Today is two things: it’s strange and it’s not so strange. It’s strange because we’re not usually this explicitly political at SonRise. But it’s not so strange because 2 Pet. 1:3 is true and we believe that the Bible speaks about all of life. So naturally, it has much to say about Government Under God.
Allow me to briefly trace where we’ve been these past two weeks. We began this series two weeks ago looking into Mark 12:13-17 and saw that our allegiance to government is great and true. But we also saw that our allegiance to God is greater and truer. Therefore it really is fitting for us to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s. Last week in Romans 13:1-4 we said two very important things. First, we are to submit to the governing authorities in place over us regardless of the nation we happen to be citizens of. Second, the reason why we’re to submit to them is because all governing authorities in place over us are instituted by God and called by God to promote, maintain, uphold, and defend a good order among society as they bear the sword of God’s wrath as God’s servant by punishing those who disrupt that good order.
Today, we continue where we left off, in Romans 13:5-7, follow along as I read.
v5 begins with a ‘Therefore’ which means ‘Because of all we learned back in v1-4 here is how you and I are to respond. How are we to respond? By submitting to our governing authorities. Notice how Paul, in v5, goes back to where he began in v1? Here’s his reasoning: because all governing authorities are from God and appointed by God, because they’re called to promote a good order in society and punish those who disrupt it as God’s servant who doesn’t bear the sword of God’s wrath in vain, because of these things, Paul tells us again that we’re to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Two times in 5 verses we learn that Christians are to be people who are characterized by submission to civil authorities. This is an intentional repetition in v1 and v5 that we’re to notice. God knows we need this, because what comes naturally to man? Rebellion not submission. We need to be reminded. Well, we know the what, and just as he gave us the why in v1 we’re about to receive another why in v5. Why be in subjection to the governing authorities? In v5 two reasons are given to us. First, to avoid God’s wrath. Second, for the sake of conscience. These two reasons summarize all of Paul’s teaching in v1-4. Let’s take these one at a time:
Reason 1: Avoiding God’s Wrath (v5a)
We must be in subjection to authorities in order to avoid God’s wrath. Remember what he’s told us before, that the government is God’s servant who bears God’s sword against those who disrupt the good order by breaking the laws of society. When the authorities use this sword to punish wrongdoers they bring judgment, as v2 says. In receiving this judgment or punishment brought down on them through the judicial system, the wrongdoer is really receiving is the wrath of God as v3-4 says. What’s new in v5 for the argument is that Paul uses this line of reasoning to encourage our submission to authorities. He is basically asking us the questions, ‘Do you want to avoid the judicial judgment of the government? Do you want to avoid the sword they bear as God’s avenging servant? Do you want to avoid the wrath of God?’ His answer to us is clear, ‘Submit to your authorities and don’t break their laws. By doing this you will avoid the wrath of God.’ Here we see the unpleasant consequences of civil disobedience. So we can similarly ask, ‘Do you want to avoid the wrath of the state? Submit to the state. Do you want to avoid arrest? Submit to the law. Do you want to avoid a costly ticket? Submit to the speed limit. Do you want to avoid the death penalty? Don’t take another’s life. While most of us would notice that these questions are common sense most of us do not give attention to the underlying principle being taught here. Because governing authorities are called to punish those who disrupt the good order they promote and because they’re called to bear the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer…what is illegal for common citizens like you and I is legal for them. Do you see this? The proper use of force is a God-given right and responsibility to our authorities. It is not legal for you and I to use force against our neighbor and it is not legal for you and I to use force against any group of people regardless how we feel about them and even regardless if they have truly wronged us. Force is not given into the hands of the citizen, it’s given into the hands of the authorities to uphold and maintain good order among society.
This is all well and good, but the reality is that when these clear principles are put into action in our fallen world, they can get very complex to work out, such that even the most sincere of believers can find themselves in disagreement. On one hand, God didn’t give the right and responsibility of force to citizens, which reveals that revolution and rebellion are usually sinful because 99% of revolutions encourage citizens to use what God hasn’t given them – force. Yet on the other hand, when the right and responsibility of force is misused or abused by our authorities it creates an environment where revolution and rebellion are bound to happen. So a kind of ‘trickle down’ is effect is in play here. When governing authorities go bad and begin functioning outside of their God-intended role, it pushes the citizens to live outside of their God-intended role as well. You could even say that because the founders of America included the second amendment in the constitution they provided the possibility for citizens to rise up and overthrow the government when it becomes beastly. The result of such things is normally chaos, disorder, and sadly…death. So what do we do when the state ceases to function in the manner they’re supposed to? It falls on the Church, not to take up the sword, but to remind and call the State back to what they’re supposed to be.
Reason 2: For the Sake of Conscience (v5b)
We not only must be in subjection to authorities to avoid God’s wrath, we also must be in subjection for the sake of our conscience.
Is this surprising to you that Paul would bring up our conscience here? Speaking of the conscience seems to be such an antiquated thing in our day doesn’t it? It makes sense that most people would prefer to not speak of the conscience at all. Because when the conscience comes into view what also comes into view? Guilt. The conscience functions as our God-given inner sense of morality, our inner sense of right and wrong. So we cannot help but feel at ease when we do what is right and cannot help but feel guilt when we do wrong. The Latin roots of the word conscience even put this on display – ‘con’ means with while ‘science’ means knowledge – thus when we do something good or bad we have an ‘inner knowledge’ that what we’re doing is either right or wrong.
We all know what this feels like don’t we? Let me give you an example, this happened to Holly and I about 7-8 years ago. Let’s say you’re driving on I-75, going 75 mph when the speed limit is 70 mph. Everything is going smoothly but then a big semi is doing big semi’s should never do, and is driving in the fast lane going 55 mph. You see 5 or 6 cars in front of you move over a lane and pass the semi quickly so they don’t have to slow down. You do the same and increase your speed to 80 mph. Well just as you’re pulling in front of the semi you see a state trooper with his radar gun out aimed directly at you, lights come on, and he pulls up directly behind you. Whose fault is this? Is it the truck driver who was driving to slowly? Is it the other 5 or 6 cars that sped up and encouraged you to do the same to pass the semi? Nope. The fault is yours. It doesn’t matter how slow the semi was going, it doesn’t matter how many cars did the exact same thing you did, you were speeding. Though you’ll probably hate it at the time, there is something that’ll tell you that you really do deserve this ticket. Something that tells you of your guilt, your conscience.
Even if we push those feelings way down and deny their existence, that still soft voice always seems to eventually make its way to the surface. And sadly, rather than doing the hard work of securing a clear conscience, people usually justify their wrongs done so often that their conscience becomes seared and they cease feeling anything at all. This Greek word translated here as ‘conscience’ is used 32 times in the New Testament. In these uses we learn the conscience can also be good, weak, pure, defiled, or even evil. Perhaps you now know why God called the tree in the Garden of Eden the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ When our first parents sinned and ate the fruit they lost many things but they did gain one thing – the curse of an unclear conscience.
So, when it comes to the Christian’s involvement with government, according to the Bible, the clarity of our conscience really matters. It’s in the conscience of man where we find not only a moral sense of right and wrong. We also find a sense of responsibility and obligation to our governing authorities and that conforming our lives according to the laws of the state is good and rebelling against the laws of the state is bad. As the proper use of force is a gift of God to the government, the conscience is a gift of God to all men. Many a man has been ushered into deep peace from the freedom a clear conscience brings (think of the apostles and early Church martyrs who died knowing they did all they could do to proclaim the gospel), just as many a man has been driven mad, tortured, and vexed from the terror a guilty conscience brings (think of Judas, who tried to return the silver he received for betraying Christ). As out of step with our current world as it may seem, we’re to submit to our governing authorities for the sake of conscience.
Following these two reasons why we ought to submit in v5 we then receive an implication of these things in v6.
Paying Taxes (v6)
Did it startle you to see what v6 is about? It’s about taxes. God surely knows the human heart better than anyone because out of all the implications He could have communicated to the apostle Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to write down here, when speaking of our submission to our governing authorities and what it really looks like God brings up an example that just happens to be man’s largest idol – money. “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” Because of all the truth we’ve just learned in v1-5 about the role of government, our submission to it, and the necessity of you and to submit for the sake of conscience, because of those things, you and I are to pay our taxes. If we’re honest, this rubs us the wrong way. History proves this: as long as mankind has been around the number one cause of revolt and rebellion worldwide has been taxation. In fact in the 20th and 21st centuries alone there have been almost 200 large-scale revolutions or uprisings worldwide due to anger over taxation. This reveals that man cares deeply about money, too deeply. Yet throughout the whole of the Bible there are only two groups of people that God commands us to support financially. Government and Ministers of the gospel. Tithes to the Church – taxes to the government. In fact, we could say it like this: ministers of the gospel, and ministers of the state. Did you see that Paul calls our governing authorities ministers? We shouldn’t stop here, we can go further in v6. By bringing up our responsibility to pay taxes, and because that is part of the submission to authorities God calls us to…though we pay taxes to the state, who is ultimately honored when we pay taxes faithfully? God. Who is ultimately dishonored when we seek to get out of taxes? God. Lesson – honor God by paying your taxes, fair or unfair.
To sum all of this up Paul summarizes v1-6 with a statement in v7, “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.”
We must come to a healthy balance. We truly do not want to complicate or obscure or muddle the clear teaching of Romans 13:1-7 by endless qualifications. It is crystal clear that every one of our governing authorities have been ordained by God and because of such truth the Christian attitude toward the state isn’t to be rebellion or revolt, it’s to be submission. We should give thanks to God for the state, we should give thanks to the state for doing this hard work, we should pray for them, and we should submit to them, and we should be prepared to follow their orders. In truth God calls us to submit to our governing authorities as they are, not as they ought to be.
Yet we do not want to read this passage out of it’s broader New Testament context and place the state in a God-like position over the Christian. Only God is Lord of the conscience, and because our allegiance to God is greater than our allegiance to government we should also be ready to refuse to obey the state if they order us to disobey God. This is where it gets dangerous, because choosing to obey God when His commands conflict with Caesar’s may earn us the label of traitor, and most civil authorities don’t treat traitors kindly.
a) We have a need for courage. We have a need to remember that Christ and following His commands is more precious to us than life itself.
b) We have a need to be reminded of the lyrics we sang earlier in the service: ‘Majesty, Lord of all, let every throne before Him fall…’ In your own heart you need to decide on this right now, because if that moment ever comes when we must choose between obeying the state or obeying God, our choice will reveal who we really fear. This is why persecution, though dreadfully awful, has been a good thing – because it purifies the Church. It reveals who really loves God more than anything. Is Jesus and His gospel that precious to you?
c) We have a need to remember that because of the gospel, and our belief in Jesus by faith we have entered into union with Christ and have been given a true patriotism, “Our citizenship is in heaven, from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20)