Summary: The most important principle about our relationship to our government.
(Note: This sermon was introduced with the song "Fellow Prisoners" by Michael Card from the Soul Anchor CD and a slide show about persecution of Christians in the world).
It’s sobering to realize that so many people who confess the name of Jesus in the world today are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ. Much of this persecution comes from their own government. So today we’ve done what the song encouraged us to do, and through prayer we’ve lifted them up.
As we look back at history we see that the relationship between the Christian church and government has always been an uneasy one. It seems that Christians down through the years have either totally ignored government or tried to take it over. It’s almost as if every follower of Jesus needs to take a Christian Civics class. When I was a senior in high school, we all had to take civics to make sure we knew how our government functioned and what responsible citizenship was all about. It’s almost as if we need a Christian equivalent for every follower of Jesus Christ. But this Christian Civics class wouldn’t so much focus on how our government works as it would focus on the Bible’s teaching about how followers of Jesus are to live in relationship to their government.
Today we continue our series through the New Testament book of Romans we’ve called Good News for Our Times. A few weeks ago we started a new section of Romans we’ve titled "The Good News About God’s Community" a, and today we’re going to talk about "Christian Civics 101." Today I’m going to talk about the most important principle in the Bible about our relationship to government. First I’ll explain this principle, then I’ll give you some reasons for this principle, then some qualifications for the principle, and finally some very specific and tangible ways we can live out the principle. So first the principle, then the reasons for it, then the qualifications to the principle, and finally the application.
1. Explaining the Principle (Romans 13:1-5)
Let me start by just giving you the basic principle that underlies everything else we’ll talk about today: When we surrender our lives fully to following Jesus as living sacrifices, God wants us to live in ACTIVE SUBMISSION to our government’s rule.
Now the way I’ve phrased this principle reminds us of what we looked at two weeks ago in Romans 12:1-2. There we learned that the only appropriate response to God’s incredible mercy is to surrender ourselves to fully to God. Only then does God begin changing us by renewing our minds so we can then figure out what God wants us to do, God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. Everything I’m going to say today assumes that you’ve come to a point of total surrender to Jesus, to following him as a living sacrifice. People who haven’t yet done that will find themselves unable to do what I’m going to talk about today.
Now let’s look at Romans 13:1-5 to explore this principle. The section begins with a universal command for every follower of Jesus, regardless of their circumstances, regardless of where they live, to submit to the governing authorities. Now "the governing authorities" here are those people and institutions that are part of the government of the country the Christian finds him or herself living in. For the Roman Christians Paul is writing to the "governing authorities" would include the Roman Emperor Nero, the local city governments, the Roman army, the local police force, the Roman tax collectors, and so on. This principle is stated in universal terms, with no exemptions or loopholes.
However, it is significant that Paul uses the word "submit" here instead of the word "obey" (Cranfield 2:662). Submission is to recognize an authority over us, it’s acknowledging our subordinate place in a hierarchy of authority, like a soldier to his commanding officer. But the word submission doesn’t imply complete obedience in every situation, as we’ll see in a few minutes.
The reason for this submission is given in the second half of v. 1, because "no authority exists except that which God has established." Here Paul is echoing a clear Old Testament teaching that the creator God is sovereign over all the nations of the world, not just Israel. Truly, "The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it," including all the nations on the earth. Because of this, God is ultimately in control of who is in power in every nation of the world. The prophet Daniel put it this way: "God sets up kings and he deposes them" (Dan 2:21). Even kings and political leaders who were hostile to God, like the Persian King Cyrus, were viewed in the Old Testament as put into power by God himself (Isa 45:1-5; Jer 27:5-6).