoughts of a king - representing the highest and most influential person in the nation - are in God's hand, and He influences his decisions when it pleases Him, are not all governors of men completely under the Almighty's sovereign control? Clearly, the sovereign Lord of Creation is moving all history in the direction He desires it to go.

It is not hard to comprehend, then, how Paul formulated the concepts he expresses in Romans 13:1-2:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

This explains why Moses declares that the actions of Korah and his group were a rebellion against God Himself (Numbers 16:11). Nor is it hard to understand why Jesus says in Luke 10:16 that to reject an apostle, one sent by God bearing a message, is to reject Him, and to reject Him is to reject the Father who sent Him.

Government is the overriding issue in the Bible. Ultimately, a son of God need not be concerned if the government of his homeland is legal or illegal, or if it governs appropriately or inappropriately. What matters is that the Christian recognizes God's sovereignty, confident that in His oversight God never sleeps or looks the other way. He is fully aware of whatever happens. Because of the purpose He is working out, this One who knows every sparrow that falls has either passed on what occurs or directly caused it. That is all that matters. With this understanding, we can truly live by faith, knowing God is ruling His creation. That is what we are here to learn and trust.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Six


 

Isaiah 3:4

In his day Isaiah prophesied of a worrisome circumstance that would befall Judah. This prophecy certainly seems as if it is being fulfilled in the United States and Canada today: "I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them" (Isaiah 3:4). He means that their leaders would be people of immature minds, people without wisdom, self-centered, concerned mostly with "looking good" and being acceptable to the right people. Furthermore, these leaders would not really be concerned with principles or long-range effects of policies and decisions but very willing to pass on to the next generation the problems their policies create. When God gave this prophecy to Isaiah, He had more than governmental leaders in mind. The same types of people are influential in business, education, religion, the professions, and science.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Scourge of AIDS and the Sacrifice of Christ


 

Isaiah 3:5

Isaiah reveals a society that can be aptly described as "upside down." Those who should be leading are not and those who should not are. A central factor in this is that the immature are leading. A free-wheeling, laissez faire, hedonistic, immoral, and irresponsible culture exists. Verses 5 and 12 confirm that family governance and leadership are greatly affected.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)


 

Daniel 5:23

This verse ought to make us consider how deeply God is involved in our lives. We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that this principle does not apply to us because we are insignificant. It applies to all men, high or low, rich or poor, slave or freeman, Gentile or Israelite, converted or unconverted. It is deeply moving to consider that the breath on which our life depends, itself such a frail thing, is in the "hand" of an invisible Being over whom we can have no control. He can stop our breath at any time. We continue living only at His pleasure! There is perhaps nothing more absolute than the power God holds over us, yet we do not seem disposed to acknowledge it.

In addition, He claims to have the power to control all our ways. We can go nowhere without his permission; once we leave, we cannot return home without His allowance. We like to think we have faith, but do we really live our lives considering His nearness to us? How little we recognize this! Yet it is what the apostle Paul means when he tells the Athenians, "[I]n Him we live and move and have our being." Solomon reiterates this thought in Proverbs 19:21, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the LORD 's counsel—that will stand." Again he writes in Proverbs 16:9, "A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps," and in chapter 21:1 it says, "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." The Living Bible paraphrases this last verse, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts. He turns them wherever He wants to."

If the king's heart is in God's hand, and He is influencing his decisions, is it not clear that all governors of men are completely beneath the governmental control of the Almighty? What ruler can resist Him? This does not mean He is inspiring the evil things they decide to enact as policy, but He oversees and thus allows them, or they would never be able to implement them. Belshazzar seemingly had a free hand until God dramatically intervened to bring about His will. We should consider this in light of the "sovereign citizenship" movement gathering grassroots support among certain elements in America. It presents a growing danger to some church members who are being deceived into ignorantly opposing the very governance of God!

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Daniel 8:5-7

God's description of Greece, their army and the manner in which they fought is instructive. Greece's army was invincible in its time. Nobody ever fought with the lightning ferocity and cunning of Greece before this time or perhaps since. They created "blitzkrieg" warfare, which Adolph Hitler openly admitted that he copied from the ancient Greeks.

One historian speculated that the ferocity of the Greek army was produced by their approach to life and especially politics. Even though the Greek system had people filling governing offices such as mayor or burgess, they did not have a representative system like ours. Their society was close to a pure democracy. Each Greek male was taught that he was responsible to participate and contribute to the governing of the community. One result of this was that individual citizens felt responsible to the community, and leadership qualities were produced in them that made each Greek male feel as though he was the leader of his community even though he really was not.

These qualities carried through into their warfare. The individual soldier not only took orders from his captain, he also thought independently to act for the benefit of the regiment. This frequently became necessary in the heat of battle when the leader was incapacitated by wounds or other distractions. Another quickly assumed his role, and there was no loss of leadership.

Thus, a factor that made the Greek fighting machine so invincible was that when their "shepherd" was smitten, the "sheep" did not scatter. The individual Greek soldier would not run off to protect himself from the confusion and danger of the battle when his commander fell. Instead, he helped his unit regroup because he was responsibly committed to its well-being and the accomplishment of its goals rather than his personal well-being.

There are times when it is necessary to flee or withdraw for a while. Jesus said to flee persecution (Matthew 10:23). It is obvious that, on occasion, discretion is the better part of valor. But such times should be only a brief interval during the time of God's working with a person or with His church.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust


 

John 19:10-11

History shows that the primary enemies of the church arise from humans influenced by Satan and his demons - and history continually repeats itself. The clearest examples of where these enemies lie are shown in the lives and ministries of Jesus Christ and the apostles. Did not the established religious and governmental leaders of their day, such as Caiaphas, the Pharisees and Sadducees, Pilate, the Herods, etc., willingly cooperate in persecuting them?

Searching into God's authority over these enemies will help us to see how complete and all-encompassing is His power over everything. Past events show that civil governments and false churches are always the true church's most dangerous adversaries.

Here, "power" refers to civil authority, and Jesus informs us that Pilate, a powerful Roman governor of Judea, who had authority over life and death, derived his authority from God. The authority would not be his if God had not given it to him directly. We can infer that Pilate was specifically given his particular civil authority. Why is this important for us to know and believe?

Proverbs 21:1 adds an important truth: "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." The Living Bible paraphrases this as, "Just as water is turned into irrigation ditches, so the Lord directs the king's thoughts, He turns them wherever He wants to."

This fact helps us understand God's sovereignty and much of history too. If the thoughts of a king - representing the highest, most influential, and most powerful person in the nation - are in God's hand, and He has the power to influence his decisions toward the outcome that pleases Him, are not all human governors completely under the Almighty's sovereign control? Clearly, God has the power to move all history in the direction He wishes it to go. His desire will always be done. Romans 13:1-2 makes this deduction certain:

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

Not only does God have the power to move those already in office, but He appointed them in the first place! Since Paul writes this directly to Christians, and Christians have lived throughout history and in virtually every place on earth, the wording suggests that this command has timeless, universal application. Thus, God reveals that, in the final analysis, all civil magistrates, from the emperor on down to the lower authorities - and religious authorities as well - owe to God their appointments and rights to govern.

In John 5:17, Jesus provides insight into God's activity throughout the millennia of this creation: "Jesus answered them, 'My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.'" God's labors are the continuous managing and ruling over the affairs of men. He has not gone "way off somewhere," but is actively involved in bringing His purpose to pass at all times. By His will and in His providence, authorities are appointed to maintain order, to encourage good conduct, and to punish wrongdoing.

Thus, anyone who believes God is confronted by a matter of biblical truth and clear logic. How will any of our enemies "get around," deflect, or nullify the real unseen Power who stands behind and above the visible powers that be? His will will stand. So, to whom do we turn in time of need?

John W. Ritenbaugh
Power Belongs to God (Part Two)


 

Acts 8:1

The church is under attack. A powerful persecution is under way, and many sheep have been scattered. But what is often heard among "independent Christians" are cries such as, "I'll never follow another man!" or "No man is going to tell me what to do!" or "Beware of any group that has a hierarchical governmental structure."

While a limited amount of wisdom may be in such thinking, these independents may be failing to see a very real problem because they are looking in only one direction. While they critically examine others, problems of equal or greater magnitude in the areas of ignorance of God's Word, of respect for government, or gross intolerance for another's weaknesses may be in them.

They have reacted by divorcing themselves from any group and "floating" among many groups. Their attitude is such that, even when they do attend, they are in reality just passing through. It is very much like the modern practice of a man and woman living together without commitment. Each "takes" what they can get from the relationship, but one is always free to leave if things do not go quite as planned.

Daniel writes:

Then I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand to heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever, that it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered [scattered, KJV], all these things shall be finished. (Daniel 12:7)

Surely the enemy has attacked, and the sheep are scattered! Jesus says,

And when he [the true shepherd] brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:4-5)

We had good reason to flee our former association: The voice of a stranger was heard within it, and we could not follow him. But is it possible that the "independents" still do not hear the True Shepherd's voice? Could they have fled for different reasons? This is why these people may be in very real danger. They cannot come to any shepherd because their confusion and governmental problems are preventing it.

John W. Ritenbaugh
In the Grip of Distrust


 

Romans 8:7

At the core of our entire Christian walk is government—not the government of a nation but the issue of whom we will allow to govern us. For example, either we can govern ourselves by "deciding" when it is permissible to kill, or we can submit to God's benevolent authority and His explanation of morality. In the final analysis, we are not allowed to determine what is right and wrong—God has already done this. Our only decision is if we will act in accordance with God's law!

What we decide demonstrates what we hold in the higher regard, that is, what we worship. For example, if we break the Sabbath or deny its importance in our lives, we are choosing the self over God. Likewise, if we intentionally—non-accidentally—take another man's life in defense of our own, we are worshipping the self rather than God.

Romans 8:7 describes this power struggle perfectly. Human nature puts its own cares and interests above God, and the result is that the carnal man will not submit himself to God's clear commands. The carnal man will be willing to harm, even kill, another created human being to protect his own interests, in spite of God's law and Jesus Christ's striking example to the contrary.

David C. Grabbe
Does Scripture Allow for Killing in Self-Defense?


 

Romans 8:7

The core of life for us is government. The issue is who we will allow to govern us. We can govern ourselves in deciding to kill, commit adultery, steal, or lie—that is, break the commandments—or we can submit to God who says, "No," to every one of these things. The decision as to what is moral has already been decided by God. Our only decision is whether we will submit to what He says to do.

What are we to do when the issue is whether to break the Sabbath by working or keep it by refusing? What are we to do when we are in a financial bind and in debt? Should we submit to God and pay His tithes first? Will God be trusted to provide our needs in a tight financial situation even though we tithe? What are we to do when we desire to cover ourselves: brag, lie, or tell the truth? What should we do when we are sexually enticed: flee or commit adultery or fornication? What are we to do in any case when submitting and glorifying God are the issue?

Should we expect God to bless us when we choose to take sovereignty and control—we think—to ourselves, that is, when we introduce idolatry into the mix of the relationship? Once we are no longer ignorant of the choices before us and choose to take sovereignty to ourselves, sin becomes exceedingly more serious in its consequences, and we become the idol, because that is who we are serving.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 7)


 

Romans 12:1

To paraphrase, he says, "In light of all I have just told you, this is what you are obligated to do." Chapter 12 primarily concerns relationships within the body and to a lesser extent to those outside. Chapter 13 begins by stating our obligation to submit to civil governments, respect those in authority, and pay taxes.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover, Obligation, and Love


 

Romans 13:1-2

Of course, God's spiritual law is of prime importance and takes precedence over all other law. As Peter said, "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29) when a conflict between the two occurs. Though breaking man's laws may not always be sin, a rebellious attitude against what God appoints over us will in time lead to transgressing God's law. One who will not submit to law in one area will not submit to it in others.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Sin Is Spiritual!


 

Romans 13:1-2

Under normal circumstances, we understand this perfectly. But what if obedience to human government would lead us to sin? Acts 5:29 clearly delineates our responsibility: "Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" Comparing the principles involved leads us to conclude that we should obey God without qualification. If our obedience to God causes us to commit a crime against the state, our submission to the crime's penalty also constitutes submitting to human government.

God rules supreme over human government on every level, but as with individuals, He gives governments free-moral agency. They are thus free to reap what they sow. They are free to enact laws that are contrary to God. In such a situation, a Christian can find himself on the horns of a dilemma. Do we understand this and love God deeply enough to make the choices necessary to maintain our relationship with Him, despite being placed at a disadvantage?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)


 

Romans 13:1-5

These New Testament verses agree with Genesis 9 that human governmental authority derives from God. A purpose of human government is to keep chaos from developing. Paul does not specifically stipulate the extent of the wrath that human governments use to keep order, but his mention of "sword" indicates its use as an instrument of capital punishment.

Within God's purpose, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). A person practicing sin earns death by his conduct. A difference between this and capital punishment is that God executes directly. Although He has given governments the authority to take life to preserve order—in conjunction with the testimony of at least two witnesses—He has never extended the same right to an individual.

God is the source of life, and He alone, or those to whom He delegates it, may take it. Of all of God's physical creations, only man has a mind capable of becoming like God's. God gave man dominion, but to rule properly requires character, wisdom, and understanding. The building of these requires experience, and gaining experience requires time.

Several of the Bible's writers comment on the brevity of a man's life. When a person's life ends prematurely by murder, or even accidentally, it at least interrupts, or in some cases, ends God's great gift. No puny man has the right to take it upon himself to interfere with the continuation of God's great gift to another. If a man does this, he will pay a terrible price.

Capital punishment, consistently and fairly administered, will deter murder. However, capital punishment is an after-the-fact deterrent. Jesus preached a much more effective deterrent in His Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, "You shall not murder," and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, "Raca!" shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, "You fool!" shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

It is essential to understand that Jesus did not do away with laws, but brought to completion the laws that already existed. Likewise, He did not do away with the Old Testament death penalty principles, which act as guides to civil governments. Jesus was a pioneer, not a revolutionary. A revolutionary seeks to destroy the existing order and places himself above conventional standards. A pioneer accepts the restraints laid upon him and moves forward.

Men's governments deal with the end of the act, Christ deals with the beginning. Jesus changed the law's restraint from the act to the motive. For the Christian, merely abstaining from the act is not sufficient. Jesus imposes the positive obligation of the spirit of the law on him. He seeks to prevent crimes of violence by rooting out the attitudes and drives in a person's character that make him kill. The New Covenant law searches the heart without doing away with the Old Covenant letter.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part One) (1997)


 

Romans 13:1-7

Once we understand God's sovereignty over the nations, it is not difficult to understand where Paul bases his instructions in these verses. Thus we can understand why Moses so quickly and surely considers the actions of Korah and his group as rebellion against God rather than merely against himself (Numbers 16). When Israel rejects Samuel as judge over them because they want a king, God reveals to the prophet that the people are really rejecting the rule of God Himself (I Samuel 8:7). It does not matter whether a Christian considers his nation's government to be unlawful. What matters is whether God permits it. If He permits it, this One, who is aware of even sparrows falling, has allowed it or has directly brought it to pass because of the purpose He is working out. That is all that matters. God is ruling His creation, and this is what we are here to learn and trust.

Jesus lived His entire life under an unlawful civil government. The Roman government ruled over Judea as a result of military conquest. Moreover, at times even the ecclesiastical government was not in the proper hands because corrupt Roman officials discovered that just-as-corrupt Jews were willing to pay bribes to "buy" the high priesthood. But the Scriptures repeatedly show Jesus subject to them, though He called both, especially the ecclesiastical one, into account. Matthew 17:24-27 is a clear example:

When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."

The Temple tax was one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20. Since Jesus Christ was Lord and Owner of the Temple, He and His "children" should have been free of taxation. Jesus orders Peter to pay it anyway for both of them to avoid a bitter and offensive debate on the merits of His claim. By doing this, Jesus sets the right example looking by faith beyond a legal technicality to the True Ruler, the Father. God likely brought this episode to pass for our instruction.

Perhaps a brief statement of Solomonic wisdom will summarize Christian understanding of God's sovereignty over the governments of men: "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the LORD" (Proverbs 21:30-31). His meaning becomes clearer in other translations. The Living Bible renders it, "No one, regardless of how shrewd or well-advised he is, can stand against the Lord. Go ahead and prepare for the conflict, but victory comes from God." The Revised English Bible translates it as, "Face to face with the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel avail nothing. A horse may be made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."

It may seem a remote possibility, even strange, that we would fight against the Lord, yet because human nature remains in us, we do. The apostle Paul complains in Romans 7:14-23 that what he did not want to do he did anyway because a law of enmity against God worked within him. Proverbs 21:30-31 tells us that human wisdom, insight, and counsel must be in conformity with God's will to be successful. God's children must understand His sovereignty over everything and conduct their lives knowing that nothing avails against God and nothing without Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five


 

Romans 13:1-7

Though all of us should understand obedience to the laws of man, it is good from time to time to ask, "Should we obey the governments of man over us?" Should we obey it if we consider it an "illegal" government?

The apostle Paul had to address this subject two thousand years ago in Romans 13. Albert Barnes in his Barnes' Notes suggests what prompted Paul to write this to the Roman church:

In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government. . . . There is no doubt that he had express reference to the peculiar situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a general bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following: (1.) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. . . . Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their lawgiver, their sovereign, their judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, what kind of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates. (2.) The kingdoms of the world were then pagan kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of heathenism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were bloodstained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question. . . . Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry. ("Romans," p. 284.)

The phrase "let every soul be subject" is a military term implying subordination. It is a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority over us. That these governing authorities are "appointed by God" stems from another military term denoting the order or organization found in a military unit. Not only should we be subject, but we should submit in the knowledge that God Himself has had a hand in allowing them to exist!

Paul's conclusion flows naturally from this. Those who resist, or rebel against, man's governments also resist the ordinance of God! What God has ordained we should obey! This means we are to regard man's governments as instituted by God and agreeable to His will. This is a hard pill to swallow for those who consider themselves sovereign!

Paul continues with his instruction with a warning that, if we break the law, we will be punished by the civil government as lawbreakers. Those in authority generally do not punish people for doing good, but they have God-given authority to punish those who do not accept their rule and laws. The apostle says we should be afraid to break man's laws because his government administrators are really "God's ministers"! They are servants of God! Thus, we should be subject, not just for fear of punishment, but also for conscience' sake.

He concludes the section with specific instruction concerning taxes, custom, obedience, and respect. He says, "Pay your taxes and your fines. Obey the laws and respect government officials." Sovereign citizens directly disobey this explicit command of God's Word on each count!

Many who complain about the government over us fail to remember the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. He and His apostles lived under an "illegal" government for years; they were subject to Roman conquerors who levied stiff taxes and brutally oppressed freedoms. But what was Jesus' instruction, specifically regarding taxes?

[The Pharisees asked,] "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:17-21)

Thus, Jesus advises us to pay our taxes, as He also paid them. Matthew 17:24-27 shows that He paid the Temple tax as well.

Some, considering this world to be Babylon, refuse to come under its laws. Though this world is truly Babylon the Great (Revelation 18), these people also forget the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These men not only lived in literal Babylon, but also served in Nebuchadnezzar's government, giving great honor and loyalty to the king. When Babylon's laws conflicted with God's laws, as in the case of idolatry (Daniel 3), they stood rock solid for God's way, willing to take whatever punishment the civil government gave them. This is the principle we should always follow (Acts 5:29).

God has appointed authority over men to bring order to our society, and in bringing order, He has given each of us an opportunity to learn the lesson of how to submit to government. This is a lesson we all must learn, for even Christ is subject to the Father (I Corinthians 15:23-28)!

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Should We Obey the Laws of Our Government?


 

Romans 13:1-7

The subject of government in the Bible is indeed extensive. As we begin, notice that Paul writes that "there is no authority except from God" (verse 1). Though this statement appears in relation to civil authority, God's oversight is broad and deep. Even Satan's authority, as god and ruler of this world (II Corinthians 4:4; John 14:30), is assigned by God. Jesus tells Pilate in John 19:11, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." Those in the church with a position of authority also receive it from God (I Corinthians 12:18, 28). These are important statements on God's overall sovereignty.

In verse 2, Paul mentions "the ordinance of God." God's ordinance states His will, and He clearly establishes civil government. Therefore, we are responsible for obeying civil authority also, for in doing so we are obeying God. These verses do not imply that we must always obey civil government. Other verses show that we must obey it as long as the civil authority does not contradict God's laws. In verses 3-4, Paul comes close to stating that the civil authority somewhat parallels the Old Testament "avenger of blood."

In verses 5-7, God extends our responsibilities to submit to government as a means to keep our consciences clear, as well as to pay taxes, not only so the state can afford to employ these civil servants of God, but also to submit to community customs regarding them and even to give them honor.

These seven verses show three general reasons why humans must be governed. First, law-abiding citizens must be protected. Paul's life was saved in Acts 21:30-32 when Roman soldiers stepped in to save him from the murderous intent of angry Jews. Second, evildoers must be restrained. Third, the general welfare is promoted by helping to establish peace. In I Timothy 2:1-3, Paul commands us to pray that this function is carried out.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)


 

Romans 13:3

Laws are stated and have penalties. Rulers enforce them, but that does not stop people from breaking them—in many cases with impunity—especially if they feel no government representative is watching them. The government's power lies largely in coercion, meaning forcible constraint or restraint, whether moral or physical. In other words, it is government by force.

For instance, most people flagrantly disobey the speed limit on freeways and interstates, especially when they are not crowded, until they spot a patrol car with a trooper or two in it. Suddenly, the speed limit becomes the norm until the trooper is again out of sight. That the law is on the books, prominently displayed and common knowledge are insufficient motivation for many people to obey.

But love toward God, the love of God, can motivate us to do what the law says to do but cannot motivate us to do. We can conclude that Paul claims that if one exercises God's love in paying his debt to man, he will keep the commandments.

We could also conclude that Paul says that if one does not break the commandments, he is acting out of love. This is the weaker of the two. Within this context, then, every phase, every facet of our responsibility to God and man, is covered if we make sure love has its place as the motivation for all we do.

If we really love another person, we cannot possibly injure him. Love would immediately stifle any thought that leads to adultery, murder, theft, or any form of covetousness because love cannot harm. Since love cannot break the laws designed to protect another, it is supreme in providing the right kind of persuasion.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love


 

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is indeed inspired, but we do not necessarily find all Scripture inspiring. There are many reasons for this, but the reality is that we tend to avoid portions of it. For some it might be the long lists of "begats"; for another it might be ancient history; and for a third, prophecy. Some parts of Scripture are more valuable to us at one time than another. However, it is certainly true that all of it is valuable according to our circumstance, and God has made it available when needed if we will tap into it. As He says, we are to live by God's every word.

In an overall sense, the Bible is about government: God's, man's, and the self's. It shows how man rejects God's government through sin; how man's rule over others is abusive; and how man needs to learn to govern himself, or nothing will ever work for the good of all. Yet, it is also a book about faith, hope, love, and deliverance from our desperate circumstances, for each of these is important in how one responds to or uses government.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction


 

1 Peter 2:13-15

It is easy to feel put upon by government—municipal government, state government, national government—governments in general. They take advantage of us. They put the pressure on us through taxes. They won't allow us to do things that we feel we ought to be able to do. We can begin to feel as though we are being taken advantage of by government.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 4)


 

1 Peter 2:17

Peter, in three words, teaches a very difficult concept. He commands us to "Honor the king." The historical background of his words should give us a better perspective and teach us a powerful lesson.

Peter, having already written that we should honor all people, knew some brethren would resist honoring Nero, the heathen Roman emperor. Nero was a perverted madman, eventually hated by the Romans themselves. He had mercilessly tortured and killed hundreds of Christians in various cruel and demeaning ways. It is very difficult to expect Nero to be honored by someone whose mother had been crucified and used as a human candle for one of Nero's garden parties!

The pattern that we have seen all along surfaces again here. Nero was king. A king is to be honored, for he represents the office given him by God (Romans 13:1). Whether the king is honorable or not, he is king, and God says we should honor him as such. If we are resisting the power he has, we are resisting God's ordinance (verse 2). Paul even calls the civil authorities "ministers" or servants of God (verse 4).

At times in America's history, even the Office of the Presidency has been dishonored, the President's reputation sullied by political or even sexual scandal. If Peter were writing today, he might say “Honor the President.” No matter how besmirched his name may become through media exploitation, God's people should resist the pressure to dishonor him or his office.

That is a tough order! Many of the early Christians no doubt despised Nero's reckless, godless behavior. Some had personal reasons to hate him. The commands from our King, however, remain the same: Forgive those who trespass against you (Matthew 6:14). "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Honor the king.

When we obey God's command to honor all people, we are following our heavenly King and honoring Him. Then what happens? Jesus answers in John 12:26: "If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor."

So first we humble ourselves, then give honor and respect even to those who might appear to be unworthy of honor and respect. The result? God the Highest, the Supreme Being in the entire universe, will personally bestow honor and glory on those who have obeyed this and other commands. This is God's way: The more we give, the more we receive. The more honor we give, the more honor we will also receive.

Tough as it may be, we should make it our aim to honor everyone—all the time.

Staff
A Matter of Honor


 

Revelation 3:7

The key of David - (See Isaiah 22:22; 9:6; Matthew 28:18) A misunderstanding of this symbol may have fostered abuses of church or ministerial authority. For decades, the church interpreted Revelation 3:7 to mean the church had "God's government," and the ministry too often wielded this club with a heavy hand (Ezekiel 34:1-10; Jeremiah 23:1-3). Revelation 3:7, however, is clear that the key of David belongs, not to the church, but to the One who is holy and true, Jesus Christ. He alone has the authority to govern the church and to open and shut doors before it.

Jeremiah 23:20 predicts that we will fully understand this problem "in the latter days." Having experienced man's misuse of Christ's authority and the church's scattering, we should now see that in its administration the church must be very careful to stay within the bounds of true Christianity and not usurp God's prerogatives.

Staff
The Seven Churches: Philadelphia


 

Find more Bible verses about Government:
Government {Nave's}
 




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