(1) If you’re like me, you’re amazed by the polarization in society.
(2) The social media mobbing.
The cancel culture.
The wild conspiracy theories
that many people are actually believing.
And this polarization is nowhere more intense than in politics.
(3)It seems like the rhetoric on both sides is so extreme,
whether it’s over systemic racism,
critical race theory,
defunding the police,
supporting the police,
rights of the unborn,
discrimination because of gender orientation,
the rights of artists not to be forced to celebrate something they don’t agree with
The list goes on and on.
It seems that almost everything has become political
even the decision whether to wear a mask or not.
I’m sure there are many, many issues contributing to this polarization in politics and government,
but there is one that may be more basic than others.
And that’s the issue of the proper place and purpose of government.
(5) On one side of the coin are those who are for limited government.
They think that government should be as small and unobtrusive as possible.
Among them are the libertarians,
emphasizing individual freedom
and highly suspicious of government overreach.
The idea is that government just needs to get out of the way and let the private sector bring in the health, wealth, and prosperity that we all desire.
To many in this camp, government is more of a threat than a savior,
and one reason many defend the right to bear arms
is to protect their rights in the event that the government would go off the rails.
(6) On the other side of the spectrum are those who seem to think that government is the answer to everything.
They think that it’s the government’s job to bring in the utopia we are all looking for.
To them, government is like a grandfather with infinitely deep pockets,
dishing out unlimited favors to everyone,
providing guaranteed income,
paying off student loans,
providing child care,
And, of course, it’s through government laws and regulations that we’ll achieve
and economic parity.
To those in this camp, it’s almost as if government is God,
the solution to everything.
(7) This last year, the pandemic illustrated the difference in opinions regarding the place of government.
Should the government have the power to quarantine the healthy and make them wear masks?
Or should individuals and businesses have the right to decide for themselves whether to quarantine themselves or wear masks?
In a pandemic, how does government responsibility for public health interrelate with the rights of the individual?
Today is the fourth of July
and we’re going to talk about the purpose and place of government.
We’ve been dipping into the book of Proverbs,
a book that was written to pass on practical wisdom to the next generation.
Proverbs consists of short, concise statements of truth
that were compiled by Solomon, one of the wisest men who ever lived.
Undoubtedly he learned some of them from his own father, David.
And it’s evident that one of his reasons for compiling these proverbs was to pass their wisdom on to his own son,
who would be the next king.
So, it’s not surprising that we find in Proverbs quite a bit of advice to the king and how he is supposed to govern.
So, this morning we’re going to be looking at seven principles of good government.
Some will be from Proverbs and some from other passages.
Our goal will be to discover God’s perspective on regarding the purpose and place of government.
We won’t be able to even begin to comprehensively cover all that the Bible says about the purpose and place of government,
but we’ll start.
Let me warn you that some of what we look at today may ruffle your feathers a bit
And if that happens, that’s all right.
I’m not out to change your beliefs in one brief message.
But I do want to present what I understand to be God’s purposes for government
and let you think about it.
Now, the book of Proverbs was written in light of a certain perspective,
a certain view of the world.
It fits within the story of the creator God
who entered into His rebellious world
and chose the people of Israel as His means of starting to bring all the peoples of the world
back into harmony with Himself and with one other.
So, we see, right off the bat, in Proverbs 1:7,
(8) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge. . . (Proverbs 1:7, CSB)
Proverbs 9:10 supports this:
(9) The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (Proverbs 9:10, ESV)
The very beginning of knowledge,
the first brick in the foundation of wisdom and knowledge,
is the truth that a personal, good, and loving God exists
and that He created the universe
and that He’s revealed Himself through His mighty acts
that have centered around the people of Israel
and ultimately around their Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
Knowing and fearing the Lord,
Yahweh, or Jehovah
Whenever you see Lord in all capitals, it’s the translator’s indication that it’s the Hebrew word Yahweh
Knowing and fearing Yahweh
is the starting point
the bedrock of all knowledge and wisdom.
Without this starting point, there is no anchor.
There is no universal truth that applies to everyone.
And we are left with nothing more than personal or cultural opinion
And who’s to say that your opinion
or your culture’s opinion
is any truer or wiser than those with an alternate opinion?
But Yahweh is the maker of all.
He is the standard.
His character, His nature, His will
are what determine right and wrong, good and bad.
So, as we think about the proper purpose and place of government, we must start here.
(10) Principle number one: Authority comes from God,
who reigns over all He has made.
And this is good!
His intelligence, His wisdom, His knowledge
infinitely exceed anyone else’s.
His love, His patience, His mercy
are vastly beyond anyone else’s
His overwhelming superiority makes Him the only truly worthy ruler, lawgiver, and judge.
In fact, it would be cruel for the Lord to let anyone else take His place as ultimate lawgiver and judge
Only He has what it takes to perfectly rule His world
and bring in perfect goodness, prosperity and joy.
Let’s look at a passage in Proverbs that acclaims His wisdom.
In this passage, God’s wisdom is personified:
(11) I [wisdom] was there when he established the heavens, when he laid out the horizon on the surface of the ocean, when he placed the skies above, when the fountains of the ocean gushed out, when he set a limit for the sea so that the waters would not violate his command, (12) when he laid out the foundations of the earth. I was a skilled craftsman beside him. I was his delight every day, always rejoicing before him. I was rejoicing in his inhabited world, delighting in the children of Adam. (Proverbs 8:27–31, CSB)
Before anything else was
—mountains, oceans, men, women, families, governments
—God was there
—and His wisdom was there.
You get the picture of God as a master artist,
reveling in the wisdom of what He is making.
“Wow! Look at that!
That’s really good!
And at the center of His joy and delight,
is the pinnacle of His creativity,
—the children of Adam.
So, in His infinite wisdom God knows what is best for His creation
and He delights in His creation,
only wanting what is good.
So, our starting point must be that God is in charge.
And His wisdom is supreme.
(13) The second principle is that God made humans in His image and charged them with the task of caring for God’s world.
(14) Let’s look at Genesis 1:27-28:
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
(15) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27–28, ESV)
Here we see that it’s God’s plan for the world to be full of humans,
who bear His image,
who work under His leadership to rule the world,
tame its wildness,
and care for the creatures of the world.
In other words, God has delegated some of His authority to us.
In a sense to be fellow-creators and fellow-sustainers of order in His world.
(16) The third principle is that God has given positions of authority to some humans in various spheres of relationship
- (17) Husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24)
They are to lead, protect, and provide for their wives
- Parents (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Parents are to guide, protect, and provide for their children
- Masters/employers (Ephesians 6:5)
Masters and employers are to direct their servants and employees
in order to best love and serve others
- Church leaders (Hebrews 13:17)
Church leaders are to lead, guide, and protect church members
- And lastly, Government (Romans 13:1)
Government is to serve the people by commending good and opposing evil.
Now, it’s important that we understand that each of these spheres of authority has been instituted by God.
They didn’t come about by some evolutionary process or by human ingenuity.
The have been established by God
Let’s look at Romans 13:1:
(18) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (NIV)
I find this a stunning statement:
“There is no authority except that which God has established,
and the authorities that exist have been established by God.
Particularly amazing is that Paul wrote this during the reign of Nero,
one of the most brutal and tyrannical emperors in the history of the world.
But it’s important to notice
that God does not say that He supports everything that governmental rulers decree and do.
All he says is that the rulers that exist have been established by God
and that we should submit to them.
(19) Now as we look at these spheres of authority,
it’s important to see that government is not the sole institution to which God has given authority.
A good government will acknowledge and support these other spheres of God-given authority
and visa versa.
Much of what we call “liberty” and “freedom”
comes about when a government acknowledges and supports these other God-ordained spheres of authority.
Now, there is an important ramification of the truth that God is the one who instituted human authority
(20) is that human authority is not absolute.
God gave it
and He can take it away.
Although rare, we do see examples in the scripture where people rebelled against an authority at the command of God.
Here are a few examples:
Egypt: At the command of God Israel rebelled against the ruling Egyptians and escaped from their tyranny (Exodus 3-12)
Ahab & Jezebel: At the command of God, Jehu overthrew Ahab and Jezebel’s dynasty (2 Kings 9-10)
Queen Athelia: In the will of God, Jehoiada the priest overthrew the wicked Queen Athelia, who had murdered her own grandchildren in order to assume the throne herself. (2 Chronicles 22-23)
And we see in the New testament that the Apostles refused to obey the Jewish authorities
when they told them to cease preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 4:19-20)
(21) Principle number four: God’s primary purpose for government is to suppress evil and promote good,
resulting in the thriving of those under the government’s authority.
Let’s read a little farther in Romans 13
(22) For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. (23) But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. . . . This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. (Romans 13:3-4 & 6, NIV84)
First, notice that these verses strengthen our earlier point
that authorities are established by God.
(24) Three times he calls those in authority “God’s servants,”
even telling us to pay taxes to support them
so that they can do God’s work of governing.
(25) But we also see here that God’s purpose for government is to commend those who do right and punish those who do wrong.
The book of Proverbs agrees with Romans
that the purpose of governing authorities is to suppress and weed out evil.
(26) A king who sits on the throne of judgment winnows all evil with his eyes. (Proverbs 20:8, ESV)
Today farmers have combines.
They are named “combines” because they combine several processes that used to be done separately.
One of those processes is winnowing.
Winnowing is blowing air through grain in order to remove the chaff.
So “winnowing” is used here as a metaphor for separating what is worthless from what is valuable.
A righteous ruler is to use his eyes to detect evil
and then remove it from His kingdom
through discipline or through removal from his realm.
(27) A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them. (Proverbs 20:26, ESV)
One means of threshing in ancient times was for oxen to pull a cart
and its wheels would help knock the grain from the stalks.
This seems to be saying that a wise king not only finds the wicked but punishes them.
So we see that God’s major purpose for government is to suppress evil and commend good.
(28) Principle five: God’s purpose is that government would promote justice
Let’s look at some verses in Proverbs
(29) By me [wisdom] kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. (Proverbs 8:15–16, ESV)
(30) The divine verdict is in the words of the king, his pronouncements must not act treacherously against justice. (Proverbs 16:10, NET)
(31) By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts tears it down. (Proverbs 29:4, ESV)
(32) If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever. (Proverbs 29:14, ESV)
This verse shows that the Lord wants government to be especially concerned about the poor, the widow, the orphan,
who are usually not in a position to defend themselves.
(33) Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. (Proverbs 31:8–9, CSB)
But we can ask, “what is Justice?”
There seem to be varying opinions today of what justice is.
A simple definition might be: Enforcing what is right
And, of course, justice should enforce God’s determination of what is right.
And where is God’s declaration of right and wrong enumerated?
(34) One of the best summaries is the core commands of the Law of Moses—the Ten Commandments.
Let’s look at a few of them.
You shall not murder —
it’s not right to take an innocent life.
Justice demands punishment for the murderer.
You shall not steal —
It’s not right to take someone’s property.
Justice demands restitution.
You shall not bear false witness —
It’s not right to speak lies and ruin another persons’ reputation.
That’s why we have liable laws.
You shall not commit adultery —
It’s not right to seduce someone else’s spouse
and break up their family
(35) Notice that these examples of right and wrong involve rights.
The right to life
The right to own private property
The right to maintain a good reputation
The right to enjoy the blessing of a life-long marriage
and live together with your spouse and children as a family.
Government has the God-given duty of protecting people’s God-given rights,
the duty of opposing and punishing those who usurp the rights of others.
And also the duty of not usurping people’s rights itself
It’s wrong for governments to kill the innocent,
It’s wrong for governments to nationalize industries,
and steal the property from business owners
It’s wrong for government leaders to falsely slander political opponents
or harass their opponents with frivolous law suits
Underneath the division in our culture is a disagreement about what is right and wrong
And therefore a disagreement about justice.
Different supposed “rights” are surfacing.
the right to have free health care,
the right to a universal basic income,
or the right to avoid the psychological pain
that accompanies someone who refuses to go along with your perspective.
We must hold on to God’s perspectives regarding who we are,
why we’re here
and where we’re going.
These give us our identity
and define what is good for us,
what is right and what is wrong.
So, good government will uphold justice as God defines justice.
(36) Principle six: God’s purpose is that governments would serve the people and seek their good.
Proverbs instructs this for the king in training.
(37) Steadfast love and faithfulness preserve the king, and by steadfast love his throne is upheld. (Proverbs 20:28, ESV)
A king should have faithful, covenant love for the people he governs.
If he has this, it will give security to his throne.
(38) A ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops. (Proverbs 28:3, NIV84)
A bad ruler may think that he’s getting ahead through oppression,
but actually he’s destroying his own people and nation.
(39) Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people. A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 28:15–16, ESV)
A self-seeking, self-oriented, and wicked ruler
who cares nothing for the people
can do incredible damage
and bring unbelievable oppression.
It’s unlikely that his rule will last.
And, finally, Proverbs 31:3-5,
which is instruction for the future king from his mother.
(40) Don’t spend your energy on women or your efforts on those who destroy kings. It is not for kings, Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire beer. Otherwise, he will drink, forget what is decreed, and pervert justice for all the oppressed. (Proverbs 31:3–5, CSB)
She warns him to avoid two avenures of selfishness
that could potentially destroy him and his rule
— women and alcohol.
She instructs him to put his responsibilities as ruler
and the welfare of His people
—before his own pleasures.
In the end it will be better or him and his people.
(41) Principle seven is that it’s God’s purpose to establish a perfectly just government when Jesus the Messiah returns to reign.
(42) 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. (Isaiah 9:6, ESV)
(43) 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 9:7, ESV)
Until Jesus returns, no government will be perfect.
There will be no utopia in this age.
We’re not going to totally eradicate racism,
we’re not going to do away with greed and cheating.
No amount of laws piled on top of another will totally eliminate corporate corruption
or hate crimes
or oppression of the poor.
No amount of protests are going to give us a perfect police force.
Sometimes we can get so incensed when we see injustice
that we think it would be best to tear it all down
and get someone else in power who will do better.
But it’s likely that whoever the new rulers are,
or what the new governmental system will be
It ill be as bad or worse than what is being overthrown.
We are not to riot and set up autonomous zones
in an effort to eliminate all problems with the police
Neither are we to invade the capital
and seek to overthrow the electoral process.
To keep our political savior in power.
No, Utopia will not come until Jesus returns.
Until then we must do what we can,
Work for true justice,
work to protect God-given rights,
but realize that perfect government
and perfect justice
will not be attained until the coming of the our great God and Savior,
Jesus the King of Kings.
(44) And so, we have seven principles undergirding good government.
- God is the supreme authority
- God has delegated some ruling authority to humans
- God has given humans authority in various spheres
- Government is to suppress evil and commend good
- Government should promote justice
- Government should seek to serve the people
- Government will not be perfect until Jesus returns.
(45) If you would like to further study the Bible’s perspectives on government and God-given authority,
here is a link to a resource that I wrote
with the aid of numerous others several years ago.
I’ll put this on the website
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.