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  • These are my notes to the sermon I preached on November 15. You can also listen to it here

    Title: The Christian’s Relationship to the Government

    Big Idea: Everyone is to submit to the governing authorities because every governing authority is from God. The authorities that are over us are placed there by God. And it is not just the good authorities but the bad authorities also. Without exception, every government is ordained by God. No one has authority unless God has given it to them and therefore everyone is to submit to them.

    I find that a great deal of Christians have a hard time with this and I think this shows exactly how much we need to have our minds renewed, our thinking changed, as Romans 12:2 tells us. Part of the transformed life is that which recognizes we must submit to the governing authorities because God has established them.

    So I for one am very thankful for this text. It is practical instruction on how to live the transformed life under government

    Paul is speaking in broad terms about all human government anywhere in the world. The institution of government comes from the hand of God so everyone should submit to them.

    The Purpose

    To Avoid Punishment – v. 2-5a

    Now you might immediately think what kind of purpose is that? But remember that while the fear of punishment is not the highest motivation for obedience, it is better than chaos. Remember when there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes and if you want to know how that turns out just read the last few chapters of Judges.

    The government is God’s servant to inflict punishment on those who do evil so we should submit to avoid that punishment.

    This comes out in various ways in our text:

    Rebellion against God: v. 2 – Since civil authorities have been ordained by God, don’t resist them! Why not? Because it is rebellion against God! If we resist the government, we resist God and will bring judgment on ourselves.

    General purpose and practice: vv. 3-4a - to protect those who do right and to punish those who do wrong. In this way they serve God and their country. Granted, there have been many exceptions throughout history. Corrupt governments punish law-abiding citizens who speak out against corruption and they reward scoundrels who help keep them in power. And rest assured, corrupt governments will one day give an account to the true King of kings. But when governments function like they are supposed to, they protect law-abiding citizens and punish law breakers in obedience to God.

    This is why God calls them his servants. A term I particularly like for it reminds us that government is exactly that. The government is not God even if some rulers think they are. However exalted a ruler may be among the people, before God he is nothing more than a lowly servant. In fact, the word “servant” is that from which we derive the word deacon. The government is God’s deacon and its job is to serve God and country by protecting law abiding citizens and punishing law breakers. When they do that, whether they are saved or not, they are doing God’s will and are his servant.

    This is why we have police officers, FBI agents, DEA, and a whole host of other law enforcement agencies – they are God’s servants to enforce laws that protect us from destructive sins like rape, spousal abuse, stealing, assault, murder and many other immoral behaviors and crimes.

    If God’s purpose for civil governments is to protect law-abiding citizens and punish law breakers, then it follows that we should use civil authorities for protection and due process. Paul himself did this in Philippi, where he was unjustly beaten and imprisoned without a trial, although he was a Roman citizen. When the authorities realized their error and wanted to quietly usher him out of town, Paul wouldn’t stand for it (Acts 16:35-40). He also invoked his Roman citizenship to avoid a scouring and to appeal to Caesar rather than face a kangaroo court (Acts 22:25; 25:11).

    This means that if someone is physically or sexually abusing you, you should report it to the proper authorities. If you are being defrauded, you should report it to the proper authorities. We should use civil authorities for protection and due process. They are God’s servants to do you good in this way! 

    On a lighter note, it means if you are driving down the freeway and want to be free from having to look constantly in your rear view mirror, then obey the speed limit.

    Agent of God’s Wrath: v. 4 – The government functions to inflict wrath and this includes the God given power of life and death: the right to exercise capital punishment.

    That is what is meant when Paul mentions the government “does not bear the sword for nothing.” What is the purpose of a sword? It is to kill. It is an instrument of death and the government wields the sword not for nothing but to inflict the death penalty. In NT times the common death penalty was decapitation by sword. This is what happened to John the Baptist and James the brother of John. Crucifixion was reserved for only the worst kind of criminals. The method of capital punishment endorsed by God in the days of Moses was death by stoning.

    Genesis 9:6

    This verse speaks of a murderer, one who knowingly and violently sheds another man’s blood, resulting in death. What should happen to that murderer? He should be put to death. Why? Because of the value and sacredness of human life – he is made in the image of God. This is justice. The penalty should fit the crime. In this case the crime is murder and the penalty is death.

    Capital punishment is not a violation of the sixth commandment which says, “You shall not murder.” All murder is killing but not all killing is murder. Some examples of killing that would not be considered as murder are as follows:  a) killing the enemy in war (Bible examples:  David killing Goliath, Joshua and the Israelites when they conquered the land);  b) a husband, discovering a man about to kill his wife and/or children, protects and defends his family by having to kill the attacker;  c) a policeman who kills in the line of duty in order to protect innocent life; d) the person carrying out capital punishment, such as the man who must pull the switch for the electric chair;  e) accidental killing, when the killer never intended to take someone's life.  We should also note that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will "judge and make war" at His second coming resulting in countless numbers of deaths (Rev. 19:11-20).

    So Romans 13:4 says that God has given human governments the authority to execute wrath upon evildoers by means of capital punishment.

    In our immediate culture I believe the Bible is saying capital punishment is still fitting for first degree murder. It upholds the sanctity of human life to impose the penalty of life for life. But the way that our government practices capital punishment is inept. Murderers are allowed to live on death row for decades while they file appeal after appeal, often on technicalities. My view is that if a criminal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, he should be executed immediately after his trial. Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, “Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.” The punishment for 1st degree murder should be death. Anything else cheapens the lives that he slaughtered.

    Also it is no brainer to recognize that if capital punishment was consistently practiced, it would be a very effective deterrent to crime because the fear of death is the greatest fear that man has. Since death is the king of fears, a man will think twice about committing a crime if he knows it will cost him his life.  He will be more likely to murder someone if he knows that the worst that could happen to him is to stay in jail the rest of his life with meals provided, television to watch, etc.  When swift justice is carried out it is a wonderful deterrent to evil (Deut.19:20).  When the right penalty is not executed speedily, then this is an encouragement to crime (see Eccles. 8:11).

    To Heed Conscience – v. 5b

    Above all, the Christian should obey the law of the land for the sake of conscience. God commands we subject ourselves and therefore in order to please God we subject ourselves.

    This has to do with our attitude about taxes and arrests and judicial systems, etc. We are not to obey the law just because we are afraid we are going to get caught. We are not to keep to the speed limit just because there is a police car in sight. We are not to pay our incomes taxes just because we know the government now has tremendous computers that can review any number of records and might catch us. That is a factor, and many more people are honest about their taxes because of it, but that ought not to be the Christian's reason for being honest in paying his taxes. The Christian's reason is that it is the right thing to do before God. Your conscience ought to be clear. You ought to pay the taxes because that is what God says to do, and not what man says.

    We should be subject to government not only because it is for our good, but also because it is right.

    To Give Honor – vv. 6-7

    Human rulers are God’s servants and as such they deserve four things from us: taxes, revenue, respect, and honor.

    Taxes and Revenue

    Paul uses two words for taxes. The first refers to direct taxes paid by subject nations, such as property and income tax. The second word refers to more indirect tax, such as sales tax and customs.

    We should pay our taxes because they are public servants who are carrying out God’s will. If they are going to do this, they must have the material means to do so. How we should thank God for policemen, firemen and other public servants who minister and serve on our behalf. They need to be paid so pay your taxes.

    Few of us enjoy parting with our money, especially when we have reason to believe that it may not be used wisely. But we cannot justify resisting authority at any point, including the payment of taxes. Jesus himself spoke clearly to this issue when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

    Put bluntly: Taxes are not voluntary. Cheating on taxes is a crime against government and a sin against God.

    Submit and pay taxes.

    Respect and Honor

    We are to show respect and honor for the names and offices of all civil servants. Christian’s should never join in speaking in a derogatory way of the those in authority. Even in the heat of a political campaign they should refuse to join in the verbal abuse that is heaped up.

    Christians ought to be the best citizens of all! As aliens and strangers we are charged to be exemplary subjects to our secular authorities. Christians ought to the lead the way in showing honor to human authorities because we understand they are appointed by God...I must treat them with respect--without regard to how I feel about certain of their decisions--because they are God’s servants. Whom God has appointed, I must not treat lightly

    Do you remember in the Old Testament when Saul was seeking to capture David in order to put him to death? And finally one night David and Abishai drew near to Saul’s camp and there was Saul lying on the ground and the other soldiers about him lying on the ground. They were all asleep. And Saul had taken his spear, that great, tall, strong man, the King of Israel, he had taken that spear and he had plunged it into the ground right by his head. And then he had fallen asleep with all of his armor and his other personal belongings thereby and as Abishai and David drew nearer to the camp, Abishai looked over and he saw the spear there and he said, “Now David just let me do one thing. Let me go over and take that spear and let me plunge it into Saul and I’ll do it just once. That’s all I’ll have to do. And then your troubles will be over.” And David said, “No. No Abishai. Remember you are not to touch the Lord’s anointed.” God had put his hand upon Saul and had anointed him as King of Israel. And he was to be King of Israel as God’s anointed until it was clear that God had taken the kingdom away from him. But he said, “I’ll let you do this. I’ll let you go over and steal the spear and get a couple of other personal belongings, so we can then later communicate to Saul that we did have him in our power and we did nothing about it. Perhaps that will change his heart toward me.” And that, of course, is what happened. “But don’t touch the Lord’s anointed,” David said.

    I am concerned about this because it seems for some reason we tend to think that public officials are fair game for our disrespect and dishonor and that simply is not true. That is the way of the world. The world calls people names. But we are not to be conformed to the world! Give honor and respect! I know it is not always easy but regardless of who is in the white house, we as Christians should honor and respect. I personally am ashamed of some of the things I’ve seen and heard supposed Christians say about our president and its destructive to our witness.

    It doesn’t mean you have to like or agree with everything they do. But even when we do disagree we should do so honorably and respectfully.

    We owe them that. Why? Because they are God’s servants.

    Conclusion

    Conscience.

    What does your conscience say today? Is your conscience clear?

    Or is your conscience pointing something out to you that needs repenting of?

    Is there some way that you need to change in your submission to the governing authorities?

    Is there some area where you know that you are not doing what is right?

    Is there something you owe that you have not been paying?

    What does your conscience say?

    We could do the right thing just out of fear of punishment, but Christians have a higher motivation. We want to please our Lord.

    And our Lord loves to work through our consciences to show us where we are in the right and where we need to change.

    Where might you need to change?

    Is there a dishonoring statement on your social media that you need to repent of and take down?

    Is there a bit of taxes that you’ve been evading?

    Is there an attitude of unholy rebellion that needs to be turned away from?

    We believe in grace.

    We preach grace here.

    We only get grace through what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

    And we invite everyone to come get that grace!

    But that grace doesn’t make us lawless. It actually helps us to submit to authority.

    To submit to God’s Servants who are here to do us good.

    Let us both receive that grace and use it to fuel our obedience to do what is right and give what we owe to everyone.

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