Does Government’s Role Differ from Our Calling to Love Others?

Spectators watch as migrants climb a wall to enter Mexico on their way to the United States.

Spectators watch as migrants climb a wall to enter Mexico on their way to the United States.

Immigration remains a hot topic in America. Caravans of migrants are traveling up through Mexico hoping to break into the United States. Some believe we should let them in and then take care of all their needs. After all, isn’t this the “Christian” thing to do?

Others support President Trump in sending the military to protect our border. Our nation has long been a haven for asylum seekers and immigrants, but there is a process for those seeking to enter our nation in such a way. Those in the caravan who are truly in need of help can enter our country according to our laws for asylum seekers and immigrants.

Why are believers so divided on this issue? I believe this comes from confusing the role of government versus that of our responsibility to help the needy.

The Role of Government in the New Testament

The Bible teaches that the primary role of government is to punish those who break the law and in so doing protect its citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). God entrusts human government with the responsibility keeping its people safe. It does so by enforcing its laws so that those who break them are justly punished (13:4).

Nations with borders are not some evil invention of wayward humanity; the apostle Paul said that both originate in God’s sovereign purposes for the world (Rom. 13; Acts 17:26). The Lord is the one who instituted human governments as well as their borders.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul adds this, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Isn’t it interesting that the intended result our prayers for those in authority is that of “a peaceful and quiet life?” When those in authority over us fulfill their God-given roles, it increases our safety as well as our security.

The purpose of our prayers for them is to make our governments more effective in their role of protecting us from those intent on harming us.

The Role of New Testament Believers

As followers of Christ, we have a different role such as summed up in Hebrews 13:1-3, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

These verses are addressed to us as followers of Jesus, not to our government. Much confusion arises from applying commands intended solely for New Testament saints to government authorities.

Some evangelical leaders cite the parable of the Good Samaritan as proof we should welcome all migrants into our country regardless of their legality or purpose for coming.

This parable, however, speaks to our calling to minister to the needy we encounter in our daily walk. In this parable, Jesus speaks to our duty as believers to care for the needs of the hurting. He’s addressing our individual responsibility here, not the role of government.

Jesus calls us to show mercy to those in need and through the apostle Paul he assigns government with the task of ensuring our security. It’s important that we not confuse the two.

In America, our tax dollars support the needy, weak, and unemployed. I am not at all saying it’s wrong for a government to do such things; it’s obviously a good thing for our nation to help those who are truly needy.

The danger comes, however, when we assume our leaders are responsible for all the aspects of our calling to show love to others. They are not!

Our Response

What should our response be in light of these differing roles?

1. We are to honor and respect those in authority over us (Rom. 13:5-6). For me, this command has resulted in my asking for God’s forgiveness. Regrettably, I have not always obeyed the Lord by showing proper esteem to those over me, including the President.

2. We are to obey the laws of our nation (Rom. 13:7). As members of God’s kingdom, we are to obey the laws of our country. This does not mean doing so when it violates Scripture, but when there is no conflict with God’s Word we are to obey those in authority over us.

3. We are to pray “for kings and all who are in high places” (1 Tim. 2:2). The kings in Paul’s day were godless and ruthless men, yet the apostle asked his readers to pray for them. Nero, the Roman Emperor at the time, persecuted Christians in Rome and would later behead the apostle. Even so, Paul asked believers to pray for him.

Regrettably, I have not always been faithful in praying for our President or members of Congress. However, it’s clear that the Lord instructs us to pray for them regardless of whether or not we voted for them!

4. We are to be generous with the poor (Gal. 2:10). Widows were the neediest group of people in Paul’s day. In response, the church took upon themselves the task of providing for their needs; the apostle himself providing detailed guidelines for who would be eligible for such care (1 Tim. 5:3-16).

Franklin Graham summed it best, “But we have to realize that the President’s job is not the same as the job of the church.” Much confusion arises when we assign our calling to governments, or vice versa for that matter.

Our biblical calling is to use our resources to care for those in need, for those the Lord brings our way or to our attention.

God assigns human governments the primary responsibilities of ensuring the security of its people and punishing those who break its laws. This certainly implies protecting our borders from those who would disrupt our peace and potentially harm us.