From a sermon preached by Ryan Fullerton, God and Government, on 4/19/20
In part one, I looked at five relationships between God and Government: Worship, Submission, Authority, Legitimacy, and Judgment. In this post we will look at five more points on God and Government from Romans 13.
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. (Romans 13:4)
There is a corresponding duty on our part to have a right fear of government, especially if we’re doing wrong. Paul is reminding us that we do not get a free pass because we are Christians. If Christians break the law, they are subject to the terror and consequences laid out by the government. We are to be obedient citizens under the government God has instituted.
I spent most of my teen years with drugs in my pockets and was arrested multiple times, including for theft. It was amazing to me, after I was converted, to be standing on a street corner when a police car drove by and realized I had nothing to fear from the law. For the best part of a decade, when a police car drove by that was a good time for me to lay low. But now, as a Christian, I had nothing to hide from this government authority.
for he is God’s servant for your good (Romans 13:4)
We can complain about government all day long, but there are so many blessings. My daily commute takes a ridiculously short time because of good roads, I get my mail on time, I go to the DMV and never pay a bribe, and I live in a city with many great parks. All of these are the good fruit of government.
I have a step-brother for whom I’m hoping the government will also be used for good in his life. He was a man involved in my life in the earlier days I described above when I was using drugs. He lives as a lawless man. But he was recently arrested in Japan for smuggling drugs after hiring himself out as a mule, and he is now sitting in a jail in Japan. Government has been a powerful force in his life to let him know that if you break the law, there are powerful consequences. Government reflects God’s goodness also in this way.
For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. (Romans 13:6)
I see this far too often and it always grieves me: people putting on their facebook page “taxation is theft.” Sure, is there such a thing as overtaxation? Of course. But to make the assertion that any taxation is theft is unbiblical and unsubmissive. It is owed for a God-ordained institution to do God ordained work.
…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:7)
This is so easy to neglect in our culture. Those who have been given this authority are due a heightened respect. When a person is elevated to serve in a role of authority, we should also lift them up in our hearts. That does not mean we must agree with all of their decisions but it does mean that it is right to use terms such as Mr. President and Governor Breshear.
There is a striking story from the life of Paul that really gets me. In Acts 23 he’s just been arrested and is in the process of being beaten by a government official. After being struck Paul speaks back to the High Priest and is subsequently rebuked for speaking disrespectfully to a high official. As soon as Paul finds out that it was in fact the High Priest, he acknowledges his wrong and that he would not have spoken that way if he knew it was the High Priest (Acts 23:5).
Paul does not say: I speak the same way to everyone, I call a spade a spade, he puts his pants on just like everyone else. No. Paul knew there was an extra honor and reverence required when speaking about governing authorities. We would do well to remember that at all times, in all discussions, in all Facebook posts, in all Twitter tweets, every place where we speak whether privately or publicly, there ought to be a reverence in our hearts to those whom God has lifted up to rule over us, regardless of whether they are pagans, Republicans, or Democrats.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1)
Paul addresses every person, and so this applies to you. You should be subject to the governing authorities. You may recognize, in your heart of rebellion, in your complaining spirit, or your dishonoring spirit toward the government, that you are actually in rebellion against the one who put them there. Perhaps your attitude against the government is indicative of a deeper problem in your heart, a heart of rebellion against God.
As Christians, we often rush into questions about how and when to disobey the government, and how does the US constitution fit into all of this, is the government ever illegitimate, and when can we overthrow them? These are all good questions. But, before we ask those questions, have you embraced the Bible’s proactive teaching on government? Are you eager to be a submissive citizen? Do you fear the right judgement of the government? Do you praise God for the good that comes to you through the government? Do you pay your taxes and honor those placed over you? Or are all your questions just a mask for a heart of rebellion against God and the authorities He has ordained?
Yes, let’s answer all those good questions, but first let’s deal with our hearts.