The Church and the State for the Glory of God | Part 1

Titus 3:1-2  Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.



There have been three events of political significance in my life. First, I was allowed to skip school to attend an Al Gore campaign rally (when he was running as Bill Clinton’s vice president) back in the early 90s. It was significant because I was allowed to skip school and because Bill Clinton had been on MTV, thus asserting himself as the cool candidate—which was the single qualification needed to get my vote as a non-Christian teenager.

The second event of political significance in my life took place in an undergraduate classroom. I was a political science major sitting in a political science class. The professor boldly declared to all of us that our vote didn’t really count for anything. As evidence for his point he asked us if any of us had ever heard of an election that was decided by a single vote. Of course none of us had. He further argued that the Law of Averages dictated that in any given election (especially national elections) the number of people who vote doesn’t matter, only the percentage of people who would vote for a particular candidate. I found his reasoning to be sound. This was significant because it kept me from voting or having any political involvement for over a decade.

The third event of political significance happened while I was driving in the mid 2000s. I happened to be listening to a local Christian radio station while driving. In between songs they played one of those prerecorded “inspirational-thoughts-for-the-day” sound bites. This one was by a man I’d never heard of. His simple message was that Christians ought to vote and vote Christianly because of Matthew 22:15-21 where Jesus instructs the disciples to pay taxes (give to Caesar what is Caesar’s or to the secular government what it has the right to demand). I found this reasoning to be sound. This was significant because I knew I needed to obey the principle. Given the second politically significant event, however, I’d completely ignored politics for a long time and had consequently never even attempted to think Christianly about it. All of this sent me into a years-long attempt to understand what the bible has to say about the relationship between the Church and the State (including the better part of a Master’s thesis on the question of what Christians ought to want legislated in a representative republic such as ours).

In light of Titus 3:1 I want to share some of what I’ve learned from Scripture over the past few years. Of course I’m certainly not going to be able to cover everything I’ve learned, much less everything the Bible has to say about this subject, but I do want to do three things over the next two weeks. First, this week, I want to share with you four of the primary biblical texts on government, second I want to pull out a number of biblical principles from those texts and implications from the principles (three today and four more next week), and third (next week) I want to tell you who to vote for in the coming election (not really, but sort of).

Before I pray, I want to give you my conclusion: God has given government to punish evil and promote good through force and, therefore, God’s people ought to encourage and support it accordingly.

With that, let’s pray.


Primary biblical texts concerning the state

As I mentioned, I want to begin by offering four primary texts that Christians need to be aware of concerning God’s design for civil government. Again, I’m going to read each of these (offering a brief word about why they are significant as I read) and then share the first three of several principles and implications from them.

Genesis 9:5-6 From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

This passage is significant because it is considered to be the beginning of civil government. In this passage God establishes government to protect people from themselves.

Matthew 22:15-21 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

This passage is significant because in it Jesus acknowledges and affirms the legitimacy of civil government and the fact that it is distinct from the Church.

Romans 13:1-6 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

Clearly this passage is significant for several reasons. It commands Christians to (as with Titus 3:1) submit themselves to their governments as an expression of their submission to God. It is also significant because it speaks to the nature of and God’s assigned purpose for government.

1 Timothy 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Finally, this passage is significant because it highlights another aspect of God’s assigned purpose for government and another aspect of the disposition we ought to have toward government.

Most everything else the bible says about the relationship between the NT Church and civil government flows from the principles contained in these passages. Before we turn our attention to the principles themselves, please stop for a minute and thank God for his creativity in designing the world in such a remarkable way (with a variety of diverse and harmonious institutions like family and friendship and churches and government). Praise him for his common grace (in the forms of rain and flowers and medicine and math and love and government). Be awed by his kindness in giving us his Word (instructing us in every area of godliness—including how to relate to the government). And worship him for sending his Son (upon whose shoulders all things—including government—rest).


Biblical Principles concerning the state

With the backdrop of thankfulness and praise and awe and worship, let’s consider several biblical principles that flow from these passages and instruct us on how we, as Christians, should relate to the civil authorities.


1. God established civil government and reigns over it. This we see in the Genesis 9 passage. We also clearly see the fact that God instituted government in the Romans 13 passage. In it Paul writes, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Grace, consider this. “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” That is an exceptionally significant claim that Paul makes—especially considering some of the terrible, terrible atrocities committed by governments throughout history. God established them too?!

Well, perhaps he established them and then they went off on their own against God’s will, and that’s what accounts for their evil deeds. That’s certainly true in one sense. Governments are made up of people and people are sinful. Therefore, we ought to expect that a government made up of sinners will sin. Again, in this sense, while every government was established by God for good, every government has failed to do so perfectly because the people who made it up chose to rebel against God.

However, in a more important sense, God not only establishes governments (all of them), he also reigns over them (all of them). This too is the point of Romans 13. In it Paul refers to governmental rulers as “God’s servants” and “ministers of God”.

We see this also in Job 12:23, “[God] makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away.”

We see it in Psalm 22:28, “For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”

Daniel says that [God] “removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).

And in Revelation 1:5 John refers to God (Jesus) as “the ruler of kings on earth”.

All created things and all God-established institutions (including government) are tools of God to accomplish his purposes for his glory. Sometimes God gives good governments to be a blessing to his obedient people. Sometimes God gives good government to his disobedient people to show them his grace. Sometimes God gives bad governments as an act of judgment upon his disobedient people. Sometimes God gives bad governments to his obedient people to help them learn to trust in God rather than their circumstances. And sometimes God governs his people directly in order to show them what leadership and justice are to truly look like. The point is, Grace, God established government and rules over it for his glory.

A practical implication of this is that we must not despise the institution itself. The institution deserves our respect because it is God’s creation. Much like women are called to respect their husbands even when their husbands aren’t always particularly respectable, so are God’s people to respect God’s institution even when it has been hijacked by self-serving, corrupt individuals. Let’s be careful to speak respectfully about our government and the individuals who make it up, if for no other reason than the fact that by doing so we are showing respect to the God who established it and appointed those in it (either for our blessing or judgment).

Practically, this also means that we need not despair when things are going badly with our government. Since God rules and reigns over it we can be confident that all of God’s promises to us (including Romans 8:28) still apply.

Grace, government is God’s to do with as he pleases. That leads to our next two points.


2. God established government for a particular purpose. While God uses government (in its various states of obedience and disobedience) to accomplish his purposes (in their various states of blessing and judgment), he’s assigned a particular purpose to government. In other words, while God can use government as a tool for whatever he pleases, governments do not have the same freedom. They are designed by God and so they must submit themselves (tether themselves) to God’s design.

Of course, ultimately, all things, including government, exist for the glory of God. That is, above all God created government to display his greatness and power. This is not unique to government though. So, to what unique purpose has God assigned to government? Or, why did God establish government?

In our passages for this morning we see three explicitly stated purposes which God assigned to government. First, he established government for the good of his people. Romans 13:4 says, “[secular authorities are] God’s servant for your good.” As challenging as this may be to understand at times, we must not ignore or deny the fact that government is a gift of God for the good of his people.

Having studies political philosophy for many years I have heard a variety of opinions on a variety of political subjects. One nearly universal constant, however (to my surprise), is the belief that the worst government is better than anarchy. Again, surprisingly, while scholars differ on almost everything else (from what constitutes government, to the best way to govern, to the responsibility of citizens, to the appropriateness of civil disobedience), the one thing that they almost all agree upon is that mankind in the state of nature is always worse off than under the worst government. It’s better to have a really bad government than no government at all. If secular scholars can see the goodness of God’s instituted governments—even evil governments—apart from the Word of God, how much more should we be able to with it?

The first purpose of government (given by God) is to bring good to his people.

The second explicitly stated purpose is found in Genesis 9, Romans 13, and a bit more subtly in 1 Timothy 2; it is to restrain and punish evil.

In Romans 13 Paul says that “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” (v.3). He also says, “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” (v.4). The civil authorities exist, in part, to be a terror to those of bad conduct and an avenger to those who do wrong. That is, government is intended by God to strike fear into those who would act unjustly by punishing those who do.

In Genesis 9 we read, in the very establishing of government, of one particular way in which God gave government to instill fear and execute punishment, “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” At least in the context of ancient Israel God established the death penalty for murder as a means of restraining and punishing evil.

Finally, the third explicitly stated purpose of God in establishing civil government is to create a context in which its citizens can live good lives. We see this in 1 Timothy where Paul calls Christians to pray for those in government. Specifically, he calls for us to pray that the government would allow its citizens to lead peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified lives. In calling Christians to pray for these things, he is acknowledging that the promoting of these things is part of the purpose of government.

In other words, good governments are not only to prevent evil, but also to promote good. Notice, however, that while the government is given to actively and directly work to force out evil, it is not given to force in good; but rather to create a context in which good can be freely done. This is an important distinction.

Governments can compel people not to act in evil ways, but they cannot compel people to act in truly good ways. This is because governments have no ability to get to the heart (which is the source of both good and evil). All governments can control (and all they’ve been charged by God to control) is behavior. Therefore, government must work to prevent bad hearts from being able to act on their badness. And, conversely, government must work to ensure that good hearts are able to act on their goodness. Again, governments don’t make people good or bad, but they are charged by God to create a context in which badness is suppressed and goodness is free to be expressed.

There are many practical implications of this point. Specifically, we need to thank God for loving us in such a way as to provide grace after grace after grace. With the moral decay around us it is easy to spend our time lamenting the sins of others—perhaps especially the sins of those in public office. The fact that God gave government for our good ought to change our perspective. Instead of being depressed by its shortcomings, we ought to be primarily characterized by thankfulness for the goodness of God in using our government to keep things from being far, far worse (just look around the world).

A second practical implication of this point is that we ought to thank and support those who serve in civil government in ways that are faithful to God’s charge to them—to those who work for our good, work to protect our safety, and enable us to live quiet and godly lives in peace and dignity.

Another practical implication of this point is the need for us to recognize that the government does not exist to provide for us but to protect us so that we can provide for ourselves and others. Government wasn’t designed to meet our needs; it was designed to make sure that a context exists where people are free to work hard in order to be well-supplied and generous.

God gave the government for the good of his people, to protect us from evil, and to create a context where goodness and godliness can flourish. I love the fact that God could (and certainly has throughout redemptive history) do all of this directly, but that he chooses to use us as his means. Praise God for this grace. Praise God that he is mighty enough to take weak, fickle creatures like you and I and hold off evil and promote good through us.


3. Finally, the third principle that I want to highlight for you all this morning is the fact that God empowered government with a particular authority. We ought to ask what authority God has given governments to carry out their assigned purposes (to work for the good of its citizens, promote good within its citizens, and punish evil among its citizens). The answer, once again, is found in Genesis 9 and Romans 13: the sword. That is, God has given governments the authority to use force to punish evil and promote good. Sometimes the “sword” takes the form of sanctions, sometimes it takes the form of imprisonment, and sometimes it takes the form of a sword (of a weapon).

Forceful coercion is the only authority that God has given the government to compel obedience from its citizens. Or, as R.C. Sproul says, the authority of government is…”to use force [the sword] to compel its citizens to do certain things and not to do other things” (What is the Relationship between Church and State, 4).

All of this means that it is not up to each government to decide its purpose or authority. That’s what Paul meant when he said “no authority exists except from God.” God is the supreme authority over all things. Any authority that we legitimately have, then, as parents or church leaders or husbands or wives or employers or government officials, is authority that was delegated by God. And again, therefore, it is derivative and subordinate authority.

One practical implication of this point, once again, is the fact that government was not designed to deal with the heart; only the behavior, for the heart cannot be reached by force. Do not look to government to end evil, only to keep it at bay. Likewise, do not look to the government to advance good (the gospel), but to allow it to flourish wherever it’s found.

One more practical implication of this is that we need to fight to make sure the government wields the sword justly while supporting strict and clear laws against crime.



God established government and reigns over it. Government was instituted by God for the good of mankind, for the protection of mankind, and for the promoting of good among mankind. And God has given government the sword (the use of physical force) as the means of carrying out its duties.

As interesting, timely, and practical as all of this might be, remember though, all of it is the gospel in effect. That is, Paul charges Titus to remind those in his church to be submissive to rulers and authorities—to delight in all that God has for them in government—because that’s what the gospel does in and for Christians; it transforms us to delight in the good things of God we once hated and to consider trash the worldly things we once loved. Praise God for this, Grace. Praise God that he has given us government for good and praise him that he’s transforming us such that we increasingly love what he loves and who he loves and how he loves. Praise God for the gospel’s work in opening your eyes to trust in him and his purposes. Praise God for his Son who died to work all of this in us and for us. Amen.