Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval,  for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. ( Romans 13:1-7, ESV)
 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.  Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV)
 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV)
There is one issue on which we can all agree, it will be refreshing for the advertising on our favorite TV shows to return to beer, fast food, and the latest movies rather than the constant barrage of political attack ads. It is time for people in our country to exercise their constitutional right to vote, and as I write this I have no idea who will win. I do know that the outcome of both the national and local elections do have ramifications for our lives and communities. I also know that noting that happens today and in the days ahead will catch God off guard, nor will it thwart the eternal purpose of the display of God’s glory and the advance of the Gospel to all nations and peoples. It has been my goal in this series of blog posts to help those of us who are followers of Jesus to process this (and really all) political moments through the understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and our True King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the days ahead we will have a president who will be inaugurated in January, either an incumbent or a new leader. We will also have a new congress and changes in other leaders around us. For my final post I want to talk about the very clear Biblical truths communicated to us as the people of God as to what our posture and activity should be, no matter who wins.
The verses above set a tone that highlights the way we should interact with our governmental leaders. We might find ways to excuse our failure to neglect these commands concerning our posture toward the government when we disagree with the party and policy of our leaders. But here is the problem. All of these texts were written by divinely inspired authors writing to people under the thumb of the Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Nero. You can search this guy yourselves, but a quick summary is that he was a nut job who burned Rome and blamed Christians, and eventually crucified Peter and beheaded Paul (the two authors of the texts above). He was awful, not just to Christians, but to anyone he saw as a threat to his power. It is into this context that we see the words with the commands above. No matter who wins this election, he will be nothing compared to Nero! So, with this in mind, let me focus on a few clear things shared in these texts and echoed in many others about our posture toward our authorities.
- Pray for your leaders – Paul’s letter to Timothy was written to help him lead the church in Ephesus. As God inspired him to write he includes this passage about prayer for governmental leaders. This is not a grey area, we are commanded individually and corporately as the people of God to pray for our leaders. And this does not really mean that we are to pray imprecatory Psalms over them (you know, the Psalms that say, “God, destroy my enemy”). By the Spirit, Paul uses the four key Greek words describing types of prayers to be offered for all people, but especially for those who rule. This includes lifting their needs, the hope of their salvation, and their struggles to God. Furthermore, we are to offer thanksgiving for these people since they are God’s divinely appointed leader. We pray for them so that we can live quiet, godly, and dignified lives. But more than this, in the flow of this text our prayer for our leaders is somehow connected to God’s desire for people to be saved. Is it possible that evangelism in our country has become so difficult because of our posture toward our leaders and authority and our failure to pray for them? This texts hints at that. So, no matter who wins this election, we are commanded as the people of God to pray for them. What are we to pray? In Jeremiah 29 the prophet is speaking to the people of God in exile under the Babylonian rule of the ruthless leader Nebuchadnezzar. He is another guy who is way worse than either of these candidates, ruling with absolute power. Yet, they are told to seek and pray for the welfare and peace of the city, “for in it’s welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7). So pray for the welfare and peace of our leaders. Ask God to bless their service and make it a joy. Ask God to rescue their lives in the Gospel, And give thanks for them, whether you voted for the ruler or not.
- Honor the King – I know, we don’t have a king, but the principle remains. We know the Scriptures that tell us that children are to honor their parents. This same term is used in speaking to the attitude Kingdom people should have toward those in power over us. To honor means to respect, to treat with dignity, to hold in esteem. We may not agree with their agenda, but our calling is to recognize the divinely given authority God has placed in the hands of those who govern and to respect the people who serve. I have to be honest, this is an area that has troubled me over the years. Christians from both sides of the political arena will honor a leader who represents their political ideals, yet then feel empowered to speak in cruel and hateful ways toward those whom they disagree. Some of the rhetoric coming from believers directed toward Barack Obama made me very sad. And some of the rhetoric currently directed at President Trump from Christ-followers on the other side is shameful. No leader is all good, and no leader is all bad. As believers in Jesus we should know this. This command tells us that when speaking of our leaders we should do it with respect and honor. We should be respectful when addressing policy issues and even sin in their lives, demonstrating love of neighbor in our language. And we should recognize the good aspects of any leader that need to be acknowledged and honor him or her for those things.
- Be subject to them. Paul is actually very clear here, our default posture toward laws and leaders is to submit to their authority. The reason we do this is because their authority is divinely instituted. So generally, to reject their authority is to reject God’s authority. Now, of course there are times for civil disobedience. When Daniel is told by the governing authorities not to pray he responds by doing what he has always done, opening his shutters, bowing toward Jerusalem and praying. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are commanded to bow to an idol representing the Babylonian worship of their Emperor and they refuse, which ends with them being thrown into and divinely rescued from the fiery furnace. In Acts 4, the rulers of the Jews tell Peter and John to stop preaching the resurrection and they respond by stating, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” In other words, when the Government tells us that we may not pursue our relationship to God, or that we must stop proclaiming Christ, or that we must begin doing things that would cause disobedience to God, our response must be to obey God first. Yet, in these cases the application is fairly narrow and people do so knowing the potential consequences. We also have cases where the people of God participate in acts of civil disobedience to protect the rights of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. We find Moses standing before Pharaoh telling him to let God’s people go, Elijah confronting Ahab and Jezebel about their idolatry and awful treatment of the marginalized, and Jeremiah speaking as God’s prophet to the king about his failure to care about weighted and dishonest scales. But when standing for rights, it is the defense of the rights of others that leads to civil disobedience in the Scriptures, and not the defending of their own. With this being said though, the default posture commanded in Scripture is for the believer in Christ to live in obedience to the rulers and laws of the state. Furthermore, this obedience is actually an indication of our trust in God as King and an acknowledgment of His sovereignty over rulers and nations. Therefore, we must avoid any posturing that claims that we will obey laws if we like them and support the ruler who gave them. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he includes the paying of taxes as a part of this obedience to the government. And, as I mentioned before, this is paying taxes to Rome, or as Jews saw it, ,the evil empire. The command to pay taxes is also echoed by Jesus when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” As believers in Jesus we must reject the idea of submitting to the authority of the leaders with whom we agree while rejecting the authority of rulers for whom we did not vote. When Trump was elected four years ago I started seeing bumper stickers that said, “Not my President.” Let me say that I firmly believe that this sort of rhetoric should never be in the mouth (or on a t-shirt or bumper) of a Christ follower, because the rejection of this authority is actually a denial of His ultimate sovereign authority.
- Pursue love of neighbor, the unity of the Body, and the advance of the Gospel as ultimate – Our ultimate desire for Presidents and leaders should be that someone close to them would actually share the Gospel with them, and that they would hear the message of Jesus, repent of sin, and trust in Christ. But it is hard to see this ultimate goal when our posture toward a mere human being is a form of hero worship or a vitriolic despising of the person. We are commanded to love our neighbor and hope the best for them. If a Democratic leaning believer speaks of a Republican President in a way that fails to honor the image of God in the person, it is going to be very difficult for that person to then share the Gospel with a neighbor who leans Republican. Tomorrow morning (or maybe sometime in the next few weeks) there are going to be winners and losers in the political moment. If those on the winning side choose to gloat, and to marginalize the fear and pain of those who lean to the other side it has the great potential to harm our witness and created division in the church. And if those who lose demonize those who win it can lead to a counter response of anger and hatred closing the door to sharing Jesus with them. No matter who wins this election, the posture of Jesus loving Kingdom people must be one of humble trust in God and love of neighbor. Trust in God means that if the person for whom I voted for wins I give thanks but feel the pain of those who disagree. And if the person whom I voted for loses I release that into the hands of God and trust in His sovereignty. Then, in great care I respond to others in deep love and humility. And we must never forget that the main thing, the “Big E on the eye chart” is the unity of believers and the advance of the Gospel.
Today we vote, and tonight we will watch to discover the outcome. Yet voting is not the most significant thing that will happen this week. What I say here may be the most important thing in this whole series, our vote today is not any where near the most important thing that will happen in this country this week. Far outweighing our vote is the way those who have trusted in Jesus honor Him as King in their lives. Our time together as God’s church on Sunday far outweighs the importance of our moment at a poll. The way we love our neighbor is eternally more important than the political party who tend to support. An opportunity to share the love of God in the Gospel of Jesus will be infinitely more valuable than any policy decision made by even the President. Think about it, the angels in heaven could care less about who wins this election. Yet those same angels throw a party rejoicing when one person comes to faith in Christ (Luke 15:10). So we must be careful to sell out the eternal for the momentary. As you read all of these texts that teach us how we are to respond to those in government realize that this is the ultimate goal. Those are the most important things that happen in our culture, far more important than any political vote or policy.
So I end this series where I started. with a reminder that in Jesus we find a True and Better King. No matter what happens today, His Kingdom cannot be thwarted and His benevolent reign of His people will advance. So I close this series with Isaiah’s prophetic promise of this coming King. He speaks to God’s people in a time of great political turmoil, and Isaiah too rests his hope on this King. So after you vote read these words, and be thankful that this King has come, and that this King in His grace has saves you!
 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (ESV)