Nov10TueNovember 10, 2015
These are my notes for the sermon. You can also listen to it here.
“It would be political suicide to give that speech,” said an aide to his boss. “He’s right, Senator,” chimed in another aide. “It’s just one clear-cut statement after another.”
Perhaps I am committing pastoral suicide to dare to talk about the Christian’s relationship to the government.
Christ must be Lord of our political views. People whose lives are otherwise in submission to Christ have a tendency to forget about His Lordship when they climb into the political ring. But if Christ is Lord of all life, then we must allow Him to be Lord of our political views. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul says that his goal involved “taking every though captive to the obedience of Christ.” That must include our political thinking. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Our refusal to conform and desire to be transformed and know God’s will includes politics. It includes our relationship to government.
You see, even though Paul is talking about our relationship to government he hasn’t changed the subject at all. He is still talking about living the transformed life. He is still expanding on that theme.
The principle is directly stated 3x (v.v. 1, 5, 7). – Everyone must submit to the governing authorities. No exception. Everyone is emphatic and comprehensive. All must submit to the governing authorities. So strong is this thought that verse 2 says the one who rebels is actually rebelling against God!
Submit means “obey, to take rank under, to take one’s proper place under those who are on authority.” But more than that it means also to have a spirit of respect. Not just obedience but respect. It means to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have authority over us. The Bible has a lot to say about submitting. It teaches that God subjected all of creation to futility that it may one day be restored to glory and that even now God is putting all things in subjection to Christ who himself is subjected to God the Father that God may be all in all. Jesus as a child was submissive to his parents as children are to be today. The Bible urges that the younger submit to their elders, slaves to their masters, the church to Christ, wives to their husbands and that we should all voluntarily yield in love to one another. The great dilemma of unbelievers is that they are hostile to God, refusing and unable to submit to God’s law. And of course the general posture of all people toward government should be that of submission.
1 Peter 2:13-17 - Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil andto praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Titus 3:1 - Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,
Why should we be submitted? Because God established them (also 3x – v. 1, 2)! Whether democratic or autocratic, heathen or God-fearing, every government which has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God. They are God’s servants. They derive their origin, right and power from God. The Bible teaches that no political power is gained apart from the sovereign will of God. From a human perspective, rulers and governments come to power through force or popular choice. But the transformed mind recognizes behind every such process is the guiding providence of God and therefore submits!
The evidence for this in the Bible is incredible:
Could the Scriptures be any plainer? God is in control, setting up and taking down kings to accomplish his perfect will. God is the authority behind the authorities. God is the controlling force behind every government on earth. The worst and best government in any country is of God, and is calculated to effect His purpose and promote His glory. Kings and governments ascend to power by God’s direction therefore we should submit to them. We must not be anarchists or subversives. God ordained the rulers that be. They exist because of his providential working. We must not resist them but recognize that if we do we actually oppose God. Opposition to the state leads to judgment (v. 2). If you struggle with this, that shows how much we need to have our minds renewed, our thinking changed.
And recognize that Paul is writing in a time when the emperor Nero was in power. Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tar, and lit as torches for his parties. He covered Christians in animal skins and threw them to wild dogs.He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked pagan ancient Rome really was. Sorcery and black magic abounded, abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome yet even Rome was established by God and to be obeyed.
Now of course we must be careful. When we say that the powers that be are ordained of God, we do not mean that God approves of all that they do. God does not give the state permission to be tyrannical and demand unconditional obedience. God, I am sure, was furious at the injustices of the Romans government in Paul’s day just as I am sure he was infuriated by the policies of Hitler. But there is still a sense in which even Hitler’s regime was ordained of God. And even if Christians do find themselves in the difficult position of being under the tyranny of an unrighteous and unjust government, they still have a fundamental responsibility to render obedience.
Now hold on, you say, is the Bible teaching we should just blindly follow a regime like Hitler’s? Does the Bible teach we should always, in whatever situation, obey the government no matter how evil it is? Is there ever a time we should not submit?
Paul is not trying to give us a full blown treatise on the relationship of believers to the state. It is a general exhortation setting forth the typical obligation one has to civil authorities. For example, it does not tell us what to do in the midst of a revolution. It also does not show us which form of government is best – it does not even commend democracy. Paul knows the government is fallible. After all, it crucified His Lord and Savior. So Paul is not addressing what to do in every situation but we know from the rest of Scripture that when there is a conflict between the command of men and the command of God we must follow God. If the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God. Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s Word, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty.
There are many examples of this in the Bible:
It also has happened countless times in history—believers living in submission to their civil rulers with honor and respect, until those rulers ask them to give up their faith in Christ.
In each of these cases civil disobedience involved great personal risk, including possible loss of life. In each case its purpose was to demonstrate their submissiveness to God. It was to show that Christian’s ultimate allegiance is to God. Government is fallible. God is not.
1) Will you obey the rulers God has established over you? Are you submitted to the authorities God has placed over you whenever possible? Our text rests on the assumption that you are in subjection to God and want to please Him. So before you get right with government, you’ve got to get right with God by repenting and trusting.
2) Will you obey the rulers God has established over you when they command you disobey the commands of Scripture? Stand for Christian principles and convictions even if it costs you. This will increasingly be the case for us in our culture. If the government forced us to abort babies to maintain population control, we should resist. If the government barred us to gather as believers, we should gather anyway. If the government banned the Bible, we should own and distribute Bibles anyway. If we are ordered to stop preaching the gospel we preach it anyways. If we are commanded to never call homosexuality a sin, we must continue to teach God’s Word. We must fear God and obey him over any earthly authority.
3) The gospel, not politics, is God’s primary means of dealing with the world’s problems. Don’t fall into the trap of the social gospel. Since the major problems in this world stem from sin in individual hearts, the only real solution is to see people brought into a right relationship with God. Jesus didn’t come to be a social reformer. He came to change people’s hearts and point them to the kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t command us to go and win political races. He did command us to go and make disciples of all nations. Church, we cannot be silent. If the gospel is good news, if it is the hope of our nation, and if it has been entrusted to us, we incur guilt if we do not pass it on. We cannot be silent. The time is urgent.
4) Do not withdraw from the political process. It is easy to get deeply discouraged about the state of our nation and withdraw in despair. Do not withdraw. Listen: God ordained this country and government and he put you in it to have a salt and light influence. Don’t withdraw for that is wrong. Government is more than a nuisance to be put up with; it is an institution established by God to accomplish some of his purposes on earth (cf. vv. 3-4). We should take an active interest in it. We should not ignore our responsibility to vote. We should be prepared to engage in the cultural and political process but do so with absolutely no hatred or condescension. You won’t win the culture by hating it or disrespecting it or being condescending toward it. Don’t fall into that. It might make for entertaining TV but it is not godly nor christlike. Christians ought to speak more respectfully about our government, our nation, and our government leaders than anyone else, even if we passionately disagree with the morality and policies of those same leaders. And we want to show people that we have reasons, we want to persuade people, we want people to understand that we've thought through these issues. We’re not just name calling, we're not denigrating; we're engaging in rigorous, intelligent disagreement, which is the bedrock of a democratic republic. But the language of denigration and condescension and hatred, it should be far from us. Remember you are first and foremost a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. Act like one.
5) Remember that God is King. We know how it ends. When it ends, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And therefore, we can engage with some confidence in the political process because it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it will get there. This world is not our home. So we can engage with profound love for our country while knowing that we were ultimately made for another country, a heavenly one. And so our hopes and dreams, though they may be deeply impacted by what goes on here, and they should be, we should weep tears and we should sing songs for joy about some of the things concerning our country but we should remember that we are citizens of another country and in that country God is always honored and Christ is always loved and they both reign in perfect justice and righteousness.