This is Part 7 of an 8-part series that was originally developed for a 13-week adult class, with some of the parts taking more or less than a 45-minute class period. I am starting to post the series on SermonCentral, and plan to post the remaining parts over the next few days as time permits.
I developed a set of slides on PowerPoint for use with the series and will be happy to share the PowerPoint files. The prompts reminding me to advance slides and activate animations are embedded in the sermon below. If you want to request the slides send me an Email at email@example.com specifying what part(s) of the series you are requesting. Be sure to include the word “slides” in the subject line of your message; otherwise I am likely to miss it. I would find it interesting to know the location and a few words about your personal ministry if you will include it in your message. Allow several days for me to respond.
Outline of the series:
I. Introduction to the series
II. God’s Plan from the Beginning
III. God’s Plan Now and Our Problem with It
IV. Justice vs Mercy and the Plan of Salvation
V. The Only Way to Eradicate Sin
VI. Providence – What God Provides in Earthly Life
VII. Providence and Civil Governments
VIII. Providence, Miracles and Phenomena
VII. Providence and Civil Governments
Providence touches our lives in many ways--some obvious to the discerning eye and some unaccountable. For the last few weeks we’ve talked about God’s providing, which is the outworking of his foreknowledge and foresight, the latter being synonymous in the bible’s original language with “providence.” We have considered only a few examples. If it were possible for us to talk about all of them, it would take a very long time – and in fact we could not discover them all even if we tried.
For the rest of the series we will examine aspects of God’s providence that we might not tend to think about as such, or might not recognize as coming from God at all.
Earthly civil government is set in place by divine providence, although they often seem to operate contrarily to his purposes. Compounding this reality is the widespread dissatisfaction that many people – perhaps most – feel with the civil government of their time.
*Click for God’s Providence…in this life (Civil Gov’t self-activates)
A. The instruction
*Click for Rom 13:1-7
To introduce today’s study, let’s read Paul’s teaching on the Christians who resided at the very seat of the current civil government.
Rom 13:1-7 – read
Think about the original recipients of this letter and the government that was in place when it was written. The Christians in Rome, to whom this letter was addressed, lived in the capital of the Roman Empire, the seat of the Empire’s authority and power.
Rome was already corrupt when she conquered Greece and became the dominant government in the world. Rome’s heads of state were a succession of deranged men like Tiberias, Caligula, and Nero. Paul and Peter both were likely were put to death on orders by Nero.
Jesus teaches his disciples not to be worried about the government killing the body. The Christian has greater concerns than the longevity of earthly life.
*Advance to Matt 10:28
Matt 10:28 "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Paul’s letter to the Christians at Rome makes it clear - this and every government was and is established by God.
Whether we like and agree with the present government or not, the relationship of the Christian to a flawed government is equally clear. The requirement is stated often and clearly enough to make the Christian’s responsibility impossible to ignore.
*Advance to Titus 3
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he gives instructions in chapter 2 to older men, older women, younger men & women, bondservants--essentially everyone--and in chapter 3 he tells Titus:
Titus 3:1-2 - Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
How does the second part of this passage (being ready for every good work, speaking no evil of others, avoiding quarreling, being gentle, and showing perfect courtesy toward all people) not pertain to the first part?
*Advance to 1 Peter 2
1 Peter 2:13-15, "Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For this is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men."
*Advance to 1 Tim 2
Paul tells Timothy to urge those under his leadership to pray for their civil government.
1 Tim 2:1-4 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in findauthority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
B. The application of New Testament instruction
Why do we have civil government anyway? What is the primary purpose of civil government?
*Advance to Rom 13:3-4
Rom 13:3-4 explains it:
“…civil authority is to "praise" or promote the righteous and to act as "an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil."
Basically, the purpose of civil government is to preserve law and order.
Flawed and evil though it was, the civil government of Rome brought some blessings to the part of the world that it ruled. Far from perfect in the eyes of Christians, it nonetheless brought order, security, civilization, trade and prosperity, architectural, scientific and technological advancement. And the Roman rule also brought curses - cruel subjugation, oppressive taxation, and sometimes required blasphemous emperor worship.
We would all agree that we must obey God rather than man when a government demands that we denounce Christ, or act in some way that the Christian faith forbids. But in situations where a governmental entity requires something that we don’t like, but doesn’t demand the Christian to act contrarily to his faith - is obedience to civil authorities--good or evil—mandatory? Or is the Christian at liberty to ignore governmental requirements he or she disagrees with?
How was the Christian to regard and interact with Rome’s civil authority and power?
What are the scriptures we have read today telling us to do?
The New Testament makes it clear that civil authority is derived from God’s authority, and that we are to be in subjection to it.
*Advance to John 19
John 19:10-11 So Pilate said to Him, "You do not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered me to you has the greater sin."
The power that Pilate exercised in trying and sentencing Jesus was given to him by God! Certainly, Jesus was in subjection to the Father. He was likewise in subjection to Pontius Pilate, whose authority came from God. Notwithstanding his fear of the people and the trouble they could stir up for him back in Rome, Pontius Pilate did not demand that Jesus commit blasphemy, or act in any way contrarily to the will of God and Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. So Jesus submitted willingly to Pilate’s authority, which was a manifestation of God’s supreme authority.
The civil government (Rome) instituted by God put Jesus to death!
And that was the plan - God’s plan.
And God’s plan was according to God’s purpose.
C. Various questions raised by the instruction
1. Question: Does this mean God picks and chooses every national leader--heads of state, elected office-holders, notorious criminal and ruthless dictators? Does he select each one by name?
Or does God establish rather the principle that national leaders, wherever and whoever they are—are God’s designated agents to preserve civil law and order
*Advance to Matt 22:21
Matt 22:21 -Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.
(Not burdening Christians with the responsibility of maintaining civil order.)
2. Question: Should the American colonists--under this scriptural guidance--have remained subject to King George, or were they doing the will of God by declaring independence and going to war against an oppressive government? Answer in your own mind, but before you answer—I would like to mention three things that bear on the answer:
a. Throughout the course of the war, an estimated 6,800 Americans were killed in action, 6,100 wounded, and upwards of 20,000 were taken prisoner. Historians believe that at least an additional 17,000 deaths were the result of disease, including about 8,000–12,000 who died while prisoners of war.
b. While it is true that out of that quest for freedom grew the most benevolent nation the world has ever seen, unlike any of the others God has ever placed in power, it is also true that God sometimes brings good from men’s misdirected actions.
c. Jesus and the apostles never advocated the overthrow of the civil government of their time – corrupt and evil though it was.
These considerations may not contain the answer, and it’s not as though you and I personally rebelled against King George III, but it is a question worth pondering.
Today, abortion is legal in the US, but that is the poorest of all reasons to choose it.
Conversely, if abortion were illegal, that is not the reason to choose against it.
I am fully convinced that abortion is wrong.
We wish the government did not allow abortion but it does.
Perhaps one day Christian influence will change that, but until and unless that happens…
…the government does not require a woman to abort her pregnancy simply by allowing it.
It is not government that sets the standard of conduct for the Christians, but the God-breathed word.
If we are to follow the direct teaching and examples in the bible, we will follow the examples of Jesus and the early disciples, who didn’t rail against the civil government, polluted though it was, but were ready to allow that civil government to persecute them and take away their very lives.
D. Our current government
Will God take the United States down as a nation because morality has declined under the present system of government?
Or will this nation stand until Christ returns – either under declining or improving qualities of government?
We cannot know.
Correspondingly if God takes down the United States, we cannot know that the reason will be that the nation is becoming more godless.
In some circles it has become popular to suggest that because of societal developments in the US that are trending away from God at seemingly accelerating speed, God will soon destroy our nation just as he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
Some go so far as to say the time is very near when God will destroy our nation.
If we say that he will remove the U.S. because we are less Christian, we must answer two questions:
If that is the “why” of the demise of this nation, we must explain the rise of Chavez in Venezuela, Castro in Cuba, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin---Putin.
Why not put a Christian government in Iran?
Is it only the US government that God holds in place?
If we are sure that God quickly removes godless governments, why have many godless governments lasted thousands of years:
• Chinese dynasties (not God-honoring) spanned almost 4000 years, although there were civil wars with different bloodlines rising to power. Confucianism and Taoism, later joined by Buddhism, constitute the "three teachings" that historically have shaped Chinese culture. The emperors of China claimed the Mandate of Heaven.
• Egyptian dynasties (31) worshiped a variety of idols and lasted nearly 3000 years, ending in the period between the Old Testament & New Testament
• Greek Empire which rose to power between the Old Testament & New Testament splintered and didn’t last long after the death of Alexander the Great at age 33.
(Some good came from that short reign before God removed and replaced it with equally corrupt Rome.
• Roman Empire - already corrupt when it came to dominance, and ruled for 507 years, beginning with the crowning of Gaius Octavian Thurinus in 31 B.C. and falling to the German Goths in A.D. 476, for a total of 507 years. The Byzantine Empire, Rome's eastern half, did not fall until the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. But Rome was a republic for about 500 years before it became an empire, so Rome was a major force in the world for about 1000 years, plus another 900 years if we count the Byzantine Empire, the Roman Empire’s eastern half, which didn’t fall until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople. So Rome and its forerunner and derivative empire stood nearly 2000 years.
Our only purpose in talking about this is to understand the instruction we are given in the New Testament in the light of what happens in the world.
The two must go hand in hand, the prevalence of corruption in governments notwithstanding.
So when and why will God turn his back on the United States? No one knows.
The Christian does not look to the civil government to set the standards for moral or Christian conduct.
The responsibility for knowing, choosing, and obeying according the Christians standards doesn’t reside with the government but with the individual.
An individual can obey God under a corrupt government, even if it involves a cost.
The Christian’s guidance comes from higher authority than presidents, congresses, courts, emperors, prime ministers, dictators, or lesser magistrates.
We cannot depend on the government to govern by Christian standards. Although it’s nice when they govern compatibly, God does not put them there for that purpose.
The bible’s historical setting does not show Christians how to live under a godly government, but a Godless one.