At the Corner of Church and State
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Have you ever had one of those conversations that seems to jump from one topic to another and before you know it, you are asking the question, “How did we end up here?” This happens more frequently than you might think. In fact, almost every time our Friday AM men’s bible study group meets, this happens. We start by talking about Paul’s mission work and end up talking about whether or not our church programs are effective… some might call this a holy rabbit trail.
As we look at our text this morning, you might be thinking, “This seems random.” We were talking about revival and victory in Christ for the past few weeks and now we are taking about the intersection of Christian life and Politics. But it really isn’t all that odd. In fact, we should probably take just a few minutes and walk through WHY this is a reasonable and applicable subject within our study.
First, we need to understand that Paul is writing to the church located in capital of the Roman Empire. There was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles in his audience. The presence of the Roman government was very real and you had people who were in different camps as to how the government should be viewed.
One the one hand, the Gentiles who expect human rulers and governments, and are trying to balance how to live out their new Christian life. There are some who are likely involved in the government- collecting taxes, maybe even enlisted in the Roman military.
These Gentiles are a stark contrast to many of the typical Jews, who have spent their entire life looking for God to send a military and political leader to free them from the oppression of government. Now, they are learning that Christ is the promised Messiah, but He did not abolish the Roman government. These folks tended not to support the government. They likely resented paying taxes and sought to live under their own set of rules regardless of the government. In fact, many Jews would threaten uprisings and rebellion if Romans leaders did not do what they wanted.
We see this most clearly, perhaps, as we look at Jesus’ trial before Pilate and His subsequent crucifixion. Pilate knew that if He did not do as the Jews demanded, he would be facing a political upheaval which would reflect poorly upon him.
And so, we must acknowledge that as Paul preaches the Gospel - and if you remember last week- we talked about how we ought to be fully surrendered to Christ- As Paul argues, he realizes the need to address this very practical part of Christian life- namely how we, as Christians, should view our relationship to our governments. In doing this, we are going to take a look at the Role of Government and the Role of Christian Citizens. But before we do that, I want us to acknowledge the principal truth laid out in verse 1 from which we’ll begin to unpack the applications given in the verses that follow.
Every Person (that’s you and me) is to be in subjection to the governing authorities because God, who has ultimate authority, has established these governments.
We might not like it, but we must understand God’s sovereignty. Do you really believe that God is in control? Well, He is. And He uses even the most evil of governments to bring about His will.
We are going to talk about what all this means in just a minute, but I want to ensure that we have the proper parameters for understanding this.
God is the ultimate authority. Therefore, as we look to our governments, we must grasp that no politician, no king, no leader can usurp God’s authority. Our subjection to the government is presumptive on the government fulfilling it’s proper role, which must not contradict God’s authority.
There are times when Samantha and I will go out and leave my teenage daughter and my son at home. My daughter is given authority by us and she answers to us for how she uses that authority. I do not expect that she will lock my son in the basement- she will get in big trouble if she does. I do not expect that she would instruct my son to do what is wrong- like, oh, microwave a metal fork…
And we see that time and time again through Biblical and contemporary history, that God’s people have rejected governmental authority when it is in direct contradiction to God’s authority. Some examples are:
The Hebrew women in Egypt who refused to drown the babies even though it was an order from Pharoah.
Daniel, who continued to pray even though the king had commanded against it.
Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednigo who refused to bow their knee to the Babylonian king in worship
Peter and John who refused to stop proclaiming Christ even though they were thrown in jail and threatened.
So, as we look at the roles of government and Christian citizens, do not assume that we are to blindly follow whatever is put forth by government. Rather, we are in subjection to these governments within the context of our complete surrender to God and love for our neighbor.
So let us first look briefly at the
Role of Government (3-6)
Role of Government (3-6)
Governments are to restrain evil.
Governments are to restrain evil.
This means that they must establish laws and enforce them with proper punishments.
Discuss: How can a government appropriately restrain evil?
Now, ideally, men and women would live together in the love of Christ and neighbor. But, we know that we are a sinful people. We do not always act in each other’s best interest.
Consider how it would look if there were no standard of law or negative recourse. Only those who are stronger or more savage would even survive. Who would protect the weak? Who would ensure that your business would not be robbed or that you could walk down the street without fear?
You know why we have sheriff’s officers and police? Not to make us fearful, but to help us be safe. They operate under the authority of the government to protect the population and to ensure that evil is restrained. Paul says that they are ministers of God and are agents by which God avenges evil (4b). (maybe you remember Rom. 12:19 ). We thank God for these who minister in this way.
Governments are to encourage good.
Governments are to encourage good.
Notice verse 3- Paul does NOT say that governments are going to make people be good. No, only God can do that kind of work. But a government should praise those who do good.
Discuss: How can governments encourage good?
I think that it’s a shame when our news outlets report more negative news than positive. I think it’s a shame that politicians spend more time trying to push propaganda than applauding the good that overcomes evil.
I think about all the bad press and red tape that gets put up for organizations that are doing good things- There are many examples, but perhaps the most current parable is that of Samaritan’s Purse. This organization was founded by Franklin Graham and supported by Christians who affirm the Bible. Samaritans’ Purse set up a field hospital in NYC for free (the cost to them was about 2 million) They treated a few hundred people with COVID-19 that the hospitals could not accommodate. But throughout the whole process, the mayor and other politicians only spewed hatred toward the group because they hold to a Biblical view of marriage. They were presented by the government as a threat because they had trucks with Jesus’ name on them.
The Bible says that governments are to encourage and praise the good. When disasters strike, Southern Baptists respond in greater force than federal agencies. Governments should encourage that. When a neighbor is in distress and finds help from their community, governments should praise that.
Governments are established under God’s authority, whether they recognize it or not, and are to operate in such a way that evil is restrained and good is encouraged. And there is a lot that we could say about what a government most certainly should not do or be, but we will save that for another time.
Right now, we must take a close look at
Role of Christian Citizens (1,6-7)
Role of Christian Citizens (1,6-7)
Now, we already talked about why we are to be subject to government and the parameters of that. But, what does it look like to be a Christian citizen? We are going to walk through a list of 4 things Christians ought to do for our governments. Well, let’s start with one that you are sure not to like...
1. Pay for our Government (Taxes) -
Paul actually mentions taxes and customs - we might look at this like income tax and sales tax. We are to pay taxes to support leaders and programs of the government. Jesus himself said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Now, we don’t have to be happy about tax hikes and hopefully we will see tax breaks instead, but either way, we are to pay taxes. You cannot have government without taxes. But friends, I’m gonna throw in this side note here: - we need to understand that because we pay taxes, the government works for us, not the other way around.
2. Participate in Government (vote, serve, etc.)
- Now, this is implicit here. If we expect the government to carry out its role under the authority of God, we need to take on the responsibilities given to us by our government. This might look different around the world, but in America, we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Now you tell me how we are to expect our government to do what is good if we do not get involved. We need police officers who love Jesus more than money. We need judges who love God’s justice more than the latest secular movement. We need governors and mayors and presidents who are keenly aware that they will give an account to God for how they carried out their duties. And, since we are a representative democracy, Christians need to vote!
you might say, well Jesus is not Republican or Democrat- you are right- He transcends all of that. But we are to vote our convictions. And when we don’t see a good candidate, we find one or become one to the glory of God.
How will we help shape a government or hold one accountable if we refuse to get involved? And people say, “Separation of church and state” - look we are not a government that requires one to worship any certain way, but neither does our government have the authority to limit that. We cannot separate our Christian faith from other parts of our lives- including government. That means, that we work to ensure government restrains evil and encourages good.
3. Praise our Government (honor them)
Paul says to honor those whom honor is due. As Christians, we should respect our governing officials. We should speak honorably of them- that means that we don’t slander or gossip but it also means that we honestly acknowledge good things accomplished. Just because you do not like a politician does not mean that you cannot acknowledge good policies or practices. In fact, when we honor and praise the good things, show respect for people in office, etc., we are more likely to be heard when we have something to say.
4. Persuade our Government (preach, warn, etc.)
Paul says to render to all what is due them… Now this might not go over too well, but friends I believe that we, as Christians, have a duty to proclaim God’s truth to our government- to warn them that they are under the authority of God! No political leader is the authority in and of himself. And you might say, Pastor, aren’t you reaching a bit here? Well, we must once again look at the whole counsel of God’s Word and see what we can see:
Nathan warned King David against his sin
Elijah warned King Ahab of their idolatry
Daniel preached to Nebuchadnezzar
Moses preached to Pharoah
John the Baptist preached to Herod
As long as governing officials abuse power, we must speak out. As long as our government allows and even subsidizes the killing of babies in their mothers’ womb, we must preach against it. As long as government schools advocate sexual immorality and promote the perversion of God’s creation, we cannot be silent. We need to persuade our government.
5. Pray for our Government.
This is implied in our obedience and honor, but Paul actually makes an explicit statement in his letter to Timothy that we should be praying for our leaders regularly (1 Tim. 2:1-3). We ought to pray that our leaders have wisdom and govern in ways that bring honor to God. We ought to pray for them to be influenced by God’s truth more so than the lobbyists. We ought to pray for their families and for their health- they are people made in God’s image too.
These practices are rooted in love. Remember how revival emanates from us through our love and service (Rom. 12)? Paul reiterates this idea in Rom. 13:8-10 - we are to be motivated by love. We owe love to one another, and our governments which operate under God’s authority fulfill the law of God through love, for Love does no wrong to a neighbor.
Discuss: How does your view of government demonstrate love for neighbor?
Now, let’s land this plane, shall we?
In verse 11, Paul gives us both hope and warning.
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Friends, we are closer to Christ’s return than we were before this pandemic came. The time to wake up is now
When Christ returns, will He find us being faithful to that which He has called us to?
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.