As we approach Inauguration Day, you and your children may be having regular conversations about the outcome of the elections, how leaders are chosen, and how Christians should respond to leaders who do not value God’s commands. The Bible should always guide our responses to the major events in our lives. However, our world often appears differently from the way it did in Bible times.
In Bible times, when leaders were often born into their roles, it was easy to see how God chose leaders. In a democracy, the people choose our leaders. Certainly God remains sovereign over all the choices of man, but is it possible that God intended for us to have a better leader but allowed the people to choose a worse leader? Are our current leaders not the leaders He chose for us? How should we as Christians respond to earthly leadership?
The Source of All Earthly Power
While the Bible doesn’t mention democracy as a form of government when it talks about rulers and where their power comes from, it does say that wherever the powerful seem to get their power, that power comes from God (Psalm 75:6–7). In Romans 13, Paul establishes that the whole idea of government, and those that make up government, is instituted by God: “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1b). Governments exist and have authority because God has willed it to be so.
The Response to Divinely Sanctioned Authority
Paul goes on to teach that, because government is from God, the authority of government officials is sanctioned by God. “Wherefore (because the powers that be are ordained of God) ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake” Romans 13:5. If we disobey government, we also disobey God. We can’t say that God has not chosen our leaders in order to justify disobedience to the government. Rather, we are to “render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour” (Romans 13:7). We don’t just give taxes, but also honor and obedience.
The Only Reason for Disobedience
Since all people are sinners, earthly governments and the people that make up governments are broken. Secular leaders often choose to hinder the spread of the gospel and the teaching of God’s truth, and the persecution of Christians may come at the hands of governments. Christians must continue to follow God’s commands, no matter the demands of the government they are under. In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin command Peter and the apostles to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus. But they respond with “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). So long as our governments allow us to continue following God’s commands, we should honor and obey them. If our government prevents us from following His commands, then we must follow God’s commands, even if it means government consequences and punishments.
The Testimony of Obedience
It may be tempting to think that we can better support and advance God’s purposes in the world by constantly declaring every way that our government and leaders are wrong. But being disagreeable doesn’t change minds. Instead, Peter tells us that we should submit to our government in order to have a good testimony before a lost world. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13–15). We do kingdom work as we humbly submit ourselves to our government for the Lord’s sake.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgements, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:33–34). The ways of the Lord are matchless and mysterious and often beyond our understanding. In His love, grace, and power, He may choose good leaders or bad leaders for us. He may use our earthly leadership for punishment or for blessing, and we could not fathom His purposes. After all, if God had not put a man who chose to please the crowds in charge of Jerusalem, would Pilate have given over an innocent man to certain death? We might not guess God’s intentions, but we can know that He has chosen each of our rulers.