1. The Reasonable/Truthful Principle
We will begin by examining the Reasonable/Truthful Principle.
God is reasonable. He opposes arbitrary management and government (7T 179). The word arbitrary is defined as acting on personal whims or random choices. God does not make decisions based on His personal whims or random choices. The angels don’t wonder whether God is in a bad mood or good mood each day. His government is based on reason and system with love its foundation (1 John 4:8,16; Ephesians 3:17).
However, the reasonableness of God’s commands and restrictions must be accepted by faith, as the issue of being arbitrary is a subtle one. What is reasonable to a parent may seem unreasonable to the child. Many of God’s loving and reasonable decisions may appear to be arbitrary. It is important to understand this because some argue against some of God’s instruction because to them it may seem arbitrary.
Falsely called arbitrary
Simplistic and naive views of what it means to be “arbitrary” are not sufficient. The heavenly angels are exceedingly intelligent beings, yet fully one-third of those working directly at the headquarters of God’s government, actually working with God, felt God was unfair and arbitrary. They still feel that way.
We should acknowledge that some of God’s decisions may appear arbitrary. Though God has not once done anything even slightly arbitrary, the charge appears to be true, and it has been difficult for Him to prove that He is not. He could not settle it by simply declaring, “I am not arbitrary.”
Satan and His angels believe that God’s requirement of “implicit, unquestioned obedience” (1SP 22) is arbitrary (PP 49), requiring angels to be unthinking robots or “deluded slaves” (PP 40).
Satan portrays any requirement of God as arbitrary:
The forbidden fruit
He portrays them all as arbitrary.
“When the appetite of ancient Israel was restricted, or when any close requirement was brought to bear upon them, they reflected upon Moses, that he was arbitrary, that he wished to rule them, and to be altogether a prince over them, when he was only an instrument in God’s hand to bring His people into a position of submission and obedience to God’s voice.” (3T 89)
Is it different today? We need to be very careful not to call God’s order and ways arbitrary.
2. The Deferential/Servant Principle
We have looked at the first leadership principle of God’s government—it is reasonable, it is truthful. It is not arbitrary. But we need to examine the second leadership principle—the Deferential/Servant Principle—leadership exercises its authority in a gentle and mild way.
All service is voluntary. God doesn’t hire the angels to work for Him. He accepts only voluntary service from His citizens. It is neither forced nor bribed.
In God’s government, leadership is deferential, not demanding. A godly leader respects the preferences of the ones being led and places their needs above his own, deferring to their preferences wherever possible. A leader following the heavenly government model serves the ones he leads.
The greatest example of leadership is Jesus. He rules in a very gentle, mild way (1SP 29). He defers to our preferences whenever possible. Christ’s authority is exercised in wisdom, in all kindness and gentleness. “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government. He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened” (DA 22). Although all service for God is voluntary, the Bible makes plain that God does not hesitate to use limited force against His enemies to protect His servants (Psalms 34:7) and to restrain evil (Psalms 76:10; Job 38:11). Ultimately in His “strange act” (Isaiah 28:21, KJV), He is compelled to use highly directed force to punish and destroy the wicked (Rev 11:18; 20:9).
In heaven, before sin, Christ exercised His authority with such mild humility that many angels did not even know He was the Ruler! As Lucifer departed from the order that God had established (PP 36), he “gradually assumed command which devolved on Christ alone” (1SP 17). He presented himself in such a way that “the angels in less exalted positions supposed that he [Lucifer] was the Ruler of heaven” (TDG 256).
For the very first time, complaints began to be heard in heaven. Though Lucifer was the cause of every complaint, he carefully collected each one, blaming the problem on Jesus. “When Satan had succeeded in winning many angels to his side” (1SM 222) he by-passed His immediate superior (Christ) and “artfully presented these things to God, as having come from the angels” (TDG 256).
He had the temerity to suggest some “improvements” in God’s government (1SP 22). He also stated “that it was the desire of the angels that he [Lucifer] occupy the position that Christ held” (1SM 222). Lucifer thought “the condition of the angels … needed improvement” (1SP 22). He thought there were unnecessary rules and restrictions in heaven (1SP 22). He didn’t think it was right that angels couldn’t choose their own tasks and “each had his special work as-signed him” (1SP 22).
Because the angels were bright, Lucifer believed they could figure things out themselves and should to be left free to be more creative and imaginative. He stated that angels should be trusted more, since they would not do something that was harmful or imprudent and declared that the angels “should be left free to follow their own will, which would ever guide them right” (1SP 22).
He introduced the competition-and-rivalry principle in heaven, honoring the few who excelled. This would give the opportunity for advancement by achievement rather than by assignment. As disharmony and conflict broke out in heaven, Satan’s way forward to peace was for God to concede to the angels’ demands. His solution, his “way of peace” (Isaiah 59:8), was for more of what had caused the problem in the first place!
When he urged that changes be made in the order and laws of God’s government, it was under the pretense that these were necessary in order to preserve harmony in heaven (GC 497). Peace by appeasement—peace by giving people their way—is not peace; it is only a temporary cease-fire. We need to recognize these kinds of arguments as an echo of Satan’s rebellion.
In the early 1880’s, there was unrest among the students and faculty at the first Seventh-day Adventist college in Battle Creek, Michigan. The students, with the encouragement of some of the faculty, despised the founder, Goodloe Bell. Ultimately, the students demanded Bell’s dismissal. In 1882, unwise and indulgent administrators granted the demands of the students, and apparently there was peace when Bell left to establish Atlantic Union College. But it was not the genuine peace and harmony of heaven.
Ellen White wrote: “Peace has come, because the students have had their own way. In another crisis, they will be as determined and persevering as they have been on this occasion; and, if they find as able an advocate as they have found in Bro. Smith [Uriah Smith], they may again accomplish their purpose” (PH117 29).
If only every Adventist home, every Adventist church, every Adventist school, understood the principles of God’s government and recognized these echoes of Satan’s demanding voice, and thus refused to submit to them. Whenever you hear an argument that unity and harmony can only be preserved by changing God’s order, God’s system, you are hearing an echo of Lucifer in heaven.
No wonder Solomon advised, “My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change” (Proverbs 24:21).
Rumors were spreading and estrangements between angels became evident when God assembled the angelic hosts to give the only solution for the sin problem then developing in heaven—Jesus! Satan claimed Jesus was the real problem, but God said Jesus was the only solution. In God’s governmental system, Jesus doesn’t just have the solution, He is the solution.
God stated what had always been true, that Christ (not Lucifer) was the Ruler (PP 36). God called for the angels to worship Christ, and they prostrated themselves before Him in voluntary but total submission and loyalty to His commands.
During God’s presentation Satan experienced conflicting emotions, but when God made His appeal for all the angels to worship Christ, momentarily Satan was carried along with the music and the Spirit of God was allowed entrance. With the other angels Satan bowed in worship. That commitment didn’t last, and almost immediately the doubts, jealousy, and envy returned. He was stung by jealousy that he had not been honored. He was envious that Christ had been honored.
Envy is well-nigh incurable.
“If an attempt be made to convince the envious person of his sin, he becomes even more bitter against the object of his passion, and too often he remains incurable. Thus it was with Satan!” 5T 56.
By this time Lucifer was so narcissistic that he was convinced that God’s real purpose in assembling the angels and honoring Christ was to humiliate Lucifer. Lucifer wasn’t fired, he resigned his position as covering cherub. (GC 496; DG 2; 1SP 18).
The more Lucifer thought about it, the angrier he became that Christ had been exalted. Seeking revenge, Lucifer reassembled the angelic host to exalt and honor himself (1SP 18). He charged that God’s government had taken a turn for the worse because “an absolute Ruler had been appointed them” (PP 37). Turning truth on its head, he “made it appear that Christ had assumed the place that belonged to himself” (EducationalMessenger 9/11/1908).
At first, because of God’s gentle and mild rule, Satan told the angels that if they stood firm in demanding their rights, “they could yet gain all that they desired” (PP 38-39). When it became clear that this was not going to happen, Satan then claimed the angels needed to fight for their rights (PP 40-41).
During this tumultuous period in heaven, there were questions that angels asked which God refused to answer. God is not a hostage to questions. Just as God the Son was silent in the face of false accusations at His trial, so He and His father were silent in heaven. The rebellious angels tried to “ascertain His purpose in exalting Jesus and endowing Him with such unlimited power and command” (EW 146-147).
There was then, just as there is now, information that God does not make available to the angels (Matthew 24:36; Deuteronomy 29:29) or to us.
God may have declined to answer some questions because the information would have been distracting. In other cases, He may have not given the information because it was above the ability of even the angels to understand. He may also have withheld some information because it would have been misunderstood or misused by the angels. It may have been withheld as a test, like the forbidden fruit was withheld in Eden as a test.
Whatever God’s reasons, Satan falsely insinuated that God’s government was unresponsive and lacked transparency. He may have insinuated that God didn’t dare answer, was hiding answers, or didn’t even know the answer to some of these questions. We don’t know how long this problem simmered in heaven, but “God bore long with Lucifer” (PP 39).
At last, God set a time where He would hear Satan’s arguments and render a judgment. The judgment going on right now, is the second judgment that has occurred in heaven. The first judgment determined who would be removed from heaven. The second will determine who is admitted to heaven.
Standing before the judgment throne, Satan proudly presented his case using his now-familiar arguments and threats. After listening to the arguments, God rendered His judgment and “informed Satan that … he required all the family in Heaven, even Satan, to yield him implicit, unquestioned obedience” (1SP 22).
This was not a new truth, it is an eternal truth. But it was not necessary for God to explain this truth before. However, sin now made it necessary to state what should have been obvious and leave all without excuse.
Satan believes that heaven’s verdict and sentence were unjust. Satan and his angels were convinced then, and believe now, that they were “the innocent victims of oppressive power” (GC 499). Evil men join evil angels in believing that Jesus is “severe and tyrannical” (GC 500), that God Himself is autocratic and His government “top down” and hierarchical.
This reveals an interesting pattern of “natural process” before sin to “commanded process” after sin: In heaven before sin Christ’s leadership was so natural, so mild, that many angels were not even aware of it. The angels too, were humble and Christlike, happy to function in their assigned positions. After sin, rulers became by turns autocratic or indulgent. Subjects were naturally selfish, resentful, critical, and complaining. Because of sin it became necessary for God to clearly spell out Christ’s headship position and enforce it. Though nothing had changed, Satan declared that God’s explanation of Christ’s eternal headship position, was an announcement of something new, a change, a rulership which was oppressive and arbitrary, dictatorial, and hierarchal.
Like it or not, Satan and his angels are still under Christ’s authority. They are still compelled to comply with a command of Jesus (Matthew 4:10; Luke 10:17; Matthew. 28:18). Satan’s complaints and Satan’s rebellion have not changed God’s rule or His rules. The story of Job shows us that even now Satan can do nothing without God’s permission (Job 1:12; 2:6).
Some have expressed incredulity that pre-fall leadership was so natural as to be almost unnoticed. It could be asked, “How could the angels not be aware of the fact that Jesus was head, since the proper response to His headship is submission, honor, and respect?” Sin has made such a complete difference, that we can scarcely imagine this kind of natural harmony.
But we can begin to experience this even now, this is the work of the Gospel.
“If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service.” (DA 668).
We can observe the same pattern of change from “natural process” before sin to “commanded process” after sin in Eden. Before sin, the law was in the heart and it was as natural for Adam and Eve to obey this as it was to breath. They obeyed without a thought, without a competing desire. But this was not true after sin. The ten commandments had to be defined. They were no longer in the heart, they had to be placed on stone. But through the gospel they were to be rewritten in the heart.
Before sin, relationships were also natural. Parents would naturally have loved their children, protected them, guided them. And children would naturally have honored and obeyed their parents. After sin, relationships had to be defined. What was natural before now had to be commanded. The wife was submissive to the husband, the child subject to the parent. The husband/father before sin was mild, gentle, thoughtful, humbly serving his wife and children. His wife and the mother was also humble, willingly volunteering to be a servant.
What a profound change sin brought. Leadership became selfish. The husband became at times autocratic and at times indulgent—ruling through coercion or bribery. Jesus said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you” (Matthew 20:25,26). Sin made the wife selfish, resentful, critical, complaining—a mere slave.
This helps us understand God’s law. Paul asked, what purpose then does the law serve? He then answered his question. “It was added [spoken] because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). It was always there, but sin made it necessary to be stated, sin made it necessary for God’s law to be clarified.
We can see the same pattern in the home and church. “In the beginning, the head of each family was considered ruler and priest of his own household” (1SP 53). Adam by nature exercised his delegated headship authority in the mild, humble manner of Christ. Eve too, was Christlike (Philippians 2:5-7), happy volunteering to function in the position God had assigned to her. But sin made it necessary to clearly spell out Adam’s leadership role and enforce it (Genesis 3:17).
Satan and his sympathizers declare that Adam’s headship position and the Ten Commandment law was a change, something introduced after sin—a punishment for sin. And they blasphemously declare these eternal principles to be arbitrary and oppressive!
However, the gospel changes us. As husbands and wives become increasingly like Christ, delegated leadership, like the law, becomes more natural again. To live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4) brings peace because it brings Christ’s rule and governmental order. To depart from His gentle rule brings war (Revelation 12:7). Wherever Christ is not the ruler in the home, in society, or in the church there is division.
Right here we should pause to make a very important observation about God’s government. Christians don’t fight for their rights. Jesus explained this to Pilate when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36). Christians do not ever murmur or complain.
Christianity is not only about correct doctrine, it is about proper attitude.
”The correct interpretation of the Scriptures is not all that God requires. He enjoins upon us that we should not only know the truth, but that we should practice the truth as it is in Jesus. We are to bring into our practice, in our association with our fellowmen, the spirit of him who gave us the truth.” (1888 45).
We have looked at two of the principles of God’s government. First, it is reasonable and truthful never arbitrary, though it may be portrayed as such. Second, in God’s system those with authority are deferential. They are servant to those they lead. There’s is a gentle, mild rule with voluntary service from those under their command.
3. The Protective-Law Principle
But we must come to the Protective-Law Principle—complete freedom within necessary limits. God grants as much liberty as is possible (Genesis 2:16), this is the protective-law principle.
In the universe, there are some things that are incompatible with life. God wants us to live (Ezekiel 18:31), but He won’t force life on us. He gives us the freedom to choose eternal life or choose eternal death. To protect us, He tells us what dangers must be avoided. Like the warning signs posted by the falls at Yosemite, God’s Ten Commandments are warning signs for activities that may seem safe, may even seem right, but end in death (Proverbs 14:12).
God delights in our lawful choices. He gives us great latitude to exercise our preference and our judgment. Of the fruit in the garden, only one was forbidden (Genesis 2:16). All of our gain, save the tithe, is discretionary (Malachi 3:10). All of our time, except the Sabbath, is ours to manage as we see best (Exodus 20:9,10). Manna could be prepared in multiple ways, but it could be preserved overnight only on Friday (Exodus 16:23). We can marry any one of our choice, as long as they agree to the marriage and are in the faith (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Satan despises these necessary limits that safeguard us from harm. He falsely charges that such obedience is limiting and nothing short of slavery! Satan portrays the wise protections of God’s law as unnecessary and arbitrary. He offers a life without such restrictions. He promises happiness in thoughts, words, and actions that God forbids. But God forbids them only because they bring misery and finally death. Satan seeks to have us become a law unto ourselves (Judges 17:6; Proverbs 21:2).
We have looked at the first three leadership principles in God’s government. God is reasonable and truthful, never arbitrary. Rulers are gentle and mild in the exercise of their authority. The laws of God’s government are protective and based on granting as wide a freedom as possible and includes only the absolutely necessary limits.
4. The Accountability/Council Principle
We now come to the final principle—the Accountability/Council Principle. God delegates authority but holds those He has given authority accountable for how they exercise their authority. This is sometimes referred to as “headship”, a word that is interchangeable with “leadership.”
God creates ordered systems and organizations. “God Himself established the order of heaven” (PP 35).
God created animals with heads. God did not add heads to animals as a “concession” to the sin problem. Even at the cellular level there is an organizational “head” found in the nucleolus. This coordinates and directs the cell.
A head coordinates and unites the body. It binds together all the functional units of an organization so that they can function harmoniously, united in purpose. That is why the head of the home is called the “house-band” (Lt 18b, 1891). For those who deny that Adam was the head of the home before sin, the Bible calls Adam, Eve’s husband (house-band) before sin (Genesis 3:6).
The Bible calls the civil head, a ruler: “Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” (Exodus 18:25).
This is true from the very start as it is written, “In the beginning, the head of each family was considered ruler and priest of his own household” (1SP 53). The civil head was also called a lawgiver (Genesis 49:10; Psalms 60:7; 108:8).
Without a head, an organization quickly dies. To remove the head is to make every part of an organization a law unto itself. Removing the head by giving everyone their own way is well-liked because it removes any external restrictions and laws, but this has been forbidden, “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes.” (Deuteronomy 12:8)
Regardless of whether we are dealing with a “pre-sin” universe or “post-sin” universe, God is head (1 Corinthians 11:3). Sin did not change God’s headship.
The term GodHEAD, used by Ellen White, certainly contains the thought of headship. His headship is a good thing. (PP 33) The sovereignty of God involves fullness of blessing to all created beings. We do not join the atheists in their attempt to guillotine the universe by removing God But neither do we join the anarchist, antinominalists, and spiritualists in their attempt make each member a head, a law unto himself.
If a hand or an eye removes itself from the body, it becomes its own head. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body” and thus its own head?” (1 Corinthians 12:15).
The Bible reveals God as “over all” (Romans 9:5). He is not only high, He is the Most High. He is not only lord, He is Lord of lords. He is not only king, but King of kings. But if God is the Most High, there must be those who are high. And if He is Lord of lords, there must also be lords. If He is King of kings, there must also be kings.
And there are kings, for the Bible shows that “the throne of God” is itself surrounded by thrones with elders sitting on these thrones and wearing crowns (Revelation 4:4). The apostle Paul writes that Jesus was the Creator of thrones, dominions, and principalities (Colossians 1:16). Before his fall Lucifer had one of the thrones around God’s throne, and sin brought him the covetous thought, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” (Isaiah 14:13).
Furthermore, the Bible clearly teaches the headship of Jesus (Ephesians 4:15). And what He is today, He has always been, since the I AM is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is Commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:14,15). He is the ruler of His people. In the days of Israel, He was the acknowledged head (Judges 8:23). Just as the body has only one head, the church, the body of Christ has only one head, Jesus (Ephesians 1:22).
“The word here rendered ‘added’ is the same as that rendered ‘spoken’ in Hebrews 12:19: ‘They that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.’ It is the same word that occurs in the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 5:22, where we read that God spoke the ten commandments with a great voice; ‘and He added no more.’ So we may read the answer to the question, ‘Wherefore then the law?’ thus: ‘It was spoken because of transgressions.’ It is the reprover of sin.” E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 137 (https://egwwritings.org/?ref=en_GTI.137¶=1391.584).
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.