As we began our study of Romans 13 we sought the answers to two questions: First of all, where do those who serve as governmental authorities get their authority? Secondly, what is their purpose as they serve the citizens of the city, state, and nation? We learned from God’s Word that our civil servants are “placed” in their position by God. You can go back and read our study from two weeks ago to see example after example of this truth from God’s Word. Those who serve do so because God has called them to their position of service. Secondly, we learned that those who serve in civil government do so with a calling on their life. Three times in Romans 13:1-7 we see that Paul calls them God’s “ministers.” Their “calling” is to do God’s will, to shepherd those who have been placed under their care, and to restrain evil.
This week I want us to try and answer another question as we continue our study. The question I want us to address this week is “What is our responsibility, first as followers of Jesus, and secondly as citizens of this society?” We know what our governmental leaders are called to do, but what are we, the followers of Jesus, called to do in this community and nation in which God has placed us?
So far, as we have been studying Romans 12-13 we have learned some remarkable lessons about how we are to relate to various groups of people. We have learned how we are to relate to God, to our brothers and sisters in Christ, with non-believers, and even how we are to relate to our enemies, those who oppose us personally or those who oppose the cause of our Savior. The direction and counsel we have received is not based on a public opinion poll or what seems “right,” but it is rooted and grounded in God’s dealings with us. In Romans 12:1-2 we read,
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 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. (Romans 12:1-2 NIV)
Everything we do, every single thing we do is based on this: “In view of God’s mercy…” If I do not keep in full view the radical mercy of God that has been showered upon my life in ever increasing abundance then I will naturally continue to conform to the ways of this world in regards to my relationship with others. Are you nice to me? Then I will be nice to you. Do I “like” you? Your personality? Your charisma? Do we share common interests? Then we can be friends and I will wish the best for you. If you grate on my nerves, if you do me wrong, or if I think you are a basket-case, a black hole that sucks the life out of me, then I will find every excuse to avoid you. That is the natural way to do relationships right? Paul is showing us a better way, a godly way, and he is calling us to relate to others in the same way that God relates to us.
Now we turn our attention to our relationship with those in authority over us. How do we relate to them? Do we honor those in authority when we disagree with them? Do we have to submit to them when they are not of our same political party? Well, let’s read our Scripture together 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)
Before we begin looking at our responsibility as followers of Jesus living under the authority of those who serve our nation as governmental leaders let me set the context for Paul’s counsel. The biblical authors did not write in a vacuum, neither did they live in some Utopian society. Paul lived under the authority of the Roman Empire. Nero was ruling as Caesar over the Empire when Paul penned this letter. Paul wrote Romans about 57 A.D. from Corinth. Nero ruled from 54-68 A.D.
During the beginning of Nero’s reign Paul and the followers of Jesus had freedom to live their lives and serve God, but towards the end of his reign Nero began an oppressive persecution that resulted in thousands of Christians being persecuted and killed for their faith. Paul would be one of those who suffered and died under the injustice of Nero. M.G. Easton, in Easton’s Bible Dictionary, writes about Paul’s final appearance before Caesar Nero.
There can be little doubt that he appeared again at Nero’s bar, and this time the charge did not break down. In all history there is not a more startling illustration of the irony of human life than this scene of Paul at the bar of Nero. On the judgment-seat, clad in the imperial purple, sat a man who, in a bad world, had attained the eminence of being the very worst and meanest being in it, a man stained with every crime, a man whose whole being was so steeped in every nameable and unnamable vice, that body and soul of him were, as someone said at the time, nothing but a compound of mud and blood; and in the prisoner’s dock stood the best man the world possessed, his hair whitened with labors for the good of men and the glory of God. The trial ended: Paul was condemned, and delivered over to the executioner. He was led out of the city, with a crowd of the lowest rabble at his heels. The fatal spot was reached; he knelt beside the block; the headsman’s axe gleamed in the sun and fell; and the head of the apostle of the world rolled down in the dust (probably A.D. 66), four years before the fall of Jerusalem. (Easton’s Bible Dictionary www.studylight.org)
So the great apostle met his death at the hands of a deranged despot, an evil emperor. Before Paul was beheaded he penned these words in the very last letter he would ever write,
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIV)
Nero lived on, for about another year, before the tide turned against him and he was declared a public enemy of the Empire. The great Roman historian, Suetonius, wrote about Nero’s death, a suicide. Listen to these words.
A runner brought him a letter from Phaon. Nero tore it from the man’s hands and read that, having been declared a public enemy by the Senate, he would be punished in ‘ancient style’ when arrested. He asked what ‘ancient style’ meant, and learned that the executioners stripped their victim naked, thrust his head into a wooden fork, and then flogged him to death with sticks. In terror he snatched up the two daggers which he brought along and tried their points; but threw them down again, protesting that the final hour had not yet come. Then he begged Sporus to weep and mourn for him, but also begged one of the other three to set him an example by committing suicide first. He kept moaning about his cowardice, and muttering: ‘How ugly and vulgar my life has become! Then, with the help of his scribe, Epaphroditos, he stabbed himself in the throat and was already half dead when a cavalry officer entered, pretending to have rushed to his rescue, and staunched the wound with his cloak. Nero muttered: ‘Too late! But, ah, what fidelity!’ (Seutonius: Nero, 49, 50)
Two men, two lives, and two deaths, but what a stark contrast. Paul was faithful to the end and looking forward to his great and glorious reward. Nero died a coward. The power hungry Caesar was stripped of everything he cherished. As we turn our attention to our responsibility to God as we relate to those in power over us let us never forget the tale of these two men.
So, just what is our responsibility to those who govern us? That is a great question. If we seek to answer that question from Romans 13:1-7 we will see that there are some very specific things we are called to do. Let me list them for you.
• We are to submit ourselves to those in authority over us out of obedience to God.
• We are to do “right” and avoid what is “wrong.”
• We are to pay our taxes.
• We are to offer them respect and honor.
The key to our relationship to those who govern us is our “submission.” It is important that we understand that important Greek word. The word, “ὑποτάσσω” (hupotasso) means, “to arrange under, to subordinate, to subject one’s self, or to obey.” The word has a background in the military. We are not Generals, but we are to honor and fall into formation under the General’s leadership. Paul was not the only one who wrote of this submission. Peter writes,
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17 NIV)
After Paul’s imprisonment in Rome he wrote a letter to Titus from Ephesus. Titus was on the island of Crete, a rough environment in which to minister, and yet Paul tells Titus, in Titus 3:1-2.
1Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. (Titus 3:1-2 NIV)
We are to honor and respect those in authority over us out of our obedience to God. We do not have to agree with someone to honor them, show them respect, refuse to slander them, and seek to do what is right as a citizen of the society in which we live. John Mac Arthur writes in his commentary on this passage of Scripture.
Believers are to be model citizens, known as law abiding not rabble-rousing, obedient rather than rebellious, respectful of government rather than demeaning of it. We must speak against sin, against injustice, against immorality and ungodliness with fearless dedication, but we must do it within the framework of civil law and with respect for civil authorities. We are to be a godly society, doing good and living peaceably within an ungodly society, manifesting our transformed lives so that the saving power of God is seen clearly. (John MacArthur, Mac Arthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 9-16.)
We are to submit, show honor and respect, do what is right, abide by the laws of the land, and pay our taxes. That last phrase, “pay our taxes,” has caused the hair to stand up on the neck of many of Jesus’ followers throughout the years. Today, there are folks who refuse to pay their taxes to the government because the government uses some of their money for ungodly things like funding abortions. What they fail to recognize is that the “government” Jesus was under, the Roman Empire, practiced all kinds of ungodly things in Jesus’ day and yet, when Jesus was questioned about paying taxes in Matthew 22:17-21, He had this to say.
17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” 18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:17-21 NIV)
What you owe to Caesar, or to the government, pay them. There is not a qualifier, a loop hole, in there my friends. Those Christians who seek to find a loop hole because of the immorality of our government’s use of tax payer’s money to justify their failure to pay taxes need to study the history of the Roman Empire in which Jesus lived.
Did you know that infanticide and abortion were practiced in the Roman Empire? Roman law held that the fetus is not a person. Eusebius, the great historian, tells us in his writing, Church History, about a man named Tertullian. Tertullian was raised in Carthage, was the son of a Roman centurion, a trained lawyer, and an ordained priest. Tertullian lived from 160-220 A.D. In Tertullian’s work, Apology, he writes to non-believers in the Roman Empire. He says,
To hinder a birth is merely a speedier man-killing; nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed. (Tertullian, Apology)
So we can see that the followers of Jesus cherished life, from the womb to the tomb, from the earliest days. The Romans also practiced infanticide. The Twelve Tables of Roman Law stated: “An obviously deformed child must be put to death.” There was legalese in Roman law just as there is in our day and that led to various interpretations of the phrase, “obviously deformed.”
The Romans also practiced “exposure.” Exposure was simply abandoning your children. A chilling letter from a pagan husband to his wife captures the casual nature of this practice among the pagans. The husband writes, “Know that I am still in Alexandria. I ask and beg you to take good care of our baby son, and as soon as I receive payment I shall send it up to you. If you are delivered before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if a girl, discard it.” (Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt Under Roman Rule. http://tinyurl.com/yf7448q)
These practices were not condoned or condemned by Jesus in Scripture because Jesus sought to change hearts and not governments. We don’t have to quote chapter and verse to know that Jesus valued life, that He didn’t condone the mistreatment, destruction, or oppression of any people. Jesus recognized that governments don’t change people—the Gospel changes people and people are the ones who make a nation what it is.
God’s people have always lived under oppressive, ungodly governments, yet God calls us to be a blessing to those who rule over us. We are called by God to bless the leaders of our community, state, and nation. We are also called to speak out against the injustice and ungodly ways of our society, but we are to do so with respect and honor. We will take a look at this in great detail next week. Let me give you an example of how God calls His people to interact with a pagan society. In Jeremiah 29:4-7 we read about God’s people living in Babylon, a pagan nation with a pagan king. Listen to these words.
4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7 NIV)
Did you catch that last verse? “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This should be the focus of our prayers—“Lord, use me to be a blessing to those in my community. Use me as an instrument of your peace in a strife-filled nation. Bless the works of my hands so that I will be of benefit to the community and even the nation.”
You may be a staunch Democrat or Republican, but you are first and foremost a follower of Jesus. You and I are to walk in His ways and not theirs. The way of politics is not the way of God. Democrats and Republicans are failing, miserably failing to be the leaders that God has called them to be. I’ve been to Washington D.C. and I’ve seen the monuments and Scriptures on buildings that remind our leaders of their calling.
Did you know that John Adams, the second president of our nation, was the first president to occupy what is today called the White House? He moved in during the final months of his presidency on November 1, 1800 before it was even completed. President Adams wrote a prayer soon after he arrived and the prayer was later etched in marble on the mantel of the fireplace in the State Dining Room of the White House by President Roosevelt. The prayer goes like this:
I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this house, and on all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.
All of you have seen the tall Washington Monument which sits on the mall in Washington. Inside of the monument is a staircase which has 190 carved tributes donated by states, cities, individuals, and foreign governments. Among the carved tributes are these quotations from Scripture: “Holiness to the Lord” (Exodus 28), “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39), “The memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7) — and such invocations as, “May Heaven to this Union continue its Benefice.”
There is a statue of Moses with the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Library of Congress. At The Daughters of the American Revolution building there is an inscription with Proverbs 22:28 that reads, “Remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set.” I could go on and on and tell you stories about the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Supreme Court Building, and much more. I share these illustrations with you to let you know that our leaders are surrounded with reminders that they answer to a higher Authority, that they are to lead under God, and yet they are failing. They are miserably failing. Democrats and Republicans are failing. We need to pray for our leaders—all of our leaders.
We are to be the best citizens in the land. If that is to be true of you and me then we don’t need to enroll in a “civics” class—we need to spend time with God. The best instruction manual for a nation, in the teaching and training of its citizens, is the Word of God. If we spend time in God’s Word and seek to be the men, women, boys, and girls that God has called to be then we will be the best citizens in the land without question. That ought to cause you and me to stop and ponder the question, “If America is a Christian nation, full of more Christians than any other nation on the planet, then why do we not see that reality lived out in day-to-day living?” Is it the governments fault? Hardly, we are failing to fulfill God’s call on our lives to be salt and light in this land. It is my prayer that this morning we will hear God calling us to Himself. Before we can ever submit to those who rule over us we must first submit to God. Won’t you acknowledge your need this morning and ask Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Master?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 31, 2010