Bible - General Questions

Government Is Not God

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
Today much of the nominally Evangelical church is putting government on the throne instead of God.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

Part three (final) of a series. Read part two.

Today much of the nominally Evangelical church is putting government on the throne instead of God.

For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

In the first two articles of this series we have seen that this verse, which some false teachers divorce from its context to teach universal salvation, teaches nothing of the sort. Paul is making the point that the title "Savior [preserver, sustainer] of all men," one that was misappropriated by the cult of Caesar worship, belongs to God alone.

An expanded translation of First Timothy 4:10 would read, "...we have our hope permanently in the sphere of the living God, Who is and keeps on being the Preserver of all manner of men without regard for their spiritual condition --- especially, and so much the more, those who believe."

The Point

The point is simply this: God is not government, and government is not God.

In a first-century church context, Paul's point was that Caesar was not lord. Only Jesus Christ "received up in glory" (1 Timothy 3:16) is Lord of all.

Furthermore, in all periods of church history, no government is lord. No government is the preserver and sustainer of mankind in general, or of believers in particular. Government is not lord. The long succession of human governments through time are temporary institutions in the plan of God, to prevent men from doing even more evil than they do in the presence of such governments. Scripture tells us that God often chooses the basest of men to rule in His world (Daniel 4:17).

Surely in Daniel's time that was true. He served as an administrator in the first of the great pagan world empires instituted by the providential and sovereign hand of God. But Daniel knew that his life and sustenance came not from the empire, but from Jehovah. It was God who brought Daniel favor and goodwill among the rulers of that kingdom (1:9). Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar himself,

You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of Heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all... (Daniel 2:36-38)

Thus also Paul declared to the church at Philippi,

And my God [not Caesar] shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

Tragically Missing The Point

Today, much of the nominally Evangelical church has forgotten this. The problem manifests itself in at least two ways.

The first way has to do with an entitlement mentality that is causing churches and Christian institutions to depend upon government for their sustenance. Recently I received a copy of a letter sent to the parents of a Christian school's student body, asking them to provide private information, such as their personal incomes, so that the school could use this information to apply to the government for financial assistance.

To say that this is a great irony is an understatement. One of the principal purposes of establishing a Christian school is to remove the influences of pagan government from the education of our young people. No government financial assistance comes without strings attached. This school, and many others pursuing provision from the hand of government rather than the hand of God, are simply opening the door to the establishment of government control over Christian education. Practically speaking, it is stupid. Spiritually speaking, it is darkened.

However, a wrong attitude regarding government on the part of Christians and the church now manifests itself in an even more damaging way, and that is in relation to the Gospel.

Large segments of the nominally Evangelical church have been rapidly abandoning the twofold mission that our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His church before He ascended to Heaven. That mission is a simple one, but it is the most cosmically profound one of all: to evangelize the world with the one true Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone, and to edify the saints -- those who truly believe the Gospel message and whose lives are therefore forever changed by it -- by instructing them in sound doctrine from Holy Scripture.

Large segments of the nominally Evangelical church have effectively stopped doing both. Much of this has taken the form of subtraction by addition. Large segments of the Evangelical church have become obsessed with human government in various ways -- political activity, so-called economic justice, social reform, moral improvement, and a long list of other things, and they have redefined the "gospel" in those terms. But the Gospel plus anything else is less than the Gospel. The power of such a "gospel" resides in the weak arm of fleshly wisdom, not in the mighty arm of the all-wise God. Such a "gospel" is so earthly minded that it is of no heavenly good. Scripture condemns such thinking. It says that while these ways may seem right to many of today's church leaders and their followers, "the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).

Today much of the church has embarked on a fool's errand. It seeks, through reform of government and by seeking the largesse of government, to give the world the benefits of the Gospel without the preaching and the power of the Gospel. It seeks the temporary "salvation" of the nation rather than the eternal salvation of souls. But man's destiny is not tied to any earthly nation or political system. Man's destiny hinges upon each individual's relationship with Jesus Christ. For each individual who has ever lived or will live, Jesus Christ is either Lord and Savior or condemning Judge. There is no third alternative. No government can save a soul from Hell. No government can prepare a redeemed people for life in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Gloriously Getting the Point

If Christ's church does anything else instead of proclaiming this to the world, and pursuing Scripture-driven holiness in every area of life and ministry, we fail. The men and women of the great roll-call of faith in Hebrews chapter eleven understood that "here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (13:14), "the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (11:10). They were those "of whom the world was not worthy" (11:38) -- literally, this present world system was not worthy to have them living in it. In stark contrast, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippian believers to remember their destiny:

Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame - who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

The writer to the Hebrews, having spoken of the stalwarts of past generations who lived in the light of these great truths, exhorted those of succeeding generations to think and act as they did:

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Dear Christian friends, may we do no less. We must be about our Lord's business -- the evangelism of the world through the proclamation of the one true Gospel, and the edification of the saints through the sound teaching of the Word of God.

May we ever and always keep this focus, regardless of the outcome of elections, regardless of what governments may do or not do. Our Savior in the sense of First Timothy 4:10 -- the Sustainer and Preserver of all men, especially those who believe on Christ -- does not live in the White House or any other government mansion, or sit on any earthly throne. He sits on the throne of Heaven.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

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