You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.
~ Acts 23:5
Our new memory verse is one that a lot of people really love to ignore. Churches do not generally teach it; I'm not sure I have ever heard a sermon about it. Yet, it appears without any qualification in both the Old and New Testaments, and it could not be any clearer. God has commanded us not to say insulting things about the leadership of the country in which we happen to find ourselves.
This is a bitter pill for anyone who, while professing faith in Christ, seeks salvation in human politics. A person of strong political opinions will, roughly half the time, be heatedly opposed to the President, Prime Minister, King, Emperor, High Priest, or whatever other title is given to the paramount leader of his or her nation. Moreover, we have lesser officials — in the U.S., we have state governors, mayors, Congressmen, etc. — to whom this stricture also seems to apply. (It does become a bit hazy when a lower-level leader is involved, but when we fully understand this and similar verses, they seem to apply to all secular government. Remember, Jesus twice paid coinage to a tax collector. Also, a thorough study of the Greek would indicate that “ruler” applies to lower-level officials with executive powers.)
The broader principle is better known: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1) The most powerful demonstration of this principle in the Bible, and perhaps all of history, was given to us by Christ. There are many dimensions, and more important ones, to the passion of Christ. But part of His story involves subjecting Himself to the authority of both Rome and the Sanhedrin, to the point of allowing them to execute Him, unfairly and contrary to their own laws.
To subject oneself to the secular state means simply this: They have no power over us. They can take our property, take our physical freedom, punish us and even kill us, but they cannot hurt us. If we “hate” the things of this world and love God, if we serve God and not Mammon, we demonstrate that our soul is more important than our body. We show ourselves, and the world, that our treasure lies in heaven and that we have absolute confidence in our resurrection and redemption.
Rejection of political action is a theme that runs throughout the New Testament. To seek salvation by the Law of Moses is to seek salvation by essentially political action. The primary subject of the Law was not an individual, but Israel. When the ruler and the people disregarded the Law, God would punish the entire nation. The primary subject of life in Christ, on the other hand, is very different. It demands personal obedience to Christ’s teachings and the spreading of the Gospel. God will destroy the earth, and all the nations therein; there is no salvation in a country.
With the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the temple of God became the body of Christ; and the body of Christ includes all people who confess His name. “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.” (Acts 17:24) “Do you not know that you (plural) are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16)
Our citizenship is in Heaven, not a nation of earth. (Phil. 3:20) You cannot serve two Masters. (Luke 16:13) Politics is a means by which we seek to compel others to do what we want. It bespeaks a love of the world and, thus, service to Mammon, no matter how praiseworthy we believe that the law we seek to compel others to follow might be. At no time did Christ try to become, or command or even allow his disciples to become, powerful wordily leaders. When Jesus thought a crowd wanted to make Him a political king, he fled. (John 6:15)
There is no surer way to drive others away from Christ, than to mix Him together with a political party. “[W]hat fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
And so, the Bible commands us simply to live within the laws of whatever city and nation we live in, to pay whatever taxes they demand, and not to curse the government. Not because they are right or good, but because entangling ourselves in political controversy undermines our Great Commission, to bring Christ to all people and all nations.
One final word on this, from Richard Baxter: “Is it not enough that all the world is against us, but we must also be against one another? O happy days of persecution, which drove us together in love, whom the sunshine of liberty and prosperity crumbles into dust by our contentions!”
Lord, give me the wisdom to be at peace with an evil world, that I may serve you better. Amen.
~ Mason Barge
Editor, Daily Prayer