God’s Plan for Human Government
“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.” (Romans 13:1-6 ESV)
What is human government? God’s common grace for the organization of human society. Government is not man’s idea. Government is God’s created purpose for organizing humanity.
Oversee human society
“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.” (Romans 13:1)
Paul doesn’t say, government is of the devil, or human government isn’t God’s will, or governmentless society is God’s ideal. No. He affirms the rightful place of governing authorities in human society. There are some people who resent government implicitly and have a utopic vision of no oversight or societal organization at all. Remember that the darkest days in Israel’s history were when there was no king and everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). Human government was God’s will for human society from the beginning.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28).
There is hierarchy and authority on earth before sin. Before the Fall. Of course, we see hierarchy in the Triune God himself with God the son rejoicing in his submission to God the Father. This authority structure is implanted by the Creator in every realm of the created order. Humans in creation. Humans in marriage. Humans in family. Humans in church community. There is governance and this is not inherently bad but inherently good. God called all his creation very good. It was pointed out to me recently that even among the sinless and perfect angels there is hierarchy and levels of authority.
We take from this that even if Adam and Eve had never sinned, there would be human government; a different kind and quality of government with God as universal king and shorter lines at the BMV.
Government itself is good. It is God’s common grace for the organizing of human society. It provides structure for the orderly functioning of people, families, and nations.
Paul adds that this governing authority is authority granted by God himself. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) Some of you are like, you mean good politicians, you know the ones that agree with me. No. All authority including the bad ones like the Emperor Domitian who was the corrupt emperor at the time Paul wrote this. He and his successor Nero were maniac Christianity-hating emperors. Yet Paul says, submit to the authorities and Peter writes, “Honor the Emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)
All governing authority is a delegated earthly authority from God’s divine authority. This is not to say God is the source of evil abuse of power or anything evil at all. Rather, governance in human society is a structure God established and continues to deputize.
Promote good in human society
“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.” (Rom. 13:3-4)
This is a hard truth for some of us to swallow as the old adage mocks, “Hi. I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” Sure you are. But that is government NOT the way it’s supposed to be. How is it supposed to be? “He is God’s servant for your good.” A biblical government seeks to do good for its citizens, “approving what is good.” Human government has many ways to promote human flourishing by incentivizing, or what Paul calls here “approving,” that which is morally and civically good. Human flourishing includes liberty and freedom, healthy marriages, families, successful parenting, and a thousand other ways government can promote good. How to go about that is a subject of much heated debate. We simply note that government by God’s design is to be a help, not a hurt.
Isn’t it wonderful that government is overseeing the food chain and making sure fruits and vegetables go from the farm to our tables safely? I call that good. Aren’t we glad that government is protecting us with military and anti-terrorism and NSA to keep at bay people who would otherwise destroy us? I call that good. Aren’t we thankful for oversight of monetary systems and commerce that affect our jobs and how we buy and sell? I call that good. In these, and innumerable other ways that we so often take for granted, government is functioning as God intended to allow human survival and flourishing.
Friends, the existence of government is not the problem. The sinful human beings actually doing the governing are the problem and always will be until King Jesus rules the earth. So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is much to rightly criticize about government, but we mustn’t criticize the existence of government for this is God’s will for human society and will be forever.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here