Jesus never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, and therefore He placed absolutely no trust in this world’s deceptive power.
But what about the Apostle Paul? How did Paul understand the Christian’s relationship to the governments of this world?
1.Submit to governing authorities
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. – Romans 12.29-13.5
Paul forbade Christians from revolting against their leaders. In Romans 12, Paul encouraged Christians to love their enemies and overcome evil with good. In Romans 13, Paul applies that principle to one specific kind of enemy: governing authorities. (It helps to remember that Nero was the emperor at the time that this was written. He certainly would have been one of, if not the very first person to come to mind whenever Roman Christians read about “enemies”.)
Paul commanded to Roman Christians to overcome evil by submitting to the governing authorities. Insubordination and rebellion against government are thus forbidden. Just as elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever we read the command to “submit”, this implies that there are two different parties being discussed with potentially conflicting wills. Paul wrote Romans with the understanding that Christians and the government were two separate entities.
2. God uses governments “for good”
For it is a minister of God to you for good. – Romans 13.4a
In the same way that Paul reminded the Roman Christians that God can use all kinds of horrible things to work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8.28), so also Paul reminds them that God will even use governing authorities as evil as Nero for good. Throughout this passage, Paul was teaching the same thing the prophets taught concerning evil Assyria (Isaiah 10.5-15) and Babylon (Habakkuk 2). In the same way that God, through His providence, raised up those evil nations and used them as His ministers to accomplish His purpose, so too God would use the Roman government for good. This doesn’t mean that God approved of everything Nero did any more than He approved of what the Assyrians or the Babylonians did. But it does mean that Christians need to remember that no matter who is in power, and no matter how evil they may be, God still has a plan. We can trust that somehow, someway, God will use them for good. Therefore, we can submit to their evil rule.
3.Earthly rulers are enemies of God’s Kingdom
Then comes the end, when He hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. – 1 Corinthians 15.24-26
Paul understood that the rulers, authorities and powers were among the enemies of Jesus to be destroyed at His coming. He reigns in His kingdom, which, “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2.44).
Since it is the mission of Jesus and His kingdom to put all these enemies under His feet and abolish these kingdoms, rulers, authorities and powers, how can His servants enter into, strengthen, and build up that which Christ and His kingdom are to destroy?
4.Do not be yoked with unbelievers
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God has said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore, “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean
And I will welcome you.
And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6.14-18
While this passage in itself does not seem to be written specifically towards political partnerships, it certainly discourages it. To be unequally yoked (KJV) is to be bound together with an unbeliever in a way which allows the believer to be controlled by the unbeliever. So that Christians do not compromise their purposes, their values, or their life, they must avoid these kinds of partnerships. The principle Paul gives here would apply to any relationship in which a Christian will be controlled or heavily influenced by a non-Christian.
5.Do not fight with fleshly weapons
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Corinthians 10.3-4
To use a fleshly weapon is to seek to win a battle without God. Christians do not wage war according to the flesh. The spiritual weapons are the only ones a child of God can use, and these spiritual weapons are powerful in destroying the strongholds of Satan. We weaken our strength when we appeal to government power, which of necessity uses fleshly weapons to accomplish its purposes.
6.Do not fight against flesh and blood
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6.12
Christians do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight for them (Lk. 6.27-35). Earthly political fights make enemies out of other humans.
Who is the real enemy we fight against? Rulers. Authorities. World-powers. No, not a fight against the individuals people who fill those offices and march in their armies, but rather our battle is focused on the spiritual evil that stands beneath and supports all those government powers. Therefore, the weapons we need for this battle are a different type of weapon than that which is used by earthly governments.
7.The rulers and authorities have been disarmed.
When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display over them, having triumphed over them through Him. – Colossians 2.15
The rulers and authorities are here described as enemies of Christ which were conquered. The rulers and authorities have only one power: death. On the cross, the rulers and authorities condemned Jesus with the only power they had at their disposal. When Jesus conquered death, he left all government power ineffective towards those who are being resurrected.
8.Pray for rulers.
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2.1-2
Christians are not instructed to pray that their rulers should be strong, prosperous and permanent rulers. Neither should our prayers be limited only towards those rulers of our country in which we live. We should be praying for “all” men and “all” who are in authority. This includes even praying for our enemies. Rather the object of our prayers is for peace and tranquility.
When Christians pray, they have the full attention of the highest office in the land, the King of kings. When Christians exercise power in the voting booth, their voice is barely heard among thousands of other voices, and only once every few years.
9. Don’t Be Distracted From Our Fight
Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. – 2 Timothy 2.3-4
To please our commanding officer, it is necessary that we are not distracted by the affairs of enemy powers. When soldiers are placed in foreign lands, their responsibility is to suffer, if need be, to carry out the agendas of the homeland. His assignment is not to become involved in “the affairs of everyday life.”
Christians are soldiers in enemy territory. We live in a territory that is governed by “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and “principality and power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Our task is not to be distracted by the affairs of his country, but rather to please our commanding officer by imitating His example and following His commands.
When Christians mistakenly think they are building up God’s kingdom by promoting which political options, candidates or policies are the “right ones”, they are letting themselves get distracted from the task that Christians are given. Our task is to do what Jesus did. He preached the Kingdom of God and defeated His enemies by how He lived, died, and rose again, not by some great political victory.
Like Jesus, Paul understood that the earthly rulers and authorities were under demonic influence. They were part of the domain of darkness, among the enemies of Christ which have been disarmed and defeated. Therefore Paul never encouraged Christians to take political action or seek political power.
Paul did not think Christians should feel a need to overthrow their enemies, but rather should overcome evil by good by submitting to those in power. He had faith that just as God had used the Assyrians and Babylonians for good, so He would continue to cause all things to work together for good.
Paul encouraged Christians maintain their separation from unbelievers, so that they are not distracted from a far more important mission.