What responsibilities do we as Christians have toward our government? The New Testament is clear that Jesus instructed His followers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt 22:21) and also Romans 13:1 calls believers to obey those with governing authority.
Seems simple doesn't it?
But what about situations when those who exercise governing authority are ungodly?
What about those who not only live a sinful, morally bankrupt life, but also incentivize others to live the same? What about those who murder the innocent for greed or power, who abuse and oppress the helpless? What about rulers who actively seek to stamp out Christianity through various means of persecution? What about those who destroy nations and leave people in suffering and misery?
What responsibility do Christians have toward such rulers?
The answer might surprise us: “All of you must obey the government rulers. Everyone who rules was given the power to rule by God. And all those who rule now were given that power by God. So anyone who is against the government is really against something God has commanded” (Romans 13:1-2a ERV). God calls Christ followers to respect and submit to those who hold authority because whether for blessing or punishment, they have been instituted as they are by God.
It bothers me tremendously when people who call themselves Christians only accept Jesus words in Matt 22:21 and Paul’s words in Romans 13 when the authority in question behaves in a manner that they find acceptable!
Where did Jesus or Paul, or anywhere in the scriptures say that the sinful failings of a ruler exempted Christ followers from their obligation to submit to their authority? Does the Word suggest anywhere that under such circumstances their authority is forfeit? No, but many, many Christian philosophers down through the ages have based their entire approach to this matter on that single assumption: That the sinful failings of a leader forfeits their God-given authority.
If it was true that the sins of a leader forfeited their authority, then God could never use any human leader. Perhaps though, many mean to say it is not their sins generally, but specifically only leaders who actively and intentionally rebel against the purposes of God. But what does the Bible show us about these kinds of leaders? Does the Bible indicate they lose their authority for this reason?
One of the most neglected facts in this matter is simply this: the authorities about which Paul speaks in Romans 13, and also about which Jesus speaks in Matt 22:21 were hostile to Christians specifically and to YHWH generally. If you truly think any world ruler today has forfeited their authority because of their wickedness, surely we do not understand the historical backdrop in which the New Testament was written. Go read Seutonius' “The 12 Caesars” to get a realistic picture of what a truly evil ruler looks like, and then consider it was to THESE same Caesars that Christ called His people to submit in the New Testament!
This should not surprise anyone, but sadly it might. The New Testament instructions about submission to authorities were given to Christians when their own authorities were hostile against them.
Internally, we may feel swelling within us certain objections to this idea. We may find ourselves crying out, “but why God?! Why should we submit ourselves to ungodly leaders who drag your people off to kill them? How can we sit by and watch atrocities being committed by authorities? How can these wicked men have been put in these places of power by a God of goodness and justice?”
God has already given some answers to these questions in His word when we consider the leaders God uses in the Bible to accomplish His purposes. God is doing greater things than you or I can imagine, and as He works His eternal plan to save as many people for eternal life as possible, His plans include both building up and tearing down nations.
In Isaiah 45:1 God calls Cyrus by name to come and destroy nations for the sake of His eternal purposes, and verse 7 is quite telling. “I made the light and the darkness. I bring peace, and I cause trouble. I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 ERV). Whether peace or destruction comes on a nation God is working , “for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28) Daniel 2:21 testifies that it is God who “gives power to kings, and he takes their power away.”
In a shocking revelation to Habakkuk, God tells the prophet that He will bring the wicked Babylonians to destroy His own nation of Israel! Make no mistake, God tells Habakkuk, I will work through these ungodly leaders to bring about the ultimate good for those who love Me, by destroying the corrupted Israel so that a faithful remnant will be preserved (see again Romans 8:28).
The labor of the prophet Jeremiah was to get the leaders of Israel to accept the difficult truth: yes, God can and will use a wicked nation to destroy His own (Israel) so that His own eternal purposes of ultimate good for as many lost souls as possible would stand. Jeremiah was hated and persecuted for this because most people don’t like to hear “God builds nations up and tears them down.”
Romans 9:17 shows us that God placed a wicked, hard-hearted Pharaoh in his position of authority knowing that He was wicked, but still in order to bring about the ultimate good for those who love Him (i.e. Romans 8:28).
When God appoints an authority, only He knows if it is time for this authority to build up and bless a people, or to bring them into judgement of their wickedness.
Which ever God has in mind a Christian’s responsibility toward the leader remains constant: respect the fact that God placed them there to accomplish His eternal purposes! Those purposes might include the judgement of a nation, and if so, our response should be as Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”