************ Sermon on Romans 13:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 12, 2018
"Submit to the Governing Authorities"
Difficult Passages # 11
Do we always need to submit to those governing officials in authority over us? I admit that sometimes this is really hard. Many of us don't like the choices the government is taking on gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, marijuana, elevating immoral people, encroaching on our lives, taking away freedoms. These are things that disturb many American Christians. All of this has generated a spirit of rebellion among many Christians when it comes to the governments in Washington D.C. and Sacramento.
We continue our series of sermons on difficult passages of the Bible by looking at what Romans 13 says about this.
I Abusive Government
A "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom 13:1). Paul is writing this. The Spirit instructed Paul to write this as he lives in the Roman Empire. Back then the governing authority was Caesar and under him were men like Pilate and Herod.
There are many good things we can say about the Roman Empire. There was law and order. The borders were secure. Most of the time the economy was sound. The Romans developed a mail system. They put down paved roads across the Empire. There was a common culture and language. Under God's providence, all of this enabled the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the outermost parts of the earth; the Roman Empire made conditions ripe for the Gospel.
However, make no mistake about it, the Roman Empire was also an evil empire. There was slavery. Millions of slaves. Slavery could be very abusive. When slaves ran away they were hunted down and returned to their abusive masters. When Spartacus led a slave rebellion, the Romans responded in force and crucified everyone who participated in the rebellion.
Rome was idolatrous. Caesar was declared to be a god and people were told to worship him.
Rome was a dictatorship and Caesar was an absolute ruler. All the power of the entire Roman Empire was vested in one man. He was Commander-in-Chief of all soldiers. He stood above all senators. He controlled all civil affairs. He could do whatever he wanted to do. Caesar Augustus had so much power that he could demand everyone go to his own city and the rolls be counted so everyone could be identified and taxed.
In Palestine, Caesar delegated his absolute power to Herod. So, without fear of any consequences, Herod beheaded John the Baptist. His father, Herod the Great, ordered the massacre of all the male babies of Bethlehem and suffered nothing.
At the same time, taxes were heavy and tax collectors like Zacchaeus were thieves and robbers. They were permitted to take as much as they could get, as long as they paid an agreed amount to the governing authorities. They resorted to violence and terror to make people pay. You might say that in a situation like this it would be okay not to pay your taxes. But Jesus puts a stop to this kind of thinking when He says in Matthew 22, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Mt 22:21). As unfair and unjust and abusive as it is, pay your tax to Caesar. That's exactly what Jesus Himself did; He paid the tax to Caesar as well as paying His regular taxes in Israel and His temple tax too.
Jesus knew there was a great need for social reform. He knew there was a great need for tax reform. He knew the poor and the sick were neglected. He knew widows and orphans were mistreated. And yet He never came to bring about a social revolution. His appeal was always to the hearts of men. His concern was the souls of men. He preached the Gospel. His first interest was not a new social order but a new spiritual order. He didn’t come to create a new nation, He came to create the church.
In this kind of environment, under this kind of government, what does Jesus say through Paul?
(Rom 13:1) 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.
B Many people throughout history have been in abusive situations similar to those what existed in the Roman Empire. Think of the situation at the time of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic government treated the Protestants of the Netherlands to the most terrible persecution. And yet the Belgic Confession of Faith says submit:
regardless of status, condition, or rank,
must be subject to the government ...
and hold its representatives in honor and respect,
and obey them in all things that are not in conflict
with God's Word ...
There are Christians living in China, North Korea, and the Middle East who are living in worse conditions today than what existed under the Roman Empire. Yet, the Bible says, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities." That's hard, so hard, to do in such situations.
We complain a lot about the way things are going in America. But no town in America has had their infants boys massacred. We are free to worship and evangelize. We raise our children in God's ways. And we can even protest Government decisions.
II Submit as Christians
A "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities ..." I've talked about the social setting for this command, but now let me mention the theological setting. Paul tells us to submit to the governing authorities after the "THEREFORE" of Romans 12:1. "Therefore" is one of the most important words in all of Romans 12-16. If you don't pay attention to that word, you don't understand what Paul is saying.
"Therefore" refers back to all the doctrines of Romans 1-11: sin, Christ, election, the mercies of God, the elements of salvation, justification, sanctification, glorification. Romans 12-16 is the application. "Therefore ... in view of God's mercy ..." "Therefore" -- because you are a Christian, because Jesus died for you, because God chose you to be saved -- therefore "submit ... to the governing authorities." This is what Christians do. This is how Christians are to live. Even under governments we don't like. Even when they make rulings we disagree with.
B Now, what we have in Romans 13 is a continuation of what is said in Romans 12. At the end of Romans 12 Paul talks about our enemies.
(Rom 12:20) If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.Now, in the world in which Paul was living, evil came in may forms. Sometimes it was the persecuting Jews. Sometimes it was tax collectors. Sometimes it was a neighbor. Sometimes it was Herod and Pilate and Caesar and the governing authorities. No matter what the authorities do, never pay back evil for evil. Even when they persecute us. Instead, submit to the governing authorities. This is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God for Christians (cf Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).
A "Submit ... to the governing authorities." What Jesus says through Paul is the opposite of what was done by the Zealots. The Zealots opposed the Romans in every way possible. They refused to pay taxes. They killed Roman soldiers. They assassinated those Jews who cooperated with Rome. So Acts tells us about a man by the name of Theudas who rose up against Rome and a group of about 400 men joined him (Acts 5:36). After him came Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:37). Barabbas was part of another insurrection. And then came the big insurrection of AD 70 when all of Israel rebelled against Rome.
You know, there are Christians in America who sound and act like the Zealots of Palestine. They don't like what is coming down from Washington or Sacramento and they speak of armed insurrection. This is not how God wants us to live.
All sorts of things disturb me when it comes to the governing authorities. My prayer is that we can live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. So we can concentrate on the Gospel and on the Kingdom and its righteousness. But even if this does not happen, even if God in His grace gives us the opposite of peaceful and quiet lives, we are still called to submit.
B The word submit or submission is a command. It is a military word. It speaks of soldiers lining up under the one who commands them. Just as soldiers submit to their commander, so we are to get in line underneath the governing authorities. Notice, Paul says "governing authorities." He makes no distinction between good ones and bad ones, between moral ones and immoral ones, between just ones and unjust ones. Paul makes no distinction between monarchies and democracies, between dictators and Presidents. Whoever the governing authorities, whatever the governing authorities, Christians are called to submit to the laws and taxes and authorities of the system in which they live, even if they are persecuted. It is a matter of obedience to God and a clear conscience before the Lord. Wow, this is hard, isn't it!!
IV Exceptions to the Rule
"Submit ... to the governing authorities." Back to the difficult question someone asked me: "Do we always need to submit to those in authority over us?" Yes, that is the general rule. But there are exceptions. Let me emphasize that this means it is something rare and unusual.
Turn with me to the book of Daniel. Daniel 3:1-6 ... Now, how did Daniel's friends respond? Look at Daniel 3:16-18 ... Daniel's friends knew the Ten Commandments: no other gods, no graven images. So they refused to bow down and worship.
Next, go to Daniel 6:6-7 ... What did Daniel do? Look at Daniel 6:10 ... Daniel knew the Ten Commandments: no other gods. So he refused to pray to the king.
Go to Acts 4:18-20 ... Now go to Acts 5:28 ... Peter and the apostles still have not stopped preaching Christ.
"Submit ... to the governing authorities." Do you see the exception to the rule? When the government tells you to do what God forbids you to do. Or, when the government tells you to stop doing what God commands you to do.
I pray we never reach this point. I pray the governing authorities never bring us to the point where we are in the same position as Daniel, his three friends, Peter, and the rest of the apostles.
V The Lordship of Christ
A "Submit ... to the governing authorities." If they read Romans 13, how do you think Herod and Pilate reacted? Or, what about Caesar? They all loved the submission part.
They would not like what follows: "for there is no authority except that which God has established" (Rom 13:1). Do you know what that tells them? Hey Caesar, there is a King over you, even as you are king over Herod and Pilate. There is a King over you Who has given you your position and honor and glory and rule and kingdom. There is a King over you to Whom you are responsible. There is a King over you to Whom you must answer and Whose directives you must follow.
Paul is saying this to Caesar, the mightiest man on earth. Paul is saying this to Caesar, in whom all the power of the entire Roman Empire is vested. Caesar, you are not in control.
B So if Caesar is not in control, who is? Who has given Caesar his position and rule and authority? We who are Christians know. We know Who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is King Jesus. It is the Lord Jesus Christ. And we know why. Listen to what Paul says about Christ Jesus in Ephesians 1:
(Eph 1:20-22) ... [God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, (21) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (22) And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,Jesus suffered, Jesus died, Jesus arose, Jesus ascended. And all things were put under His feet. And do you know why? For the church.
I doubt if Caesar or Herod liked this last part too. Hey Caesar, you know why I made you head of Rome? Hey, Herod, you know why I am you head of Palestine? "For the church." That is, for the elect. For the Gospel. For the Kingdom. You have a role to play, but it is second to the Gospel.
"Submit ... to the governing authorities." In the same way as soldiers submit to their commanding officers. Even if you don't like them or what they do.
"Submit ... to the governing authorities." Unless they put you in conflict with true religion.
"Submit ... to the governing authorities." Submit, knowing and rejoicing that through kings and presidents and prime ministers and premiers, King Jesus is working out His plan for the ages.
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