Written by Stephen Cox
World leaders have converged on Brisbane this weekend to attend the annual G20 Leaders’ Summit.
Not many have confidence in the government to handle international problems let alone domestic policies. Asked in a recent Morgan Poll to rate professions for honesty and ethical standards, 90 per cent gave nurses a high or very high rating, doctors were given 88 per cent and pharmacists 84 per cent. In comparison, MP’s received only 14 per cent of this rating. The good news is that they have fared worse.
Often in politics we see real blunders and evils that deserve a response. From corrupt local officials taking bribes, to MPs who implode in scandal, to being ineffective, the failures of all levels of government are well-known to us.
But have you noticed how quickly our critiques of government can devolve into ungodly criticism? Unfettered, unrestrained critiques of our government can be subtly corrosive—especially for evangelical Christians. Believers know how easily ugliness wells up in our hearts. So how do we honour God by not crossing the line between legitimate criticism and sinful bomb-throwing? Not only that, how do we give real thanks for this gift that God has given us?
The Apostle Paul teaches that a government official is “God’s servant for your good” (Rom 13:4) who should be respected and obeyed with a clean conscience. Our obedience to authority reflects to a watching world our fear of God and respect of his sovereign, ultimate authority. Paul’s focus in Romans 13 is not on the character of the government itself; his focus is on the character of God. Paul is teaching that our response to the authority of the government is part of how we honour God in respecting all God-given authorities, whether in the church, family, or government.
Consider these practical steps for cultivating a heart that demonstrates a Biblical kind of honour and gratitude for the God-ordained authorities of government.
First, trust that God has ordained these authorities, and that obeying them is honouring him.
For instance, you honour God by paying your taxes. Did you know the Tax Office could be an agent of your sanctification? God is sovereign and rules over all. We can trust his provision for us in our obedience in all circumstances. We can honour God by our obedience, even as we wait for council approval of our house plans, navigate long lines at the RMS, or wait at a stop light. In these quiet, routine moments, as law-abiding, authority honouring Christians, we can bear witness to God and his ultimate authority.
Second, meditate on how government punishes evil.
Government officials, Paul says, are “agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Local governments take drunk drivers off the streets. Police and firefighters respond to calls of alarm, distress from physical and material threats. State and federal governments prosecute corrupt corporate and political leaders, thus providing more integrity and accountability in our commercial and civil arenas. They enforce our laws against those who would use their wealth, power, status, or fame to harm people financially, emotionally, or physically.
Praise God for them! What a wonderful common grace blessing their service can be to help provide security for those made in God’s image.
Third, reflect on how government can uphold the common good.
This is what Paul means in saying that our government’s role is to be a “servant for good.” When governmental authority is exercised with restraint and respect for those made in the image of God, the result can be life-giving, increasing the opportunities for the development and use of people’s God-given talents and skills.
Just think about how much good is done by a local city instituting laws to oversee and operate an integrated delivery system for clean water. How much more time is freed up for the study and teaching of God’s Word than if every household had to maintain their own well? How many families and children are spared from illness and disease because the water is clean and pure?
Christians are called to honour and obey our governments as we submit to them. Importantly, this applies even to those governments we don’t agree with and did not vote for!
However, there is one other command of Scripture concerning our relationship to our government. In 1 Timothy 2 the Apostle Paul sets out what should happen when Christians meet together. In particular he talks about who and what we should pray for. Interestingly, one of the very few things we are commanded to pray for is “kings and all those in authority”. In modern terms, we are commanded to pray for the Prime Minister, the Premier and their parliaments.
Of course, the next question is “what should we pray for?” 1 Timothy instructs us to pray that they govern in such a way that we, as Christians, are not hindered or stopped from living godly and holy lives so that people can hear the gospel and be saved.
However, that is surely only the start of what we should pray for. We should pray that they would govern fairly and care for people who are unable to care for themselves. We should pray that, as far as possible, the laws they enact are in step with God. We should pray with respect to specific areas, where laws are put forward that are out of step with God; areas such as the legalisation of abortion, the definition of marriage and so forth. We should pray that our politicians would seek after God’s will on those issues.