• Download

God and Government

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

View the article “God-Honoring Authority” written by Dave Bovemnyer that Brad referenced in the sermon.

View Article

Sunday, February 26, 2017 Brad Barrett

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
Romans 13:1 ESV​

How do you react when you see these politicians? Trump. Bush. Obama. Grassley. Pelosi. Steve King. Hillary. Surely there is a variety of reactions we have. Love. Hatred. Anger. Joy. Appreciation. Fear.

How do you react when you see this: the IRS?

Does God have anything to say about us and our politicians? About our government? About paying taxes? What is God’s way of thinking about all this?

It seems to be our national pastime to complain about and criticize our politicians and our government. Comedians make their living off making fun of our politicians. In some countries, we could be thrown in jail for criticizing and making fun of our government.

Years ago I would occasionally watch a few late night shows like David Letterman. But I quit watching because these comedians would constantly make fun of our politicians. The President. Vice President. Speaker of the House. Governors. Mayors.
But the jokes and jesting and belittling were bothering my soul. It didn’t matter to me if the politician was Democrat or Republican. It didn’t matter if I admired the politician or not. I realized I needed to quit watching those comedians, for they were dishonoring and disrespecting my authorities.

Today we will look at a passage in the Bible that will challenge us on how we view our government.

Brief Review

We are studying through Romans. Today is Romans 13.

Before we do that, let me offer a brief review.

I will summarize Romans with what may be somewhat of an over-simplification, but it’s a reasonable summary:
By grace… God has given us life. (Romans 1-11)
By grace…..we give our lives back to God. (Romans 12-16)

And Romans 12:1 is sandwiched in between, tying this all together.
In view of God’s mercies shown to us by sending his Son to die in our place so that we can live forever…by his grace, not by your works…. now offer your entire being back to God. Devote your entire life….thoughts, actions, and words…back to him now in worship.”

Now, for the rest of the letter, chapters 12-16, Paul tells us how we should live in light of the mercies of God. i.e., how we should offer up our bodies as living sacrifices.

Then in Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Don’t be conformed to the ways of the world.” Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold. Instead, be transformed…changed from within, radically, like a caterpillar to a butterfly… be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Paul is saying, “You need a different worldview. The natural way to view life is the way that society in general does. But seldom will that line up with God’s way….the Way of Truth and Righteousness and Eternity.

Our passage today in Romans 13 gives us a different worldview. And the topic is our government and us and God.

Vs. 1

Verse 1 startles me.

Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

We’re going to camp on this verse for a while. There are two shocking truths here:

ONE: Every one of us….every one of us…is to be subject to the government.

To be subject in the Greek is a military term. Like a Private is subject to the Sergeant. Like a Lieutenant is subject to the Colonel.
The soldier ranks himself under the higher authority. The higher authority has an obligation to lead and direct well. To watch out for the welfare of those under his charge.​​

And the lower ones have a duty….a duty….an obligation to submit. To follow his orders. To not mouth off to him. To show respect and honor.​

Why are we to do this? What reason does God give us? It is because God himself has established human government.

TWO: There is no government authority except that which God has established.

In other words, God himself has established all authority on earth. Let that sink in!!
This is powerful. Over recent years, and especially in the past month, this one verse from Paul can stir us up. We find ourselves resistant. We find ourselves balking.

We have many opinions on many issues that alarm us and stir up emotions in us.

  • Racial tensions.
  • Immigration
  • Poverty
  • Taxes
  • Collective bargaining
  • Gun control
  • Sexual activity
  • Abortion

Depending on who is in office, we often don’t like what the government is doing. We don’t like our governing officials. In fact, we might even despise them.

And then we read verse 1, and we want to find ways out of this: “Yeah, sure, Paul is saying submit. But surely there are exceptions. I mean, do you understand what is happening in Washington and Des Moines?” I do understand many of our concerns. And there is legitimacy to many of our opinions. There are many things wrong.

But I wish I had a big “PAUSE BUTTON” to press right now. Before trying to come up with exceptions and reasons why we despise and hate and complain and make fun, we have to stop and let God’s words impact our hearts.

Paul very plainly says: “Be subject to the government.” Why? Because God has established governments. REPEAT: God….has established governments.

Through many of our minds right now might be questions like,
“Yeah, but what about the Trump administration?
“What about the Obama administration? Or the George W. Bush administration?”
“What about governments around the world, such as Syria and Colombia and China and Nepal? “What about governments that are oppressive and corrupt?”

Rest assured, Paul is not ignorant about bad governments. Remember Paul wrote Romans 1, describing the darkness in man’s hearts, including US and including governing officials.

And Paul is writing to the church in Rome, of all places. The Roman government had some of the most decadent, evil rulers imaginable. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, the center of the Roman empire. The Christians in that church in 56 A.D. surely understood, as Paul did, how evil government could be. After all, the Roman government was complicit in killing Jesus Christ.

And if you know history, you understand how evil some of the Roman emperors were. The emperor in 56 A.D. when Paul wrote this letter was Nero. At that precise time, Nero wasn’t as evil as he was going to be in a few years. But do you know how he became emperor?

His stepfather, Claudius, was emperor until his death in 54 A.D. Then Claudius’s stepson, Nero, took the throne. Do you know how Claudius died? It is suspected that Claudius’s wife, Nero’s mother, poisoned her own husband so that her son could take the throne! WOW! Imagine if three years ago, Michelle Obama poisoned her husband so that her daughter could take the Presidency!! And that is who is President now!

This is Paul’s world. Paul is very aware of bad and even evil government. But he wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. And he starts with this very basic but powerful truth: God is the establisher of government.

If you still have your doubts, let’s look at some other Scriptures that complements this truth.

In the OT, the prophet Daniel was living in a very pagan nation of the Babylonians. The King was Nebuchadnezzar. In a prophecy of judgment against the King, here is what Daniel said to him:

Daniel 4:25 ESV “…you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and you shall be wet with the dew of heaven, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”

God brought severe judgment on Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, by driving him insane to live in the wilderness among the wild animals for seven years…until Nebuchadnezzar acknowledges that the Most High rules over all. God rules over all, and he gives authority to whomever he wills.

God is the Ruler of rulers. In Revelation, Jesus Christ is called the King of kings and the Lord of lords. God is the Governor of all governors.

And if you want more proof of God’s astonishing authority and power, listen to this exchange between the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and the Lord Jesus Christ:

John 19:10–11 ESV Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”

A few hours later, Pilate committed the most grievous sin in all of history by turning the Son of God over to be crucified. But…but…Pilate’s authority to rule and even be in a place to make that decision of crucifixion was an authority given to him by God in heaven. Did God CAUSE Pilate to do evil? Of course not. But God, in his eternal power and magnificent wisdom, is able to take the EVIL done by men, even Kings and Governors, and use it for his good. In this case, God raised his Son from the dead to bring LIFE to the world.

In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us not to be conformed to the world and its ways, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The world’s ways are worrying about the future, and fear of crazy and even evil rulers. The world’s ways are to whine and complain and make fun of our politicians.
But God’s ways are different, and we need our minds renewed with his truth.

One author said this,
“From a human perspective, rulers come to power through force or heredity or popular choice. But the ‘transformed mind’ recognizes behind every such process the hand of God.”

I don’t pretend to understand how it all works, but know this: God is in charge of this world. He is in charge. Not Trump or Obama or Branstad. Not Vladimir Putin of Russia. Not Xi Jinping of China.

We’ll come back to the question of how do we deal with evil government and governing officials. But for now, keep this one truth in mind: We submit to the governing authorities because God has put government there for us.

Vs. 2

So then what?

Romans 13:2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Very bluntly he says, “Therefore.” Therefore, in light of what I just said about submitting because God has put the governing authorities there, if you resist the authorities, you are resisting God.
Let’s say that again: If you resist the governing authorities, you will find yourself resisting God himself!

Can you believe what Paul just said? This is astonishing. But it is the obvious conclusion from verse 1. God has established human authority, so he commands us to be subject to them. And likewise he commands us not to resist those authorities, which would be resisting God himself.
So if the government has made a law that you don’t like, if you resist that law, you are resisting God. This is no small matter.

Vs. 3-4

Romans 13:3-4 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’ s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

We know that not all governments commend us for doing good and punish wrongdoing. Some governments are very dark and perverse, and actually applaud their own injustice.
But by and large, governments approve of doing good and punish doing wrong.
Paul says, “Don’t live in fear of punishment. Simply do what is right. OBEY the laws.”

  • Traffic laws.
  • City building codes.
  • Criminal law.

And Paul warns even further. He says, “If you do what is wrong, you SHOULD be afraid, for the government does not “bear the sword for nothing.” In other words, the government wields the power to punish wrong. And interestingly, he says, the government even bears the sword. Swords were not used lightly. They were used to punish, even to put to death.
While Paul is not explicit here, we could take his words to imply that the government has the right to inflict capital punishment. I’m not going to get into that here, but it is a possibility.

From chapter 12, we are not to take personal vengeance. We leave that up to the government to bring justice. Paul says, “The government is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath.”
This is strong language. God uses human government to bring justice and even his wrath on mankind when we do evil.

So if I choose to disobey the government and commit a crime, I very well will find myself fighting against God!! Paul says, “We SHOULD…be afraid of that.” Obey the laws.

Vs. 5

Romans 13:5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’ s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

Paul repeats the command to be in subjection to the government. And he says we should submit, not merely to avoid God’s wrath, but for the sake of our conscience. Obey the laws in order to have a clear conscience before God. Our conscience….this inner voice given to us by God….will be clear when we do what God wants. Having a clear conscience is a peaceful, beautiful place to be.

  • So if I obey traffic laws, I don’t have to live in fear. And I can have a clear conscience.
    • When a police officer drives by, I don’t have to lift my foot off the gas pedal.
  • If I obey the tax laws, I don’t have to live in fear of an audit from the IRS. My conscience is clear.
  • If I obey criminal laws, I don’t have to live in fear. And my conscience is at peace.

Are there injustices? Absolutely. We are imperfect, flawed people, and so are our governing officials. But still, we should do what is right.

Vs. 6-7

Romans 13:6-7 “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
“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.”

Because of the desire to have a clear conscience, Paul says, pay taxes. And why should we? Because our governing officials are serving God by serving us. It’s their job. They deserve an income.

So paying taxes is not to be viewed as a burden or an annoyance or even something to be avoided. Rather, it is a godly responsibility that lovingly and thoughtfully meets the financial needs of those public servants.
They are servants of God and serving us—even if they do it with an ignorance toward God— so we have an obligation. We OWE them. Taxes. Respect. Honor.

We are to show respect and honor……Not just for the good ones…..Even the bad ones.
Remember the world Paul is living in. Remember Nero the emperor. Remember Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who crucified the Lord Jesus.

I admit: It’s tempting to balk at this. We are tempted to say, “Sure honor some of them. But others of them are Jerks. They are evil. I don’t like them. I don’t like their policies. They are dangerous.”

Paul gives no qualifications. He simply says, “You are obligated…you OWE them….Honor and Respect.” Consider what else the NT tells us about honoring and respecting authority.

  • The NT tells children to honor their parents.
    • Are we given outs? “Honor only the good parents?” No.
  • The NT tells wives to respect their husbands.
    • Does it say, “Respect only the good husbands?” Because if you want to say, “Respect only the good husbands,” then we are also forced to say that when Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives,” he means, “Love only the good wives.”
  • Paul also tells slaves, “Obey your masters.” [Equivalent to us obeying our employers.]
  • The Apostle Peter, in 1 Peter 2:17 says, “Honor the emperor.” Honor Nero!!!
    • Again, the Roman emperors were hardly God-fearing men. Many of them were monsters.

Back to vs. 1: Why is Paul so strong about this????

Because human authority is established by God. The government is established by God, and they are his servants.

I saw a video clip on Wednesday from a town hall meeting sponsored by Senator Grassley. In this clip, someone was yelling and screaming at the Senator. Obviously, the person was very upset about something. Perhaps a topic near and dear to their heart. The emotion was strong and raw.
When we feel very passionately about something that our governing officials have a say in, how should we respond? What does it look like to show respect and honor?

Ask yourself, “How should I respond to my boss when I am upset about something?” I suspect that few of us would walk into his office and start ripping on him. Yelling and screaming. Why not? Well, we know we might get fired.
But isn’t there a more noble reason not to yell and scream?? Yes, because God calls on us to behave differently. To LOVE people. To be kind. Respectful. And ESPECIALLY toward authority of any kind. Even when you passionately disagree with them.

Consider what Jesus said about enemies of the gospel. People who persecute you for your faith. How are we to live? He says in Matthew 5 to “Love your enemies.” And to “pray for those who persecute you.” So if we are to treat enemies of Jesus Christ this way, how ought we to treat our crazy and evil governing officials??

Think back to chapter 12, verse 2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Paul knows the normal way of the world is to hate politicians. To complain. To make fun of them. To laugh at them. Even to yell and scream at them. To DISOBEY the laws.

But here in chapter 13, he is talking to us about renewing our minds with the truth. The truth that God has established human government, and therefore we are to be in subjection to them.

Questions

I know this topic will raise many questions. Many of you already have a list of questions and concerns. Let me answer a few.

Why do we even have human authority?

Authority is, at its most fundamental level, part of the very nature of God. We see it in the Godhead. Read the Gospel of John, and you will unavoidably see the Son of God, Jesus, responding to the Father’s will in subjection. He places himself under the Father’s headship.
So to have authority and to be in subjection is a picture of the nature of God. As IMPERFECT as human authority is—AND remember as IMPERFECT as our subjection to that authority is— it gives us a picture of God.

Since God establishes all human authority, does this mean he approves all the evil those authorities do?

No, God certainly does not approve of evil. Just read your Bible. It is obvious God deals with evil authority. And he will hold those authorities accountable for their actions. And their judgment will be severe.

If I am subject to authorities, won’t my life be out of my control?

In many ways, yes, our lives will be out of our control. In fact, honestly, none of us actually have that much control anyway. This is where we need to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” about God. About who he is.

We need to remember the Power of God and the Mercy of God. And this is shown in no better place than the Gospel message, that God in his kindness sent his own Son to save our souls. If we can trust him for our souls for all eternity, we can trust him in our day-to-day lives, even when our authorities are jerks. And even when they are evil.
Our lives might be out of our own control. But they are not out of his control. God will watch out for us. Nothing escapes his attention.

And if you are mistreated by an authority and cannot escape, remember that God will in the end of time make all things right. He will treat you right in the end, and he will judge the evil works of the authority.

Are there times when we should resist and even disobey what our human authorities tell us?

Yes, human authority is never absolute. Only God’s authority is absolute.
When the authority tells us to do something in direct contradiction to God’s commands, God wins. We follow God’s ways.
Like in Acts 4 when the leaders told the apostles to stop preaching about Jesus Christ, they said, “Judge for yourselves whether it’ s right for us to obey you rather than God. But we will obey God.”
So there is a time and a place where we may have to disobey the government. But let me say this: I believe that resisting and disobeying human authority will be a rare thing. We ought to be very slow in deciding to Resist and Disobey.

Does this mean we should never try to change a law or to speak to a ruler about an evil or bad law?

No, there is freedom to speak.
The foundational question is, “With what spirit will you speak to that authority?”
For example, if your boss is being unreasonable, how should you speak to him? Yelling and screaming? No. Patiently. Respectfully. Wisely.
For you parents, if your teenage son or daughter wants to speak to you about something that is unfair or wrong, how would you like them to do it? Complaining and whining? Yelling? Telling jokes to their friends about what a JERK of a parent you are?

Treat and speak about our governing officials in the same way you would like to be treated.

On our website, we will post an article written by Dave Bovenmyer for our association of churches.
The topic is authority. Not just the government. All kinds of human authorities. The article gives a deep, foundational look at the Scriptures. And it addresses many common questions we will have about authority. Read that article, and many of the questions you may still have will be answered.

Action Steps

1. Honor, submit, respect.

Stop complaining and griping. God himself has established this.

Be very careful who you listen to.
Like years ago, when I stopped watching comedians bash our governing officials.
I believe their banter is in violation of God’s clear commands right here in Romans.

What are you hearing and reading about on NPR, on conservative talk shows. Comedians. General media.

2. Thank God for establishing order in our world.
Yes, it’s imperfect. It will always have flaws.

And you, the citizens, will be imperfect and have flaws. Without human authority, life would be chaos.

3. Fear not what they do. God is in charge.
He is the King of all the kings. He is the President of all the presidents.

4. Hope in God, not the government.
He rules supreme. Yes, they are to do good, but they are not our savior. Rest knowing that God has established authority, and he will demand an account from all authorities.

5. Pray for our leaders.
Instead of complaining or fearing, PRAY.

1 Timothy 2:1–2 ESV First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

Are you complaining? Are you worrying?
Or are you subjecting yourself to the governing authorities, for God established them? And are you praying for them, even by name?