This week Connie and I went to the local board of elections office and voted. We were among the over one million Georgians who have so far participated in early voting. I believe that voting is a privilege and a cornerstone of a free society. It is one of our duties as Christian citizens.
The mid-term elections remind me of the importance of the book of Romans, especially chapter 13. This is part of Paul’s practical application of the doctrinal teaching in the earlier chapters. Romans 13 gives us relevant instruction about a Christian’s duty to the government. Here is another good reason to read the book of Romans, especially in an election year.
Romans 13 teaches us that civil government is established by God. Elected public servants are said to be servants of God. Human government, as an institution, was ordained by God, just as he created the human family and the church.
Of course, this does not mean that tyrants and evil dictators are personally doing God’s bidding. Vladimir Putin is not carrying out God’s will when he authorizes the bombing of civilians in Ukraine. Jesus said to Pontius Pilate that his authority to rule came from God (John 19:11). But Pilate obviously misused that authority when he handed Jesus over to be crucified. Ancient rulers Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus were called God’s servants in the sense that they were carrying out his will on the stage of human history, even when they were not aware of it.
Paul knew very well that there would be rulers who abuse their power. He himself was treated unjustly by some authorities. He was stating the divine ideal, knowing that there were rulers who did not live up to what God expected of them, to suppress evil and reward good behavior (Romans 13:3-4). That is what good government is supposed to do, to punish wrong and promote what is right.
When the authorities get it backward and promote laws that contradict God’s law, civil disobedience may be called for. When the apostles Peter and John were forbidden to proclaim the gospel in Jerusalem their response was clear: “We must obey God rather then human beings!” (Acts 5:29). This helps us explain how to carefully apply Paul’s words in Romans 13:2 about not rebelling against the authority of government.
Paul may have written this because some early Christians may have been tempted to rebel against state authorities out of their loyalty to Christ as their King. Paul wanted them to know that church and state have complementary roles and Christians owe a duty to both of them. He probably had in mind what Jesus had said: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:17).
The duties of citizenship also include paying taxes for the benefit of society and showing respect to those in authority (Romans 13:7). Paul goes further and writes about loving our neighbors, even those with whom we may have disagreements, political, or otherwise. His words are strikingly relevant in 21st century America: “The commandments . . . are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10).
It helps us to maintain a proper perspective on governments and world events when we remember that the Lord of history is coming again. His return will usher in the visible kingdom of God. It is the expectation of the return of the Lord Jesus that is a mighty incentive for Christians to live the way we are supposed to live in this world (Romans 13:11-14).
All this reminds me to pray for my country, to support good government, and to vote for wise and truthful leaders. Read Romans 13 and then vote.
Pastor Randy Faulkner