Part 1: Foundation Principles
There is an interesting prophecy in the book of Amos. “For surely I will command, and will sift the house of Israel among all nations, as grain is sifted in a sieve; yet not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground.” (Amos 9:9, NKJV).
After a wheat harvest, worthless chaff is mixed in with the wheat. How did farmers rid the precious grain of chaff in Bible times? They would throw the grain and chaff into the air, exposing them both to the wind. The lighter chaff would blow away, while the heavier wheat would remain. God used this sifting to illustrate His method of separating His true people from those who profess to be His people, but who in fact are not.
What are the winds that God uses to sift His people?
Paul likened false doctrine to winds (Ephesians 4:14). Just as a farmer exposes the wheat and chaff to wind, God exposes the church members to cunningly promoted false doctrine, to heresy. This separates His true people from false professors.
Doctrine is important. Doctrine unites believers. Jesus was clear, in His famous prayer for unity among His followers, that sanctification through His Father’s Word of truth was the basis of true unity (John 17:17-21). Our core beliefs unite us with others who share the same core beliefs. But doctrine not only unites; it also separates. The Bible doctrine of the Sabbath unites Sabbath-keepers, but it also separates them from those who don’t keep the Sabbath.
From the days of the early church, God has used the winds of heresy to sift the chaff out of the wheat. And He will do this to the close of probation.
“God will arouse His people; if other means fail, heresies will come in among them, which will sift them, separating the chaff from the wheat.” (5T 707).
But God has provided His people with two powerful protections from the winds of false doctrine.
God’s Protections from the Winds
The first protection from the winds of false doctrine is the word of God properly studied, for all Scripture is given for true doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16). The source of heresy is twisting the word of God. Instead of going to the Bible to find what God says, people go to the Bible to find support for what they believe, to find permission for the sins they love.
How do we properly study Scripture? We must take all of the Scripture, with a desire to know God’s will and to surrender our hearts and lives to do whatever He says. We must prayerfully and diligently study, carefully comparing Scripture with Scripture. This is what the Bible calls rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
But there is a second protection from the sifting winds—God’s government. Isaiah tells us, “Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind” (Isaiah 32:1,2).
Because God’s word and God’s government are such excellent protections, Satan has launched a full-scale attack on both.
A focus of Jesus
The study of God’s government is the focus here today. The government (or kingdom) of God was of prime concern to Jesus. He taught what are often called the “Kingdom Parables.” God’s kingdom was a focus of His prayers, which is why He taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, God’s kingdom has come. This is because God’s kingdom is doing God’s will as expressed by word, as it is written, “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” (Psalms 119:89).
An end-time test
The government of God also plays a prominent part in the great controversy theme, because there was one who rebelled against God’s word and government in heaven. We must know the underlying principles of God’s government to build a solid foundation for understanding God’s plan in matters that are part of the end-time test, and are even now racking the church in controversy.
Government—a creation of God
God is not only the Creator of the animate and inanimate universe, He is also the Creator of government. The Bible is very explicit on this. “For by Him all things were created … whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.” (Colossians 1:16)
He is not only the Creator of government; He is also the sovereign of all government. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1) Satan himself is forced to grudgingly acknowledge this (Job 1:10; see also Matthew 4:6).
The principles of God’s government—the only principles that will endure from everlasting to everlasting—are to be followed by those who are seeking for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The line of demarcation between those who serve God and those who serve him not is to be kept clear and distinct.” (20MR 154).
A salvation issue
This is not a side issue that we can take or leave at our pleasure. We are studying a topic of great importance. The principles of God’s government are a salvation issue. Respect for the eternal principles of God’s government differentiates the servants of God from the servants of the world, for as the above inspired statement declares, “The line of demarcation between those who serve God and those who serve him not is to be kept clear and distinct.”
The principles of God’s government are codified in the ten commandments. God begins the second table of the Ten Commandments detailing how we are to relate to our first human authority—our parents. The child is to honor his parents. The child is to obey his parents “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1). The child is to recognize and acknowledge the parents’ God-given authority.
Does being under the authority of the parent diminish the child’s value? No, in God’s eyes the child has equal value to the parent. Perhaps the child has even greater value!
Does being the authority over the child increase the parents’ value? No, it simply increases the parents’ responsibility and accountability.
God was the Father of Adam, and Adam was to honor Him as Head. Eve came out of Adam, who was in a limited sense her father, and Eve was to honor Adam’s leadership in the home (1 Corinthians 11:8, 9).
But this commandment is far-reaching, and goes beyond the parent. Whether we are children or parents, we are to honor those in authority by deference, respect, and obedience in the Lord. In Ephesians 5 and 6, Paul uses this commandment as the basis for how we are to relate to all human authority—in the home, church, school, work, or state.
Though Satan cannot create, he can corrupt and pervert, and he attempts to defile all of God’s creation, including government (2 Peter 2:10). His success in leading people to reject authority and government is one of the defining sins in the last days (2 Timothy 3:2,4).
Crucial, end-time importance
Understanding God’s government is not optional for those living at the end of time, for we are told that,
“In order to endure the trial before them, they must understand the will of God as revealed in His word; they can honor Him only as they have a right conception of His character government and purposes and act in accordance with them.” (GC 593).
This statement exposes Satan’s end-time game plan. He is attempting to keep us from understanding the will of God by spreading misinformation about God in three critical areas:
His government, and
God is love, and genuine love is central to His character, government, and purposes. The character of God answers the question of who God is. The government of God answers the question of how God works. And understanding His purposes answers the question of why He does what He does.
In this sinful world, civil heads of state do not provide a good model for God’s plan of government. For example, earthly rulers derive their power, honor, and wealth from the citizens. In the heavenly model, the opposite is true, the citizens derive their power, honor, and wealth from their ruler.
In sinful civil governments, the citizens protect the head, but in God’s government the head protects the citizens. The covering cherubs are not protecting God from potential assassins, they are veiling His glory (GC 669) so that He is more accessible to the beings He created.
Homes provide a better model, for it is from the parents that the children receive their legacy, their genetics, their honor, and their wealth. And it is the parents who protect the child. Godly homes and churches are to follow the heavenly model. The principles of heaven are to be brought into the government of the home (CG 143). Christ designs that heaven’s order, heaven’s plan of government, heaven’s divine harmony, shall be represented in His church on earth. (DA 680)
There are four leadership principles of God’s government.
First, God’s decisions and commands are reasonable and truthful. They are never arbitrary.
Second, God is deferential toward His citizens. He is servant to His citizens. He rules in a very gentle and mild way, and all service for Him is voluntary.
Third, God’s laws are protective. He grants complete freedom within necessary limits.
Finally, while God delegates authority and governs through such delegated authority, He holds His representatives strictly accountable for the way they use His delegated authority. This is what we call the Accountability/Council Principle.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible references are from the New King James Version (NKJV).
Dr. Phil Mills, sometimes called the “Dr. Phil of Adventism,” is a retired dermatologist living in Blue Ridge, Georgia. He and his wife Sherry are leaders of the My Bible First ministry, which produces Sabbath School material for children and youth. He is a sought-after seminar speaker on such topics as family life, gender authority, marriage preparation, and other issues.