In our final sermon in our What Does the Bible Say Series, we looked at what the Bible had to say about government and life in the public square. While this is an emotionally charged and potentially divisive issue, we should be thankful that God has given us wisdom and insight on how to think about and approach these matters. We see that: We are to be subject to governing authorities, understanding God has instituted them for our good and His glory.
In looking at a few different texts, we see helpful input on this matter. In thinking about these various passages, Romans 13 gives us the “what” of government, 1 Peter 2 the “why” or the motivation for us being subject and Acts 17 gives us helpful handles on how to live in the public square.
1. We are Subject to the Governing Authorities: Romans 13:1-7
In what is typically seen as the preeminent passage on government, we see a handful of helpful items in how we are to respond and relate to the governing authorities. First, it’s made clear that we are all subject to the governing authorities. We aren’t exempted or the exception to this. Second, we see that God is the one who institutes His authority within the civil authorities. This should give us comfort in knowing that our government is a part of God’s sovereign ordination over us. Third, Paul makes clear that if we resist the authorities, we are resisting God. As Christians, we should be the best citizens because we have a divine motivation to do so. This does not mean blind adherence. There are a couple of places where we would legitimately resist. These areas would be if the authorities asked us to violate a command from God (Acts 4 and 5) or to do something immoral (Exodus 1). Otherwise, we are not to resist the authorities.
There are two other elements of the government that, admittedly for me, have changed how I view the government. If you notice in verses 3-7, Paul refers to the government as a servant and a minister. That word servant there is the same Greek word that we use for Deacon. Further, the word for minister is also ascribed to angels, the apostle Paul, as well as Jesus in other parts of the New Testament. I don’t know about you, but I don’t tend to think of the government in the same fashion that I would a deacon or a minister, and yet that’s what God is telling us here. This doesn’t mean that they’re always right, or that God implicitly approves of them, but it should shift how we think about them.
2. We are Subject for the Lord’s Sake: 1 Peter 2:13-17
In 1 Peter, Peter is writing to a group of Christians that have been exiled for their faith. They are living under intense persecution and he wants to give the believers clear examples of how to demonstrate their faith in the various spheres of life. But it should be noted, that his primary concern is not that we would achieve favorable circumstances, it’s that we would grow in Christ-likeness. So we see that our subjection to the government is for the Lord’s sake. We are doing this for God’s glory. That is the motivation to submit and be subjected to the governing authorities. Second, our subjection is for God’s will. Our submission to the authorities is the apologetic of Christian faith to a cynical world. So our lives should reflect what is congruent with our message. Third, we are free, and we are to use that freedom to serve others. Finally, we are to honor everyone…including the emperor. It’s helpful to understand just how difficult life was for these believers, as it gives gravity and force to what Peter is telling them.
3. How Do We Interact in the Public Square: Acts 17:16-34
In response to government and how we live within our society, we finished by looking at Acts 17. Here we saw Paul’s engagement in Athens as helpful to us in considering how we interact with those around us, even though most people aren’t believers in Jesus. I’ll list the five items below that we drew out of Acts 17:
We have concern for others’ spiritual standing: v.16
We reason with people: v.17
We endure taunts and slights graciously: v.18-21
We endeavor to point people to Jesus: v.22-31
We expect varying responses: v.32-34
As we move on from this series, I hope and trust that God has spoken to you and given you what you needed in this season. I’m excited for what’s up ahead. We have a couple of stand alone messages on prayer and discipleship in the coming weeks before we launch into 1 Samuel, which should be a great book for us in this time.
Praying for you as you seek to honor and follow our great and glorious Savior!