The Perils of a Strong National Government

Capitol Building

The President just signed health care reform legislation that will greatly expand the power of the federal government. In this article, I do not intend to praise or condemn this new set of laws and regulations. This is not a political article at all. Instead, I want to use the Bible to address the potential impact of a powerful, centralized government on our lives as Christians.

The word of God contains warnings of the dangers that are presented by a strong national government. It also contains teachings that will help us deal with this. Currently in our country, an expanding government is a reality. Let us turn to God’s word for wisdom and instruction in dealing with this present condition.

The Manner of a King

In the days of Samuel as he acted as judge over of Israel, the people came to him and demanded, “Give us a king to judge us” (1 Samuel 8:5). This displeased Samuel, but it was not until after he received counsel from the Lord that he warned the people of the perils of having a king. It should not be surprising that perils would exist. After all, their demanding of a king amounted to a rejection of God and His rule (1 Samuel 8:7). Problems always arise when people follow a different path from the one God shows them. This is the warning Samuel delivered from God to the people:

This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers.

He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

The people were only thinking of the perceived benefits of having a king: “Our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). A king could do that, but he would not necessarily do so. Yet what every king would have to do, regardless of whether he was a good or bad king, was take from the people – take their sons, take their daughters, take their servants, take their property and their resources – with the result being that the people ultimately would be enslaved to the king. The reality was that he would be more than a judge and military leader, he would be their master and the people would be his servants.

After warning about this centralization of power and authority under someone other than God, Samuel told the people: “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18). Once a king was in place, it would be too late to change back to the state they were in prior to this. They would have to deal with a new reality.

As our government grows and becomes more powerful, we may reach a point in which we will not be able to go back to the life we knew before. We will have to deal with that new reality. With the Bible as our guide, we can face whatever may be in our future.

The Divinely Ordained Role of Civil Government

The children of Israel were going to face hardship under a king because a king was a rejection of God’s plan. God was to be their king. Instead, they wanted a human king so they could be “like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:20). We live in a different time today. While human government was initially established by man as a rebellion against God, He is able to use civil authorities for His purpose. Therefore, He has ordained civil government with certain roles:

  • Punish evildoers – “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. […] But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:3-4). This is one of the fundamental roles that God has given to government – to punish those who do evil.
  • Protect the innocent – Related to the punishment of evildoers, the government is also to protect citizens from being harmed by others. In outlining the role of punishing evil, Paul wrote that government is “a minister of God to you for good” (Romans 13:4). Authorities are to punish criminals and protect the rest of the population from such individuals.
  • Provide and maintain a free environment – Paul told Timothy that prayers were to be made for those in authority “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). This is what God intends for government to do. They are to allow people to have the freedom to serve God and carry out their daily responsibilities without being harassed or hindered by the authorities or any other group.

Man has lots of ideas for government beyond these roles. But no matter what government does, these roles should take precedence. Why? These are the divinely ordained roles of civil government. Israel rejected God’s plan in demanding a king and would face negative consequences for it. In the same way, there will be negative consequences that will naturally follow when government neglects the role God has given by focusing on other things. The further a government moves away from these roles, the more negative consequences there will be. Naturally, a national government will affect a far greater number of people than a local government.

What Should We Expect as the Government Becomes More Powerful?

Just as there were consequences for a strong national government in Samuel’s day, there are consequences today. We must be prepared for them.

Expect less freedom – We have been greatly blessed to live in a free society in this country. Even with the changes that are taking place, we still have more liberty than many people around the world. But as the government grows in power, we will lose more of our freedom. This is just a reality that we must prepare for as the civil authorities assume more control over our lives. Some losses of freedom may seem inconsequential, while others that relate to our families or our service to God will be much more significant.

Expect higher taxes – As the government grows, its need for revenue also increases. This money needs to come from somewhere. In our country, expect this increase in government revenue to come from higher taxes. As taxes increase, we will still have two responsibilities that will not change – we must continue to pay our taxes (Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:7), and we must still provide for our own (1 Timothy 5:8).

But how can we continue to provide for our own if our taxes keep going up? First, we must be prepared to work harder. Notice Paul’s example to the brethren in Thessalonica: “We kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example” (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). What do we learn from Paul’s example? When times are hard, we must work harder.

We also must be prepared to live with less. We may not enjoy the standard of living to which we have become accustomed, but we can manage. Paul wrote, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). Contentment is going to be a very important attitude going into the future.

Expect persecution – It should not surprise us that persecution will come from governing authorities as they grow more powerful. Those who set themselves up as “god” will persecute believers of the one true God. Persecution is a reality for Christians anyway (2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12, 16), and it is often worst when the source is government. Since the church was established in the first century, severe persecution is often the work of the civil authorities.

Do not be caught off guard by this. Instead, be ready for it and do not be intimidated. The second time Peter and John were brought before the Council, they were told: “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Were they intimidated? Not at all. They simply answered, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29). One day the government may try to stop you from serving God, assembling with fellow Christians, or teaching the gospel to others. When this happens, do not be afraid. Peter later wrote, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed, ‘And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled’” (1 Peter 3:14).

What Do We Need to Do?

Knowing what we can expect as government becomes more powerful, what are we to do? The Bible helps us answer this question as well.

Be subject to civil authorities – Paul told the Romans, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1). Likewise, Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). Peter went on to say that even though we submit to civil authorities, we are “free men” (1 Peter 2:16). But one of the reasons we submit is so that we do not cause a hindrance to the gospel: “For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:15). As long as obedience to the government does not cause us to disobey God (Acts 5:29), we must be subject, no matter how powerful the civil authorities become.

Pray for those in power – Paul urged that prayers be made “for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). Notice that Paul did not say we are necessarily to pray for our leaders to have a long life or success in their political pursuits. In some cases, those may be fine; but what is more important is that they allow people the freedom to live a “tranquil and quiet life.” Paul said, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). A government that allows its people to be free makes the spread and practice of the gospel easier. Powerful, oppressive governments cause a hindrance to the preaching of God’s saving word.

Take care of yourself – We need to do what we can to take care of ourselves, rather than being “a burden to any” (2 Thessalonians 3:8). If at all possible, we must provide for ourselves. Paul wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Notice that he talked about willingness. If one is unable to care for himself, it should be expected that others step in to help. But if we are able to provide for ourselves, even if it means “working night and day” (2 Thessalonians 3:8), we need to do so. Paul explained the seriousness of this responsibility to Timothy: “If anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).

Be willing to help others – We also need to be willing to help those in need. Again, this will take extra work on our part. Paul wrote, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). Do not think that you are relieved of your responsibility to help the needy simply because the government endeavors to do so. There will still be people in need, even with the government expanding its powers to deal with the problem. It should not surprise us that a big government fails to do what it promises. The wise man noted, “If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them” (Ecclesiastes 5:8). The huge bureaucracy put in place to solve these problems will be too inefficient to do so. While the government is busy helping those who do not need or deserve help, we need to do what we can to help those who are truly in need.

Conclusion

As the federal government in our country becomes more and more powerful, we must face these new challenges in the way that God expects. However, we should also remember that no matter how strong a government might be, eventually it will fall (Proverbs 27:24). There is only one kingdom that endures forever (Daniel 2:44). That is God’s kingdom.

Jesus said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We must remember that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). No matter what happens in this country, we “desire a better country” (Hebrews 11:16).

As Christians, our king is Jesus Christ. No human ruler will ever surpass Him in providing mercy, justice, benevolence, or hope. Nor is there anyone more deserving of our trust and allegiance than He is. Remember the role of government. Remember your role to government. Most importantly, remember your need to serve Him who is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).


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