29 January 2021
Government is good. That’s not to say that everything every government does is good. Of course not. We know that. But government itself is good. It’s a gift from God.
That seems pretty clear from Romans chapter 13. Three times we’re told that the authorities are “God’s servants”. They may not realise they’re serving God, but that’s what they’re doing! They’re there, says Paul, “for your good” and “to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”, and they “give their full time to governing.” We only have to consider what it would be like to have no government at all, or a government which is totally corrupt and beyond the rule of law, to realise how good government is. Another three times we hear that the authorities are “established” or “instituted” by God, even that “there is no authority except that which God has established.” God put them in authority, all of them.
That doesn’t mean we should never question or criticise what governments say or do. It doesn’t mean we should never vote for another government. And if the authorities should command what God forbids, or forbid what God commands, then we have a responsibility, as Peter and the other apostles once said, “to obey God rather than human beings.” Nevertheless, Christian believers will, or should, have a basic disposition to “be subject to the governing authorities.” If only those governments which are persecuting Christians would realise this, that they’re not a threat to the well-being of their nation.
When the UK government closed churches in the first lockdown, some churches refused to comply, fearing an anti-Christian conspiracy, saying the state had no right to tell churches what to do. Yet there’s no evidence that either Christians or churches were being targeted. Government wasn’t acting to stop Christians meeting together. They were acting to stop the spread of a deadly virus. They were acting for everyone’s good as they saw it. Whether it was the best way to do it is another question.
There has perhaps never been an age which is as suspicious of, and resistant to, authority as ours is: “No one tells me what to do.” That is, we want to be in government, in authority. Just think of how we look to see how far we can push the lockdown restrictions, while criticising others for doing so! As one friend put it, we’ve all become Pharisees, able to justify what we want to do, while quick to find fault with others.
Father, we thank you for the blessing of government, especially good government. Help them to do their job well, and help us to make their job easier. Amen.
Chris Hobbs (Senior Minister)