[…] then tell us what cities are better governed because of you, as Sparta is because of Lycurgus, and many others–big and small–are because of many other men? What city gives you credit for being a good lawgiver who benefited it, as Italy and Sicily do Charondas, and as we do to Solon? […]
–Plato, Republic X.599e, translation by G. M. A. Grube
Two and a half millennia ago, the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato implied the same fundamental purpose of government, namely to “benefit” the people. A lawgiver is only considered good inasmuch as he does good to the people through his laws. Each point in Matt’s summary of the purpose of government:
1. Provide for the common good.
2. Implement justice.
3. Protect the freedom of the individual.
4. Provide moral direction.
can be understood as a benefit for the people. It is no coincidence that the two main political parties in the United States are the Democrats and the Republicans: “democracy” comes from the Greek works dēmos (people)+ krasia (power), while “republic” comes from the Latin words rēs (thing, or affair) + publica (public). A good government should be “of the people, by the people, for the people.
Moreover, the fact that government exists is a common grace from which men benefit. Otherwise, we would be subject to utter chaos and anarchy. This is not to say that all governments are good ones, or fair ones, or that all the people in the world are being benefited by their governments. No, it is merely to say that the only reason that there is any government at all is by the grace of God. I particularly like what Matt said about government providing a moral compass. The principle of obedience and headship (wife to husband, children to parents, slaves to masters–or employees to employers) that the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 5-6 is fundamentally the same principle that he teaches in Romans 13 about obeying the government. These structures are placed over us for our own benefit, and it is not only because we live in a fallen world, because some of these predate the Fall (wife to husband, and presumably children to parents). Although Adam and Eve had a direct relationship with God the Father, Adam was set over Eve as her federal head. What this means, then, is that just as marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church (divine marriage), in the same way, government is an image of our ultimate obedience to God (divine government). God’s laws are meant to benefit us more than any human government. He is the ultimate champion of Matt’s points 1-4. He is the greatest lawgiver.
James, the younger brother