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Welcome,everyone to Christian Layman Church! WE ARE so glad you have chosen to join us this morning as we worship the Lord together in Spirit and in Truth. And for those who are joining us for the first time, we welcome you to our “Family!”
I want to begin this morning by telling you a story that may reflect our attitudes toward government.
There was a young boy, who wanted a $100 so bad that he prayed for two weeks but nothing happened. So, he decided to write a letter to God, requesting the $100.Now, when the postal authorities saw the boy’s letter addressed to God they decided to send it to the President of United State. The letter reached the White House, where the President was so amused that he instructed his secretary to send him only $50 thinking $100 was a bit too much for a young boy to have and making sure that the letter looked like it came from God. After all, the President didn’t want the boy to lose his faith. Few days later, upon receiving the letter, the little boy was delighted that he immediately wrote a thank you note to GOD that read: “Dear God, Thank you so very much for sending me the money. However, I’ve noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington, D.C., and, as usual, those lousy politicians took half of my money!”
For the past few months, we saw our nation go through destruction of communities, personal properties, assault, battery, and even murder that many people took to the streets demanding and emphasizing their rights. And as result, heart of distrust, anger, and other volatile emotions to be set in the hearts of many as to how we may view our government.
I often hear people ask, “Which form of government is the best? Which is the one God wants us to have? Is it a monarchy? An oligarchy? Is it a republic? Or a democracy? Even though Scriptures reflect various forms of government but the answer is not necessarily any of these but rather what God has brought into being. What God has brought into being! And surely God has brought forth a form of government and today’s passage illustrates our balancing responsibilities as believers with God and State.
The theme of the first section of Romans 13 is the relationship of the Christian to state,or to its government. It outlines our responsibility to civil authority,which some people have difficulty in doing. Growing up, probably you have heard of the maxim, “Never to discuss religion and politics in polite company or in public.” Maybe that’s why these 7 vs. have caused more unhappiness and misery in the Christian circle than another other 7 vs. in the N.T. I know it is an overstatement, but the issue of how a Christian operates in a secular environment, especially in terms of the government and government authorities,can be challenging one!
And so my intention today is not to make you unhappy, miserable or even cause a division but to remind us what Romans 12:2b compels us to do (to renew our mind). You know, I find that those who are not Christians have great difficulty in thinking of governmental leaders esp. who are tyrannical,vicious, or cruel, as, in any sense, being servants of God. And yet, if we Christians are going to conform our thinking to reality, i.e., proof as God sees it, this is what we must begin to think. We need to have our minds renewed to what the Scriptures say, and to think along those lines about the life around us, in order that we might be able to present our bodies available to God to use in whatever situation we find ourselves.
So, now with that being said, will you turn your bibles to Romans 13:1-7 as I try to address a topic that is sensitive in nature, “The Christians and our 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will [a]bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
The first element I would like to point out is – Our “ROLE” to the government. What is our role? Well, it’s summed up in one word in verse 1. It's the word subject. It says, let every soul-- I think that includes you and I since we a real a living person. So let every soul, including yours and mine, be subject to the governing authorities.
Now, right off the bat, automatically some of us might have a problem with that. And maybe some are even thinking, well maybe that’s what it says but it really doesn't mean that. So, if some are thinking that, look at verse 5, because Paul says it again. Therefore, you must be SUBJECT! Now, this word Subject is an imperative. It is a command and Peter even takes this same word and translate it as – to Submit in 1 Peter 2:13(3 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution,[a]whether it be to the emperor[b] as supreme,)
This Greek word “Hupotasso” comes from two words. Hupo, meaning under & Tasso meaning to line up. “To line up under.” It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. But when it is used in anon-military sense, “it means a voluntary attitude of cooperation” or it is also translated as “to help carry a burden.”
Well, I get the definition but it’s very unsettling or even nerve racking to voluntarily mussel up the attitude of cooperation or even to help carry a burden for government or government officials when they are tyrants? I mean what do we do as Christians when government goes against God’s principles? This is a great question and I want you to hold onto that thought cuz I’m going to comeback in the end and will try to elaborate but for now our basic role is to do what – Be subject. You see, “God is honored when his earthly representatives are seen as stabilizers in society rather than as rebels. And a good Christian is a good citizen!
With that being said, let’s move on to the second element which is the “RULE” of government. Here,let's see how far reaching Paul says this authority goes. Look at verse 1 again, but the second sentence in that verse. For there is no authority except from whom?
God! And the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Amen! And therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God. Now, with this being said I could see our mouths being clamp shut as we hear another difficult statement to swallow. But Paul begins where we ought to begin, and that is with the sovereignty of God. So here's the point: Power has only one true source, and that true source is from God. No matter how well, no matter how poorly that power is used, all power comes from God.
And the one who understood this element very well was Jesus as he stood before Pilate, the very man who would demand the execution of Him on the cross. And they met, (da da da dan da dan) as Pilate questions him and Jesus gives no answer. As if Jesus had nothing to say to Pilate. So, then Pilate says to Jesus, do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to crucify you and the power to release you? Then Jesus answers,you have no power at all against me Pilate unless it has been given to you from where, from above. Did you hear Jesus’ answer? Pilate, the only reason you have that power is because my Father in heaven put you in power. (John 19:10-11)
10 Then Pilate said to Him,“Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have [a]power to crucify You, and power to release You?”11 Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
This week,Pastor Calvin brought up a good argument as to this text and to this very verse. You see, it’s been used to support slavery and of unjust immigration and other racial policies in the Christian circle. True and though Paul doesn’t go into this side to explain it in this passage, but I want to set in motion or want us to go down memory lane. You remember in elementary school reciting the pledge of allegiance…I know for some you have to go way way back but you remember the part that goes, one nation……. (pause)….. “under God!” This is biblical truth. That this nation exists as a nation under God. And what this is saying,of course, is that this nation are to recognize that they have limited powers. And that they are only agents of God and not God. Yes, government has the authority over what we do with our properties (ie. taxes) or set rules for speeding but has no authority over what God say ought not to be done. Or to command us not do what God says should be done. Here is what I’m getting at…There are limits of government power and government has no right to enslave people (which by the way is one of the cruelest manifestations imaginable regarding abuse amongst human race) because people bear the images of God. And from the beginning, God created mankind to be special, unique, diverse and we were the only of His creation that He said, “we were very Good!” And so as believers we have the rights to resist oppression and religious persecution by nonviolent means of course, as we are given the opportunity. But we are not to resist the legitimate functions of government.
Now, for the 3rd element. Which is the REASON for governments. Why does it exist? What's the purpose of a government? Well, verse 3 through 5 gives us the answer. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain;for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.
.But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain. By the way, that words word has a specific reference to capital punishment. It is the sort of execution in its context and in its linguistic roots. For he is God's servant/minister, and Avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore,you must be subject not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake. So this is the reason for our government – in a two-fold reasons why Paul says government exists: Paul says government is to be God's servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. To protect the community and to punish the criminal. Yeah, well that makes sense… And I don’t have a problem with it until I come to the word that Paul gives us to describe government officials? He uses it three times. Do you see it? It’s the word servant or minister (Diáconos) which we get our word deacon from.
Now, when was the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, rolled down your window and thought, hey here comes a minister/servant of God. .Hello sir, hello Reverend…hello deacon. Not I nor any of you, right? Well, the idea here is that the government is not only to provide for our defense and security, but also to provide certain common services that we all need and to function as that of a deacon in the church, sort of helping us in our needs. So out of this grows the function of government in providing mail services, utilities (water, sewage),schools, relief agencies, and many other functions of government. So these are all proper functions/reason of government agencies. So far… so good?
Now, for the last element, which is our RESPONSE to government.
And here what Paul is saying as he fleshes out into a twofold response, in verse 6 and 7. For because of this, you also pay taxes. For they are God's ministers. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due:taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
You remember me telling you to renew your mind? Well, here is a test then….I want you think of the IRS as God's ministers or God’s deacon for a moment. Wait..What, now that’s going too far Pastor Ben! I no…I no… But it's in the word, so I'm going to go with it. For they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. And so here is the two-fold responses:
Number one, government should be supported, that's where you paying taxes comes in. (By the way, before I got married my dad gave me two wisdom on happy life/happy marriage: 1st - Never to mess with the IRS and the latter, “Your wife is always right.” I’ve been married for almost 25 years, and so far so good.
And number two, government should be respected and honored. Honor to whom honor, and fear to whom fear.
Now, this brings up an issue, and I told you I'd get back to this. Is there ever a time for civil disobedience? In answering this question, I want you to notice word in vs. 5. 5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. It’s the word Conscience
The context is that God has given us a conscience. A conscientious recognition that government is God given. So by submitting to authority, that gives us a clear conscience, generally…hopefully…. But what about when it doesn't? What about when the government violates God's law and we know that, and now we have an uneasy conscience. What if the government is violating a clear scriptural principles and your conscience is violated?
Do you remember what Paul said in Acts 24:16, “I always live to have a clear conscience before God and men.” So then what if the state passes laws or policies that oppose God given laws?
Will you turn with me to Acts 5:29 – where the Jewish Sanhedrin were in power in Jerusalem, and they just passed a law saying, “you could not speak the name of Jesus publicly anymore in the city.” And when Peter and John found out about it what did they do? They went out and preach the gospel. And guess what…..they got arrested. And those in power said, why are you doing this? We gave an order. We gave a command. It's the law. And I love their responds, But Peter and the other apostles answered and said “we must obey God rather than men. That is civil disobedience. Because to obey man would be to disobey God, and they said, we'd rather offend you and take the consequences than to offend my God.
So is there ever a time when believer’s obligation to civil authority is negated? In answering this I want to give you a short answer and a long answer: The Short answer - Yes…Then the long answer Yesssssss but just don’t break any things. I’ll go even further. It is the Christian duty in civic affairs to hold powers to account when they see injustice done. And there is more than one way of doing that, of course, and participating in or organizing massive protests is one of those ways.
Illustration: Last month when given the opportunity to protest, I went out to the streets of Berkeley holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter.” And pastor Andrew asked me, hey Pastor Ben why? Why did you go down and protest?
So, here's the rule. Here's the principle. We submit to the government up to the point when obeying the government means disobeying God. When the government says,don't do this and God says do it, you do it and disobey the government. If the government says the opposite, to violate a clear command of God, you obey God.
You see, we as believers, we have dual citizenship. We are citizens of Earth and its governing realm very true, but we are also citizens of heaven. Philippians 3:20, states that our citizenship is where? In heaven. Even though I have an earthly address and I live in this country but we need to constantly remind ourselves that we have a heavenly address, a spiritual address. I am in Christ Jesus, which means I have an eventual address and allegiance to the kingdom of heaven.
Now, before I conclude I want us to scroll down to one more vs. in Romans, Romans 13:8 where after Paul says that we should pay whatever we owe, then Paul shifts the subject back to love. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” And what Paul is saying, “Love is the most basic Christian ethic.” We will always need to love another, it is an eternal obligation. Why? Because “the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law!” In a way, “the law” is the primary goal, and love is a stepping-stone toward that goal. But more accurately, love is the goal, and the law provides guidance about how we are to love. Amen!
So, I want to conclude today’s message by giving you a challenging application. Last Friday, I was invited to one of the Home Groups where we were discussing racial justice and the model minority myth. And people were talking and each had differences of opinions which is fine, as long as you don’t break any things. But I was very much edified…I saw God sighting when, not naming who, “hey guys I think we need to pray for our government and also for our President. Moment of Silence…dot….dot….…So, here is the challenging thought: I think we need to be very careful how we speak about government authorities and political figures. We may disagree with them of course, it’s inevitable. I mean the woman God gave me for 25 yrs, I still find it alarming that we can’t agree on certain things. But I’m bound by scripture to pray for my wife and to love her as Christ loves the Church as also we are bound by scripture to honor and to pray for our government and its officials, and even the President. If we talk about politics, I hope most of our words are talking to God about them and that we are in prayers for them as well.
I think it was the God father who said “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” I think this is so biblical because that’s what Jesus did. Throughout this sermon series, “Who is our Neighbor?’ the H.S. has been convicting my heart to forgive all those that I have OTHERED!
Jesus even puts it this way. Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. And the reason I’m sending you out into the den of danger is because I actually want you to love them so much that amongst the wolves, my hope is that some of those wolves will become sheep.
But this is where the interface comes in. And one of the struggles as believers is balancing the responsibility as believers with God and state since we carry both passports.
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul instructs Timothy, now keep in mind, again, who's the Caesar on the throne in Rome? Nero. And this is what he says. “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers,intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,For kings, and all who are in authority,you can put Nero or any other names, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all the godliness and reverence.