God and Government

(At Crossroad Church, we have been working our way through 1st Peter during worship.  Starting in the second chapter of Peter, we have looked at the duty of Christians in dealing with various types of government.  Because too often pastors have neglected to teach fully on the biblical view of government, justice, and liberty,  we have decided to slow down and zoom in for a few weeks on the biblical view of government.  We are going to be posting the series of sermon manuscripts from this series here on our blog for you to be able to look over.  Because these are manuscripts for preaching, they will not have formal citations and footnotes that something like an academic article may include.  We will though try to include links along the way to the sources of various thoughts.  Part two can be found here. Part three is here. Part four is here. )

Gary Demar says “The battle today is over lordship.”   The great question that we face in the United States is the question of authority and of allegiance.   It is the underlying question in the debate we had on Thursday about the existence of God. (Here is a link to a video of that debate.)   Who or what is are ultimate authority?   Is God’s word authoritative?  How do we know anything at all?

There was another debate this week and it too had as its underlying question just under the surface the question of ultimate authority.   Of course that debate was between two people ultimately vying for authority.  I am talking about Trump vs Hillary.  To be honest I thought our debate on Thursday was much better.

There was also a court case in Alabama.  At its center was the question of Lordship or the question of authority.   You may or may not have heard of it.   It featured duly elected Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.   He was brought before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary.  The charge against him?  Roy Moore dared to speak out against the US Supreme Court ruling attempting to codify sodomite “marriage.”  Roy Moore had written an order to all of the Alabama probate judges telling them to hold off on issuing marriage licenses to sodomites because the US Supreme Court ruling conflicted  Alabama state law which defines marriage as between a man and a woman only.   Roy Moore was attacked by liberals in his state and he was brought before the Court of the Judiciary.

The question underlying his case was the question of Authority.  Who has authority to make laws for Alabama and for the United States.  And what is law?   Roy Moore was suspended by the Court of the Judiciary for violating what they said were ethical standards by questioning the validity of the Supreme Court.

This is the question facing the world today.   It is the question that the church is also facing.  Unfortunately, many Christians believe Christianity has nothing to say to these issues.   They have been taught primarily by the silence of their pastors refusal to speak to these issues that the Bible is silent on these issues.

The issue of politics today is the issue of sovereignty. Who is the Lord of all of life to whom man must give his total allegiance, Christ or Caesar? The answer to this question is the difference between liberty and slavery, justice and tyranny.    To get this answer wrong will lead us to the ditches of anarchy on one side and totalitarianism on the other.

We are going to continue in 1 Peter 2 today and look at what scripture has to say regarding these issues.    If you have been with us for the past few months, we have been making our way through 1 Peter.   Peter opened his letter praising God for his great mercy.  He reminded his readers of their identity in Christ.  That in Christ Jesus, they had been given an inheritance that will never perish.  That in Christ Jesus they would be sustained through trials.  That in Christ Jesus they were a chosen race and a royal priesthood.  They had been promised to reign with Christ and represent Christ as they brought people to Him.  We are a royal priesthood.  And God is building us as holy bricks into a temple and kingdom that fills the earth.     We are both in the world and yet not of it.   This is our identity as sons of God.   And now Peter is going to turn and spend the next couple chapters talking about government.   First identity and then government.

Maybe you are scratching your head a bit.  You’ve read ahead and you are thinking yes Peter talks about government for a couple of verses but not for the next few chapters.    And that is the problem.  You don’t know what government is.   You don’t know the proper definition of government. And I don’t blame you.  Most of us have been given an improper or to put it more precisely an incomplete definition of government.

Let me test you:  when I say the word “government” what is the first thing that comes to mind?   I say government and you think the White House,  Supreme court, or maybe Congress.  Maybe you think the names  Hillary Clinton,  or Donald Trump (I can’t even bring myself to say those names and government in the same sentence.)    Maybe you are thinking police officers or the army.

Here’s the problem with your understanding of government, all of those things are only related to one branch of government.  What is government? When this question is asked, most people respond by equating government with politics.  Historically, however, the term “government” was always qualified in some way, unlike our present-day definitions.    Textbooks dealing with politics before World War I were qualified with the title “Civil.” An example of this can be seen in a textbook used in 1903: Elements of Civil Government.

Noah Webster in his first dictionary defined government as ” Direction; regulation. ‘These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.’ Control; restraint.”

Government is control or restraint.   It is the regulating of conduct. This regulation of conduct happens on several different levels.  There are different forms of government.   Civil government is only one of those.  There are four primary forms of government mentioned in scripture. They are: (1) self-government; (2) family government; (3) church government; and (4) civil government.    Again they are “self-government, family government, church government, and civil government.”

Self-government under-girds all institutional governments.  It provides the foundation for  parents and children in family government, pastors, elders, deacons, and members in church government, and civil servants and citizens in civil governments at all jurisdictional levels.

Government in its proper form flows from God to the individual first and extends outward to the family, church, and civil realm.  Another term for self-government is self-control.  It is one of the fruits of the spirit.  A self-controlled populace is in need of very little external control.   A self-governed individual obeys the law of God from the heart, while someone who lacks self-control must be forced to obey. Family, church, and civil governments will ultimately reflect the self-government of the people, whether good or bad.

As we go through 1st Peter the next few weeks I think we are going to see Peter going through each one of these forms of government.   And he is going to outline Christian duty in each level and at the same time leave clues along the way that show that each form of government is to be under the complete authority of God.  We are going to begin today with the civil government.

Please turn with me to 1 Peter 2:13-17 and put a finger there and also turn to 1 Corinthians 7:23

Let’s read together (NASB) 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.

It seems we have a little conundrum on our hands.  On one hand we have scripture telling us to submit and another telling us not to become slaves of men or as one translation says to not submit to the wills of men.  How do we reconcile what on the surface seems like contradiction?

Charles Spurgeon was once asked how he reconciled the sovereignty of God and human responsibility.  His response was that friends don’t need to be reconciled.  I think that answer applies here as well.

We have been given clear instruction and promise in scripture that we have been set free.   Peter has already said that we are royal priesthood.

  In Galatians 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

We are a free people.   We are called the children of God.  And that is what we are.   Peter in verse 16 here says we are to act to live as free men.  We have a freedom in Christ.  Yes, scripture primarily speaks of freedom from  the eternal punishment of sin, freedom from the enslavement to sin, freedom from the curses of the law, and freedom to love but being freed from these things also makes one a free  in that they have no human master over their soul or their consciences.  We have only Christ as our master. We stand as free men, set free indeed by the Son.   No person is born with inherit rights to rule over another.    Abraham Kuyper had this to say of the liberating effects of Calvinism which is synonymous with Biblical Christianity:

“If Calvinism places our entire human life immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man. Hence we cannot recognize any distinction among men…Hence Calvinism condemns not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of woman and of the poor; it is opposed to all hierarchy among men….”

We treasure this truth of freedom in Christ.  We treasure how it sets all people before God as equals.   But now we read in 1 Peter 2, ” Submit yourself to ”  or  “Be subject to every human institution.”

We as free people are to freely submit to human institutions.  What are these human institutions.  They are the forms of government we mentioned above.  Individual, Family, Church, and Civil government.   Peter here expressively mentions Civil government.  Why are we freely submitting to these institutions? It says for the Lord’s sake.

We submit to these forms of government because God has instituted them.  In the Garden of Eden, God set Adam over the creation to govern it.  He placed Eve under Adam in family government.  He commanded them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  They were to be self-governed by God’s commands.

God is the one who institutes government.  He is the one who delegates authority to others.  All authority flows from God.  The Lord is the rightful governor of all individuals and nations because He is creator of all things.   As King Nebuchadnezzar recognized in Daniel 5:21 “The Most High God is ruler over the realm of mankind, and He sets over it whomever He wishes.”

It is God who has sole rights to do with the creation as he deems necessary.  We know that Jesus Christ is God because in Matthew 28 he lays claim to all authority in heaven and on earth.  And if Christ has all authority by divine right, then all other claims to authority must either be claims to delegated authority from Christ or they are false claims and attempts to usurp God.    The point I am making is this, there is not one square inch on this earth that Jesus Christ is not King and Lord over. That must include the civil government.

But I am getting ahead of myself here, so lets go back a step.  Why is it that Peter here moves so quickly from our identity as royal priests and sons of God to civil government?

I think it is important to look at the context here.  Peter says back in chapter 1 that he is writing to the dispersion.   You will remember he has called them sojourners.   He is writing to Jewish converts who have been forced from their homes.   I think we are too quick to spiritualize what Peter says about being sojourners and aliens and we forget that the people Peter was writing to were literally and physically sojourners and strangers from their home nations.   They were of Jewish descent and they looked to Jerusalem as their home capital.  We rush too quickly to apply that aspect to ourselves that we can miss the actual context.

Am I saying that we aren’t spiritual sojourners and strangers?  No.  There is certainly a way that we as the people of God are sojourners and strangers to the world.  We are in the world and not of it.   King David in 1 Chronicles 29:15 says For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.   Our lives are temporary and are but a vapor.

There is however another sense in which for the church, we are the ones that Jesus says inherit the earth.  It is the church, the meek who have been given the right to lay claim to the earth.  The psalms say it is destiny of the wicked to be cut off from the earth.  The wicked are the true strangers and sojourners.  The earth does not belong to them. The reason why I am bringing this up is because there has been a kind of Gnosticism within the modern church that has said that since we are only strangers and sojourners, we shouldn’t bother ourselves with concerns for things like government or economics and so forth.

Again the context here is that Peter is writing Jewish Christians who are literally dispersed away from their home. Jews take pride in the idea that they are not subject to anyone. Remember when Jesus said that the son would make them free.  The Jews became indignant and said that they had never been subject to anyone.  For the Jew the only civil government they were to be subject to was a Jewish civil government.  They would obey a  Jewish king and government set up in Jerusalem.  No other governments were legitimate in their minds.  This resulted in constant revolt from the Jews against Rome.   And while Peter is writing to Christian converts, they still would have been tempted to have the same mindset.  The mindset that many had was that the Messiah was supposed to set up a political kingdom in Jerusalem.  They would be tempted to look forward to the return of a Jewish monarchy.  Even in the book of Acts, the disciples still had this mindset when they asked Jesus if he was going to restore Israel’s kingdom.   It was such a hard idea to shake.

To be honest many today still have this mindset.  They think that there is going to come a day when Jesus returns and plops down out of heaven a kingdom in the Middle East.  They think that the Kingdom of Christ is to be a nation in Israel in which Jesus will physically reign over a thousand years.

It was the hardest thing for the Jewish Christians to wrap their head around that Jesus the Messiah came preaching that the Kingdom of God had come.  Jesus is already reigning as King as he sits in Heaven.  In 1 Corinthians it says he must reign until God has put all his enemies under his feet and then Christ will return not to establish a political dynasty in Israel but to turn the kingdom over to God the Father.  A political nation in the middle east is far too small for our conquering King.  He is king over all nations.

So Peter begins by telling Christian Jews to be subject to the governing institutions in the nations around them. They are to do this for the Lord’s sake.   They are to do this because Christ is not just a political ruler in Israel but because Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.   In the book of Romans, Paul says that the civil magistrates are servants of God.   As Revelation says Jesus is King of Kings.   He is the King over all Kings.  Therefore all civil governments are to be under his authority.  Christians can and should submit to these civil governments for the Lord’s sake.

What I want to do then as we wrap up today is to summarize the main points I want you to take away from this brief introduction.  I have two main things that I want you to hold in your mind and be thinking through for next week where we will dig in deeper into this text.

First,  I want to remind you that it is Christ  who has all authority by divine right.  He is the cornerstone.  He is the supreme governor over all of life.  Everyone must and will answer to him. Ultimately, only He has the authority to govern. He does so because He is God, and His infinite wisdom and majesty are beyond compare.  Anyone else who governs can only do so because He grants authority to others to govern: “By Me kings reign, and rulers decree justice” (Proverbs 8:15).     All governments on earth – self government, family government, church government, and civil government can only govern by delegated authority.

Let me give a brief illustration of what I mean by delegated authority.  When I was in elementary school, I rode the school bus to school.  We had on the school bus, bus monitors.  These were other older kids in 5th grade who had been made bus monitor by the bus driver.  They wore a special vest and were given the task to help make sure the other students obeyed the rules of the bus.  They were given or delegated this power by the bus driver.  Let me tell you, it was a very limited power.  You know they say that power corrupts.  They whoever they are might be right.  When I was in 5th grade I was excited to be called bus monitor.  I finally had the power. It was all mine, my precious.   It lasted for two whole  days because I let it go to my head.  I was trying to use it to boss people around.  I am bus monitor so you have to give me your extra snack.  It worked for a minute but the bus driver caught me trying to use my authoratay  to get the other kids to carry my backpack.  Of course, I had stepped beyond the realms of my delegated power and so the delegated authority was taken from me.

All authorities on earth are delegated authorities and no one lays claim to ultimate authority except Christ.   We are going to talk in more detail next week about what this means for civil government.  But I do want you to see that God has instituted governments on earth and he has delegated authority to each level.  Parents, pastors, and princes all receive delegated authority.  And that means their authority is not absolute but itself to be governed under the absolute authority of God.

Secondly,  since God has delegated authority, we should submit as free people for the Lord’s sake.   Christians are to be under the lawful authorities placed above them.  God has placed authorities over us for his good purposes.  While we are free people under God, we also freely submit.  We are not a rebellious or unlawful people.  Freedom in Christ is not anarchy.   By submitting quietly to the rightful authorities placed over us, we are being obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ.  We are also causing the accusations of fools to be silenced.   I want to give an example from Jesus Christ for us to follow here.  The Bible says that Jesus on the night he was to be betrayed knew all things. In John 13 it reads

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.

Jesus knew his identity and because of that he got up and washed his disciples feet.  He didn’t do it because anyone had forced him to do it.  But he willingly became a servant.  He laid an example for us to follow in all things. We as free people can willingly submit to the lawful authorities placed above us.  (This instruction is not meant to give cover to tyranny and nor meant to contradict other scripture which shows that even our submission is limited.  However, the normative and default position for a Christian should be a position of submission to the lawful authorities.)


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