Necessary, but not Ultimate

Government is God's servant, and we must help it be so.

The frail, oppressive, and fleeting glory
of the kings of the present world is laid low by God’s will.

  - Columba, Altus Prosator, Irish, 6th century[1]

Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word...” 

  - Daniel 3.28

Christians need to remember that we do not hope in civil government for our wellbeing. Governments are fickle, feeble, and fleeting. Politicians, even more so. To think that any amount of change, adjustment, or tweaking of civil government will either preserve Christian freedom or bring about a new era of righteousness, peace, and joy is foolhardy.

Worse, it’s a form of idolatry.

That said, civil governments are necessary. Necessary, but not ultimate.

Scripture speaks of the civil magistrate as a servant of God who is to be obeyed because he wields the sword for good (Rom. 13.1-4). Civil government is an instrument of God for good, and we must not presume to stand in the way of its fulfilling its calling.

Ours is a qualified obedience, however, as Daniel’s three friends remind us. We must obey government when it is serving the good purposes of God. We are not called to obey the civil magistrate when doing so means we must disobey God or deny our Kingdom duties. The sense of shock in Nebuchadnezzar’s “frustrated the king’s word” is almost palpable in the text. Who would ever dare to stand against a powerful ruler and refuse to abide by his command?

Only those who recognize a higher Lord than the temporal government, and a higher Law than the civil law, under the guidance of which they pass this earthly sojourn.

God is Lord of all people, including all kings, rulers, and civil governments at every level. He sometimes intervenes on behalf of His faithful people to ensure their wellbeing and continuity. Sometimes, however, it pleases God to allow His faithful people to suffer under the hands of rebellious civil magistrates. This is for Him to determine, for He alone does all things well.

We, as we submit to His shepherding care, must make certain our ultimate allegiance is to God and His Law, and trust in Him alone.

When this is the case, we will seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness above all else, and in and through all else. We will not rest easy with laws, statutes, or policies that contradict divine precepts; rather, we will devote our strength to the pursuit of holiness in every sphere of life, and for the benefit of all people, not just ourselves.

And to the extent that “we the people” have a role to play in the work of the civil magistrate, we will do so as unto the Lord, seeking His Kingdom and righteousness, and working according to His holy and righteous and good Law.

If we focus on doing God’s will, we will be more likely to realize His blessings and glory for ourselves and our posterity. He Who is the Lord of kings uses His faithful people to shape even the policies of those who govern them, as we trust in Him and set aside any practices or precepts which are contrary to the righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit that is ours in the Kingdom of God.

And even when governments go bad, and they and the people they serve become corrupt, still God rules over all, and He will be glorified in the faithfulness of His covenant people.

God rules every fleeting earthly power and glory, and some day He will lay them all low. He is the ultimate Governor; and His power and glory, nothing can successfully oppose.

For reflection
1. What is the Christian’s responsibility in helping civil governments fulfill their role as servants of God for good?

2. What should Christians do when governments make laws and take actions that are contrary to God’s Law and Word?

Psalm 72.5, 6, 9-11 (Martyrdom: Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed)
Let nations fear You while the sun and moon endure on high;
Refresh, renew us every one, like sweet rain falling from the sky.

And let the Righteous rule the earth, and let His foes bow low;
Let nations praise His matchless worth, and all His bidding do.

Your are our King, O Lord, and Your Law is our standard. Let that be seen in me today, O Lord, as I…

Civil government and you
Our ReVision study, “Christians and Public Service”, can help you learn more about your role in helping government fulfill its appointed calling as a servant for good. You can download it for free by clicking here.

The Lord provides for the needs of The Fellowship of Ailbe by moving on the hearts of those who benefit from our work and believe in our mission. If that includes you, please seek the Lord in prayer concerning this opportunity. It’s easy to give to The Fellowship of Ailbe, and all gifts are, of course, tax-deductible. You can click here to donate online through credit card or PayPal, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

T. M. Moore, Principal
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All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Carey, p. 40.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore