On the eve of elections in the United States, let’s take a brief look at how the Bible speaks about some of the responsibilities of 1) governments and 2) believers living under those governments. I won’t dive into any partisan positions on specific issues but will just try to identify some guiding principles that should shape our thinking.
Human governments are part of the order that God established for the world (Romans 13:1-2). Governments function effectively when they are contributing to orderly societies in which people can live their lives in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Governments are expected to be able to distinguish between good and evil, so that through the creation and enforcement of laws governments can promote good and deter evil in society (Romans 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:14). My guess is that Paul would appeal to conscience and general revelation as the basis for a government’s differentiation between good and evil (these are topics he already dealt with earlier, in Romans 1-3).
Governments are expected to advance the common good (Romans 13:4) – the government acts as “God’s servant to do you good” (NIV), or “a servant for your good” (ESV).
Takeaway – In democracies, believers should try to discern whether candidates are committed to upholding laws and justice as well as promoting the overall long-term welfare of the citizens. That is a fairly general place to start, but it is important to have this big picture in mind before analyzing the intricacies of the various positions about which the candidates disagree.
Believers should pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Believers should show respect and honor towards those in authority, and they should demonstrate this by paying their taxes (Romans 13:1, 6-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13, 17). Jesus says this most memorably in response to a question about paying taxes: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:15-17).
Believers should remember that our primary allegiance is to God. Every time believers confess “Jesus is Lord,” this is an affirmation of our chief obligation as believers – to be totally devoted to and obedient to Jesus as our master. Paul reminds the Roman citizens of Philippi that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). Believers are to “fear God and honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17). When allegiances between God and government seem to clash, there may even be times that believers must “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; note how in Acts 4:19-20 Peter expresses a similar conviction in both a firm and respectful way to the authorities).
Takeaway – no matter what the outcome in the United States elections, Christians should be ready to be respectful to the leaders of our government. Let’s pray for our leaders, avoid speaking falsely about them, and be ready to pay our taxes and fulfill other duties with willingness and honesty. And let’s remember our first love – Christ – and the mission he has given us as a church. Governments change, but the work of Christ continues from generation to generation around the world.