by The Rev. Mark Buetow
Some of you may be voting for the first time this year. But even if you cannot vote in this year’s election, you should still take some time to think about our heavenly Father’s gift of government. The Small Catechism reminds us of these particular bits of “daily bread” that we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “devout and faithful rulers, and good government.” It might seem strange to say that “government” is part of our daily bread. But the people who are in positions of authority around us–mayors, governors, presidents, congressmen, judges, etc.–are given to us by our heavenly Father for the support of our body and life.
But how does the government support us? St. Paul tells us that the government is given by God for our good and the punishment of evil. The government’s job is to protect us from evil and to punish those who do evil (Romans 13:4). Of course, in the United States, our local, state and federal governments do all sorts of things to make our lives better: build roads, provide driver licenses, maintain our military, catch and punish criminals, print money, regulate business, provide air traffic control and provide all kinds of other services and necessities. As Christians we confess that our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Yet we are also citizens of earthly nations and so we are to use our freedom in Christ to make good choices about whom we elect to serve us in positions of leadership.
Jesus teaches us to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:25) That means there are two kingdoms in this world: The kingdom where God runs the world through the government. That’s the kingdom of this world. Then there’s the kingdom where the Lord saves people through the preaching of the Gospel. That’s the kingdom of His church. And the two kingdoms are not equal! This world won’t last forever. The church will be with Christ for all eternity. The government’s job is to protect our life and property. In the church, we are given eternal life. These two kingdoms are not the same. This world is passing away. The Word of God will never pass away.
In fact, as Christians, we believe that because God gives government, that government is a gift which is given for the sake of Christ’s church. No, it’s not the government’s job to forgive our sins. No, we don’t go to the county office to get Holy Communion. When someone is baptized, they don’t apply for a permit downtown. The government’s job isn’t to give money to churches or decide who your pastor is. But the freedoms that our government guarantees and protects give us the opportunity to hear and learn God’s Word without fear of being attacked. In America, at least, we are free to hear the Good News that Christ has died for our sins. In that way, our Lord uses the government for the sake of His church.
But what about when governments do what is against the Bible? What about when the government actually attacks people who are Christians? How can St. Paul honor the government when it was the same government who ended up beheading him for being a Christian? Well, even when the government attacks Christ’s church, that is an opportunity for God’s people to remember that they are still citizens of heaven no matter what happens on earth. Such persecution teaches Christians to trust in Christ alone while at the same time praying for a good and wise government.
In God’s kingdom, it’s all about Jesus, the cross, Baptism, Body and Blood, the Word, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. In the kingdom of the world, it’s all about the Lord working to preserve order and peace for the sake of His holy church. Even if you can’t vote in the election, remember to still take time to pray and give thanks for that loaf of daily bread, your government. And if you do have the blessed privilege to vote in the election, exercise that responsibility smartly, that is, voting for men and women who will take seriously the government’s purpose of being a blessing to people and supporting (indirectly) Christ’s holy church. Above all else, remember that you are a citizen of heaven by Jesus’ blood and that is something sure and solid and unchanging, no matter which candidate ends up in office.
Rev. Mark Buetow is pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. He and his wife Susan have three daughters. Pastor Buetow serves as the Internet Services Executive for Higher Things. Which means on top of keeping an eye on his own daughters, he has to keep Stan in-line as well.