The Christian and Government, Part 1 (Romans Sermon 98 of 120)
April 09, 2006 | Andrew Davis
Government & Authority
Introduction: Spartacus and Christ... Two Different Approaches to the Roman Empire
This morning, we're going to be looking at Romans 13:1-7 and talking the Christian and government. In 73 BC, a slave from Thrace named Spartacus was being trained at the gladiatorial school in Capua. He escaped with 70 or 80 other gladiators, men who are being trained to fight with the sword in the Coliseum in Rome. They seized knives from the cook shop, and they captured also a cartload of weapons and they camped on Mount Vesuvius and were joined by other rural slaves in open rebellion against the Roman Empire. Over two years, Spartacus led this rebellion, an astonishing uprising of slaves right in the heartland of the Roman Empire. At its height, the revolt included 120,000 escaped slaves who are in open defiance and rebellion against the authority of the Roman Empire.
Initially, the Roman government took Spartacus too lightly. But eventually, they realized the threat and they recalled all of their strongest commanders from the field and brought them back to the Italian Peninsula, from the distant shores where they are fighting. For example, Pompey and his legions marched overland from Spain and came down that way. Lucullus and his legions landed at Brundisium, on the Italian heel, and they trapped Spartacus and his slave army and converging, they crushed him totally. And as a reprisal and as an example to other slaves, they crucified 6000 of them along the Appian Way leading all the way to Rome. And there, ended Spartacus' open rebellion against the Roman Empire.
Almost exactly a hundred years later, Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem being proclaimed as the coming Savior, the Messiah, the King with palm branches but then he was arrested later that week and arraigned before the Roman governor, the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. The interview between the two of them is recorded in John 18:
"Pilate went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' And Jesus answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. As it is, my kingdom is from another place.' 'You are a king then,' said Pilate. Jesus said, 'You are right in saying that I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born and for this, I came into the world: To testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.' 'What is truth?' said Pilate. And then he went back outside and said to the Jews, I find no basis for a charge against him."
Now, Jesus spoke the truth, he was and is a king. But he also said, "My kingdom is not of this world," it doesn't derive its origin from this world, it's not coming from this world, it doesn't follow the world's patterns. "If it were," Jesus said, "my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews." Now, as providence and the sovereignty of God and his zeal for the glory of his Son would have it, Jesus' kingdom advanced over the next three centuries and spiritually conquered the Roman Empire, to the glory of God. But it would not advance in the ordinary way, it would not advance by killing but by dying. It would not advance by hatred but by love for enemies.
Spartacus' revolt is man's way. Jesus' kingdom is God's way. And part of that is the command in Romans 13 for Christians to be in happy, glad subjection, submission to God-ordained authority, to government. And in this, Paul is giving us another aspect of that supernatural Christian life that we've been talking about, the life that results from the doctrine that we studied over many years, Romans 1-11, that explains the gospel of Jesus Christ, the foundation of our right relationship with God. And then answers that great question, "How then shall we live?" Part of that is Paul's answer here in Romans 13, "How shall we live in reference to secular governments?" And Paul here in Romans 13:1-7 gives two basic commands. We're going to look at one of them today and another with some implications the next time we look at this text.
The first command is basically submit. The second command is give to government what you owe it, whether taxes or honor or respect. That is what Paul commands.
I. Government in the Bible: Basic Principles
God Actively Rules Heaven and Earth
Now, let's talk first of all about basic principles from Scripture about government. We start with this one, God actively rules heaven and earth. He reigns over all things. Acts 17:24, it says, "The God who made the world and everything in it is Lord of heaven and earth," the Apostle Paul says. Also in Psalm 103:19, it says, "The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all." He is sovereign, he is king, he rules over this earth.
God Delegates Some of His Authority to Created Beings
Secondly, and this is not in your outline, somehow it got deleted, but the second principle I want to give you is that God delegates some of his authority to created beings. He gives his authority to created beings and they are to use that authority. Genesis 1:16, it says that God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, that's the sun; the lesser light to govern the moon. In like manner then he creates human beings in the image of God. In Genesis 1:26, "Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule…" "Let them rule, over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God delegates to created beings some of his authority. This is true also in the heavenly realms, which we cannot see, we cannot perceive it by five senses, but we know of archangels, ruler angels who ruled over other angels. There is order in the heavenly realms, and this is reflected even in terms of Satan's kingdom, which is spoken of in terms of rulers and authorities, and powers, and dominions. There is order in the heavenly realms, though we cannot see it. So also, there is order here on earth. Ephesians 6:1-3 says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." So, God delegates some of his authority to created beings.
God Will Judge Both Governors and Subjects
Thirdly, God will judge both governors and citizens, both governors and the subjects of their reign for how they carry themselves. God holds created beings accountable for their actions. He will judge kings for how they govern. He will judge their subjects or citizens for how they respond to the government. A clear example of this is in Ephesians 6:9 where it says, "Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism with him." In other words, masters, you're going to stand before your master some day and give an account for how you treated your slaves, and so therefore, handle it properly. God will bring to judgment both kings and subjects based on how they handle the relationship.
God Sovereignly Rules Over Both Governors and Subjects
Fourthly, God actively and sovereignly rules over governments day-to-day. He doesn't just delegate to them and then lets it go. But he is actively guiding human history, ruling over all things. Jesus is the King of Kings, isn't that marvelous? To know that he is actively reigning over governments, no matter how wicked they may seem to us, and they are wicked, still Christ reigns. It says in Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse whichever way he chooses." And I like this in Daniel chapter 7, a great chapter, Daniel. Daniel has a vision of the sea and up out of the sea come beasts one after the other, four beasts. Each of these beasts represents a human government, a human empire one after the other, the Babylonian Empire, the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire coming up out of the sea, one after the other. They are beasts, and he looks at it.
And it says, concerning that fourth beast, interpreted to be Rome, it says this, in Daniel 7:23-26, "The fourth beast is a fourth kingdom that will appear on the earth, it will be different from all the other kingdoms and it will devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it. The 10 horns or 10 kings who will come from this kingdom, after them another king will rise different from the earlier ones and he will subdue three kings. He will speak against the Most High and he will oppress his saints, and he will try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time. But, then the court will sit and his power will be taken away and he will be completely destroyed forever." You see the active rule of heaven over these evil kingdoms. The best example of this is in the death of Christ.
In Acts chapter 4, the church met together to consider the escalating persecution by the Jews, the Sanhedrin, and by the Romans. And they prayed about it, and in their prayer they quote Scripture. Psalm 2, "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his anointed one. Indeed, they say Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in the city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire against your holy servant, Jesus. [Listen] They did what your power and will had determined ahead of time should happen." God actively rules over human governments day-to-day.
Good Government is a Blessing
Fifth, good government is a blessing from God. That's the basic idea of Romans 13, good government is a blessing from God. Listen to the preamble of the Constitution, it says there, "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America." Well, that's a list of blessings. Those are good things. All of them can be supported in Scripture. That's why the Constitution was written, that's what the government was for. Good government is a blessing from God.
Government restrains chaos and evil
Well, how so? Well, first, it restrains chaos and evil. Do you know that today is the three-year anniversary of the conquest of Baghdad by the troops, the American troops? Today, April 9, 2003, Saddam's statue was pulled down, perhaps the most visible symbol of the toppling of his regime. But even a wicked government has this good effect, it restrains evil and chaos. Do you remember what happened after the government was toppled, the anarchy that ruled in Baghdad? While the military was still pursuing military targets and there really was no police force in Baghdad, Washington Post wrote a story about a month later, May 13, 2003, and this is what it said, "The reports of carjackings, assaults, and forced evictions grew today, adding to an impression that recent improvements and security were evaporating. Fires burned anew and several Iraqi government buildings and looting resumed at one of former President Saddam Hussein's palaces. The sound of gunfire, rattled during the night, many residents said they were keeping their children home from school during the day. Even traffic was affected as drivers ignored rules in the absence of Iraqi police, only to crash and cause tie-ups."
"Police officers, prohibited by US forces from carrying anything other than a side arm, are wary of confronting antagonists who can outgun them. The overall situation is further complicated by a disabled court system and a lack of functioning jails. Carjackings have been particularly frequent. A furniture salesman, Abdul Salam Hussein, [probably no family relation, I would hope anyway] said he watched through the picture window of his store as gunmen chased down a Peugeot sedan on a busy square, ordered the occupants into the street and sped away. They had weapons, he said. No one could do anything to help."
Now, the government of Saddam Hussein's was a wicked government, evil. It's better that it's not there, but in the absence even of that evil government, look what happens. People's wickedness floats to the surface, people take advantage of the situation. We saw the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As you see pictures or reports of looters going all over the place, and then private citizens guarding their possessions with weapons and willing to gun down anybody who steps on their property. It's anarchy. So even bad government restrains evil and chaos. Without government, might makes right and anarchy rules.
1 John 3:4, it says, "Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, sin is lawlessness." Without government, you'll see that all over the place, sin is lawlessness. Now, some intellectuals in the West have openly espoused anarchy based on a utopian view of society and an overly optimistic view of human nature. "We can get along without government," they say. Well, the problem is Romans 3:10-18 has already diagnosed the human heart. "There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless. There is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves, their tongues practice deceit, the poison of vipers is on their lips, their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood. Ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now you take government away and this is what you have. You'll see it lived out right in front of you.
Without government, people's sin nature runs wild and loss of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law occurs constantly. Without government, we Christians who are basically sheep-like, peace-loving kind of people would have to hide in the hills, as in the days of the Book of Judges with Gideon and just venture forth to see what's left in the streets to eat and then go back up in the hills. It would be a very dangerous place to live.
Government demonstrates God’s passion for justice
Secondly, government also demonstrates God's passion for justice. Governments, police, court systems give daily picture of judgment day. Every night, on the local news, you can see somebody getting arrested, or somebody being arraigned, or somebody being convicted, or somebody being brought off to prison and these images are in our minds all the time. They are a picture of judgment day, aren't they? We see it everyday, it's just a display of God's basic nature to bring things to justice, to deal with things. The court was seated and the books were opened, it says in Revelation 20. Well, we have a picture of that because of government.
Government promotes order and peace
Thirdly, government promotes order and peace. With the natural tendency of humans to evil being checked and restrained, then a basic level of peace and order can be established, and this enables people to live orderly and peaceful lives.
Order and peace is essential to the spread of the gospel
Fourthly, this order and peace is essential to the gospel advance. How can we preach the gospel if there's rioting and looting in the streets? If you're cowering up in the hills and you're not sure where your next meal is going to come from, how are you going to share the gospel with your neighbor? It's going to be hard. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul talks about this in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, he says, "I urge then, first of all that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, for kings and for all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness, this is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." Do you see how Paul connects government and the orderliness of society with the advance of the gospel? God's desire is to get people saved, and so you got to pray for governments that they would do their job well so that we can advance the gospel. So we need the quiet orderliness that government provides so that we can share.
Order and peace is also essential to general productivity
Now, fifth, order and peace is also essential to general productivity. Governments maintain infrastructure, like roads and bridges and ports and emergency things like 911, hospitals, ambulances, fire departments; these things come from government. Good governments also manage economic opportunities in a way conducive to the general welfare. Now this enables Christians to obey Paul's command in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, where he says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." Without government keeping everything under control, you can't do this. God can't put your daily quiet life on display, your hard work with your hands. Instead, again, you'd be running and cowering and trying to survive the day. And so as a result, good things happen with the order of government.
And government encourages love and good deeds. It says in Romans 13:4, "The ruler is God's servant to do you good." So, good government is a blessing from God.
Bad Government is a Curse
Bad government is a curse from the devil. He's a governor, he's a king, he's a ruler, and he rebelled against God, not God-ordained authority, he rebelled against God. And so bad government is in the image of the devil. And it is essentially rebellious, it promotes evil and chaos.
I was reading a book about the history of the civil rights recently and a civil right leader quoted Saint Augustine and he said, "Without justice, government is nothing more than a band of armed robbers." In other words, without justice, a government itself becomes a lot like anarchy. Look at, for example, Nazi Germany in 1938, October 9th and 10th, what's called Kristallnacht in which government permission was given to anti-Semites to roam the streets, destroy Jewish businesses, arrest Jewish people without any charges, hold them, bring them to concentration camps and they were executed without a trial. How is that different than the anarchy I was just describing? Very little different.
And so, bad government is a curse from the devil. The key passage on good government being a blessing from God is Romans 13, we're looking at this morning. The key passage on bad government being a curse from the devil is Revelation 13. It's a good kind of parallelism there. Romans 13, government is a blessing from God. Revelation 13, evil government is a curse from the devil. There it shows in Revelation 13:1-2, the dragon stands on the shore of the sea. The sea in Daniel 7 represents the churning of the nations and up out of the sea come these beasts in Daniel 7. Well, Revelation 13 picks up on the image, "And there the dragon," Satan, "is standing by the sea, and he looks out over the churning sea and up out of the sea, comes a beast. It has 10 horns and seven heads with 10 crowns on its horns and on each head a blasphemous name. "The beast I saw resembled the leopard but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and throne and great authority." That's government, but it's wicked government, it's from the devil, Revelation 13.
Now, the future of bad human government is the reign of anti-Christ. Anti-Christ will reign over this beast, this wicked human government. He is the man of sin mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2. He sets himself above all things, even wanting to be worshipped himself and he will be destroyed by the breath of Christ and by the splendor of his second coming. Amen and amen. And at last, human government will be finished. But that's the future. We have yet a future of bad human government.
So summary, Romans 13, government is established by God, the government official is God's servant to do you good. Revelation 13, government usurped by the devil is wicked. The wicked government is the beast from the sea. The final form of wicked human government is that of the anti-Christ whom Christ will destroy.
II. Command #1: Submit to Human Government
Now, the question before us is, How shall a Christian live in all this? What are we to do? And that's what Romans 13:1-7 is about. Two commands: 1) Submit to human government and 2) Give to human government whatever you owe it whether taxes, or respect, or honor.
Now let's look at this first command, submit to human government. What is the command? Well, everyone, it says, must submit himself to the governing authorities. Now, what is submission? What do we mean by submit? Well, it means willingly and gladly to accept a subordinate position because it is pleasing to God. That's what it means. Willingly gladly to accept a subordinate position because it's pleasing to God. It's the order of God's universe. Gladly to accept it. It means to yield, to put yourself under, to bend the neck under the yoke as it were, and to do it gladly.
The basic concept then in Romans 13 is that Christianity and good citizenship actually go together. Christians were not like Spartacus, a subversive threat to the Roman Empire nor are we a subversive threat to any earthly government. That's not our means, our goal, we're not trying to overthrow government, rather submit. Now, as we'll see later, it means more than just grudgingly acquiescing to laws. It means more than that. It means being glad about it, gladly submitting. It has a gladness, a realization that to submit to God-ordained authority is an act of worship to God himself.
Now, I've seen bumper stickers around like, "Question authority." We have an attitude in our country of questioning and perhaps, even mocking government leaders. There's a whole industry, the political cartoon industry, that openly mocks whoever's in charge: Republican, Democrat, it doesn't matter. There's a whole industry of mocking of whoever's in-charge. And you've laughed at some of those comics, I have too. Alright, because you got politics, so do I. And you're like, "Yeah, that's right." But at the heart of it, there's a disrespect. Alright?
Now, maybe you're not ready to organize armed revolt against the United States government. Not ready for the rest of your life to do that. But yet in your heart and mind is there not some murmuring about authority? I see it, for example, at the airport when you have to take off your shoes and your belts and take your laptop out of your bag and open it up and your personal things fall out on the floor, maybe they don't. I mean, by now you should know where to put those and that won't happen, but I see in facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, open attitudes, rolling of eyes, sighing, comments, even accusations, how little we like to submit to God-ordained authority. We don't like to be told what to do. And one thing I've noticed is how Romans 13 just takes place, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. You give those people a hard time, they will give you a hard time. And so, "Would you step over here, ma'am? Thank you. We'll get to you in a minute. Or maybe 30."
But I've seen it happen. The ones that are really chafing, arguing, complaining get pulled aside and we'll deal with you in a minute, etcetera. And they have the right to do that. But at heart, we have a hard time with submission, we don't like it. Now, submission is not demeaning, not in any way. Jesus, in Luke 2, submitted to Joseph and Mary, his earthly parents. It doesn't mean that God loved Joseph and Mary more than Jesus, it means that Jesus honored the order that was set up. It's the same thing commanded of Christian wives to their husbands or of children to parents. It doesn't mean that God loves the one in authority more than he loves the one submitting. Not at all, it's just order. It's the way it's set up. That's the command.
Now, to whom is the command given? Well, literally in the Greek it says every soul. Every soul should be subject to the God-ordained authorities. Every soul, so that's everybody. It's comprehensive. Now, of course, Romans is written to Christians, so especially Paul has in mind, Christians should submit gladly to government.
Paul’s Seven Reasons Listed
Now, Paul gives us then seven reasons listed, we'll go through them quickly.
- Government is by divine decree (vs. 1)
First, government is by divine decree. Look at verse 1, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. All authority originates from God." Or it's not authority at all. Right? I cannot boss around somebody else's kids. I have no authority, it's not been given by God. Alright? And they'll prove it if I try, right? If I try. You're not the boss of me. Well, that's true, I'm not. It's not been set up by God that way. But I am the boss of some kids and God has set that up. So, all true authority originates from God and that is true of government as well, no matter what form the government takes. Whether it's representative democracy, like the US or a constitutional monarchy, like in Great Britain or perhaps a dictatorship, like under Idi Amin in Uganda.
By the way, I looked up his title. You want to hear what Idi Amin's title was? This is amazing. "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin VC, DSO, MC... " I didn't take time to figure out what those are, some awards he had given himself, I think. "King of Scotland," the Scottish I don't think knew about that, but at any rate, "King of Scotland, Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular." What a long title. Perhaps the government is communism, perhaps it's fascism, perhaps socialism, perhaps an absolute dictator tyrant like Nebuchadnezzar. All these forms of human government can be, and have been perverted by human wickedness and sin, and yet God establishes authority.
Now, the scriptural support for this concept is you look at Nebuchadnezzar, he's an evil man, a bad king, bad ruler. But the angel spoke right before when he was warning, "If you don't change your ways and stop being oppressive to the poor, I'm going to judge you." He changed his mind into the mind of an animal, Daniel 4. Well, when the warning was given, the angel said this, in Daniel 4:17, "The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men." Including you, Nebuchadnezzar." And so, there is no king except that God established them in their position.
Psalm 75:6-7 says this, "No one from the east, or the west, or from the desert can exalt a man but it is God who judges." "He brings down one and he exalts another," Psalm 75. So the authorities that exist have been established by God. Now, what about wicked governments? Well, even they have been given authority. The beast from the sea, the one that's referring to the Greek Empire. It says in Daniel 7:6, "After that I looked and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard, and on its back, it had four wings, like those of a bird. This beast had four heads," Listen, "and it was given authority to rule." Who gave it authority? All authority comes from God.
Then even the devil leads Jesus up to a very high mountain and shows him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And what does the devil say to Jesus? "All these have been given to me and I can give them to anyone I want." Well, who gave them to the devil? Even Jesus, in the great commission, what does he say? "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me." Ask Jesus who gave it to him? It is his heavenly Father. And so Jesus has all authority, and it comes from God. It's all given.
- Rebellion against government is rebellion against God’s institution (vs. 2)
Secondly, rebellion therefore against government is rebellion against what God has instituted, verse 2 teaches this. To rebel against government really is to rebel against God himself. The essence of sin is that we have joined Satan's general rebellion against God, and therefore, the essence of salvation is to come back under God's rule, come back under his reign. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Gladly, the angels obey all the way, right away with a happy spirit. And so also, we come back under that and are glad to submit to whatever God has instituted. We're not fighting against it anymore.
- Those who rebel will be punished (vs. 2)
Thirdly, those who rebel will be punished. Verse 2, "Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgement on themselves." At one simple level, this refers to the fact that if you take up rebellion against government, the government will make you pay, the government will come after you, the government will arrest you. If you park in a loading zone, you'll get your car towed and pay a $50 fine. That's at a low level. If, on the other hand, you smuggle concealed weapons onto an airplane, it could be 10 years in prison or a $5000 fine. So if you rebel against the authority, the authority will bring its judgement to you.
This is an obvious point the night that Jesus was arrested. You remember 600 soldiers with torches, lanterns, and weapons come out to arrest the Galilean carpenter. Jesus orchestrates in John 18 a safety net for his disciples to run away. He tells them that if they are looking for him, then let the others go. Everyone takes it except one person, Peter. And what does Peter do? Surrounded by 600 soldiers, he reaches for his sword and cuts off the high priest's servant's ear. This is a bad idea. Okay? I mean, let's just think pragmatically about it. Peter, if you want to survive the night, put your sword away for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you see them all?
Let's put it in modern language. Let's say there's a hostage crisis in an American city, and the entire city SWAT teams and special forces are all called out surrounding this building, 600 of them. You got snipers up on the rooftops, you got people behind cruiser cars, it's a horrible scene. They're calling through the bullhorn, "Come out!" And out staggers a guy with a trench coat, the chief of police screams at him to get down on his face immediately. Suppose that guy reaches inside his coat and pulls out a gun? What do you think's going to happen to him? Will he last even this far? He'll be riddled with bullets.
So, if you rebel against what God has instituted, you'll bring judgment on yourself simply even at the human government level. Let's speak at a higher level. Even if government never catches you, God sees all things. And if you rebel against what God has established, and government doesn't punish, God will punish, you will see what you have done. That's what Paul says.
- Government serves to restrain evil (vs. 3)
Fourthly, government serves to restrain evil, so you shouldn't rebel against it. We've already talked about this. But look at verse 3, it says "Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right, and he will commend you." Now, this is amazing, the Apostle Paul is speaking of the Roman Empire, hardly a virtuous government system. Hardly. And yet he says this, that he is God's servant. To do what is right and he will commend you. Paul himself was a victim of many injustices.
Do you know that Felix in Acts 24 said, basically, what was said about Paul, he's innocent. But because he wanted to do a favor to the Jews, he leaves him over, then Festus inherits it, and then Festus and Agrippa confer and said, "If this man hadn't appealed to Caesar, he could have been set free, he was doing nothing wrong." Therefore, he is the victim of injustice, and yet he's writing, submit to authority, submit, do what it says. He is saying, "If I have done anything deserving death I do not refuse to die, I will go to my death, if that's what you decide, but I still want to make my case." That's his attitude. So what he says is, rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
I believe Paul is speaking here proverbially. Have you ever read Proverbs and you think you read something, you say, "Well, that's not always true." That's the way the Book of Proverbs is, you read it and you read something, it's not always true, it's just proverbially true. Like Proverbs 16:12 says "Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness." Well, is that always true? Do all kings always detest wrongdoing? No. And so, yes, in Nazi Germany, it isn't true that rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. That wasn't true, but it's generally true.
Let me give you an example. Let's say you're driving at night and you're coming around a bend, and this has happened to me within the last year. Suddenly, you're stopped by a road block. The police are there, they stop you, and they ask for license and registration. I hadn't had time to accelerate and start to speed. Not that I would do that. Ever. Okay? But at any rate, I was well under the speed limit and I was stopped, I had absolutely zero fear of that encounter. None. But if I had been hauling a $100,000 dollars' worth of cocaine and it was in the trunk and I come around, what do you think my heart rate's going to be doing at that moment? What am I going to feel as I see the surprise road block right around the bend? Rulers hold terror for those who do wrong, but no terror for those who do right. That's the point he makes.
- Government serves to promote good (vs. 3-4)
Fifthly, government serves to promote good. "Do you want to be free," he says, "from the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you for he is God's servant to do you good." For example, there's the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was given in 1996 to Rosa Parks for her part in the Civil Rights Movement. President Bush has given some out. It's a commendation from government for those who do right. Also, as we've noted that he is God's servant to do you good in the infrastructure, in creating peace, domestic tranquility, supporting an infrastructure for commerce, etcetera. He is God's servant to do you good as we've already mentioned.
- Rulers are empowered by God to inflict punishment for disobedience (vs. 4)
Sixthly, rulers are empowered by God to inflict punishment for disobedience. Look at verse 4, "But if you do wrong," he says, "be afraid for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Now, next time I preach on this, I'm going to talk about six difficult ethical questions about government. What is the extent of a Christian's submission to government? Should a Christian ever rebel against government? What about the American Revolution, what happened there? Alright? What about war? Should we fight or not? These kinds of questions, talk about it next time. I wanted an easy message this time. Is it okay? So, we'll deal with all the naughty, gnarly, difficult questions next time. Alright?
But the death penalty is one of them, and this is one of the major passages on the issue of the death penalty. He does not bear the sword for nothing. There's a threat and punishment here.
- Conscience demands it (vs. 5
And then finally, conscience demands it. Verse 5, "Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities not only because of possible punishment, but also because of conscience." Conscience is that part inside you that tells you to do what's right and to avoid doing what's wrong. If this week, you cut corners on your taxes, don't do the right thing… You know, you're doing things that you should not do, your conscience is going to kind of spark up against you and tell you, "Wait a minute, don't do that."
Isn't it amazing the providence of God I'm preaching on taxes this week? But because of conscience, you should do what's right and not do what's wrong. Christians, Paul says, are to submit to the government even if it's the Roman Empire for seven reasons. Christians then are not looking to overthrow Nero or any other Roman emperor. They're not to agitate against the empire as a whole, they were to submit, they were to obey, they were to be good citizens, to fit in, they were to mind their own business and work hard with their hands, they were to advance the gospel by lifestyle and by witnessing. But they were to go beyond mere submitting, as we'll talk about next time. They were to be actually glad to pay taxes. They were actually to be glad to render honor to whom honor is due.
Now, what application can we take from this? Well, first, as you're doing your return this week... Okay, you want me to get real practical? Look on it as an act of worship. Can you do that? You said, "Now we are in that section, we're talking about the supernatural life. I can't do it."
I was telling my son this week, I said, "Doing taxes is an unusual job. It's the only job I know we have to slave hard in order to pay money." How does that work? You know what I'm saying? So you're working so hard so that you get the privilege of paying the government. But basically, if Romans 13:1-7 is true, do your taxes as an act of worship to God, for him setting up this government that protects you from anarchy, praise him for it, but realize there is in this world the beast from the sea.
And look forward to the day when Christ will set up his kingdom, Lord of heaven and earth, openly ruling better than any government ever has. A perfect government. Worship Him and yearn for that day and submit to his rule now spiritually. If you're not a Christian, if you have never trusted in Christ, Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me." "Submit to my government. Let me be king of your life, and you will find rest for your souls." Close with me in prayer.