In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome there is no one section of the letter that has gotten more attention than Romans 13:1-7. What is the relationship of the follower of Jesus to the State, to civil authorities? This is an important lesson for every believer in every age. In the present climate of our nation this lesson is crucial. The Body of Christ does not need political debate. We need biblical truth.
Politics and party entrenched politicians have a strangle-hold on our nation, and sadly, the Church has become entangled in the mess. The divide is so broad and the animosity so intense that the possibility of reconciliation seems to be outside the realm of possibility.
Politics and the various arms of the Body of Christ have become so interwoven that you can ask a person if they consider themselves an evangelical, liberal, or conservative Christian and almost always guess their political party. This is tragic and it does neither the cause of Christ or our society any good at all. We as the followers of Jesus are called to be the best citizens of our nation. We are called to be salt and light, the embodiment of righteousness and holiness, prayer warriors of those in office, and a blessing to our land regardless of who occupies the seat of power. This morning I pray that you will be able to clear your mind of your presuppositions of politics and political parties and give your absolute attention to God’s Word concerning our relationship to the “ministers of government.” Let’s turn to Romans 13:1-7 and we will get started.
1 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. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NIV)
As we begin this study it is of greatest importance that we begin in the right place. If we make the mistake of starting out wrong in our study then there is no possibility of our coming to the right conclusions. Let me explain. When we want to understand truth we must begin with God. It does not matter what the topic is—God is the bedrock and cornerstone of any pursuit of truth. Some have read the Scripture that we are studying this morning and immediately asked, “So, we are to obey the State, the government, regardless of whether our leaders are godly or not?” That’s a good question, a question that needs to be addressed, but if we begin our study with that question then we are guaranteed to miss the truth of God. As I said, our study of any topic must begin with God. So let’s begin.
Scripture teaches that God is Sovereign. He is Sovereign over all. He is not just the Supreme authority and power over our lives as individuals, but He is Sovereign over nations and every leader. In 2 Kings 19:15, the godly king Hezekiah prayed,
15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. (2 Kings 19:15 NIV)
The nonbeliever would say, “Well, that is one person’s perspective. Of course Hezekiah would believe that God is Sovereign since he was a person of faith. You can believe whatever you want to believe, but that does not make it true.” I can appreciate that argument. Let me give you another example.
Nebuchadnezzar was a pagan king. The great king of Babylon worshiped many gods. Nebuchadnezzar had first invaded Jerusalem and taken Daniel and many others back to Babylon in 604 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t worship the God of the Jews, he ordered his subjects to worship a golden statue that was 90 feet tall. Many believe the statue was of King Nebuchadnezzar himself. Nebuchadnezzar was arrogant to say the least. God had given him ample opportunities to learn that his power and authority were derived from the gracious hand of God. Daniel warned him to repent of his arrogance and do what was right in the eyes of God or his power would come to an end. Following Daniel’s warning, we read in Daniel 4:29-31.
29 Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. (Daniel 4:29-31 NIV)
Immediately everything changed for Nebuchadnezzar. He was stripped of his royal authority and lived for a period of time in the open fields, like an animal. God’s humbling of Nebuchadnezzar served him well. In Daniel 4:34-35 we read,
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35 NIV)
The pagan king’s eyes were opened and he acknowledged God as the Sovereign authority over every king and every kingdom on earth. This truth of God’s Sovereignty transcends time and culture. Every king, every prince, every president, every dictator, every civic authority in every age has been placed in their position of power by the Sovereign King of all of kings. This is true even for those who do not seek Him or acknowledge Him.
The last king of Babylon, Belshazzar did not learn from the experience of king Nebuchadnezzar and had his power stripped away by the Persian king named Cyrus. Cyrus was also a pagan, not a godly man, but an instrument in the hands of God to accomplish His purpose. Listen to what the Lord says about this pagan king. Turn with me to Isaiah 45:1-6.
1 “This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:1-6 NIV)
This is one of the most amazing sections of God’s Word you will ever read. Cyrus, the pagan king of Persia, reigned from 559-529 B.C. He conquered the Babylonians, the destroyers of Jerusalem, He brought an end to the reign of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, and he did all of this because God empowered him.
In Isaiah 45:1, God calls the pagan king, Cyrus, “His anointed.” That is an astounding statement by God. The Hebrew word that is translated, “anointed,” is “מָשִׁיחַ” (mashiyach). The word means, “anointed” or “anointed one,” or “Messiah.” In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Septuagint, the word, “χριστῷ” is used to translate this Hebrew word. You may recognize that Greek word. In the New Testament we read about the One called, “Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ,” Jesus “the Anointed,” or Jesus Christ.
How can God call Cyrus “His anointed” when he is nothing more than a pagan king? There is a very simple answer to that question. Cyrus was anointed by God to fulfill God’s purpose for him. His purpose was to bring down the arrogant Belshazzar and to benefit the people of God. As a result of this Cyrus, and all people, would know that YHWH alone is God.
I mentioned to you that one of God’s purposes for Cyrus was to benefit the people of God. In Isaiah 45:4 we read about what God said to Cyrus.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. (Isaiah 45:4 NIV)
God raised up Cyrus “for the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen.” Where were the Jews when Cyrus was raised up by God? They weren’t in their own land. They had been taken captive. Their temple was destroyed. Their way of life had been utterly destroyed. They had been subjected to pagan worship and denied the worship of YHWH God. Their identity as a people had been shattered. Let me read to you Psalm 137 so you can get a sense of how despondent the people of God were.
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:1-4 NIV)
Did you hear it? Despair. Despondency. God’s people didn’t realize that as they were weeping He was working. God was raising up a deliverer. Someone they would never dream to come to their rescue. Cyrus was not one of their own, but he was God’s minister, His “anointed.” After Cyrus had defeated the Babylonians, he wrote a letter, told the Jews they were going home, and then sent the letter with them. Flavius Josephus wrote The Jewish Antiquities about 93-94 A.D. In his book he has included a copy of the letter that Cyrus sent with the Jewish exiles on their way home. Let me read it to you.
I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God. Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king’s treasury. (The Works of Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews—Book IX, translated by William Whilston)
Not only did Cyrus allow the Jews to return to their homeland, but he sent his own money with them to help rebuild the temple, the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Who would have ever dreamed it? God is the Lord of history and He is working around the world in the history of nations.
Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Hezekiah, President Obama, Felipe Calderon, the President of Mexico, King Albert II of Belgium, President Pohamba of Namibia, the dictator Kim Jong-il of North Korea, Shimon Peres, President of Israel, and the crazed President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran are where they are, seated in the office of authority and power because of one reason—God is Sovereign over every leader in every country of this world. Hezekiah was right when he proclaimed, “You alone are God over all of the kingdoms of this earth.” (2 Kings 19:15 NIV)
Now, that raises questions doesn’t it? There is no debating that some leaders are better than others. In God’s Word we find the godly King David set against the ungodly King Saul. There is Hezekiah who cries out to God and the evil King Ahab, who did more evil than all of Israel’s wayward kings. 1 Kings tells us,
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. (1 Kings 16:30 NIV)
In our own country we have had 44 presidents. They have not all been good presidents. Some have been a tremendous blessing to our nation and others have done great harm yet all of them found their way into office, not because of the will of the people, but because of the Sovereign will of God.
Our God is a God of purpose. Everything He does has purpose. There is no random act of any kind concerning God. He is a God of purpose. When God calls a leader into a position of power it is for a purpose. What is God’s calling on the lives of our governmental leaders? Well, let’s find out. In Romans 13:1-7 Paul tells the followers of Jesus that they are to submit themselves to the governing authorities. Paul also has some things to say about those leaders. He describes them as God’s “ministers” or His “servants.” Read Romans 13:4; 6 with me.
4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer… 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. (Romans 13:4; 6 NIV)
In these two verses Paul uses two Greek words to describe the governing authorities that we are to submit to. In Romans 13:4, twice he uses the Greek word, “διάκονος” (diakonos). The word means, “one who executes the commands of another.” It is used of people who perform the task given to them by their master. The word can also mean a “servant,” or “deacon.” This is the word that we get our word, “deacon” from. Let me show you some places where the same Greek word is used. In Romans 16:1 we read,
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. (Romans 16:1 NIV)
If you will turn with me to Colossians 1:6-8 we will see another example. I want to point out to you that the word is used in verse 7, but it is not translated “servant,” but “minister” in this instance. Let’s read it together.
6 …All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. 7 You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8 and who also told us of your love in the Spirit. (Colossians 1:6-8 NIV)
Epaphras is called a “faithful minister of Christ” on behalf of the people. The last instance that I want to show you is from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. Turn with me to Esther 2:2 and let’s read together.
2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. (Esther 2:2 NIV)
Now, can you see that when God calls someone to office as a civil servant of the nation He calls them into His service? Mayors, governors, members of congress, school board officers, and presidents are called by God to live out His purpose for their lives as shepherds of God’s people.
In Romans 13:6 there is another Greek word that is used. It is the word, “λειτουργός” (leitourgos) and it means “a public minister, a servant of the state, or a servant of the temple. In Romans 15:16, Paul describes himself as a “minister of Jesus Christ to the gentiles.” In Nehemiah we find the same word used to describe “ministering priests” in the temple. Read along with me from Nehemiah 10:39.
39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay. “We will not neglect the house of our God.” (Nehemiah 10:39 NIV)
Even though the “jobs” of the priests in the temple and King are different, there is a commonality. Even though there are differences, vast differences, between the tasks that our civil authorities have as compared to you and me as servants of God, there is a commonality. We are to serve God, to do His will where He has placed us. That is the purpose of our community, state, and federal authorities—to seek and then do the will of God.
I want to close this study by taking you to 1 Kings. When David died his son Solomon took over the throne. Solomon was a young man, his daddy was the greatest king in the history of the nation, and I’m sure Solomon was shaking in his boots. Well, Solomon had a dream one night. God appeared to him and said, “Solomon, ask for anything you want and I will give it to you. In 1 Kings 3:6-14 we can read about Solomon’s dream.
6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. 7 “Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for–both riches and honor–so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:6-14 NIV)
Solmon’s dad, king David, was faithful to God, he was righteous and upright in heart. That’s a great place for any governmental authority to begin. The day they take office they should begin to pray for God to keep them faithful, righteous, and upright in heart.
Solomon could have asked for anything. He could have asked for popularity. He could have asked for wealth and honor. He could have asked for an ever-expanding kingdom. Solomon asked for wisdom. He knew he was incapable to fulfilling his responsibilities so he asked God to bless him with a “discerning heart so that he might be able to govern the people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” God responds by saying that since Solomon asked for “discernment in administering justice” instead of all of the things he could have asked for He would give him wisdom and discernment unlike anyone who has ever governed or ever will. God also said that if Solomon would walk in His ways and obey His statutes and commands that He would give him a long life.
What a model for our leaders! The tragedy is that many of our governmental authorities do not have clue what God’s will is for them. We need to pray for them. Pray that God will lead someone into their life that can teach them, challenge them, and encourage them to seek God and not the applause of their constituents. Pray for our leaders.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 17, 2010