THE BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES OF
GOOD GOVERNMENT
 

A STUDY BY

GARY RAY BRANSCOME
 

    In seeking a Biblical standard of good government, I have sought to look beyond the governments mentioned in Scripture to the standards by which those governments are judged. At the same time, I have tried to avoid subjective speculation while concentrating on truths clearly stated in Scripture. The first of those truths is found in 1Timothy 2:1-2.


GOD'S WILL FOR GOVERNMENT


"I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." (1Timothy 2:1-2).

    This passage makes it clear that, when God's will is done we will be free to live "a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." Moreover, since both criminals and tyrants can keep us from living quiet and peaceable lives, we can be certain that God wants government to punish criminals, thus making the streets safe, while otherwise leaving us alone so that we might live in peace.

    Looking a bit deeper, let us consider the fact that we can only live quiet and peaceable lives when our life, liberty, and property are secure. This is true, because without such security we would constantly be forced to fight those who would deprive us of life, liberty, or property while living in fear of them. Therefore, a government that is being administered according to the will of God will respect our right to life, liberty, and property, and the fruit of such government will be peace, law, and order.

    Looking deeper still, consider what a beautiful description of freedom and free government is given to us in the words, "a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1Timothy 2:2). That expression of freedom is so fundamental that the words, "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" can only be understood in a Biblical way when they are interpreted to mean the same thing. In short, the pursuit of happiness is only a righteous goal when it is pursued in all godliness and honesty.

THE FORM OF GOVERNMENT

    While the words, "The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us," divide the functions of government into three branches (legislative, judicial, and executive), what the Bible says about human depravity makes it clear that it is not wise to allow one person (or  group of people) to control all three branches (Isaiah 33:22, Jeremiah 17:9). Furthermore, the words, "concerning any of the priests and… ministers of this house of God, it shall not be lawful to impose toll, tribute, or custom, upon them," tell us that the church is to be separate from the state and, therefore, exempt from taxation (Ezra 7:24).

THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT


    One statement of scripture tells us that the ruler is a "minister of God… a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil," while another tells us that rulers are sent "for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1Peter 2:14, Romans 13:3-4).

    Those statements make it clear that when government is administered according to the will of God, criminals will receive swift and sure punishment. Moreover, a comparison of those statements with 1Timothy 2:11 tells us that good law enforcement goes hand in hand with the freedom to "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." [See Ecclesiastes 8:11.] Furthermore, if rulers are honest in their "praise of them that do well," they will not try to regulate them as if they could not be trusted, but will instead trust them with the responsibility to conduct their own lives in all godliness and honesty (1Timothy 1:9).

THE GOVERNMENT AND ECONOMICS


    Contrasting the way of the world with His will for those in authority, Christ said, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they that exercise authority over them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so," (Luke 22:25-26).

     In order to grasp what Christ is saying let us consider the words, "lordship" and "benefactors." Since a ruler exercises lordship over people when he deprives them of their life, liberty, or property and a "benefactor" provides something of value, rulers exercise lordship over us when they take our money, and they are called benefactors when they give to some what they have taken from others. This goes on all the time, yet Jesus condemned it and told His followers that this was not what He wants done. Furthermore, by taking our money (high taxes) rulers punish those who work, and by giving it to others they encourage them not to work. That sort of thing always hurts the economy. [2 Thessalonians 3:10,12]

    Since Christ referred to rulers in this passage, what is said clearly applies to politics. Therefore, since He goes on (verse 26) to tell His followers that they should seek to serve, it is clear that He wants rulers to think of themselves as public servants rather than lords. In that regard, I would like to share four thoughts.

FIRST: No servant is above the law. A servant is not only subject to his master but to every law that his master is subject to. For that reason, any ruler who is truly a public servant will be subject to the same laws that the people are subject to, as well as any limitations that they place on his power.

SECOND: Any authority that a servant has comes from his master. A servant only has the authority to do what his master has authorized him to do. Therefore, any ruler who is truly a public servant will not have the authority to do anything that the people have not authorized him to do.

THIRD: No servant is ever justified in usurping authority that has not been granted to him by his master, or in taking something that has not been given to him by his master. Therefore, any ruler who is truly a public servant is never justified in usurping authority that has not been delegated to him by the people, or in taking anything that has not been given to him by the owner.

FOURTH: No master can give his servant authority or property that is not his to give. In short, if a master does not have the authority to take his neighbor's property, then he cannot give his servant the authority to take that property. For that reason, the people can never give a ruler authority or property that is not theirs to give.
 

OUR GOD GIVEN RIGHT TO OUR PROPERTY


    God's words, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground;" gave Adam the fruit of his labor to live by. For that reason, we have a God given right to keep the fruit of our labor, and the commandment, "Thou shall not steal" reaffirms that God-given right (Exodus 20:15). Moreover, because part of the right to the fruit of our labor is our right to give our property (or will it) to those whom we choose, government has no business confiscating anyone's inheritance.

    When rulers perform a service by protecting us from the violence and injustice of evil and selfish men, we have a responsibility to pay for that service (1 Samuel 25:21). In fact, fair taxation is simply a bill for that service. However, God has never given any ruler the right to simply take our money or property, either to make himself rich or to appear as a benefactor at our expense. Furthermore, deficit spending on the part of government is little more than a way of robbing future generations, for they will be the ones who have to pay the debt (2 Corinthians 12:14).
 

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL


    Since it is clearly the will of God for rulers to punish evildoers, while protecting and defending the law-abiding, those who would protect evildoers while condemning those "who do well" do not have the authority of God behind what they do. In fact, a government that forbids schools to teach the Ten Commandments, while punishing parents who homeschool their children, is just as tyrannical as a dictator who kills law-abiding Jews. As Christians, we should be grieved by injustice, and want to see justice done. To that end, we need to seek God's help in sending "men to the legislatures who cannot be bought, who refuse to connive with evil, and will stop the enactment of legislation contrary to divine Law!" (From the sermon, GOD IS OUR DEFENSE, by Dr. Walter A. Maier)

CONCLUSION


    The naive belief that government can solve every problem led the children of Israel to exchange the freedom they had under the judges for a hollow promise of military security under a king (Judges 21:25, 1 Samuel 8). They saw corruption in the government that they had, and assumed that giving a ruler more God-like authority would make him more God-like. However, they learned the hard way that nothing could be further from the truth. Giving rulers greater authority only gives them more authority to abuse. In fact, freedom can only exist when the power of government is limited, when rulers are required to obey the law, and when a division of power makes it possible to punish those who abuse their authority. Therefore, in the cause of freedom, let us all work for less government, more individual responsibility, and with God's help, a better world.