Over the last two weeks we have begun a series of sermons on current issues in our society. We have started with the three things which God has instituted on earth out of his grace for the benefit of society and the nations. We first talked about the institution of the family, the basic building block of society. Last week we looked at God’s institution of the church as God’s agent of His Kingdom in society.
Memorial Day weekend seems an appropriate time to talk about the third institution of God, and that is human government. Yes, I’m going to talk about government and politics in the pulpit today because God created and instituted government for the benefit of the nations. Turn with me to Romans 13 and let’s see what God says about government.
Read Romans 13:1-7
Paul’s letter to the Romans has been called the Magna Charta of the New Testament. In the first eight chapters Paul lays out the depravity of sin and the wonder of salvation that Jesus Christ has accomplished for us. Then in Romans 9-11 Paul explains Israel’s place in the New Covenant and how the Old Testament clearly teaches that God’s promises to Israel are included in the redeeming work of Jesus the Messiah. Then a major change takes place at chapter 12 where Paul shifts to the end of the letter explaining how this theology calls us to live. He applies the theological truth of Romans 1-11 in chapters 12-16. Chapter 13 teaches how Christians are to live in relation to human governments. It fits firmly together in thought with Rom 12:14-21 in its peace-making response to others, and Paul’s pen turns to the topic of dealing with the government as a peace-maker.
Remember Paul is writing to believers worshipping in the house churches of Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. He informs them that though we who are in Christ are part of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, we still have much to do with civil authorities. We are not to separate ourselves from government, but we are to engage it, submit to it, and work within it for Christ’s Kingdom purposes. In a city with a government which crucified their Lord and persecuted their people, Paul calls the church to submit to the governing authorities.
Key Truth: Paul wrote Romans 13:1-7 to explain to believers how God instituted government to establish order and authority in society, to motivate people to right living, and to encourage respect and honor.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about government.
Key Verse: Romans 13:4
Sermon Points: God instituted Government to:
1. Establish authority and order in society (Rom 13:1-2)
2. Motivate us to right living in society (Rom 13:3-5)
3. Encourage respect and honor in society (Rom 13:6-7)
Exposition: Note well,
1. GOD INSTITUTED GOVERNMENT TO ESTABLISH AUTHORITY AND ORDER IN SOCIETY (Rom 13:1-2)
a. 13:1-2– We are to submit to the governing authorities, those who represent the power of the state. In fact, wicked rebellion against what God has instituted is sin.
b. But does submission mean that we must blindly obey an order from the state that is evil or goes against Christ’s command to love our neighbors? No. While the citizen is to obey the authorities, those authorities must obey God. If they stop rewarding good and punishing evil and do the opposite, the government loses its moral right to expect obedience.
c. Government derives its authority to rule not from the power of the sword, nor from some universal ideals, nor even from the consent of the governed, but from God (Daniel 5:21; Prov. 8:15-16). Governments are thus accountable to Him even if they refuse that fact. The state’s job is to protect all its citizens, administer punishment, restrain evil, and promote peace and justice and the general welfare of its citizens (Rom 13:1-5). Some Christians believe there should be total separation between the church and the state with no interference at all with each other. Anabaptists and their descendants, conservative Mennonites and Amish believe this. That is why they do not run for office or serve in the armed forces. Mainline denominations (Anglicans/Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics) and evangelicals (Baptists, Pentecostals) support transformation, arguing that Christians are called to exert a Christian influence on the state and transform it with biblical values and principles. Because the state upholds moral standards (or at least is responsible to do that), a Christian should view the government not as an enemy but as an ally and helper toward moral efforts.
d. Separation of Church and State means that the government has no business meddling in religious affairs, but it does not at all mean that the Church cannot influence government and its work. In the care and sovereignty of our God, the state is included. His Providence controls all the nations and the maintenance of civil order (Jer. 27:5f; Dan 2:21, 37f; 4:17; Isa. 45:1)
e. ILLUSTRATION: Acts 4:18-20. In Acts 4, Peter and John stood up to the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, who held both religious and political power over the Jewish people. When the Sanhedrin told Peter and John to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, they said they couldn’t. They did this not because they were rebellious, but because at that point the government was trying to interfere in something that is “above their pay grade,” so to speak. Government is God’s servant (Rom 13:4), not God’s instructor.
f. APPLICATION: The church has three functions in relation to the state:
i. A Priestly Function: The church must pray for those in authority and for the protection and healing of the nation (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
ii. A Pastoral Function: The church must provide teaching, counseling, and direction to authorities in the government as part of its mission in the earth (Matthew 28:19-20). It must teach Christians to obey authority and pay their taxes (Rom 13:1, 7; 1 Peter 2:13). In areas such as health, education, and development, the state’s responsibilities and the church’s service to others overlaps. Here the church has a unique ability to partner with government, sharing the power and love of Christ for the benefit of all, but the church must be vigilant to keep its pastoral function through refusing to compromise the Gospel message.
iii. A Prophetic Function: The church must rebuke and oppose the state when it turns against God or acts unjustly (2 Samuel 12:1-14; Daniel 4:20-27; 5:17-28). When it comes to God or government, God must get our absolute obedience (Acts 5:29), even when it is costly.
2. GOD INSTITUTED GOVERNMENT TO MOTIVATE US TO RIGHT LIVING IN SOCIETY (Rom 13:3-5)
a. Civil authorities promote stability (Rom 13:3), and the threat of judgment or punishment motivates us to do right (Rom 13:4). But we should not do right only because we might be punished.
b. We should also do it because of our consciences (Rom 13:5). Our consciences tell us that God, the ultimate authority, has established government to maintain order and stability, and to resist them is to resist God’s desire for us to have a stable society. We submit to authority not only to avoid God’s wrath but also from an understanding that the state is subordinate to God.
c. APPLICATION: Some of us submit to the rule of law only because we are fearful of getting caught and getting punished. But Christians should submit to the rule of law because right living is how they want to conduct themselves. They do it because of their conscience. They do it because they know it is the right thing to do. Christians should have a higher moral law than the government. Do you do just enough to be legal, or do you do what is right because you serve Christ? What about the interest rates you charge? What about the way you supervise your employees? What about your manner of deal making? What about the way you conduct yourself on the job? What about the quotes you give customers? What about the way you take exams? What about the way you act behind your supervisor’s back? You certainly do not want to be in breach of the law, but do you do just enough to be legal, or do you do enough to be right before God?
3. GOD INSTITUTED GOVERNMENT TO ENCOURAGE RESPECT AND HONOR IN SOCIETY (Rom 13:6-7)
a. Christian responsibility includes paying taxes to the state, which allows the government as God’s servant, to devote their time to leadership. Paul then tells the church to give the government what is owed them: revenue, respect/fear, and honor.
b. Taxes here are direct taxes (in the Gospels: tribute), which Roman citizens were exempt from paying in the city of Rome. Revenue is an indirect tax on goods such as revenue from rents on state property, customs duties, death taxes, and taxes on slave sales and manumissions.
c. Paul here is dealing with a situation regarding taxes which was brewing in Rome. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that in A.D. 58 there were persistent complaints against Roman tax collectors and the high indirect taxes which brought reform. Paul wrote this letter from to the Roman churches while he was resting in Corinth, Greece, sometime from January to March A.D. 57, so the political situation might have been building. The Jews had a tax exemption under Roman law because they paid into the Temple treasury and early Gentile Christians were usually lumped in with them. Thus, the churches were viewed by ordinary tax-paying Romans as not carrying their fair share of the load. Paul here counsels them to share in their citizenship responsibilities by paying taxes to the government.
d. Paul is here speaking to a church of their political obligations under an authoritarian government. In a democracy, where every citizen has a responsibility and share in government, the political obligations are much more: to vote in every election you are able, to call your representatives and let them know what is important to you and how you want them to vote, to participate in and run for political office as part of our citizen republic.
e. ILLUSTRATION: Jesus was clear that we are to render the things to Caesar that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s (Mark 12:17).
f. APPLICATION: Do you cheat on your taxes? Do you deduct more than you have coming to you? If you cannot pay your taxes, have you sought out the authorities and spoken with them about help in that matter, or have you just let it go? Your witness as a believer in Jesus Christ is tied to paying taxes. In the matter of taxes, the Christian is under obligation to pay all that he owes, to deduct all that the law allows him to deduct, but to pay his dues to the state because he benefits from the state and owes some payment in return for the protection and amenities it provides.
Leslie C. Allen, “Romans,” International Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 1340.
James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1988), 38B:757-74.
David M. Kasali, “Romans,” Africa Bible Commentary, Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 1370-72.