MELVIN M. NEWLAND, MINISTER
CENTRAL CHRISTIAN, BROWNSVILLE, TX
A. This July 4th will be the 22_th birthday of our nation, & people will be celebrating it in many different ways. There will be parades & fireworks, & for most people it will be a day off from work, a holiday, a time for family gatherings & lots of food.
Of course, in many places there will be public ceremonies & speeches. Speakers with impressive credentials will remind us of our nation’s glorious past, & urge us to get involved, to work hard, to ensure that its future will be just as glorious.
And I agree. But I’m concerned because there is an obvious decline in the moral fabric of our society.
ILL. You have heard over & over again that 40 years ago the biggest problems faced by teachers in our schools were problems like students chewing gum in class, talking when they were supposed to be quiet, & running in the hallways.
But things have changed & the top problems today are students using & selling drugs, rape on the playground, & handguns in the classrooms. And these problems are not just in the schools, but everywhere.
ILL. While working on this sermon yesterday I decided to go back over the headlines of this past week in the Brownsville Herald & the Valley Morning Star to illustrate the sad things happening in society today. But I didn’t need to get a whole week’s stack of newspapers. Yesterday’s papers alone featured these stories:
A son was indicted for strangling his father. A policeman was arrested for soliciting murder for hire. Seven juveniles, ages 7-14, were detained & booked for a series of burglaries. A woman was arrested for shooting her two children, killing one of them. A man was convicted of the drive-by killing of another man seated next to the murderer’s exgirlfriend. Another mother was indicted for stabbing to death her little 5 & 6 year-old sons.
I found those stories on just pages 1 & 2 of yesterday’s newspapers, & I didn’t have the heart to look any further!
ILL. Not long ago the presidents of NBC & CBS & ABC met with congressional leaders to discuss the increasing incidence of violence shown on TV, & to try to determine whether or not this had any impact on society. Of course, they argued that TV really doesn’t have any effect on what people think or do.
But aren’t these the same executives who charge advertisers hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars for each TV commercial with the argument that TV advertising, if repeated often enough, really produces results?
Well, I was amazed when one of the TV executives, trying to shift the blame, was quoted as saying, "Can it be that there is some sinister force at work in our country that has nothing at all to do with the media?"
I wanted to say, "Yes, sir, there is a sinister force at work. And one of his main tools is the media." If our kids are constantly immersed in that kind of environment, their eyes seeing violence & immorality being shown over & over again, then can we expect anything else in their everyday behavior?
B. So as our country becomes more violent & more pagan & more anti-God, I think it is important to consider what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-7. He wrote to Christians living under a pagan government, telling them how to maintain their integrity as good citizens in a pagan & immoral land. Please listen as I read Romans 13:1-7.
"Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, & those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
"For 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 & he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
"This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."
PROP. That is an amazing passage of Scripture, & I want you to notice several things that Paul teaches us in it.
I. GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER GOVERNMENT
A. First of all, he teaches that "God is sovereign over government." He said, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except..." Except what? "...except that which God has established."
Now that doesn’t mean God appointed Khadafi & Sadam Hussein & Hitler & Stalin & used them as puppets on His string. But it does mean that God has established the principle that a government is to be in charge of society.
B. And God can accomplish His work & His will in all kinds of government - sometimes through them & sometimes despite them.
1. We think that a republic based on democracy is the best because it has served us well for 22_ years. But we must understand that our Constitution was written assuming that the citizens of this land would be moral, God-fearing people. That’s the only way democracy will work because democracy becomes whatever the people are. If the people become pagan & immoral & violent, then the government becomes pagan & immoral & violent.
ILL. You put 5 people on an island, 3 men & 2 women, & the 3 men vote to rape the 2 women, that’s democracy. But that’s democracy at its worst. So democracy has the capability of becoming an evil form of government if the people are evil. And I’m concerned about America.
2. Once, theocracy was the form of government over Israel. That is, God was their ruler. He gave the laws. The prophets & priests were His spokesmen. But the people wanted a king like all the other countries. So God gave them kings. And soon they didn’t like that very much, either.
SUM. The point is, whatever form of government - theocracy, democracy, monarchy, pagan or godly - God has still been able to work in them to accomplish His will. And He wants His people to work in them for Him, too.
C. Notice also that this passage tells us there are 2 reasons for government.
1. #1 is to do good. Vs. 4 says, "For he is God’s servant to do you good." The government is supposed to serve the people. The government is to be the place where we pool our resources in order to provide the services we cannot provide for ourselves. So we pay our taxes, & the government builds us parks & playgrounds & highways, & provides services that we cannot provide for ourselves. That’s the purpose of government - to do good.
2. A 2nd reason for government is to restrain evil. That same verse says, "He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." Government is supposed to make sure that evil does not rule the land. Evil is to be squelched by the laws & power of government.
D. That passage also says that if we really want to be free from fear, then obey the laws of the land. But if we’re not obedient, then we need to be afraid.
ILL. You know that is true. Every time you hear a siren or see red lights behind you, what do you do? You look at the speedometer to see if you’re driving within the speed limit. And you wonder, "Is my seat belt fastened? Do I have my insurance card? Is my inspection sticker up to date? Is my state license sticker current?" If all the answers are "Yes," then you breathe a sigh of relief. But if you have broken the law, then you are afraid because the government can punish you for your disobedience of the law.
SUM. It is the same way in every society. Government is there to restrain evil. Our Constitution puts it this way, "To ensure domestic tranquility."
II. GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ARE TO BE SERVANTS OF GOD
A. Another thing this scripture teaches is that government officials are to be servants of God. Three times it says that they are God’s servants. If you’re a public official, if you’re a teacher or policeman, if you’re in the military, whatever your job might be, you need to realize that you’re there to be God’s servant. You are to serve God in whatever job you have.
B. There is a principle that is stated in Deuteronomy 28:1-6, & it is repeated later on in that same chapter. Here is the principle: "If a nation obeys God it will be blessed. If it disobeys God it will be cursed."
ILL. Toynbee, the great historian, wrote, "Of the 22 civilizations I have studied, 19 of them fell, not because of external forces, but because of internal moral decay." They died from within.
ILL. Our Constitution says, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." Our country started by recognizing that we have a Creator, & because of Him we have the rights that we enjoy in this country.
C. Our country was established upon Judeo-Christian beliefs & standards. The Law of God was used as the primary guideline for writing our Constitution.
ILL. Jamestown, one of the very first settlements in this new land, built a church building in the center of the community. And the church became the hub around which everything revolved.
ILL. The earliest colleges in our land, Yale & Harvard, were established simply to train preachers to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
ILL. Pres. John Quincy Adams wrote, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was that it connected the principles of Christianity with the principles of government." Did you hear that?
ILL. If you go to the Congressional building in Washington, D.C., you’ll discover scripture verses all over its walls. If you take out your coins & read them you’ll discover the words, "In God we trust." And Congress still opens its sessions in prayer.
ILL. Thomas Jefferson said, "Can the liberties of the nation be thought secure if we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of men that these liberties are a gift from God?"
SUM. We are a prosperous people. Much of the rest of the world looks at us with envy because we have so much while they have so little. Why? Because we have obeyed God in our history. And God has blessed.
D. But the winds of change are blowing, & there is a turning away from God. There is a movement to remove God from our history. And when that happens, as it is already starting to happen, we will also experience the curse of God.
ILL. Have you noticed the change in definitions of some of our words? Let me read a definition of marriage from the original Webster’s Dictionary. Here is how marriage used to be defined:
"Marriage is a contract, both civil & religious, by which parties engage to live together in mutual affection & fidelity until death shall separate them. Marriage was instituted by God, Himself, for the purpose of preventing the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, for promoting domestic fidelity, & for securing the maintenance & education of children." And then Hebrews 13 is quoted: "Marriage is honorable among all."
Now let me read today’s definition of marriage from Webster’s Dictionary: "A mutual relation of husband & wife by which men & women are joined in a special kind of social & legal dependence for the purpose of building & maintaining a family." Not quite what it used to be, is it?
Left out are phrases like "civil & religious," "until death shall separate them," "instituted by God," "promiscuous intercourse of the sexes," & "Marriage is honorable among all." And I’m afraid it probably won’t be long before the definition is changed again. And it will simply say, "A man & a woman or two people of the same sex living together in a legal dependence upon each other." It may not be long.
SUM. Because we have written God out of our history, & because we no longer live in obedience to Him, our country is beginning to experience His curse.
III. CHRISTIANS ARE TO BE SUBMISSIVE TO THE GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
A. Finally, this passage of scripture teaches that: "Christians are to be submissive to the governing authorities." "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities." As Christians, we are to be in submission to the government even though we may not agree with it.
Now there is one exception to the rule. And that is whenever the law of the land conflicts with the Law of God. Then, as Christians, we are to obey the Law of God & not the law of this land.
ILL. When Daniel was told that he could not pray, that was the law of the land. The Law of God said, "You are to pray." Daniel went ahead & prayed even though he disobeyed the law of the land.
ILL. When Peter & James were told not to teach or preach at all in the name of Jesus, that was the law of the land. But they disobeyed the law of the land & obeyed the Law of God as they continued to preach in the streets about Jesus, even though they were arrested & tried because of it.
It may not be long until the government begins to tell the church what she can & cannot preach. We may not be far from the time when we’re told that we cannot call homosexuality a sin because that would be considered a hate crime.
But when that time comes, we must still speak the truth. We must call sin a sin, & we must not compromise the truth of God, even if we put our own lives in peril. Because when the law of the land disagrees with the Law of God, we must always obey the Law of God.
B. But please realize that we accomplish very little by rebelling against government. You can usually accomplish more if you work within the system.
ILL. In 1992 & 1994 California elected many Christians to serve on school boards. People had become alarmed about the direction their schools were taking, so they went out & recruited Christians who were willing to serve, & then elected them to office. And because Christians are now in the majority on the school boards, they are changing the direction of many of the schools.
Incidentally, the follow-up of that story is that the test scores of the kids have escalated since Christians have gotten involved. Many schools are now back in the hands of the parents, & things are drastically changing.
We need to learn that lesson. We must no longer think that we have to keep our mouths closed. We must stand up & speak & begin to work within the system. We must find people who are guided by Christian principles to serve in government offices & change the direction of our country. We must do it if we are to avoid the curse of God.
C. 2 Chronicles 7:14 should be read every 4th of July. God says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves & pray & seek my face & turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven & I will forgive their sins & I will heal their land."
Those are great promises, & our land does stand in need of healing. And I am deeply concerned about the direction in which she is going. The only hope I see for our land is for Christians to get off their seats of apathy & begin to do something to change the direction it is going. Then I believe that God will truly bless America once again.
CONCL. We are free this morning, & we live in the land of the free & the home of the brave. But the greatest right that you have is the right to make Jesus Christ the Lord & Savior of your life.
This morning we extend to you His invitation, & pray that you will give Him your heart & your life. We invite you to come as we stand & as we sing.