Written by 5:47 pm Blog, Longer Teachings

Fear God; Honor Biden?

I’m purposefully unpolitical in most of my writings. Years ago, I decided that being another political voice wouldn’t substantially change anyone’s mind on anything. There are many more informed, better-known voices who are saying essentially what I would say with their larger platforms. Also, the last thing the church needs is one more pastor leveraging what platform he has for political rants.

With that said, this teaching will be about as close to politics as I’ll probably get.  Since this is a presidential election year, it’s an appropriate discussion. I sense that at this moment, the church needs yet another reminder of the who, what, and how of government according to the Scriptures. Let’s begin with definitions. How does God’s Word define government? The Bible isn’t like a dictionary, nor does it contain a glossary of terms. It’s a narrative. As such, to understand what the LORD says about government, you have to read the story. But, for the first step, let’s begin with a dictionary definition of government.

Definitions

Government is a compound word, made up of the word govern and the suffix ment.

Govern: to exercise continuous sovereign authority over (full definition).

-ment: concrete means or instrument of a (specified) action (full definition).

Those definitions will suffice. Government, then, is the means or instrument by which continuous sovereign authority is exercised. I hope one of the first things you notice about this definition is that it is amoral. That’s important because my first point is this: the institution of government is not evil by nature.

Of course, you (and I) object! All government is corrupt; all government is wicked! What about the LORD’s government? Remember this oft-cited passage?

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
– Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV, emphasis added)

So, it seems that governments can be righteous. The deciding factor(s) would be those who embody the institutions. We know, because of  Romans 14:1, that all authority is instituted by God. Hopefully, this should keep our knee-jerk notions that the institution of government is innately wicked in check.

Why Government Breaks

Human history tells one consistent story about government: It always breaks. The institution always becomes corrupt despite being instituted by the LORD. This failure happens for two primary reasons. First, so far, all governments have been embodied by sinful humans. Regardless of the form a given government may take, the people who lead it are broken sinners with myriad personal issues that inevitably leech into their decision-making processes.

Sinful Men

King David, Israel’s most beloved king, was no different. He allowed his lust entice him to adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, Uriah, and a cover-up marriage to hide the truth of her pregnancy. From that moment in his life, King David’s sin led to more upheaval and tragedy (2 Samuel 12:10). When his firstborn son Amnon raped Tamar, his half-sister he was angry, but did nothing (2 Samuel 13:21). David’s inaction vexed his son Absalom, Tamar’s brother. Absalom took matters into his own hands and had Amnon killed (2 Samuel 13:28-29). But that wasn’t the end. King David refused to speak to Absalom for two years (2 Samuel 14:28), which seemed only to embitter Absalom against his father. This led to Absalom’s conspiracy against David (2 Samuel 15:6) and he took the throne from David (2 Samuel 16:15-16). I’ll stop there. King David does regain his throne, but at the cost of Absalom’s life. If David had obeyed the law of Moses, Amnon would’ve been killed (Deuteronomy 22:25), but he broke the law, and a multitude of consequences followed. All that was to say this. Even the most God-fearing, righteous individuals will succumb to their own temptations and lead from selfish desire for selfish purposes.

However, the broken people who embody the government aren’t the only reason it breaks. God puts the high institutions of government in place for our good (Romans 13:1-5), but through our sinful natures something else happens. Or I should say, someone else happens. Governments, no matter how well they may start, inevitably come beneath the influence of those whom Paul calls, the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). How can we know this? We get glimpses of this from a curious passage in the book of Daniel.

Spiritual Princes

10 And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”
– Daniel 10:10-13 (ESV)

These princes are the same entities Paul had in mind. Later this same angelic figure mentions the prince of Greece (Daniel 10:20). So it seems that the nations of Persia and Greece were beneath the influence of powerful spiritual beings. They were so powerful, that this messenger from the LORD needed the help of Michael, one of the chief princes, to prevail. The question that likely follows is this: where did these princes come from and how did they gain authority over nations? The first answer is easy. They are among those who rebelled against the LORD. The second answer is slightly more complex. To learn this, we have to go way back to Babel.

The Tower of Babel is one of the better known stories from the Hebrew Bible, found in Genesis 11:1-9. This was after the flood, but before Abraham. Following the genealogies, Babel happened in the fifth generation after the flood, and five generations before Abraham. The character of Peleg is key to knowing the timing, for in his day the earth was divided (Genesis 10:25). Shem, Noah’s son, was Peleg’s great-great-great grandfather, and Peleg was Abraham’s great-great-great grandfather. Babel is the event where the earth was divided. As the story goes, the whole earth spoke one language, and the people decided to build a city with a tower that would reach the heavens (Genesis 11:4). The LORD saw what they were doing. This was disobedience against what He had commanded mankind to do. God had told Noah and his family to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). But they disobeyed and gathered to one place to build a city and a tower for their namesake. His punishment, according to Genesis 11:7-8 was that He confused their language and spread them out across the earth.

But that’s not all. Deuteronomy 32:8 tells the rest of the story.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
– Deuteronomy 32:8 (ESV, emphasis added)

God gave each new people group formed at Babel over to a son of God. I understand that some translations say sons of Israel, but ESV chose sons of God because it is found in the oldest manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint. These would be the same sons of God mentioned in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:4-7. And these sons of God who influenced their respective nations became corrupt and rebelled (Psalm 82:6-7).  Fast forward, then, from Deuteronomy to Daniel and you now have a biblical rationale for the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece. Paul’s reference to the rulers of this age in 1 Corinthians 2:8 and his list of titles in Ephesians 6:12 are parallels to the Old Testament sons of God who rebelled and led their nations into idolatry.

These spiritual princes influence their nations into all kinds of rebellion against the LORD and they do so by influencing government. This isn’t to say that all Presidents, all Congressmen, all Senators, and all Judges are demonized by these princes because there are believers in Jesus Christ who serve in within the government in these positions. But the systems and institutions as a whole are subject to the sway of the spiritual princes, and the degree of their sway is completely proportional to the commitment to the LORD of the men and women who embody the institutions.

We’re All Babylon

It’s no coincidence that what started at Babel evolved into what became Babylon. And Babylon becomes the ultimate symbol for all human government. All government eventually does what the people of Babel did: defy the LORD’s command, make their own plans, and seek their own glory. Even ours. Why? Because it’s embodied by broken, sinful people, and influenced by rebelling spiritual princes. The final human governmental system before Christ’s return is characterized as Babylon.

“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
3 For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
– Revelation 18:2-3 (ESV)

Every government becomes a manifestation of Babylon, but this final one earned its name. All of the nations of the earth turned to her and partook in her immorality and lived luxuriously because of her. And who leads this final Babylon? None other than the man of lawlessness himself (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), influenced by the Dragon himself. Nothing changes. Human government always fails, and one day it will fail utterly and spectacularly, inviting the man of lawlessness to lead her who is empowered by the Dragon – Satan – himself. Look.

1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”
– Revelation 13:1-4 (ESV, emphasis added)

So, here we are. This is where things are headed, whether we are experiencing this now is yet to be seen. Rome was a manifestation of Babylon. The United States of America is a manifestation of Babylon. Australia is a manifestation of Babylon. The Russian Federation is a manifestation of Babylon. Even the nice Canadians to our north are a kind of Babylon. Whether any of us will become the final and ultimate Babylon is yet to be seen, but it will happen. We are all beneath the leadership of broken sinful human leaders, and rebelling spiritual princes.

Fear God, Honor the Emperor

17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
– 1 Peter 2:17 (ESV)

Knowing all of this, Peter’s words seem curious. Honor everyone? I’ll try. Love the brotherhood? Got it. Fear God? Of course. But honor the emperor? Why? Let’s go back to Babel. In the Biblical narrative, what happened after Babel? It was Genesis 12, the calling of Abraham (Abram). Though the LORD handed humanity over to other authorities, he took one family for Himself. He called Abraham, from whom comes Israel. Look back at Deuteronomy again, but this time 32:9.

9 But the LORD’S portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
– Deuteronomy 32:9 (ESV)

In 32:8, we see the allotment of humanity to the sons of God, but in verse 9 comes God’s plan of redemption. He called Abraham unto Himself and from Him brought Jacob – Israel. This also gives some context to the role of Michael in Daniel 10. Michael faithfully served the LORD as Israel’s prince. He was not in rebellion as the other sons of God were. He fought for Israel. The messenger who spoke with Daniel said that there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince (Daniel 10:21b). Through Israel, God brings the Messiah, Jesus, who is the Father’s unique Son (John 3:16), who died for the sins of the world so that people may receive forgiveness for sins and redemption. Through Him, Jesus, what happened at Babel is being undone. Redemption is offered to all people and every tribe, every nation, and every tongue can join Him in the new humanity.

The new humanity has a higher citizenship in Zion (Hebrews 12:22-24), but we also live here on earth among every nation, citizens of those nations as well. So, when Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about paying taxes to the Romans, he responded with this dual-citizenship in mind.

17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.
– Mark 12:17 (ESV)

Dual-citizenship is the best descriptor I can come up with. While I understand that Peter also describes us as strangers and exiles (1 Peter 2:11) non-citizens owe no particular honor to leaders. But if I am both a citizen of Zion and the United States of America, then honor is due both, but in order. Heavenly citizenship trumps earthly citizenship, always. I can honor the emperor, but like Daniel, I will not dishonor the LORD in doing so. Daniel showed us how to honor the emperor even in disagreement and civil disobedience. So we are strangers and exiles in the sense that we don’t participate in the sinful passions of the flesh as unbelievers do, but we are dual-citizens, whose home country of Zion has first allegiance. We can and must both fear God and honor the emperor.

How?

The spiritual nature of this can get lost in taxes, elections, Supreme Court hearings, and the like. Scandals, corruption, and dishonesty seem very human. But the big picture zooms out to a large-scale spiritual conflict. The Kingdom of God is populated among every nation on the earth, and our job is to spread the Gospel, live Christ-like lives, and obey every law that doesn’t come into conflict with our citizenship in Zion. One person doing this seems insignificant. But if the estimated 210 million (63% of the population) professing Christians in America (Pew) became serious about their faith and did these things, that would be a seismic event on the landscape of American spirituality. Of course, realistically, this won’t happen. But if twelve Apostles turned the Roman Empire upside down, I remain optimistic.

As long as we walk in the light with Jesus, live out our Kingdom citizenship, and also live out our earthly citizenship, a strange thing happens. The nation where you reside may well be influenced by spiritual princes and led by corrupt men and women, but your loyalty to the LORD will grant you immunity to their sway. I’m not saying you won’t go to jail for Jesus, or you won’t be harmed by the enemies of the cross. That may happen. It indeed does happen in many places. But the strange thing is none of the enemy’s efforts will halt the advance of God’s Kingdom. Even if you’re imprisoned, harmed, or even killed for your loyalty to Jesus, the kingdom will grow despite the opposition.

What shall we do? Yes, pay your taxes. Honor the emperor. Don’t speak ill of our leaders publicly, but give them – at least – the honor of your silence if you cannot speak respectfully. Instead, pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Then, if following Jesus puts you in the crosshairs of the government, like Daniel, accept the consequences and trust the LORD. He will defend you, in life or in death. This is how the kingdom of God advances despite the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. It is the ordinary faithfulness of believers, walking in the light, filled with the Holy Spirit, who see the kingdom advance inch by inch and mile by mile.

Whether you believe your vote counts or not, be a faithful citizen of heaven and earth and participate in every way that God has instituted for us to do so. It’s how we rise above corrupt leaders and rebelling princes. This is how we fear God: participating in every way that He has made available. We trust that the foolishness of things like voting will somehow be a part of His purposes and plans. Therefore, for Americans and any other nation where voting is an institution, not voting is an exercise of unbelief.

Fear God, honor the emperor. There is a sanctifying work that needs to happen in the Church. We need to kill the unbelief that leads to cynicism. When we do that, perhaps then we might see great things happen that expand the Kingdom in ways we may have never anticipated.

 

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Last modified: May 23, 2024
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