The Bible frequently warns about a Christian’s attitude towards government. In an age of outrage, we need to think seriously about what the Bible commands.
While some political positions (e.g. pro-life) are Biblical positions, we should not be hypersensitive about issues that Christians may reasonably disagree on; for example, policies on immigration or opinions about the Second Amendment. Political convictions that are not checked by God’s revealed expectations for our attitude towards government is likely to create a climate in our churches which is more Republican than Christian. Whether it’s Donald Trump or another elected official, Democrat or Republican, we are called to take the high road in our attitudes and actions. Before you insult the government, keep in mind what the Bible commands.
Christians should be very careful about political entanglements which breed resentful attitudes or isolate them from others in this deeply polarized age.
Submit (1 Peter 2:13-14; Romans 13:1-2; Titus 3:1)
In 1 Peter 2:13-14, we are called to “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.” Romans 13:1-2 is clear: “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.”
The “subjection” required of citizens is the same subjection that is expected of wives to their husbands (1 Peter 3:1) and servants to their masters (1 Peter 2:18). This means that we should not undermine the authority of the government or malign government officials, however ardently we disagree with their policies. Husbands should not expect their wives to have a better attitude towards them than they have for their congressmen.
The church should not be a breeding ground for political rabble. Elders are charged to “remind” their flock “to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). Politically-charged ramblings during testimony time or government-maligning prayer requests should be confronted as sinful.
Of course, our submission to government has the same caveat as a wife’s submission to her husband: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). As a normal rule, we should advocate for Biblical principles within the boundaries of the law and exercise our rights insofar as they advance the gospel; but, when the law forbids that which God commands, we should be faithful to God and our conscience, insofar as our conscience is biblically informed.
Respect (1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13:7)
The Bible also calls us to respect government officials. 1 Peter 2:17 tells us to “honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” The word translated as “honor” literally means “to hold in high regard.” Peter was writing to Christians living under Nero, one of the most cruel and tyrannical emperors in Roman history. Even secular historians characterize him as a persecutor of Christians. When we insist that we could never honor Donald Trump, Barack Obama, or another elected official, we are disobeying the Bible.
The key to honoring an elected official is that we do it “for the Lord’s sake,” in consideration of the official’s status as a fellow image-of-God bearer, and with respect for the office the person holds. We do not think about Trump as “Donald Trump, golf-course owner,” because he holds a much more significant title: “Donald Trump, President of the United States.” Christians need to be aware of an even higher status: “Donald Trump, image-bearer and lost soul in need of Christ.”
Romans 13:7 tells us to “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.” God is clear in His Word that honor is owed to elected officials. When we refuse to honor or respect them, it is just as dishonoring and disrespectful to God as if we did not pay our taxes or flippantly broke the laws of the land in which we live.
We often say things about elected officials—or harbor attitudes towards them—which we would never condone if spoken against someone in our church or community. This is why Peter says we are to “honor everyone…honor the emperor.” The courteousness and kindness we extend to the government should certainly be no less than we extend to our average fellowman when face-to-face with him.
Because government officials are so far removed from where we live, it is easy to be harsh and critical. Unless it had a direct bearing on the truth, Jesus never publicly (or privately) disdained, disregarded, or disrespected a public official. Before we can testify to Christlikeness, our attitude towards government must be renewed.
Pray (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Finally, our submission and respect should be bathed with prayer. If we are more concerned with crushing a person’s policies than bringing him or her to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, we do not have the heart of God, “who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). “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” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Darius agreed to Ezra’s request for God’s people to return to Jerusalem “that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons” (Ezra 6:10). Can elected officials count on the prayers and support of God’s people insofar as their policies are not contrary to the Word of God?
Christians should be very careful about political entanglements which breed resentful attitudes or isolate them from others in this deeply polarized age. Indiscriminately joining the rabble on Facebook and Twitter is not “putting to silence the ignorance of foolish people” by doing good and submitting to every human institution (1 Peter 2:15). It merely contributes to the noxious clamor and makes us no better than the common fool. We should first retire to our prayer closet, then post/tweet/comment carefully—or not at all.