Our text this afternoon lends itself to a short lesson on the Christian’s responsibility toward government. You may think that you know this subject better than the preacher, and you may be right. You may say that you know this subject, and this kind of sermon is superfluous. But I guarantee that you don’t know this subject better than the Lord does. I saw a wise statement the other day which may or may not apply to this message. Our preaching is necessary because of the inherent gap between what men know or believe and what they practice.
Now, I wouldn’t give you a wooden nickle for Donald Trump’s opinion on the subject. He may or may not know a lot about government, laws and his own opinions about Christianity and government. But as far as I’m concerned he knows next to nothing about the Bible. And the Bible is our guide for faith and practice. To ask the average politician about spiritual things is like asking wolves about sheep. They only know that those sheep are fun to chase, and they taste good. But this afternoon we hear a man who was both an unusual politician and a child of God. I’m not talking about myself, but about Solomon. And standing behind him is the author of both government and Christianity – the Lord Jesus Christ. Then we have other experts in the Apostle to the Gentiles and the Apostle Peter. So between these four I think that we can get a general idea about our civic responsibilities.
But people often think that what the Bible says about government comes under the heading of “suggestions.” They are of the mind that different governments deserve different treatments. What was appropriate under the Roman dictators does not apply under King David, President Trump or Queen Hillary. They even point to Solomon for reinforcement – “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment.” But the counsel of God’s prophet is more authoritative than the command of the Supreme Court of the United States. The general principles of Christian duty remain constant, whether we live in ancient Rome, the new Russia or the United States of America. And what is it that God’s wise man tells us here?
First he describes our general duty towards those whom God has placed over us.
Before I get into these things, perhaps we should point out government’s duty towards its citizens. In Romans 13 scripture says that rulers are supposed to be a terror to evil. They are commanded by the Lord to punish the evil doer and to encourage those that do good. When government begins to terrorize those who do good, society is on dangerous ground. Unfortunately modern governments are not very successful in either one of these responsibilities. Our governments and courts are often freeing the guilty and punishing the righteous. And eventually, God will bring that government down. That is not my opinion or my hope; it is a fact of history. Beyond ancient Rome and Babylon, and more modern European countries, it is a fact which we can see in God’s own nation of Israel. The United States stands on the brink of God-determined judgment because justice is upside down. “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” But let it be understood that the execution and removal of kings is God’s business not the Christians’.
Despite societal wickedness, our general duty as Christians is to obey the king’s commandment. Unless our conscience is clearly directed by the Lord, and the word of God forbids otherwise, Christians are obligated to obey the law of the land. But sometimes there are obvious conflicts between God’s law and man’s law. For example, civil governments at the behest of false religions have forbidden the practice of believers’ baptism. But God’s word demands our obedience to Him in that area, so man’s laws must be ignored. There was a day when civil government demanded that the children of Israel drown or otherwise kill their new born children. The parents of Moses, along with many others, chose to disobey the law. And God blessed them in their disobedience. When it becomes a criminal act for churches to address social issues like capital punishment, abortion or homosexuality, but those subjects come up in the course of studying God’s Word, then the law of the land must be broken and the truth must be taught. If the sword of the evil regime falls, then those Christians must be willing to suffer the consequences. We believe that God’s will shall prevail; He will be glorified no matter what happens to little old us.
But what about the law which says Christians must drive less than 70 mph on Interstate 90? There is no moral, Biblical or spiritual ground for disobedience. If a Christian is not rushing some dying man to the hospital or there is some other arguable reason for breaking the speed limit, he should not do it. In fact disobedience in this small area, can well-nigh destroy that man’s Christian credibility. What about the law which makes the use of seat belts mandatory? Because there is no scriptural or spiritual reason to quarrel against it, we must comply. Disobedience to that law is also disobedience to God – the king has commanded it, and it is not contrary to the Bible.
It is the duty of Christians to obey the laws of the land in which God has placed them. Even if those laws render our lives more difficult to live. Let’s not forget the terrible kings of Jesus’ and Paul’s days. When Peter commanded Christian obedience to the king and his governors, it was to grossly immoral dictators. “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.” Paul said to Titus – “Put (your church members) in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work.” And to the Christians directly under the thumb of the wicked Emperor of Rome, Paul said, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” Christians have no more excuse to look for loopholes to these commands than we do when looking at the laws of God.
Notice that Solomon says, “Be not anxious to get out of the King’s sight” – what does that mean? John Gill says that it is difficult to hide from the king’s authority and judgment. Let’s say that you have inadvertently transgressed the will of the king – you didn’t know that the speed limit on some street had dropped from 35 to 25 mph. Now, you have heard that there is a warrant out for your arrest. The best thing is to surrender to the authorities and to plead your case before the court. But let’s take our thoughts another direction: When does a Christian have authority to jump ship and forsake man’s government? I think that its permissible when that ship is going down in the storm of sinful-debauchery. There was such a case in II King 11 when Johoiada stood against wicked Athaliah. By what authority did the priests of God lead a revolution? By the authority of the clearly broken, knowingly trampled, forsaken Word of God. When that wicked queen was keeping souls from the worship of the Lord and making the worship of Satanic idols the law of her land. Athalia was attempting to destroy the blood-line of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But just as obvious as this revolt are the revolutions which we DON’T see in God’s Word. For example we don’t see Christ trying to overthrow the Romans or even the Sadducees. We don’t read of God’s saints rising up against the wicked government of Rome. The focus of the Apostles was not on revolution but on redemption. We have no scriptural permission to bomb the White House or the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Rather we are ordered to preserve the king’s favor and to pray for his blessing. The obvious road to the King’s favor is to obey his commands and laws; to avoid the conspiracy against the government. And even to expose it, as did Mordecai, when an enemy plotted against idolatrous King Ahasuerus.
On what grounds do we have to follow such policies?
First, and least, there are the dictates of wisdom. Verse 6 says that to every purpose there is a time and a judgment. There is a line beyond which we cannot pass without arousing governmental judgment against us. What if I should take a rifle and try establish myself as Prime Minister of the U.S.A.? Wisdom should tell me that I will probably die a miserable death. I would definitely earn the anger of the President and probably die with a bullet in my head. On the other hand what if I was successful in my overthrow of the government. Now, am I prepared to face the One who sets up and removes kings? Has my revolution been authorized by the Lord? Can I unequivocally say that He has not already given me higher responsibilities than governing the United States? I must then give an account to God and perhaps be punished by Him for my revolution. Wisdom says, Obey the laws of the land, or suffer the consequences.
Second and very closely related; there is my own personal safety. When a society doesn’t have a strong enough government there will be chaos. When men decide to form their own government in opposition to what is already established, there will be no more peace or harmony until one secular power supercedes the other. More simply, if we didn’t have laws governing driving of cars, many of us would be dead by now. Which is the better side of the road? What is the proper speed for a neighborhood? As Romans 13:3 says, proper rulers are a blessing to those who are peaceful and law-abiding.
Our third grounds for obedience is in the power and authority of that government itself. Look at the last part of verse 3 and then verse 4. The king “doeth whatsoever pleaseth HIM. Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What does thou?” In essence, the king is going to do whatever he likes. And an Indirect application suggest – we need to pray for leaders of the government. In fact, it is the command of God that you pray for your king, PM or president. And that is not to pray for his untimely end. Rather for his salvation and peace.
Fourth, it is incumbent upon us to remember that we are talking about something bigger than ourselves. Bustrode Whitlock was one of Cromwell’s counselors years ago. One night he couldn’t sleep because of the terrible condition of the nation and its government. He was worried. Wisely, his servant asked permission to speak. He asked, “Do you think that God governed the world very well before you came into it?” “Undoubtedly, He did.” “And do you not think that He will govern the world quite well when you are gone out of it?” “Certainly.” “Then pray, sir, do you not think that you may trust Him to govern it as long as you live?” No answer could be given and the ambassador slept quite soundly.
Finally, we must remember that there are the laws of God which bind us to the laws of man. Simply put, God commands us to obey the commands of the human government over us. The government that we have has been placed there by the permissive will of God. If we lived in Russia, Iraq or terrorist North Korea that fact would still be the same – God has allowed that government. This doesn’t mean that we understand why God has given us these rulers, but the fact is He has. So most of the time our obedience to the law is in fact obedience to the Lord. And that is what makes up the basis of Biblical Christianity: submission to the will of God.
Solomon is trying to tell us what he has found out about life. And in this chapter of his autobiography, he says that a good relationship to the King is important. He ought to know, because He was God’s king over Israel.