Summary: Since earthly governments are an extension of God’s authority in the lives of mankind we are call upon to submit to them.
A government surveyor brought his surveying equipment to a farm to do some work for the state and county by which he was employed. He knocked on the farmhouse door and asked the farmer for permission to go into one of his fields and take some readings. The farmer had no hospitality for any state or county officials so he refused to give the man permission to work in any of his fields. He thought that maybe the government was going to take some of his land for a public project. “I will not give you permission to go onto my land!” said the farmer. The surveyor then produced an official government document that authorized him to do the survey. “I have the authority,” he said, “to enter any field in the entire country to do my work.” Faced with the authority of the county, state, and federal government the farmer unwillingly opened the gate and allowed the surveyor to enter one of his fields. The farmer then went to the far end of the field and opened another gate, through which one of his fiercest bulls came charging. Seeing the bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and began to run for his life. The farmer shouted after him, “Show him that paper, show him your authority.”
I didn’t tell you that story just to get a laugh. I want you to consider your attitude toward the government. Don’t we have a lot of that farmer in us? In everything from driving the speed limit to paying our taxes our sinful nature resists the government’s control and claim on us. In the word of God for our sermon this morning the Apostle Paul presents us with a different attitude. He describes the God pleasing way followers of Christ will interact with the governing authorities. Instead of rebelling and resisting he says that we will obey and submit to the government. This morning the Holy Spirit will work a change of attitude and action in us through these words. The commands of God are set before us to show us where we have failed and to call us to repentance. The good news from God, full and free salvation in Jesus Christ, will then supply the motivation for us to:
SUBMIT TO THE GOVERNING AUTHORITIES
I. Because they have been established by God
II. Because they bring blessings from God
III. By meeting your obligation to them
In the chapter before these verses the Apostle encouraged his readers to offer themselves as “living sacrifices to God.” God had chosen them to receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. He brought them to faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Word and sacraments. God’s grace was now their motivation for living a new life of service to God and others.
Even in light of those wonderful facts these words must have come as a shock to the Christians in Rome. They were living in the capital city of one of the most wicked and cruel empires ever to rule a large part of the world. The emperor at that time was Nero. He took pleasure in killing Christians. In fact, historians say that he burned many Christians as torches to light up his garden parties. Yet, in spite of its cruelty, immorality, and persecution of Christians, Paul said to submit to the government in Rome. He offered his readers reasons for obeying the government and also specific ways to show that obedience.
These inspired words still speak to Christians. Although we live under the government of the United States and not the government of Rome, and we have a president instead of an emperor, the command to submit to the governing authorities remains the same. We do that because God is still the one who establishes governments. God still uses the governing authorities to bring blessings to his people. For those reasons the children of God also continue to meet their obligations to the government.
“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, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” Three times in two verses Paul states the fact that God has established all government authority. If we take a look back into history, which remember is “His-story,” we see how true this is. When God wanted to take his people out of Egypt he broke the will of a hardhearted Pharaoh with ten plagues. In God’s dealings with his people he used the governments of the world to bring blessing or punishment as needed. He used the Assyrians to destroy Israel, those were the ten tribes in the northern part of Palestine. Later he used Nebuchadnezzar to take his people into captivity in Babylon as punishment for their disobedience. There they repented and returned to the Lord. Then he did away with the Babylonian empire and brought in Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians to set his people free and place them back in the Promised Land. In our Old Testament lesson we heard how the Lord blessed all people through Cyrus.