A STUDY OF THE BIBLE
A STUDY OF THE ARTICLES OF FAITH,
CHURCH COVENANT, AND CHURCH HISTORY
1. Have You Recognized and Accepted Jesus Christ As Lord and Savior?
2. Why Are You a Christian?
3. What Drew You to the Church?
4. Why Did You Elect to Become a Baptist?
5. What is Your Understanding of Church Doctrine?
These questions and more will be explored during our studies of what we believe as Missionary Baptist. I encourage everyone who comes to come with an open mind and express your questions. Our goal as developing Christians should be to study to find the answers to our questions thereby discovering new questions.
WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY AT 7:00 P.M.
A STUDY OF THE BIBLE
A STUDY OF THE ARTICLES OF FAITH,
CHURCH COVENANT, AND CHURCH HISTORY
XVI CIVIL GOVERNMENT
WE BELIEVE THAT CIVIL GOVERNMENT IS OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT, FOR THE INTERESTS AND GOOD ORDER OF HUMAN SOCIETY; AND THAT MAGISTRATES ARE TO BE PRAYED FOR, CONSISTENTLY HONORED, AND OBEYED; EXCEPT ONLY IN THINGS OPPOSED TO THE WILL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO IS THE ONLY LORD OF THE CONSCIENCE, AND THE PRINCE OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH.
I. "WE BELIEVE THAT CIVIL GOVERNMENT IS OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT, FOR THE INTERESTS AND GOOD ORDER OF HUMAN SOCIETY."
1Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
A. The Precept (13:1a)
Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.
Every person is included in this instruction—both believers and unbelievers. Every person is required to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Subjection certainly includes obedience, but it implies even more. Subjection focuses on the spirit or attitude of the individual, which leads to obedience. It recognizes an authority over us to which we are obliged to give not only our obedience but our respect. It implies a spirit which seeks to understand the perspective and purpose of the one who is superior and to seek to enhance that one’s position and purpose.
The authorities in view here are the governing authorities, those authorities which govern us politically. These governmental authorities are assumed to be legitimate, for there are those who claim authority but are illegitimate. A Christian living in a country where a military coup has occurred may have to determine which government is actually in power. Under normal conditions, it is the government which is in place (see verse 1b).
There were times when men had to choose to "obey God, rather than men" (e.g. Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-32). I would like to suggest to you that while the Christian may not, in good conscience before God, be able to obey the government in every instance, true submission to the government is never actually set aside. Generally, submission is exhibited by one’s obedience. But when one cannot obey, they can still demonstrate a submissive spirit. This submissive spirit should never be set aside when it comes to those in authority over us.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean, using some of the texts which seem to be exceptions to submission. In 1 Samuel chapter 25 Abigail takes a gift to David and tells him that her husband is a fool. She knew that Nabal would have forbidden her to do what she did. She acted in a way that was contrary to her husband’s will, but not contrary to true submission. She subordinated her interests to those of her husband, putting herself at risk in an attempt to save the life of her husband and the men in her household. By the way, she acted in submission not only to Nabal, but to David, the one she knew was going to be Israel’s next king. She talked David out of doing a foolish thing that would have negatively impacted his reign, yet with a submissive spirit.
In Daniel chapter 3, Daniel’s three friends were commanded to bow down before an image of gold. They refused, and rightly so, for they could not serve God and bow down to an idol. But the way in which they declined to do so demonstrated a submissive spirit. They did not refuse to obey all of the king’s commands, only this one. They knew that disobedience might cost them their lives, and they were willing to pay this price. They did not advocate the overthrow of this government, and they were willing to submit to the death penalty if necessary. The same is seen in Daniel chapter 6, where Daniel will not cease praying to his God. Daniel refuses to comply with a specific law, and even the king agrees with him and hopes for his rescue.
In Acts chapter 5 the Sanhedrin has demanded that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This they cannot do, lest they disobey God. Though they could not and would not stop preaching about their resurrected Lord, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” Submission usually is demonstrated by our obedience, but even when we must disobey, we can and should do so in a submissive spirit and manner.
Therefore, submission to the authority of legitimate governmental agents is required by God, at all times and in all cases. Submission usually, but not always, results in obedience. Submission always gives honor to whom honor is due. In the remaining verses of this text, Paul gives us three reasons for our submission to human government.
B. Reason 1: Civil Government Is Divinely Ordained (13:1b)
For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign. He possesses ultimate authority. He is the sole authority of His creation. All human authority is delegated to men by God.77 No one has authority independent of God.
How do we know that a given government is ordained of God and that He has given it authority? A government’s existence is proof that it is ordained of God and that it possesses divinely delegated authority. Paul says, “those which exist are established by God.” God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. He causes all things to “work together for good” (8:28). In days gone by, He raised up a disobedient Pharaoh (9:17), as well as Assyria and Babylon, as His chastening rod. Whether democratic or autocratic, heathen or God-fearing, every government which has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God.
Submission to government then is an expression of our submission to God. God has instituted human government to exercise divinely delegated authority over men. We should be subject to human governments for this reason alone. But Paul adds two very practical reasons for our submission and obedience in verses 2-7. These provide additional motivation for our obedience to this divine command.
C. Reason 2: Consequence (13:2-4)
Therefore, he who 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 upon the one who practices evil.
In verse 1, Paul has stated that human government has divine authority. Verse 2 seems to emphasize divine consequences, based upon Paul’s statement in verse 1b. Because of these consequences, resistance to governmental authority is also resistance against God Himself. Such resistance eventually brings divine judgment.
Disregard for government’s authority also has present ramifications. These are described in verses 3 and 4. Government is given an unexpected title in verse 4—“minister of God.” Its task is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also those who do evil. God’s purpose for human government is to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil.
The role of government in punishing those who do evil, and in rewarding those who do good, is consistent with and complimentary to the purposes of the Christian. You will remember that in verse 9 Paul wrote,
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.
The Christian should abstain from evil and pursue what is good. Government should praise those who do good and punish those who do evil. Therefore, God’s purposes for us and for government are in harmony. Government is here to help us do what God has called us to do and what we should desire to do.
Ordinarily, one who is seeking to do good need not fear government. One who is serving God need not worry about government opposition. Christians should be the best citizens, for their calling is consistent with government’s divine commission.
But we should fear government when we choose to do evil. Only the law-breaker looks over his shoulder, wondering where the police are. The Christian should never need a radar detector, nor should he ever fear paying the penalty for speeding. If we would desire to live our lives without fear of punishment, we need only to do what God has required of us, and what government requires as well.
It should also be said that government’s God-given role also frees the Christian from returning “evil for evil” by retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat him (see Romans 12:14-21). God has not given us the task of administering justice or of paying men back for their wrong-doings. God has given this task to governmental authorities. When we “leave room for the wrath of God” (12:19), we leave room for government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government “bears the sword” for such purposes. And if government should fail in this task, God will make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.
D. Reason 3: A Clear Conscience (13:5-7)
Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Subjection which is based only on the fear of painful consequences is as incomplete as sexual purity based solely on the fear of contracting AIDS. A higher reason for subjection is found in verse 5.
The external motivation that promotes submission is the fear of punishment—at least primarily. The motivation Paul calls for here is internal—that of a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. The standard which the law sets is the minimal standard for all men. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government.
What is the conscience? It is an internal standard, defining right and wrong. It is not present only in Christians. All men have a conscience (Romans 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another. Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Timothy 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil.
Our conscience is not an infallible guide to good and evil. While we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
Paul’s conscience was very important matter to him. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3), which he urged others to do as well (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9). A clear conscience is a prerequisite for love and service to others:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day (2 Timothy 1:3).
How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14).
Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Hebrews 10:22).
Whenever we violate our conscience, we hinder our fellowship with God and our service, to Him and to others. A violated, guilty, conscience makes us less sensitive to sin and more vulnerable to error (see Hebrews 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:6). A guilty conscience makes us more tentative and less bold to proclaim and practice our faith. Due to a defiled conscience, we may tend toward a legalistic, external obedience, based upon appearances rather than on reality (see Luke 16:15).
What does our conscience have to do with submission to human government? Mere outward compliance with the requirements of government is simply not enough. This we can expect from unbelievers, if for no other reason than the fear of punishment. But God desires a fuller, deeper, obedience from the heart. This requires conscientious subjection—submitting done out of obedience to God. Such an attitude of submission enables us to retain the right attitude and actions toward government even when we must disobey specific laws in order to obey God.
An internal attitude of submission stimulates us to obey government even when our disobedience cannot be seen or punished. The actions of verses 6 and 7 are the outflow of an undefiled conscience and a spirit of submission. Paul does not tell us here to “obey the laws of the land,” but rather to honor those in authority and to pay taxes and custom fees. Why are these specific forms of obedience named? I believe it is because these are the very things which are easiest to avoid doing, and the least likely violations to be discerned and punished.
We can be rude and disrespectful to officials and get away with it. We can even more effectively pretend to be respectful and never have our insincerity detected. We can quite easily report our income or our baggage in such a way as to avoid income taxes or customs fees. More often than not, if we are devious, we will not be caught.
But we already know that government has God’s authority and ministers for Him. Thus, when we fail to “pay our dues,” whatever these might be, we disobey God. Even if the civil authorities never catch us, our conscience before God will be defiled. Our fellowship with Him will be hindered. Our service to others will be adversely affected. And so we must live by the higher standard. We must not only comply with the demands of government we must cooperate in spirit. In so doing our conscience will be clear, our testimony untainted, and our service unhindered by sin and guilt. Living in subordination to divinely ordained government is beneficial to our walk with God and our service to others.
Finally, these things which God requires us to give government officials are those things which facilitate the ministry of public officials. Both honor and money are necessary for public officials to carry out their tasks. Our subordination to those in authority not only means that we should do what we are required, but that we should provide all that is necessary so that our superiors can do their jobs. Our submission means that we serve and support them.
II. "AND THAT MAGISTRATES ARE TO BE PRAYED FOR, CONSISTENTLY HONORED, AND OBEYED."
A. Matthew 22:21 - Our blessed Savior Himself said, "Render (give back unto) therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and unto God the things which are God’s"
1. We obey all the laws of the land, whether we agree with them or not, as long as those laws do not restrict our worship.
2. All the planning and zoning laws (and all the procedures required by government officials) are to obeyed.
3. Do not do something that you know are against governmental laws, or procedures.
B. I Timothy 2:1-8.
1. God’s people are instructed to pray for all those in authority.
2. We are to pray for them not only for their good, but that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all Godliness and honesty.
C. God requires that we honor the office of the one who is in authority. We may not like the man’s personality but we are to honor him for the offices sake.
III. "EXCEPT ONLY IN THINGS OPPOSED TO THE WILL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, WHO IS THE ONLY LORD OF THE CONSCIENCE, AND THE PRINCE OF THE KINGS OF THE EARTH."
A. God’s people are expected to obey in authority upon this earth as long as it is not against the teachings of God’s word.
B. Baptists have always been a people who spoke out when man’s law was contrary to God’s.
1. Acts 4:18-20 – Peter and John were commanded to stop preaching in the name of Christ, but they replied they would obey God, not man.
2. Abortion and homosexuality are both sins against God, and Baptists should continually speak against such wickedness.
C. Acts 5:9 "We ought to obey God rather than man."
1. When it comes to the question of whether we should follow man and sin against God, we should always refuse men.
2. America has one of the greatest governments in the world because those who are called Baptists today fought and died for the liberty and freedom of men.
3. It would be good for every saved person to read Cathcart’s, "Baptist Patriots" and "The American Revolution".
D. All men who are in authority today are under the authority of Jesus Christ.
1. They may not believe this or act like it, but the time will come when they shall stand before God and give account of their actions while in the office of authority.
2. Revelation 19:16 – "And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS."
3. Romans 14:9-13 – These verses speak of Christ, our final judge; who we will all give account to.
a. Because Christ is our final judge, Christians should not judge one another.
b. This does not mean we cannot know if a fellow Christian is doing right or wrong; it means we do not condemn them.
c. We can condemn wrong actions, but we are not to condemn people.
E. Other scriptures that teach this to be true are:
1. Titus 3:1 – "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,"
2. I Peter 2:13-16 – Christians are to submit themselves to every governmental authority because this is the will of God, and that foolish and unlearned men may be put to silence.
3. Daniel 3:15-18 – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told Nebuchadnezzar they would disobey his command to worship the golden image he had set up, even if they died.
4. Daniel 6:7-10 – Daniel continued to pray three times a day even when he knew King Darius had signed the decree sentencing any person to the lion’s den if they asked anything of any God or man except him.
5. Matthew 23:10 – None of us should want to be called "master" or be over other Christians. The real master is servant of all.
6. Romans 14:4 – We have no right to judge another man’s servants. Therefore we have no right to judge (condemn) another Christian because we are all the servants of God.
7. Psalms 72:11 – "Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him."
8. Psalms 2 – God shall laugh as the calamity of men and nations, because his plan (will) shall be accomplished.
Subordination is the key to loving God and others. It is not the inclination of our flesh. It is not the spirit of our age. But it is what God requires and what the Spirit enables when we walk in Him.
As said earlier, Christians are rapidly moving in the direction of opposing government more than submitting to it and serving it with a pure heart and a clear conscience. We have lost our respect for those in authority and have come to disdain, en masse, those in public office. We have come to view government as God’s opponent rather than as God’s divinely ordained instrument. There may be reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.
Christianity is, at the moment, much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While His disciples had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way men become good leaders is by learning to become good followers.
Daniel was but a single man, living in a godless society and in a heathen culture. But Daniel was a man who was respected and sought by the political leaders of his day. Why? I believe it was because Daniel was practicing what Paul later preached. Daniel was serving God by his subordination to civil government. As he sought to serve God with a clear conscience, he refused to do only that which was disobedient to God and defiling to his conscience. As he served God, he eagerly cooperated and supported the governmental system under which God had placed him.
Down through history, men like Daniel have had a profound impact on kings and government officials—even though they served God and even though they were in the minority. John the Baptist was a man who stood for what was right and who did not shrink back from pointing out Herod’s sin. And yet, Herod found himself strangely drawn to John and his teaching. He listened intently to him. He would not have put him to death except for his drunkenness, his foolish offer, and his foolish pride (see Mark 6:14-29).
Jesus had the attention of the governmental leaders of His day. They were eager to see Him face to face. It was only reluctantly that they played a part in Jesus’ death. Paul too had a spiritual impact on some of the political leaders of his day. Even today, men like Billy Graham are sought out by presidents and powerful political figures. Why? Not, I think, because they control votes, but because they are subject to God, to His Word, and to the government under which He has placed them.
We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained. May God grant that we will present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, as we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.