Part One: Recognizing The Rebelliousness of Man
The Bible often speaks of governments, kingdoms and nations. Government can be defined as the authority which rules a nation or state. The word kingdom can be understood as the realm over which the king or governor(s) reign. The word nation would then refer to the group of people who live under the dominion of a common government. For the sake of this article, when I use these terms I am using them to describe human government, earthly kingdoms and earthly nations as opposed to the government and kingdom of God.
Government affects our lives daily. From the smallest details, such as how fast we should drive, to life altering events, such as whether or not we are at war, we daily feel the impact of government. For better or worse, the pages of history have been written by politicians.
It is therefore understandable that most people place their hopes on “right” political views (their own, of course) overcoming the “wrong” views, the “right” person (their own candidate, of course) overcoming the “wrong” person in elections, the “right” government (their own government, of course) gaining power over the “wrong” governments, and the “right” militaries (their own, of course) gaining victory over the wrong militaries.
Unfortunately, far too many Christians have allowed their political passions for what is “right” (i.e. their own political opinions) to lead to distraction and division. They are distracted, as they pour their hearts into building up earthly kingdoms. They cause division as their contentions for what is “right” politically puts them at odds with other Christians who have different political loyalties.
One of the most basic reasons Christians get distracted and divided by politics is because of an assumption that government, in spite of continual corruption and rebellion against God, should be viewed as a righteous institution on the same levels as the family and the church. And since it is thought that governments hold such an important influence on the pages of history, we should therefore contend for our “right” views.
It is time for us to reconsider God’s view of government. Jeremiah stated that man is wholly incapable of ruling and directing himself.
I know, O LORD, that a man’s way is not in himself,
Nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps. – Jeremiah 10.23
In contrast to the words of Jeremiah, human governments are founded upon confidence in man’s self-sovereignty. God recognizes the unrighteousness and disobedience of all human governments as being in rebellion to His authority.
“But wait, this can’t be right. God created government. He calls government good. Your position is inconsistent with the clear teaching of Romans 13.”
I realize there will be some questions and objections. I intend to examine some of these in light of scripture in part two. But for now, please consider the following points.
1. Earthly Kingdoms are Introduced to Us in Rebellion to God
The first time we read of a “kingdom” in scripture is the kingdom of Nimrod in the land of Shinar, that is, Babel (Gen. 10.9-11). Too often the “Tower of Babel” has been taught as just a children’s Bible story about disobedience to God. We need to get back to recognizing how the Babel incident fits into the narrative of the book of Genesis.
The book of Genesis has two major themes: 1) to identify the origins of Israel’s enemies, the Gentile kingdoms, and 2) to identify the origins of God’s kingdom of Israel. Genesis 10-11 identifies the origins of the kingdoms which descended from Japheth, Shem, and Ham. Right in the middle of this table of kingdoms we find the account of the tower of Babel, where the rebellious character of these Gentile kingdoms is revealed. This was written, not just to give a random example of disobedience to God, but to tell us why these kingdoms were scattered over the earth and to introducing us to the rebellious nature of these kingdoms. Therefore, earthly kingdoms are introduced to us in rebellion to God. (I’ve written more on this point here.)
“But the New Testament teaches that God created government for good.”
You’re right. We’ll discuss this more in part two. But first, keep reading.
2. Human Governments Continued as Enemies to God’s People
Human governments continually fill the role of being the enemies of God’s people. This is true from the time we are introduced to Babel in Genesis, to Pharaoh and Egypt, to the Canaanites nations, to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, all the way until Rome is described as Babylon in the book of Revelation. They continually worship other gods, exercise violence, and live according to their own desires.
As Paul addressed the wickedness of the Gentiles in Romans 1, he very specifically identified the issue of who they chose to honor, give thanks to, look to for wisdom (v. 21-22), and worship and serve as their authority (v. 23- 25). We can conclude that much of what made the Gentile people wicked in God’s eyes was their decision to serve their own authorities rather than serving under God’s government.
We do have numerous examples such as Ruth and Rahab, who, though being Gentiles, forsook their allegiance to their own nations and accepted the Lord’s rule, and joined themselves with His people. This shows that God has never been a respecter of persons. But Paul shows that God has always been displeased with those who would trust in their own authority. Not only were human governments introduced to us in rebellion, they also continued in their rebellion all throughout the Biblical narrative.
3. The Character of Human Governments is Contrary to the Character of God’s Servants
God’s servants are to lay up their treasures in heaven. (Matt. 6.19-21).Yet gentiles and their governments continually strive to gain and protect more earthly treasures.
God’s servants are commanded,
Do not worry then, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek these things; for your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. – Matt. 6.31-32
To the extent that our trust is in God, servants of God do not worry. Gentile people and their governments do nothing but worry! (Just watch the news for 5 minutes and this point will be confirmed).
God’s servants are to be known for their humility and gentleness, placing the needs of others above their own (Eph. 4.2; Jas. 4.10-12, 1 Pet. 3:8, Phil. 2.3-5). Most all political fights and national fights are based upon both sides feeling like they are better than the other.
God’s servants are commanded to be, well, servants. This is vastly different from the kingdoms of this world, which are all about exercising power over others.
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20.25-28
God’s servants are commanded love their enemies (Matt. 5.43-47). Kingdoms of this world continually fight against their enemies. Jesus seemed to understand that human governments cannot be sustained without fighting, for he said “If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would fight.” But then he quickly added, “My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18.36-37).
Not only are human governments introduced to us in rebellion to God, and not only are they continually presented to us as enemies of God’s people, but their very character is completely contrary to what is pleasing to God.
“You make some interesting points, but I’m not sure that this is a fair description of all governments. What about when political action is used as an avenue for service, for example, passing a bill that improves medical care, decreases drunk driving, or limits prostitution? All of these are wonderful and good uses of government. How can these be wicked?
Let’s mark this as one of the questions to address later. But for now let’s at least agree that God’s servants have a very different set of values from those of the world. As a general rule, governments do not reflect the righteous values of God’s servants, but rather the wicked values of the world. Can governments possibly be used by Christians to promote Godly values? Before answering this, please consider point number four.
4. Human Governments are Ruled by Satan
At least sort of…
And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.'” – Luke 4.5-8
It is important to notice that Jesus did not dispute the devil’s claim that he owned all the kingdoms of the world, and that he could deliver them over to Jesus if he wished. There is nothing in the text to indicate that Jesus doubted Satan’s ability to make good on this offer.
How much trust should Christians place in human governments that are ruled by Satan? As much as Jesus trusted them, which is none at all.
It is also important to notice that Satan was only willing to give these kingdoms to Jesus if He would worship him. Since worshiping God and worshiping Satan are mutually exclusive, it would have been just as mutually exclusive to worship God while ruling those earthly kingdoms.
Ok, you’ve been very patient. Thank you. Now let’s address some of those questions in part 2.