I sometime hear people quote from the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:13 where it says, "Thou shalt not kill" in order to prove that capital punishment is wrong. Yet, in the next chapter it says, "He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death" (Exodus 21:12). Why does it say in one place not to kill and then also say to put someone to death? The explanation is relatively simple, one is instructions to the individual and the other is to government.
To illustrate, if someone were to murder one of your relatives, you do not have the right to go and kill him, even after he is found guilty. However, the government not only has the right but also the responsibility to see that the man is caught and brought to justice.
The Bible clearly teaches capital punishment. However, it seems to be ineffective today because it is usually a decade or more between conviction and execution. As Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
Another illustration is the admonition in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, ". . . whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." That is directed to the individual and not to government. I would hope that a policeman on duty (an agent of the government) would not "turn the other cheek" when hit by some criminal. The policeman (the government) is there to protect the citizens.
Of course the question always arises about a soldier that kills an enemy during a war. The soldier, like the policeman, is acting as an agent of his government. He has the duty to engage the enemy to protect the citizens. If this were not true we would not enjoy the freedoms we do in this country. A soldier is no more guilty of "murder" than the citizens because he is there acting on their behalf.
It has been said, and I agree, that "Bad government is better than no government." Without some form of government anarchy reigns and it becomes the survival of the strongest.
What is a Christian's attitude supposed to be regarding government? Romans 13:1-7 makes it very clear: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."
From these verses we see that:
1. God has ordained government
2. Christians are to be subject to the government
3. Rulers are the ministers of God
4. Christians are to obey the laws
5. Christians are to pay taxes
6. Christians are to honor those in government
Christians all around the world live under many different kinds of governments, some are friendly to Christians and some are hostile to Christians. Under any type of government the six named thing above still apply.
Even though Paul had been in trouble with governments all over, he said in Titus 3:1-2, "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man . . ."
Peter also confirms Paul's writing in 1 Peter 2:13-15, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men."
But what happens when a government requires Christians to do or not to do something contrary to the Word of God? Of course we should never do anything contrary to God's Word (Acts 4:19). Paul is a great example to follow:
1. Paul never spoke evil of a ruler
2. Paul always respected the rulers
3. Paul had convictions of what he would and would not do
4. He was ready to suffer the consequences
The same thing was true of the Apostles in Acts 4 when Peter and John said, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." The same was true of Stephen in Acts 7. All of these men chose to obey God rather than government but they were willing to suffer for their choice.
Not only are we admonished to respect and obey those in authority over us, we are told to pray for them. 1 Timothy 2:1 states, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."
There always seems to be those that do not like the president, the congressmen, the governor, the mayor, etc. They belittle, make fun of, castigate, and threaten those in authority. It is clear from the above Scriptures that Christians should not take part in this kind of behavior. Kings and those in authority in Paul's day were no better ethically or morally than they are today. Yet, Paul tells us that we should pray for them.
Should Christians be involved in politics? Absolutely, if being in politics will not harm their testimony for the Lord. Christians, as good citizens, should certainly vote their convictions in any election. Christians should try to put people of integrity and honesty in any office of authority. However, when a person is placed in an office, regardless of his ethics, he is to be respected for the office he holds. As in the military, you respect the uniform if you cannot respect the man in the uniform.
Should churches be involved in politics? Absolutely not! The mission of the church is to get the gospel preached to every person on earth, not to endorse candidates or influence legislation. Satan loves to get churches sidetracked into doing things that will not help accomplish their mission.
So, God ordained government to protect us. We are to respect those in authority, obey the laws and pay our taxes.