A Pauline Response to Government and Christian Participation:

In this post we will examine two questions: How does Paul describe the Christian's relationship to the Government? How do we apply these biblical principles today? We live in a politically tense enviroment and this is very relevant as we consider political policies and posturings.

The Christian relationship to Government is clearly addressed by Paul in Romans 13. In my estimation, it should be the "go to" chapter for believers regarding this subject. This chapter appears to be nuanced with the general principle of temperance. This may be apparent when we realize the particular political realites associated with this era (1st Century) and this culture (Roman, Jewish).

In the Synoptic Gospels it is very apparent that tension both existed and was mounting during the times of Jesus. It is ironic then, with Christ being the revolutionary tha He was, that Christ was promoting servitude and rendering unto "Ceasar" what is indeed his (Matthew 22:21). In retrospect and understanding the idealism of the disciples and others of a physical kingdom we can understand how misunderstood Jesus may have been, until the Resurrection, His subsequent appearances, as well as His Ascension. It is interesting to note, however, in the Gospels that we see Jesus imparting understanding and revelation, moreso, to the disciples during the end of His earthly ministry (e.g. Lord's Supper; Luke 24:27; John 20:22), obviously deepening and correcting their understanding of His purpose.

Paul tells us very early in this chapter that God has "appointed" government (vs. 1). Therefore, if government, is an establishment of God then it is to manifest the character of God in some way, e.g. justice balance with love. Paul, in no way, is advocating our adherence to any government, then, that is indeed contrary to Himself. "To disobey the laws of the land, except where they contravene the express will of God, is to violate the purpose of God himself."(1) In the Gospel's Pilate tells Jesus that he had power to set free or to crucify. Jesus replied that he would have no power at all if it had not been given to him from above (John 19:11). Government is God’s way of maintaining the public good and directing the affairs of state. It is a temperate hand resting on a restless humanity. Legitimate government then, is one instituted by God and consequently an exhibitor of His ways.

The implementation of justice is done so, by government, to punish bad and approve good. It is interesting to note the use of the term "sword" in the text. "Because a sword is an instrument of death, the weapon here symbolizes the right of civil government to inflict punishment, including the ultimate penalty of death for crimes that deserve it. In the earliest period of human existence, the Lord instituted capital punishment. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). When Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52), he was reminding His disciple that the penalty for his killing one of Jesus’ enemies would be to perish himself through execution, which the Lord here acknowledges would be justified."(2)

In Romans 13 Paul is encouraging believers to honor and obey just governing authorities as "God's minister to you for good" (vs. 4) It seems, then, that every political response we make should be made based upon discernment of God's will (vs. 2) and should be rooted in the fundamental, and what should be a ruling principle in a believers life--love (vs. 9). The need for this encouragment is confirmed by the historical events surrounding the times of Christ as well as Paul, and the church at Rome themselves.

This note of encouragement is applicable, still, in our times and in our tense political enviroments. Charles Colson said, "Government originated as an ordinance of God. It is, in one sense, God’s response to the nature of the people themselves. While it cannot redeem the world or be used as a tool to establish the kingdom of God, civil government does set the boundaries for human behavior. The state is not a remedy for sin, but a means to restrain it."(3)


1. Mounce, R. H. (2001, c1995). Vol. 27: Romans (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (244). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

2. MacArthur, J. (1996, c1991, c1994). Romans (226). Chicago: Moody Press.

3. Quoted from Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World by Draper, Edythe. Copyright © 1992 by Edythe Draper. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Adversus Trinitas

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