Exile and Political Engagement: Government Service

This post is part of a series (Post 1: Introduction and Outline, Post 2: Four Key Principles for Christian Political Engagement, Post 3: Submission and Taxes)

Serving in the government

We move now from a more passive obedience to active participation. Can a Christian actually serve in a government position? To answer this I would like to look at several biblical characters who served in government positions, excluding, of course, those who served in Israel, since we are most interested at this point in the position of Christians as “foreigners and exiles.”

We begin with Joseph. Joseph was thrust into government service after interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams. He went from a man in prison to second in command over all of Egypt literally overnight (Genesis 41:41-43). It should be noted that Joseph did not exactly volunteer for service in Egypt. He was not driven by dreams of political advancement. But, when he was placed in that position, he did not refuse. Once he was placed in charge he carried out his duties with integrity and for the good of the nation in which he served.

We turn next to Daniel and to his companions Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were also thrust into government service. Like Joseph before them they were marked out for their integrity. And, as far as we can tell, they carried out all the duties assigned to them, so much so that they were given higher and higher positions, setting them to be the targets of jealousy-motivated plots against their lives. Unlike Joseph, once in service to the king, they had to face several instances where they had to decide to obey or disobey the law of the land. When they disobeyed they faced the legislative consequences, but also experienced divine protection from God.

Finally, we see several instances in the New Testament of Romans soldiers and tax collectors becoming Jesus followers. When John was calling people to repentance at the Jordan River he didn’t call the tax collectors to resign their position, but to not collect more than what was due. To the soldiers, he did not call them to give up soldiering, but to not extort money or accuse people falsely (Luke 3:12-14). None of the Centurions who become believers are called to leave their profession.

While the Bible doesn’t specifically call people to serve in political positions, it doesn’t condemn those positions either. Serving in the government can be done in a corrupt way (taking more money than is due) and it can come with some extra moral strings attached (see Daniel) but nowhere is it seen as something low, base, or evil in and of itself. In fact, if the civil government is something God gives the fallen world as a common grace, then serving in the government can be a way of loving your neighbor. This is certainly true of Joseph who, through his service, prevented the starvation of the Egyptians, those who came to Egypt for aid, and his own family.

Next Post: Advocating for justice

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2 thoughts on “Exile and Political Engagement: Government Service

  1. bentacoma

    In my own exploration of this particular subject I’ve found that many government positions cannot be attained, let alone held, in the larger American arena without relying on sinful and fallen practices (lying, bribes, twisting the truth, belittling the gospel/ignoring the gospel).

    If sin of any kind is necessary to achieve, let alone hold, political office a Christian should relinquish that position and find another manner to embody the gospel with neighborly love.

    Side note:
    The Centurion’s may have been advised to leave his position but it wasn’t recorded because it detracts from the point of the text.
    Also, even if he wasn’t advised to do so, his job description was much closer to a modern day police officer than a modern soldier.
    Killing enemies (even non-personal enemies of the state) is not compatible with the command to love our neighbor or with the command to proclaim the gospel unto the nations. That was the position of the early church, which we have lost and continue to reject for various reasons. (see ‘The Early Church on Killing’ by Ronald Sider)

    1. stevenkopp Post author

      Thanks Ben. I agree with your point that if a government position would force you to sin then you should leave that position or (possibly) practice some degree of civil disobedience. There are probably some positions which Christians just shouldn’t hold. A Christian who opposes war shouldn’t become a soldier. Etc.

      I also agree that the argument from the Centurians is a little bit of an argument from silence (nothing is recorded). But it seems to me that if there was ever a time to say “don’t be a soldier” this would have been it. Also, even if his position was closer to a police officer, its still a position that requires use of force (see “bearing the sword” in Romans 13). Regardless, I think at this point you and I are likely at an impasse regarding this and my arguments accepting the use of force in certain cases is argued elsewhere.

      Regardless, you are a dear brother in Christ and I appreciate your input and perspective here.

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