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The Christian’s Response to Government

Dr. Alex Tang

28th November 1999 ( before General Election 29th November 1999)

 

Introduction

On February 22, 1986, Saturday evening in Manila, Philippines, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Deputy Armed Forces Chief Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos announced over the radio that they were quitting the Marcos government saying that Marcos did not win the February 7 election fairly. They holed up in Camp Aguinaldo (later transferring to Camp Crame across the road), with only a few hundred soldiers to defend them. Over the Roman Catholic Radio Veritas the call was issued for a large number of civilians to surround the military camps to serve as a buffer between the rebels and the Marcos forces that were sure to come.

Many Christians are in a quandary. Would not participation in a barricade be equivalent to armed rebellion against the Marcos government? Is it not better to simply pray in our homes and in our churches? As it turned out, many Christians elected to pray as the main and only response.

There are Christians who did not hesitate to join the barricades. They have no intention of toppling the Marcos government by force of arms. Their reason for joining the barricades was simple and straight-forward: by providing a civilian buffer between the Enrile/Ramos forces and the Marcos soldiers, a shooting war would be prevented from breaking out and a peaceful resolution of the conflict could hopefully be worked out. The Christians know that their lives were in danger should the Marcos forces decide to attack. Their faith was in God.

As it turned out, the civilian barricade was so large (perhaps a million people surround the military camps by Sunday afternoon, February 23) that Marcos had to flee for his life, as defection after defection characterized his armed forces. A non-violent “revolution” finally toppled his 20-year regime!

This is perhaps the most recent example of the Christian’s response to the government. Years before this happened, the Church in the Philippines has been struggling with the issue of the Christian’s response to the government. When Cardinal Jamie Sin was critical of the Marcos government, a catholic layman wrote to the newspaper asking him to read “Romans 13!” The study of Romans 13 proved to be the basis of a Christian’s response to government.

The first eleven chapters of Romans (in particular chaps 1-8) explain in marvelous detail what it means to be saved and how men become saved - by being justified by God’s grace working through faith.

The miracle of salvation impacts every relationship associated with the believer’s life. When we are saved, our initial response should be to present our “bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is our spiritual service of worship (12:1). Then Paul wrote about our having the right relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ (12:2-16) and with non-Christians, including even our enemies (vv.17-21). After dealing with this matter, Paul focuses on the need to have the right relationship to the human governments under which we live (13:1-7)

 

Text: Romans 13:1-4 in the New International Version:

1.      Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

2.      Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.

3.      For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

4.      For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

5.      Therefore, it is necessary to submit to authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

6.      This is also why you pay taxes, for authorities are God’s servants, who gives their full time in governing.

7.      Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor then honor.

 

This passage teaches five vital principles concerning the Christian’s response to the government:

A.  The Government….

1.                  ….. is by divine decree (v.1 b.)

2.                  ……is an institution of God. Rebellion to Government is rebellion against God (v.2a)

3.                  ……serves to promote good (vv.3b-4a) and restrain evil (v.3a, 4b)

B.     The Christian’s Response…..

4.                  ……to submit through their conscience (v.5)

5.                  ……to pay taxes and whatever is due to the government (v.6,7)

 

1.      Government is by divine decree (v.1 b.)

v.1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

First Paul says that human government is ordained by God for the benefit of society. In whatever forms it exists, civil authority derives directly from God.

6 types of government:

i.                     Perfect government will only come when Jesus the King returns to establish His Kingdom in all its fullness.

ii.                   Just government is possible where full participatory democracy is in bloom so that people elect good leaders and replace them as necessary.

iii.                  Mediocre government takes place if less than the best people are chosen to rule.

iv.                 Ineffective government happens in places where rulers are changed too frequently or the people are ungovernable for some reason.

v.                   Corrupt government develops when rulers assume public office mainly for private gain.

vi.                 Wicked government ensures when those in authority are particularly wicked, unjust and oppressive.

Like marriage, it is a universal institution of God, regardless of place, culture, race or any  other circumstances.

There is no civil authority except from God. No matter what forms it takes, no matter where it is, no matter what ideology, no human government that has existed, existing or will exist , all government are under the sovereign authority of God. The entire world, everything in the heavens, on earth and under the earth are subject to the Creator. Without exception, the power that any person, group or society may possess is divinely given. How well or poorly this power is used is another matter. Paul’s point here is that this power has only one source – God.

Yet in his divine wisdom, God has permitted Satan to have vast but limited power over the world and the affairs of men. And this include governments. Many if not most government are under the influence of Satan and are a means of promoting and perpetuating satanic activity.

Governments have authority by divine decree. The autocratic, ruthless and demonic regimes of Adolf Hilter, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung were no exceptions. The equally ruthless empires of ancient Assyria and Babylon were no exceptions. The Roman empire, ruled by caesars who declared themselves god are no exception.

 

2.      Government is an institution of God. Rebellion to Government is rebellion against God (v.2a)

v.2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves.

The logical conclusion we can draw is that since government is an institution of God. Any rebellion against a government is a rebellion against God.

The seriousness in which God takes rebellion is illustrated in the book of Numbers. God has chosen Moses not only to be the law-giver but also to be the human leader of Israel to lead them from Egypt, through the wilderness to the Promised land.

Numbers 16: 1-3  Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled against Moses and Aaron. “ With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who has been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”…v.13 “Isn’t enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert? And now you also want to lord over us?” They are questioning Moses and Aaron’s authority.  And God was so angry that “the ground under them split apart and swallowed Korah’s men and their household and fire came out of the Lord and consumed 250 rebels.

The next day, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They were still defiant. The Lord then send a plague which killed 14,700 people.(v.49). Had not Aaron made atonement, the whole community would have perished!

God takes seriously any rebellion against those who challenge His appointed authority.

 

3.      Government serves to promote good (vv.3b-4a) and restrain evil (v.3a, 4b)

vv.3,4  For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Paul then described the purpose of government. The government has a dual purpose- to promote good and restrain evil. Government is the God ordained vehicle to promote good and restrain evil in human society.

 

i.                    Promote good

To promote good is to promote order. The opposite of order is anarchy. Anarchy means there is no rules and everyone does whatever they want. Look at Indonesia when the government could not maintain order- the killing and raping, the destruction of properties. Look at Bosnia and Kosovo. Judges 21:25 “ In those days Israel has no king; everyone did as he saw fit “(NIV)

 

Rukun Negara were proposed to be the basis of our government:

1.                  Belief in God

2.                  Loyalty to King and Country

3.                  Supremacy of the Constitution

4.                  The Role of Law

5.                  Mutual Respect and Good Social Behavior.

This is a strong foundation to build a multinational society. As no human government is perfect, there will be shortcomings. We must accept these shortcomings and work to resolve them.

 

ii.                  Restrain evil

In order to promote and protect the good in society, human government must punish evil. Consequently, those who do what is evil have reason to be afraid. Because the sword is an instrument of death, the weapon here symbolized the right of civil government to inflict punishment, including the death penalty for crimes that deserve it.

To restrain evil, there must be a code of law that applies equally to everybody, rich or poor, black or white, educated or illiterate. No one can be above the law.

Interestingly, rulers are called God’s servant. This means that our Prime Minister Dr.Mahathir is God’s servant whether he knows it or not and he is carrying out God’s divine purpose whether he acknowledges it or not.

Servant is translated diakonoV diakonos. It also means deacon, pastor or minister. This means our deacon Koh Siong Kooi is the same rank as Dr.Mahathir!

 

4.      Christian’s Response is to submit through conscience (v.5)

v. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

Does vv.1-4 means that Christians must submit to whatever government they are under – whether good or bad. Are they to accept whatever government, keeping a low profile and hoping the government will leave them alone?

 One of my favourite movie is Fiddler on the Roof. A musical with songs like “If I were a rich man” and “Sunrise, sunset”. It is a story about a community of Jew being persecuted by the Russians. The ruler of the Russian is the Tsar. In one scene, the Jew were asking their rabbi, ”Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?”  The rabbi said, “ Blessing for the Tsar? May the Good Lord bless the Tsar and keep the Tsar …………. far away from us all!”

v.5 comments on the above section on government. Here Paul is saying that the authority given to human government is not absolute. Submission is based on conscience. Conscience here refers to the Christian’s knowledge of God’s will and purposes.

When Jesus was asked a trick question about paying tax, He replied, “ Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

So what are the limitations to the authority of human government:

i.                    When it is contrary to God’s law

When rulers give orders which are contrary to God’s law, for example, by ordering the killing of newborns (Exodus 1) or the worship of idols (Daniel 3) or by prohibiting evangelism (Acts 5), then Christians must say: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)

 

ii.                  When it fails to promote good.

iii.                When it fails to restrain evil and become evil itself.

 

5.      Christian’s Response is to pay taxes and whatever is due (v.6,7)

vv.6,7  This is also why you pay taxes, for authorities are God’s servants, who gives their full time in governing. Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor then honor.

No one enjoys paying tax. But taxes are part of everyday life and we as Christians must pay our taxes.

 

When God established the nation of Israel, He also instituted a taxation system:

i.                     Tithe or a tenth (Lev 27:30) This  tithe is given to the support of the priestly tribe of Levite which had no land allocated to it and has no support. It is also called the Levite’s tithe.

ii.                   Annual Festival Tithe. Used for sacrifices, for supporting the tabernacle and then the temple, for cultivating social and cultural life, and for fostering national unity (Deut. 12:10-19)

iii.                  Triennial Tithe. Levied every three years (about 3.3% per annum) to help the aliens, the orphans and the widows.

iv.                 Annual half-shekel Tax. Levied on every male Israelite twenty years and above as a contribution to the Lord.(Ex 30:14)

v.                   At the end of every harvest, Jews were required to leave some of their crops unharvested, allowing the remainder to be gleaned by the poor (Lev 19:10)

vi.                 Every seventh year, cultivated land is to be left fallow. Whatever crop that comes up is to be left for the poor and what remained was left for livestock to each.

The total of all these six taxes, all of which are mandately amounted to 24% per year. The taxes are for governmental administrative costs, religious costs and social welfare.

            We as Christians are required to give the government their due.

i.                    Taxes

 

ii.                  Services

            Some government may require some additional services. Singapore have compulsory national service for their youth. Malaysia requires all doctors to do three years of compulsory service after their housemanship.

 

iii.                Prayers

We are required to pray for our government whether we like it or not. Jeremiah in writing to the Jews in exile in Jer 29:7,8 

And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray to the Lord  for that city where you are held captive, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.” (NLT)

Mind you, this is the Babylon that destroyed the Temple and carried them into slavery and exile. Yet Jeremiah did not ask them to rebel or pray for God’s vengeance on Babylon. Instead he asked them to pray for the prosperity of Babylon.

 

iv.                Election

The new element that we now have which Paul and the Roman Christians do not have is called participatory democracy. Abraham Lincoln’s dictum of a government by the people, of the people and for the people is now everywhere embraced, in theory if not in practice. In a democracy, we have the awesome privilege of choosing those who rule over us.

 

Conclusion

Romans 13:1-7 gives us very clear teaching on the Christian’s response to government.

A.  The Government….

1.                   ….. is by divine decree (v.1 b.)

2.                   ……is an institution of God. Rebellion to Government is rebellion against God (v.2a)

3.                   ……serves to promote good (vv.3b-4a) and restrain evil (v.3a, 4b)

B.      The Christian’s Response…..

4.                   ……to submit through their conscience (v.5)

5.                   ……to pay taxes and whatever is due to the government (v.6,7)

It teaches that government is not a necessary evil that we Christians have to endure. It is appointed by God and is part of His divine plan.

And how are we to be involved?

1.                  Prayer

2.                  Taxes

3.                  Service

Some Christians should take up politics. A Christian brother who is also a doctor is standing for election in Sarawak. We should support him.

Another way is to be involved in NGO. The government is being to listen to NGOs. We must be involved in NGOs such as environment groups, woman advocate groups, Rotary International, Lion, Kiwanis

 

4.                  Election

We must vote. This time more than 9 million Malaysians will be voting tomorrow. We always think one vote is not going to make a lot of difference. We are wrong. One vote means a lot. One vote cast with the understanding of Romans 13 makes all the difference.

 

Recommended reading:

Eugene H. Peterson, Where Your Treasure Is (Grand Rapids, MI : Eerdmans, 1985)

 

 

O God of earth and altar,

Bow down and hear our cry;

Our earthly rulers falter,

Our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us,

The swords of scorn divide;

Take not Thy thunder from us,

But take away our pride.

 

From all that terror teaches,

From lies of tongue and pen;

From all the easy speeches

That comfort cruel men;

From sale and profanation

Of honor and the sword;

From sleep and damnation,

Deliver us, good Lord!

 

Tie in a living tether

The prince and priest and thrall;

Bind all our lives together,

Smite us and save us all;

In ire and exultation

Aflame with faith, and free,

Lift up a living nation,

A single sword to Thee.

                         G. K. Chesterton

 

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