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Our Relationship to Government

socialmedia@cityrise.org August 30, 2021 sermons, cityrise, Crosspoint Church - Bellaire, Good News, Roger Patterson, romans, West U Baptist,

The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday August 29, at our West U Baptist Church campus. To view the sermon in full, please visit our YouTubpage.

Do you know how the War between Mexico and France was started in 1828?

In 1828, angry mobs took to Mexico City during a military coup and a small café was ransacked by looters. The owner, a French pastry chef, asked for help from the Mexican government, but they ignored him. He then wrote a letter to France, seeking compensation. The letter finally came to the attention of the king a decade later. Since Mexico owed France millions of unpaid debt, this became the straw that broke the camel’s back. France demanded Mexico pay the 600,000 pesos; Mexico refused; France started a war. By the end of the fighting, Santa Anna had come out of retirement to help Mexico and lost a leg in the process. Britain brokered a peace deal that paid out 600,000 pesos to the French chef. [1]

We hope that if you have to seek help from the government, it doesn’t end in a war. We do note that God uses all events and governments to carry out His perfect plan, even if none of the entities He uses are perfect.

Today, we are going to speak about what the Scripture teaches about our relationship to our government. It’s a very relevant topic for us, as we have seen before our eyes calls to defund the police, accusations that the presidential election was stolen, an attack on our nation’s capital, and riots in the streets.

We hear the cries of overreach by the government shutting our nation down because of the pandemic and we see the videos of uproar at school district meetings because of mask mandates.

Now, before we read our text and set the table for our time together, let’s review so that we can set this portion in its proper place.

Romans 12–

  • Romans 12:1-2 is the pivot or hinge of the entire book. It’s here that the Apostle Paul begins to make application of the theology of our salvation. It’s here that we are to step into the offering plate in light of the mercy of God—we are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God as our act of worship. In other words, in light of the first 11 chapters of salvation’s theology, we are to live different lives.
  • Paul then begins to speak about our grace gifts given to us for others…to build up the body of Christ.
  • He then speaks to us about our relationships with one another, challenging us to live in love.
  • Last week we saw his instructions to us in our relationships with outsiders – how we are to live together, humbly, and counter-culturally, in an attempt to overcome evil with good.

Today, we examine our relationship to government. And we are going to use a simple outline to help us grab hold of this teaching.

Our Relationship to our Government

  1. Our Role
  2. The State’s Role
  3. What are we to do when there is tension?

Let’s look at our text today in Romans 13.

Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Historical Context:

F.F. Bruce explains some of the challenges that Christians faced in the eyes of the Roman law:

  • Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith had been convicted and executed on a charge of sedition by the sentence of a Roman judge — Remember the Charge –  “The King of the Jews”, who led a movement which challenged the sovereign rights of Caesar).[2]
  • Years later, when Tacitus wanted to describe to his readers what kind of people the Christians were, he wrote:

“They got their name from Christ, who was executed under the procurator Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor.”[3]

So, this sense of being against the state, against Caesar and against Rome continued to be put upon them.

  • Before Paul wrote this letter, years earlier in Thessalonica, when his opponents wished to stir up trouble for him and his companions, they went to the magistrate and said, “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here… they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).
  • Early Christians faced similar struggles in different contexts as well.

Because of some of these things, it was especially important that Christians be careful of their public behavior and give their adversaries no handle against them, as these people made false and malicious statements about them in order to cause them humiliation and disgrace.

Paul’s commendation will be to pay all due honor and obedience to the authorities. Jesus had set the precedent in this matter, urging them to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And with all of this in mind, Paul pens this segment of Romans about how Christians should act toward their governing authorities.

So, in light of this historical context, what is Our Role to be in relation to our government?

Our Relationship to our Government

  1. Our Role
  2. The State’s Role
  3. What are we to do when there is tension?

I. Our Role – To be Subject to the Authorities

Romans 13:1-2

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 

  1. Be subject to authorities – to be subject is to come under.
    1. Because God is sovereign
    2. Because everyone has been placed in their role by Him

Paul gives a few reasons why everyone must submit to these authorities, largely because God himself has established these authorities.

However, as John Stott warns, we should be cautious to understand this as saying that all the Herods, Neros, Hitlers, and Stalins were personally appointed by God or that God is responsible for their behavior.

Paul means rather that all human authority is derived from God’s authority, so that we can say to rulers what Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11).

Pilate misused his authority to condemn Jesus; nevertheless, that authority had been delegated to him by God.[4]

Now, before we move on, I want to share with you Four Logical Options we have for Viewing our Relationship with Government.

Four Logical Options for Viewing Government

As we think about the Christian’s options of dealing with the state’s authority and the limits of our compliance with it, there are four logical options:

Four Logical Options for Viewing Government

  1. God alone as an authority. Some Christians have embraced this idea throughout certain periods of history, especially when the state has become excessively oppressive or corrupt. From early movements such as this, monasticism was born. In this model Christians so separate themselves from the secular world that they withdraw from the surrounding culture and refuse to participate in cultural events; their only friends are other Christians and they do not interact with non-believers—so you can see why this is problematic!

  Four Logical Options for Viewing Government

  1. God alone as an authority
  1. Caesar alone as an authority. On the other end of the spectrum, we see the response of some of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day, who said, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). This is the most dangerous of the four options, because of God is left out, Caesar is left with no ultimate accountability. He has nothing to restrain his whims or cruelty. This is a secular position, and no Christian should hold this view.

 Given that we are a representative democracy, when you have the majority of people seeking to remove God from their political party or the public arena, we must see this as a dangerous situation, because there is no longer a sense of accountability. They have opted for Caesar alone as an authority and they will throw off restraint.

Four Logical Options for Viewing Government

  1. God alone as an authority
  2. Caesar alone as an authority
  3. The authority of God and Caesar, but with Caesar in the dominant position. Many might claim this position, but Boice calls it “the position of cowards.” If God’s authority is recognized at all, it must be supreme simply because God is supreme by definition. That is what it means to be God. Anyone who claims to obey the state before God while nevertheless believing in God is someone who is afraid of what Caesar can do to him. This was the case with Pilate. He knew Jesus was innocent, but in the end, he had Jesus crucified because he was afraid of Caesar.

During Nazi Germany’s oppression of the Jews, one preacher, Martin Niemoeller, was jailed for his preaching.  Another pastor visited him and told him he’d be free if he would keep silent about certain subjects. So, the visiting pastor demanded to know, if it’s that easy to be free, “Why are you in jail?” Noemoeller countered, “Why aren’t you in jail?” There are certainly consequences for opposing the government in some scenarios, but we must act justly and, in a God,-honoring manner to the best of our ability.

Four Logical Options for Viewing Government

  1. God alone as an authority
  2. Caesar alone as an authority
  3. The authority of God and Caesar, but with Caesar in the dominant position.
  1. The authority of God and Caesar, but with God in the dominant position. This is the only valid option and is certainly what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” Christians should recognize the authority of the state and should in fact be the very best of citizens. They should support and obey the state in all areas of its legitimate authority, and they should oppose the state wherever it strays from its legitimate God-given function or transgresses the moral law of God (done by rational argument and not by coercive power).[5]

This last position is our ideal position, and it is what the Scripture teaches here. Let’s now consider the State’s Role as we look at our relationship to our government.

Our Relationship to our Government

  1. Our Role
  2. The State’s Role
  3. What are we to do when there is tension?

II. The State’s Role – To work as God’s Servant for the Good of the People

Romans 13:3-4

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

What is the role of the state and what should we expect of it?

If you remember last week, we saw Paul’s instruction to the church in regard to those who persecuted them to not take vengeance upon them, but instead to seek to do good conduct to the evil doer. We were told to love our enemies.

Paul quoted Deuteronomy 32 declaring, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.”

So, the private citizen was to bless their enemy and seek to live at peace with them.

In verses 1-3 Paul affirmed three times that the state has authority from God, here in verses 4-7 he affirms that it has a ministry from God, noting three times that the authority figure is a “servant” or “minister” of God.

What is the ministry which God has entrusted with the state? It is concerned with good and evil. The state is supposed to promote and reward what is good, and to restrain and punish that which is evil, as the governing officials are the ones that God has established to render justice.

  • We should expect a justice system through our courts.
  • We should expect that those who govern over us are seeking the common good.
  • We should expect them to serve for our good, as it says in verse 4, “…for he is God’s servant for your good.”

John Stott summarizes by saying:

“The punishment of evil is God’s prerogative, and during the present age he exercises it through the lawcourts.”

So, we see that the role of our government is to:

  1. To approve and encourage good conduct
  2. To squash out bad conduct
  3. To work (as God’s servant) for the good of the people

And the logical next step then is to ask, how will this be paid for?

The natural answer – taxes!

John Stott says…

“Taxation was widespread and varied in the ancient world, “including a poll tax, land taxes, royalties on farm produce, and duty on imports and exports.” Paul viewed these things as part of the ministry of the state, which is why he exhorts believers to pay taxes. Political parties may disagree over the desirable size of the state’s role in the nation’s life; however all agree that there are some services which the state must provide, and these must be paid for, making taxes necessary. Therefore, Christians should accept their tax liability with good grace, paying their dues in full, both national and local, direct and indirect, and also giving proper esteem to the officials who collect and apply them.”[6]

This is what we see in verse 6 and 7.

Romans 13:6-7

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

But what happens when all of this gets sideways?  What’s our responsibility when the government engages in overreach, immorality, and even persecution?  What are our options as citizens of heaven with an earthly address?

Our Relationship to our Government

  1. Our Role
  2. The State’s Role
  3. What are we to do when there is tension?

III. What are we to do when there is tension?

Romans 13:5

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Verse 5 explains that one of the reasons we must be in subjection to government “for the sake of conscience.” Boice unpacks what this means in two different ways.

  1. First, we have a higher motive for obeying than others have. Paul’s main point here is that Christians should obey secular authorities, and his first reason is that God has established these human governments. That is something Christians alone can appreciate.

When Paul brings in the matter of the conscience, he is saying that we must obey because obedience is right and because, being responsible moral agents, we ought to do the right thing. Paul is telling us that what we do really matters; our obedience  to the secular authorities matters to God, and we should be careful to do it.

But it also matters to society. If we take obedience to the laws of the country lightly, then we are contributing to a spirit of lawlessness. On the other hand, if we obey the law of the land, we will be contributing to a stable and liberty-respecting government. Too many people have little or no respect for authority. Our conscience should convict us of this.

2. Second, because of conscience, we have a stronger reason for disobeying when disobedience becomes necessary. The government has no right to compel Christians to commit unjust acts or to act contrary to an informed Christian conscience. And that is the point here—conscience![7]

Areas of Limited Obedience

There are a few areas in which Christians cannot recognize the authority of the government and must disobey it at times

Areas of Limited Obedience

  1. Evangelism

If the state forbids the preaching of the gospel or evangelism, Christians must disobey because they have a God-given duty to evangelize. Jesus commissioned us to go to all nations and expected us to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

We see in Acts 4 and 5 where the disciples are brought before the government because of their preaching. They were threatened and eventually released—but went right back to preaching. They were arrested again and testified that they must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). This makes it clear that Christians are to give preference to the preaching of the gospel even when commanded otherwise by the government.

Areas of Limited Obedience

  1. Evangelism
  2. Morality

No government has the right to command Christians to perform immoral or non-Christian acts. The regime of Nazi Germany comes to mind as there was an unjustified command on all people (including Christians) to behave immorally toward Jews. Corrie ten Boom and her family were right to hide Jews and Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right to speak out against the government’s actions.

Areas of Limited Obedience

  1. Evangelism
  2. Morality
  3. Civil Disobedience When the state flagrantly ignores either righteousness or justice, sometimes we need to speak out. This is a challenging area to remain biblical, since as soon as we move away from words only and into the area of direct action, it is easy to cross over the line into a wrong method of responding.[8]

The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exemplifies Civil Disobedience as he espoused a non-violent response to the racism that was so prevalent in the South. His dream of his children being judged by the content of their character versus the color of their skin was a motivation of this pastor and leader as he sought to influence the nation against this oppression, often carried out by the local authorities.

So, when things go sideways, we are to:

  1. Uphold a clear conscience before God
  2. Render to Caesar everything that he asks for, as long as it doesn’t violate your conscience

And in this, either way, we glorify God

  1. By faithfully submitting to government and being lights within a good society
  2. Or, by faithfully holding fast to God’s word and his truth amidst an oppressive government
     

 

[1] https://www.history.com/news/6-wars-fought-for-ridiculous-reasons

[2] F.F. Bruce, Romans, 232.

[3] Tacitus, Annals, 15.44.

[4] John Stott, Romans, 340.

[5] James Boice, Romans vol 4, 1649-1650.

[6] John Stott, Romans, 346.

[7] James Boice, Romans vol 4, 1666-1667.

[8] James Boice, Romans vol 4, 1651-1654.

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