May a Christian Serve in Government?
Text: Romans 13:1-7
I. I was recently asked if a Christian may serve in the government, particularly in jobs of a punitive nature, such as the police or the armed services.
A. There are several denominations which hold pacifist views.
1. Some, such as Quakers, refuse to serve in any capacity where killing might be involved.
2. Others, such as the Amish, reject all ties to civil authorities
B. I would like to broaden the question to whether a Christian may participate in government
II. Upon whose authority does government exist?
A. Paul makes it very clear that governments exist by the authority of God - Romans 13:1-2
B. To argue that a Christian may not serve in government is to argue that government offices violate the will of God.
C. Though Matthew left his job as a tax collector to follow Jesus, other tax collectors remained in their position
1. Zacchaeus was a head tax collector - Luke 19:2
2. Zacchaeus repented of his sinful ways, but there is no indication that he left his job - Luke 19:8-10
3. The tax collector was praised for his humility - Luke 18:13-14
D. Paul sent greetings from Christians in Caesar’s household - Philippians 4:22
1. According to William Barclay, the phrase does not mean those who were kin to Caesar. Caesar’s household was the imperial civil service with members throughout the world. The palace officials, secretaries, revenue officials, and administrators were all members of Caesar’s household.
E. Recall the occupation of the Ethiopian eunuch - Acts 8:27
1. Again there is no indication that eunuch was required to leave his position to become a child of God.
2. Another treasurer was Erastus - Romans 16:23
III. What about positions that might involve killing?
A. Once again, Paul states that governments were granted the right of enforcement - Romans 13:4
1. True, vengeance belongs to God - Romans 12:19
2. But government does not take its own vengeance, it was granted this authority by God.
a. Albert Barnes once said, “When a magistrate inflicts punishment on the guilty, it is to be regarded as the act of God taking vengeance on him; and on this principle alone is it right for a judge to condemn a man to death. It is not because one man has by nature the right over the life of another, or because society has any right collectively which it does not as individuals; but because God gave life, and because he has chosen to take it away when a crime is committed, by the appointment of magistrates, and not by coming forth himself visibly to execute the laws.”
b. It is a requirement of the covenant with Noah - Genesis 9:5-6
3. Jesus in his discussion with Pilate confirmed this - John 19:10-11
4. Peter also states that governments exist to punish the wicked - I Peter 2:14
B. Again, we find examples of people in punitive occupations
1. John’s instructions for repentance - Luke 3:7-14
a. Again notice that John did not include tax collectors or soldiers leaving their occupation to show proper repentance from sin.
2. Cornelius was described as a godfearing man while serving as soldier - Acts 10:1-2
a. True, at that time he was not saved, but nothing indicates that he left his position after becoming a Christian.
3. The jailer in Philippi retained his position after his conversion - Acts 16:35-36
A. What if the government is corrupt?
1. Every action by human government will not be in accordance to the will of God. - Ecclesiastes 5:8
2. Governments authority exist by the ordination of God
3. Obedience to God exceeds obedience to government - Acts 5:29
4. God judges the judges - Psalm 82:1-4
B. What if it is not a “Christian” government?
1. God does not give different laws to the Christian and non-Christian.
2. Both are held to the same standard.
3. If a non-Christian, acting as an agent for the government, can take a life without sin, then so may the Christian.
C. How can you love someone and take his life?
1. Understand that loss of life is the result of sin being committed.
a. I might as well ask how can a parent punish a child if they love that child - Hebrews 12:7-11; Proverbs 13:24
b. Does wicked deeds hold consequences or not?
c. Paul did not object to just sentencing - Acts 25:11
2. Remember that it was the law of Moses that taught Israel to love every man as himself - Leviticus 19:18
a. The same era where God sent Israel to destroy the Amalekites - I Samuel 15:1-3
b. Obviously God did not see a conflict in these commands.
c. When a executor of justice did his duty, he incurred no guilt - Numbers 35:27
D. In a war you could have Christians fighting Christians
1. True. As we said, every decision, including the decision to go to war, is not necessarily just on a governments’ part.
2. It is up to the Christian to decide whether the war is justified or not - Romans 14:12
3. For example, war may not be used to spread Christianity - John 18:36; II Corinthians 10:3-6
a. Hence, the crusades were violations of God’s will
E. Christianity is a religion of peace
1. In prophecy of the Christian era - Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:9
2. This was fulfilled in Jews and Gentiles joining in the Church - Ephesians 2:14-16
3. It ought to take a lot to get a nation following Christian principles to go to war.
a. But we must recognize that all the world doesn’t follow Christianity.
b. Governments still have the right to defend its citizens.
c. We must do the best that we can, though peace may not always be reached - Romans 12:18
V. Individuals may decide that they are uncomfortable with executing judgment.
A. This is fine - Romans 14:22-23
B. Yet, at the same time, it is clear that the Scriptures do not teach that a Christian may not be involved in government, including its duties to execute judgment.