Christians and Their Governments
Thistletown Baptist Church
September 21, 2008

Click here to see the Internet Archive page for this sermon, or listen to it below.

Introduction

We are in the midst of a federal election. The US is in the midst of a federal election – perhaps one of the most watched elections since JFK and Nixon ran against one another in 1960. Romans 13:1-7 speaks to us of the believers relationship with the human, governing authorities that are in place.

It is important for us to remember that this is talking about what obedience to Romans 12:1 is. To present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, the Christian must be a person who submits to the governing authorities/laws of the land. The Christian worships God and part of that worship is the teaching of 13:1-7. We tend to divide our lives up between the religious and the secular. On this day and in this place, and for many of us, on other days in this place, we do our religious stuff, our obviously Christian stuff. We relegate worship to the Sunday service and most of the time do not even include preaching or Bible reading or receiving the offering or prayer or talking to the children … as part of the worship. (A few years ago I received an invitation to a day of prayer “There will be no worship – just prayer…”) We usually just refer to the singing as “worship”. But dear Christian you must know this: when you go to work tomorrow, you are to go as a worshipper of the triune God. A faith that does not worship God in the everyday work-a-day world is not a faith that is real. I have noted this to you several times before already about this, but it is a striking thing that from 12:1 – 15:13 when Paul is telling the Roman Christians what it means to present our bodies as living sacrifices which is our spiritual worship, he never once mentions congregational worship (the closest we come to it is 12:3-8).

And what we take into Romans 13:1-7 is this: How we live our lives under the governments that are called to serve us, municipally, provincially and federally, is worship. How we talk about them, how we vote, how we obey the laws … are acts of worship – directed to the God who ordained those powers that be. This does not mean that we always agree with them, always like the laws they make or never say anything negative about what they are doing. It does not even mean that we will never disobey the law of the land if we must (and we must if obedience to the law of the land would mean disobedience to God …). But we are to constantly have in the forefront of our minds the fact that how we live as citizens of the country God has placed us in, is lived for the glory of God. It is worship. God’s glory is more important than my tax return, more imp. Than my speed on the highway, more important than my party winning the election… . And how I behave as a citizen under the leadership of non Christian, immoral (sometimes), dishonest (sometimes), unjust (sometimes), uncaring (sometimes) … rulers/legislators/politicians … is to be worship. Worship that is not conformed to this world (how the world regards their duties to the governing authorities), worship that is transformed by the renewing of our minds (how we think about and talk about and act upon) in relation to those very authorities.

This is not unimportant dear ones. This is not about politics and making the nation great and Christianizing our country through the political process … . It is about the glory of God and our call to worship the Sovereign Creator of the earth who does whatsoever He pleases, even at election time, and come October 15, bowing down in thanks to God for His work of ordaining someone into power through the election process the day before. It is about:
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

If you hear nothing else that I say to you this morning hear this – this text that tells us to submit to those in authority over us is telling us how we are to worship God.

Let’s look at this text

1) “every person” – there are no exceptions. You are not the exception.

2) Be subject to the governing authorities – be subject – ύpotassw (hupotasso) to place under, to subject, to obey – “Let everyone be subject to, let everyone be placed under, let everyone be obedient to…”
The call of this verse is plain – we are to be law abiding citizens. We are not anarchists. We are not fomenting rebellion. We do not believe that the solution to our country’s problems lies in a Christian rebellion. We do not believe that its solutions lie in a change of rulership or keeping the same party in rule. Our hope is in God and we will obey the laws of the land as long as they do not tell us to disobey God.
We need to remember what kind of government Paul was telling these Roman saints to obey.
It was a military dictatorship. At the time Paul wrote this Nero was the emperor – immoral. He murdered his mother, his brother, his mentor. He pillaged the treasury and in a few years from the time Paul wrote this, he had Paul beheaded. In fact, there are people receiving this letter who will be used as torches to light Nero’s courtyard in a few years. This was not a pleasant government that Paul was voicing support for. It is also a government that, after the death of Nero, would increase the tax burden substantially because of Nero’s wasting of the empire’s money. He was NOT saying “obey because it is so lovely”

3) We obey because God is in charge of who rules the country

We do not obey because we like their policies, agree with their philosophy, receive tax breaks, perks, or popularity. Not because they keep their promises or favour the poor or foster investment… Those might be some of the reasons you vote for who you do, but the reason you submit to them is because they are there by God’s design. We obey because God has ordained them. This may have been easier to see when people did not vote for their rulers and kings. Voting has given us the opinion that we make the final choice. But dear ones – God is the Ruler of the heart. And a vote by ordinary citizens is not a problem for He who rules over the heart.

This is a Godward thing. Dear ones. Don’t think that your welfare is in the hands of the governing authorities. Your welfare is in the hands of God. Our look is toward Him. The question is “What does God want”.

3) Obey it because God ordained it. A word here for political leaders. Your power is a delegated power. Your power is lent to you by a far greater power. Your power is given to you with conditions (see verses 4f). You are going to have to give an account for all that you did while you were in power. Do not think that you are exempt from bowing the knee to the One who is really in charge.
– all government authority is delegated authority Hear from Abraham Lincoln –
There are not many, perhaps not any, governments in the world today that will admit that their authority comes from and is maintained by God. Some will say that they are in power as the instrument of God but that is merely an excuse for them to commit horrifying atrocities and claim the divine right to do so. The world is testimony today of
Psalm 2:1-5 (ESV)
Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
[2] The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
[3] “Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”
[4] He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
[5] Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury,

To not obey this command is to deny that God reigns. It is to say “we know that we need to take matters into our own hands”. We see horrible things coming and we know that unless we do things our way all is lost. This is how people think all the time. Because we cannot see how God could ever make this work out we take it into our own hands.
I know He said “don’t worry” but …
I know he said “pay taxes” but …
I know He said “trust me”
I know its wrong to take my pay in cash and never declare it but …
I know it’s wrong to …………. but ………………. .
We act like we know the future.
We act like we know better than God
We act like we are in control not Him
We act like we ordain our affairs and not Him

Oh what would God do if we took His commandments really seriously and knew that he reigns for our good and that He knows what He is doing… .

4)evil governments are established by God as much as good ones

God was not sleeping when David Miller was elected, when Dalton McGuinty was elected or when Stephen Harper was elected. There you go – all three major parties with different social theories, different understandings of how the world operates and what is wrong with it and how to fix it – and God established them all for His own purposes and for His own glory and for the good of His people and for the salvation of the lost and for the glory of His Son. Eg. Brackstone’s comment that if Trudeau won the 1980 election it would be because God was judging the nation. Whether or not you agree with that, it comes from very sound theology – if a government that truly benefits the people of a nation and truly fulfills the mandate given it by God, God is blessing that nation. Where a government is despotic … it may be a judgement from God – in both cases God is the one establishing it. See Isaiah 45:
Isaiah 45:1-7 (ESV)
Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
[2] “I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
[3] I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
[4] For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
[5] I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
[6] that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
[7] I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things.

5) They are in power under the authority of God who reigns for the sake of His people.
See Eph.1:19-22
See Eph. 1:11-12 – (Come the day after the election remember this. Jesus Christ rules the world for the sake of His people and he works out everything after the council of His own will so that we might be for the praise of His glory, and then ask yourself – how can I, as a citizen/resident of this country acknowledge that God has done something in this election so that I might glorify Him?)

6) God is the one on control. Many Christians believe that until the laws of the land change – until abortion is outlawed, until marriage of same sex people is outlawed, until … that the work of God will not progress in a nation. Make no mistake, I believe that abortion should be outlawed and I believe that same sex marriage should not be the law of the land – but I do not believe that the purposes of God are thwarted through the passing of these, and other immoral laws. You see that nation that has forgotten God, has spurned His Word, cast righteousness to the wind … God is going to work through that nation. He will judge. He will save. Dear ones do not rest your hopes on politicians. Rest your hope on Him.

What will turn this nation around is when it gets on its knees and turns away from all its sin and turns to Jesus Christ. That is where our hope lies.

See what the early church was able to do in a cruel military dictatorship. They turned their empire upside down. What started out as a minor little sect that wasn’t even on the radar of the governing authorities became the dominating influence upon the Empire in under 300 years. And they did it without any laws to protect them, without any legislation to help them. They did it without government grants to assist them. They did it while being persecuted, while in jail, while running for their lives. They did not ask for popularity and laws to protect them. They asked for courage. They asked for faithfulness to the Gospel. They asked for God to do great things. And God did great things. And God can still do great things dear ones. And He will do it, and He may use Christians in places of responsibility to achieve much for the cause of the Gospel like He used Wilberforce and Nightingale and Mueller and Booth. But what He will use most of all is a faithful people who serve their God when it is hard. Who obey God when no one else does. Who submit to taxes and laws that hurt but do not force them to deny Christ.

7) God ordains them with conditions – verse 3-4. He is God’s servant for our good. They are a terror to wickedness. Governments are not set up to do as they please. They are set up to do as God pleases. They are to reward righteousness and punish evil.
Acts 5:29 …
I Tim. 2:1-2 …
The reason we obey the authorities is the same reason we disobey it – God ordains it. Why do we submit to laws that we do not like? God ordains it. Why do we break laws – God ordains it. God ordained that we worship, serve Christ, remain faithful, witness to the Gospel … . If the authorities ever seek to prevent that from happening then we simply disobey them. At that point they have forsaken their mandate before God and we will remain faithful no matter what. But dear ones listen. If you cannot remain faithful to your calling in days of peace to the church and freedom to worship as we please – then what in the world will you do when the day comes that faithfulness to Christ is going to cost you your family, your job, your home, your life?

8) In a democracy that has the privilege, under God to actually have a say in who gets into power should we not make it a top priority to pray for who we will vote for? Should we not vote prayerfully. Should we not vote with a joy that knows that no matter who gets in God is in charge and God is doing something that is leading us to that day when all evil will be eradicated? God’s control does not mean that we do not take part. It means that we seek His will and do all we can under His authority to work for good and justice and peace and the conversion of many.

Election time dear ones. A time that we think about who we want to govern us. If you are a citizen get and vote.
Pray. Pray that this nation will not just know the sovereign judgement of God but the sovereign mercy of God as well.

And dear ones – live a life of submission. A godly life of submission ot Christ and trust Him to do as He says He will do to those who walked in faithfulness to Him even when they could not see how it could work out for good. Let us obey this – by faith, for the glory of our great God.