Proverbs 14:34, Part 5 Righteousness of Civil Government

I.  Pursue justice

Romans 13 makes clear that the role of civil government is to put down evil and give praise to those who do good.  Putting down evil means to pursue those who violate the laws of the land.  However the laws of the land must comport with the law of God for this pursuit to be just.  Moreover the laws of the land must be comprehensible in order for justice to abide.  If laws multiply beyond the ability of anyone to know what is and is not legal, then tyranny reigns.  This always happens when men forsake the law of God.  The commandments of God make clear what is sin and also clear what is a criminal act punishable by civil government.  Criminal acts broadly fall into the following categories:

  • Blaspheming God–punishable by death
  • Reviling authority–punishable by death
  • Proselytizing idolatry–punishable by death
  • Murder–punishable by death
  • Adultery and rape–punishable by death
  • Assault–restitution to the victim
  • Theft–restitution to the victim
  • False accusation–reciprocal punishment
  • Public disorders–judges discretion, up to 39 lashes with a whip

Capital punishment is rarely used today and then only for murder.  Restitution to the victim is almost never done, unless a separate civil suit is pursued by victims after a criminal case has proceeded.  When any restitution occurs, it is almost always given to civil government–the true victims, if any, receive nothing.

This scope of criminal acts is very narrow and understandable compared to the thousands of laws and regulations laid upon society today. Moreover it does not prescribe time in prison.  Imprisonment is an attempt by man to image hell on earth.  It is a claim of deity.  Hell is the ultimate judgment rendered by God: a man is sentenced to an eternity of isolation under the wrath of God.  Governments imprison men because the government is making a claim to be a god and thus have the right to send men to a lifetime, or more, of being under public wrath.  This is seen in the absurdity of men being sentenced to multiple sentences often totaling hundreds of years in prison.  Logically, this means that if the government had the means, it would be obligated to prolong the life of such an offender so that they could actually serve the sentence.   The Lord does not command such imaging by men.  Instead for the most heinous crimes he commands that the offender be sent to his court immediately for eternal judgment.  For lesser crimes he commands restitution or physical punishment.  Anything beyond this is tyranny.

Civil government is also ordained to give praise to those who do good.  Doing good is referring to acts of mercy and righteousness done by individuals or organizations.  Note that government is only ordained to give praise, not to perform the acts themselves.  This limitation was understood in some form by the framers of the constitution of the United States and by presidents  until Teddy Roosevelt.  Several presidents vetoed measures that would have given aid for relief of some disaster citing the lack of authority in the constitution to give such aid.  This refusal, although sounding harsh, was biblical.  When civil government is given authority to give out money for some good cause this will inevitably morph into giving and receiving of money and favors by government officials in order to curry personal and political favor.  And thus Leviathan the beast is born. And Leviathan is like a wild fire crying “give, give” and never saying it is enough.

When civil government is restrained to putting down evil and giving praise to those who do good, then liberty and justice will exist in a nation.  When it is not, then only progressive tyranny and ultimately collapse can be expected.

Civil government is to pursue justice according to the Law of God.

II.  Educate the citizens in the laws of the land

Citizens of a country need to know the laws of the nation, their rights, and their responsibilities as a citizen.  A proper role of the civil government is to promote the education of citizens in these areas.  This implies that the laws are written clearly and unambiguously in the common vernacular of the nation with well defined words and phrases.

This runs counter to the current bureaucratic tyranny in America.  Laws are written hundreds or thousands of pages long and the legislators themselves do not read the laws they approve.  The same is true of bureaucratic regulations, which often run to tens of thousands of pages: the bureaucrats often have no idea what is required to fully comply with the regulations.  The preliminary result is a faceless despotism where anyone can be found in violation of multiple laws anytime a government official is offended.  The end result is lawlessness at all levels of society.

The laws of the land are to be biblical, clear, understandable and taught to citizens.

III.  Selection of magistrates

In a representative republic the selection of magistrates in large measure will be done by public elections.  The primary requirement should be the character of the person.  Romans 13 makes clear that a magistrate in civil government is a minister of the Lord.  The word used is the same word that is translated deacon in verses pertaining to the church.  Such rulers are subject to the same requirements of character as a deacon in the church.  The old testament also states that they are to be men that fear God, are impartial, and hate bribes.  They should be ordained into office in a similar manner to ordination in a church, impressing upon them that they are officers of the Lord God Almighty and have been given the responsibility to carry the sword of justice.

Public elections are an image of the God’s election of salvation, it is a choosing.  It is incumbent upon Christians that we do not choose officials based on their ability to “bring home the bacon”, nor their managerial or leadership prowess, or that they are the lesser of two evils.  Rather we should first seek those who are unabashed Christians of good character and reputation with knowledge and wisdom in the Word of God.  This will often run counter to voting for people offered by political parties.  Godless, gutless conservatism is more abominable than openly atheistic liberalism.

Government officials are to be of godly, Christian character who are wise and knowledgeable in the law of God and the civil laws under their jurisdiction.

IV.  Guard the society

Civil government is to protect the freedom of individuals.  This freedom is the ability to engage in commerce, association, and any other lawful activity without threat of interference or coercion.  A well functioning, decentralized policing authority is needed as well as a bottom up system of courts to adjudicate criminal and civil cases.  Prompt and just resolution of the cases results in a trend toward self-government by the people of the nation instead of increasing lawlessness promoted by a slow, arbitrary, and money influenced criminal justice system.

Multiple, competing jurisdictions of government should be setup at the local, state, and national levels.  When any level of government becomes oppressive then other levels of government should oppose the overreach.  This is the doctrine of lesser magistrates and it is most often necessary when the national government becomes oppressive.  Under these conditions state and local authorities must insist on their own jurisdiction/authority and oppose the national government to protect citizens.  This requires training and holding lesser magistrates accountable to defend citizens against a lawless national government.

The military and intelligence gathering arms of the civil government should be sufficient to defend the nation against attack from foreign powers, but not sufficient to engage in offensive wars and empire building.  The Lord severely punishes nations that engage in offensive wars as witness every nation that started a major war in the 20th century.  This requires careful and wise debate on how best to organize the military and intelligence gathering of the nation.  The size of military and scope of intelligence gathering necessary to defend America in the modern age is large, but far smaller than the size and scope necessary to maintain and expand the power of an oppressive national government.

Again, civil government is to protect the freedom of individuals to engage in commerce, association , and any other lawful activity.  This requires government to put down the evil of criminal behavior within and foreign attack from without. It does not require the national government to extend the “good” of its power and influence into every corner of the globe or the lives of citizens.

V.  Summary

Civil government is to put down evil and give praise to those who do good.  This is done by:

  • Pursuing justice
  • Educating citizens in the laws of the land
  • Selection of magistrates
  • Guarding the society