For two weeks we’ve been taking a look at the first seven verses of Romans 13. We’ve taken our time trying to understand this important section of God’s Word because it is crucial that we do so. We’ve come to understand the God given authority, and the purpose of the authority, of those who serve as God’s “ministers” in government. Last week, we got a good grip on the responsibility that God has placed at our feet: we are to submit to those who rule over us. Our submission translates into our doing that which is “good” and avoiding that which is “evil.” We are to obey the laws of the land. We are to honor our leaders, not slander them, and pay our taxes.
This week we are going to take one last look at this important section of God’s Word. This week I want us to try and understand when, if ever, we should refuse to submit to that which our leaders ask of us. How about we begin by taking a look at our Scripture once again? Turn with me to Romans 13:1-7.
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)
Throughout history we can find illustration after illustration of people rebelling against the injustices of governments. Our own country, the United States of America, came to be through the rejection of the rule of the British over the thirteen colonies. The Revolutionary War, or War of Independence, lasted from 1775-1783 when, following the war, the Americans and the British signed a peace treaty in Paris, France.
If we will jump forward 200 years, the year 1989 was a monumental year for the fall of unjust governments. No less than six governments were toppled from within. Most of you were alive back in 1989 so maybe you remember the day the Berlin Wall fell. What you may not know is that one of the contributing factors of the downfall of East Germany was the move of God through the Body of Christ. In the early 80’s Christian Fuhrer, the pastor of St. Nikolai Evangelical Lutheran Church began holding weekly prayer services for peace at the church.
In October 1989, on the 40th anniversary of the Communist’s rise to power, the government cracked down on protesters. In Leipzig, the home of St. Nikolai Church, the sanctuary was packed with people praying. When the prayer service was over, 70,000 people marched through the city as soldiers watched, but did not attack. Pastor Fuhrer, in an article in USA Today from November of 2009, said,
‘In church,’ Fuhrer said, ‘people had learned to turn fear into courage, to overcome the fear and to hope, to have strength. They came to church and then started walking, and since they did not do anything violent, the police were not allowed to take action. [East German officials] said, ‘We were ready for anything, except for candles and prayer.’ (Potter, Deborah. “The Church That Helped Bring Down the Berlin Wall.” USA Today 5 Nov 2009.)
One month after the people filled the streets, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall, separating East and West Berlin came down. The Church that knelt in prayer and stood strong in the face of governmental oppression is the same Church that worked for the blessing of the nation and the conversion of those who had caused the suffering. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
Uwe Holmer began studying theology in 1948 and became a pastor. Pastor Holmer led a small Christian community for the mentally handicapped, the elderly, and those suffering from epilepsy just outside of East Berlin. Religion was tolerated, but not welcomed in Communist East Germany so Pastor Holmer found himself often at odds with the leaders of his country. The attacks included eight of his ten children being denied higher education by the Minister of Education, Margot Honecker, the wife of the ruler of East Germany, because of Uwe’s commitment to Jesus Christ.
Erich Honecker was the man who was responsible for building the Berlin Wall. When the wall fell, Erich Honecker was deposed as the ruler of East Germany and he left his office as the most hated man in all of Germany. He was physically sick and feeble when he was removed from office. He had kidney problems, was suffering from cancer, and needed help. He and his wife, Margot, had to leave the official residence, but there was no place for them to go. The Communist party turned its back on them. Their own daughter wouldn’t take them in. With no place to go and no one to be found who cared, help finally arrived for the Honecker’s—Pastor Uwe Holmer and his wife.
The man who had persecuted Pastor Holmer—had his phone tapped, denied his request to travel so that he could attend his father’s funeral, had his mail monitored, and his family harassed—the persecutor was now being helped by the one he had persecuted. Pastor Holmer had every reason to hate Erich Honecker, but he would not. The woman, Margot Honecker, who had denied Pastor Holmer’s children an education, was now being taught about the love of Jesus as Pastor Holmer and his wife gave her a home in her time of need.
Pastor Holmer and his wife understood that Jesus wanted them to love their enemies. Who could have been a greater enemy than Erich and Margot Honecker? So, they moved them into their home on January 31, 1990. Nobody applauded their decision. Their friends didn’t understand why they would do it. The public responded by protesting outside their home, their phone rang off the wall with angry folks on the other end, bomb threats were made, and the police said that they couldn’t guarantee the Holmer’s safety. Church members threatened to stop their giving. Pastor Holmer wrote a letter to the local newspaper explaining his actions. In the letter he wrote,
“In Lobetal,” he wrote, “there is a sculpture of Jesus inviting people to himself and crying out, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ We have been commanded by our Lord Jesus to follow him and to receive all those who are weary and heavy laden, in spirit and in body, but especially the homeless… What Jesus asked his disciples to do is equally binding on us.”
What is it that persuades a man who has been treated so unjustly, who has watched his beloved country decimated by a “minister of government” turned traitor to the mission given to him by God? It certainly wasn’t the humanitarian spirit that led Uwe Holmer and his wife to risk it all so that they could care for their enemy. They didn’t find any help in the handbook of the communists, but they found guidance and strength in the Word of God. This is why I continue to say that we desperately need these lessons from Romans 13. When the day comes when we must stand up instead of going along we will need to follow the Lord’s leading rather than the mindset of the masses.
I want to acknowledge that in Romans 13:1-7 we find no precedent for ever rebelling against those who rule over us. That has led some to reject Paul’s teaching, but instead of rejecting what Paul has written I would encourage us to take seriously what Paul has written and use it as a foundation for further study of God’s Word. As we search the whole counsel of God, the other 65 books of the Bible then you will find examples of those who stood up to those who ruled over them. What led them to rebel? If we can discover an answer to that question then I think we can get a jump on understanding when we might be led by God to say, “No!” to those who rule over us.
Turn with me to Daniel 3:12-18 and let me show you one example. Most of you have probably heard of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—three young Jewish guys who were serving the King of Babylon while they were in exile. King Nebuchadnezzar had demanded that all of his subjects worship his gods. He even set up a huge golden statue and demanded that all the people bow down and worship it. The Jewish guys couldn’t do it and word spread about their defiance. Let’s read the Scripture together where some of Nebuchadnezzar’s officials brought him the news.
12 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon–Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego–who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.” 13 Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, 14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15 Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:12-18 NIV)
Why would the guys not submit themselves to the King’s authority? He wanted them to worship something other than God. I’m pretty forgetful, but I don’t remember covering that when we were looking at the responsibilities of those who rule over us, do you? God made things pretty clear when He gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. He said, 3 “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NIV)
There is the flip side to this story. If you will turn with me to Daniel 6:7-11. In the story about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the king ordered his subjects to “do” something that the three young men couldn’t do. In this story we find the king order his subjects to “refrain from doing” something. Listen and let’s see what we can learn.
7 The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered–in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” 9 So King Darius put the decree in writing. 10 Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. 11 Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. (Daniel 6:7-11 NIV)
In all fairness to the king, he was set up. Some of his Cabinet members were jealous of Daniel, they knew he served the Lord and prayed regularly, and they set him up. That’s a story for another study. I want you to notice that the government said, “You can’t pray.” Daniel didn’t form a picket line at the king’s palace to protest the edict—he simply continued to do what he had always done, he prayed. Daniel was also willing to suffer the consequences of his choice. He went to the lion’s den and trusted God for the outcome.
We can find examples of the “you must” and “you must not” edicts in modern-day government as well. In 1979 the Chinese government implemented the “one child policy” which limits families in urban areas of China to one child. The government implemented the policy to control the growth of the largest nation on the planet. As a result, abortions and female infanticide in China have skyrocketed. There is no doubt in my mind that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would say, “We will not bow to your policy!”
In our own country, on June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court made the decision to no longer allow America’s students to begin their day with prayer. The case, Engel vs. Vitale led the Court to examine the following prayer said by children in New York’s public schools: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee and beg Thy blessing over us, our parents, our teachers and our nation.” The government said, “You will not pray” from this day forward. Daniel would have simply bowed his head and continued to do as he had always done. Kids, those of you in grade school, middle school, high school, those of you who attend college—I would encourage you to follow in the footsteps of Daniel and begin each school day by acknowledging your dependence on God and asking his blessing upon your parents, teachers, our leaders, and nation.
Let’s go to the New Testament and take a look at another prohibition. Peter and John were sharing the Gospel with those in Jerusalem, they were healing the sick in Jesus’ name, and the authorities didn’t like it. In Acts 4:18-20 we read.
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)
Peter and the followers of Jesus defied the prohibition to refuse to even speak the name of Jesus because Jesus Himself had given them these instructions in Matthew 28:19-20.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)
The followers of Jesus had no choice, but to do what Jesus had commanded. Neither do we have a choice. If we are told that we can’t even speak His name, as is the case in some countries of the world this very morning, then we must obey God and be willing to suffer the consequences. In the very next chapter of Acts we see the same group of followers brought back in before the Sanhedrin. Turn to Acts 5:27-29 and let’s read together.
27 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” 29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:27-29 NIV)
We can easily come to the conclusion, by looking at these examples, that if our government tells us that we must worship anyone other than God then we have to say, “We must obey God!” If our government says, “You can no longer pray,” then we must respond, “We must obey God!” If our government says, “You can no longer speak about Jesus: you can’t teach the Bible, share your faith, or attribute your actions to your commitment to Jesus” then we must say, “We must obey God!”
There is another example that we need to look at this morning so that we can understand that these are not the only reasons we have for refusing to submit to those who rule over us. If you will turn with me to the book of Esther. In Esther 3:8-10 we read where Haman, one of King Xerxes’ servants, plotted to have the Jews in Persia wiped-out. He convinced the king that it was in the best interest of the nation to eradicate the Jews as quickly as possible. The king went along with it and signed the edict. A date was chosen when the Jews would be annihilated.
Esther, a young Jewish girl, had been chosen to be Xerxes’ Queen in an amazing turn of events. Esther had a cousin named Mordecai who was older than her and much more politically savvy then Esther. When he got wind of Haman’s plot he got word to Esther through her servants. Esther sent Hathach to visit with Haman who in turn gave him a copy of the edict and urged Esther to do something. Esther was hesitant because she knew that if you entered the king’s presence without being summoned that you could be killed. In Esther 4:12-14, we find the message Mordecai sent back to his cousin, Esther.
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13 he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:12-14 NIV)
Esther told Mordecai to have all of the people pray and she would approach the king. Esther said, “If I die, I die.” (Esther 4:16) Long story short, Haman was hung on the gallows he had prepared for the Jews and the Jews were saved by the actions of one woman who was willing to stand up rather than go along. Esther would have been safe if she would have done nothing, but she could not stand by and watch her people annihilated without at least trying to do something.
When we see injustice taking place in our society that affects others, but has no bearing on our day-to-day life then we are tempted to keep our mouths shut. We can’t keep our mouths shut. We must speak out, but we must speak out in a way that can be heard. We are not to be disrespectful or belligerent. Neither are we to keep our mouths shut.
In Nazi Germany there was a group of pastors who saw what Hitler was doing and they began to speak out against Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Neimoeller are two of the best known pastors that I am speaking about. Neimoeller was imprisoned at one time for his defiance of the Nazis. Another minister came to visit him and reminded him that he could be set free if he would only keep his mouth shut about certain issues. The pastor then asked, “So why are you in jail?” Pastor Neimoeller responded, “Why aren’t you in jail?”
Far too many Christians are willing to sit by and watch others treated unfairly, willing to watch injustice destroy the lives of others, and not utter a single word because they believe it doesn’t affect their lives. The day will come my friend when it will. Who will be there to speak up for you on that day? Martin Neimoeller wrote these words.
In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up. (Pastor Martin Neimoeller)
We are to submit to those who govern us. We must pray for them, honor them, pay our taxes, and refuse to slander them. Sometimes, when their policies and practices go against God’s Word, we must say to them, “We must obey God!” When that time comes we must prepare ourselves to accept whatever consequences go along with our decision. In Luke 21 Jesus was speaking about the events that will unfold before He returns for His own. Listen to what Jesus said,
9 When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” 10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. 12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 All men will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will gain life. (Luke 21:9-19 NIV)
Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but we all know that these very things are happening right now across the world. You and I do not know what the future holds for us, during our lifetime in the United States of America. If the day comes when we are called to stand up like Pastor Uwe Holmer, Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Neimoeller, or Pastor Laszlo Tokes in Romania will we be able to do so? Will we stand and confess, “I must obey God!” or will we shrink back and simply go along as long as it doesn’t affect us?
Prepare for the storm before it arrives. How do you prepare? Great question! You ask Jesus to come into your heart, take over the throne-room of your life, and begin His work of molding and shaping you into the man or woman that He desires for you to be. Won’t you invite Him in this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 7, 2010