How Should Christians Think About and Relate to the Government?
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. - Romans 13:1-2, ESV
Sometimes a bit of perspective really helps. We can feel agitated by the inconveniences of our lives and the inefficiencies of our government, but at least we don't live in North Korea, right? We may be disappointed in our political leaders and feel like we can't respect our government officials, but Paul wrote Romans 13 to the church in Rome while Nero was the emperor and the Coliseum was in full gladiatorial glory. Nero would later behead Paul, have Peter and Andrew crucified (on an upside-down cross and on a X-shaped cross respectively), and make some Christians into human torches to light his garden parties.
Surely, Nero's antics put the worst of American politicians into perspective, but we might scratch our heads and wonder how Paul could have written today's passage under the rule of such a cruel tyrant. One excellent explanation, offered by John Piper and others, is that Paul is describing the good purpose God has for government. Just as God has good and right purposes for marriage, which not all marriages embody and fulfill, so God also has good and right purposes for governments, which not all governments embody and fulfill.
So, in the light of Romans 13, how should we think about government? Well, it seems clear that governments are appointed by God to protect those who do good and to punish those who do evil. Police officers and armies have weapons, which God has given them, so they can arrest and imprison criminals, defend and protect innocent people, and wage just wars against those who harm innocent people. This doesn't change the sad fact that many police officers abuse their power, many armies commit atrocious war crimes and many governments persecute those who do good. At those times, those governing authorities are not acting according to God's purpose for them.
How should we relate to government? We should respect and honor those in authority and we should obey their lawful commands. We should pray for them and seek to help them in their God-given calling. We should pay our taxes and support our government to the best of our ability.
However, all submission to human authority has limits. We should not obey unlawful commands of those in authority. If someone in authority asks me to harm an innocent person, I must refuse to do so, even if doing so costs me severely. (Like some nurses who have been fired for refusing to participate in abortions.) I must also speak the truth to those in power, encouraging them toward justice and righteousness.
The limits on human authority do not give me the right to ridicule, mock, insult or seek to undermine the lawful authority of those in power because I disagree with their political position or their policy decisions. Too many Christians are too quick to insult and disparage those in power, if we disagree with their politics. We can also be too slow to speak the truth to those in power, if we happen to agree with their politics, thinking that the ends justify the means.
Ultimately, our loyalty to earthly governments is one expression of our greater loyalty to God. Ultimately, King Jesus is our king, and we bow the knee in absolute obedience and reverence to Him alone!