Read Romans 13
Paul continues his counsel on discipleship. If you thought that bless those who persecute you was a tough pill to swallow, then do what you are told might not go down easily either.
Submit yourself to the governing authorities. Obey the law. Pay your taxes. Do not rebel against authority. In the words of our Master, render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
In America, we grumble when our guy or gal didn’t win the election. This year we are already upset before the election. We get upset over the law that we don’t like. We sometimes become outright vicious in our speech and especially in our online postings.
He’s not my president.
She’s not my representative.
That judge doesn’t know his…
We think that Paul didn’t have a clue what today’s world would look like, especially in the United States of America. He had no idea of the authorities that would be in place in the 21st century. How can he say what he said?
I agree that Paul didn’t have a clue what modern American government would look like. If he did he might have made an exception for us, not because it is so much harder today; because he would have been amazed at how much influence we have on the authorities over us.
What? You get to vote for who leads the country?
You elect people to represent you?
You can end a judge’s term by not affirming him?
How could you not put a good system in place?
In Paul’s day, you didn’t get to vote for the emperor or the governor, or the king or the high priest. You didn’t get to like them on Facebook or make comments about how bad a job they were doing.
That doesn’t mean that people didn’t assemble and grumble about those in authority. It just means that you got you who got.
Paul tells us it doesn’t matter if it is an emperor or governor who is in power because they had connections or the city councilman who has a seat at the decision-making table because he got enough votes to win, we submit to the civil authorities of our day.
Why? We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. Why submit?
Because God is still in control. If he wants a person to be governor or permits a person to be president for a time, it is all the same to us as far as submitting to the authorities goes.
These people exist and govern at his pleasure. Whether we think they are the best mayor ever or that they are depriving a village somewhere in the world of its idiot doesn’t make any difference. Those in authority are God’s servants.
In this nation, we have more influence over those servant authorities than does most of the world; yet, we seem to complain twice as much as any other place on the planet. Until the end of the age we will have human authorities and we are to play by the rules.
What if there is an atheist who becomes president or governor?
For most of the history of the world, all of the leaders of nations were without the one true God. Only God’s chosen people had godly kings and ungodly kings and the latter outnumbered the former even among God’s own people.
Only since the advent, death, and resurrection of Jesus, have we seen what we may call Christian leaders in government and that sometimes didn’t go as well as expected in many cases.
Have you heard of the Divine Right of Kings? It is or was a political doctrine that said that the authority of the King came directly from God. It goes back to God using Samuel to select kings and is very strongly rooted in this chapter of Romans.
The premise that we need to understand—not necessarily adopt—is that only God can judge an unjust king. Kings are God’s lieutenants, his ministers, his chosen patriarchs for nations.
Back in the 70’s, that is the 1770’s, American colonists didn’t like this chapter of Romans very much. Today we boast that our founding fathers formed a godly nation but they did it rebelling against an unjust king even though Paul said that a king was a servant of God.
We are a nation that was born in rebellion against authority. Unjust authority for sure in our eyes, but we ignored God’s direction at that time. All things considered, I am glad that we got away with it. I like the America that I have known over the years.
But I am not surprised that we struggle with instructions to submit to the authorities of our time. This is a struggle for most Christians that live in this country. Submitting to authority is just not our thing.
But that is the exact counsel that we are given if we are to follow Jesus—if we are to grow in grace as his disciples. Discipleship can be a struggle. One of those struggles that we often encounter is between our nature and authority. In this country, we have been able to indulge our nature more than most. We often get exactly what we want in our leaders and laws or in what we can get away with (even ending a sentence with a preposition).
For us to submit to governing authorities is sometimes more difficult than loving those who do not love us.
I ask you to recall the words of Jesus. He said his yoke is easy and his burden is light, so if submitting to authority is part of following Jesus, then it will not be too much to bear. It will not be more than we can handle and even if we have the biggest knuckleheads ever elected to office, what we are called to do will not weigh us down.
Remember that we too have authority. We have authority from Christ himself to take his gospel to the world—make disciples, baptize, and teach. Our authority is not lessened by the fact that those in authority in this world are not godly kings.
God is still in control. Rebellion against civil authority is rebellion against God. Sometimes when I think about that, I wish I had line item veto over some things in Paul’s letters. That’s that part of my mind that has not been fully transformed yet. The pattern or model of the world says that rebellion is fine if you can justify it in your own mind. Do your own thing.
Part of our problem is that we want the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the World to be on converging tracks. They are not.
God continues to call his disciples out of this world, but the world itself is getting further and further from God’s Kingdom. There will come a time when the love of many will grow cold. There will come a time when Christians will be persecuted on a widespread basis.
We may be living in that time. It may not come for decades or centuries, but the authorities of this world will grow further and further apart from God’s Kingdom and his righteousness.
Some of us may live in times when it is very hard to submit to authority. Unless we are called to worship other gods or idols or take the mark of the beast or deny our Savior; we still comply with the laws and regulations of our society.
We will drive the speed limit, plus or minus a few miles per hour.
We will come to complete stops at the stop sign, well sort of, at least we tapped the brakes.
We will pay our taxes, after taking all the deductions we can find.
Occasionally, we might even use our turn signal.
We might not score 100% on the authority meter in all areas, but some we do.
We stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance.
We respect our police and emergency service workers and even the guys and gals that work for the utility companies when the power goes out and they are out in the rain or snow or ice to get the power back on.
We give honor our veterans.
We might not be very good on going the speed limit but we still understand the part about rendering respect to those who are due respect and honor to those due honors.
For the most part, we who strive to follow Jesus, respect the office of president even if we don’t like the man or woman who is elected. We respect the office of governor even if we would rather have somebody else.
We respect our Sunday school teachers and Scout leaders. Some respect for and submission to authority comes easier than others.
I have spent some time teaching and writing about accepting authority. There is a range or continuum of acceptance of authority: reject, comply, accept, and embrace. I will not venture that far from the biblical text today and put you through that class, but it is my assessment that in that continuum, we are to comply with the civil authorities of the world if we are to abide Paul’s counsel.
If we are to abide by the words of Jesus to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. We don’t have to fully accept or embrace, though in some cases will will, but we are to comply.
We are not conformed to the image of the world any longer but we do have to play by the rules that don’t put us in opposition to God. That is part of discipleship.
Now let’s move on to debt. I am not going to talk much about money. So many tell me that is all that they hear in churches any more is how much money they need to give. Somewhere in the near future, we will just have a money message.
For now, remember that the borrower is slave to the lender and we need to teach that to our kids as part of our parenting.
Now let’s talk about real debt. Let’s talk about the debt we can and never could pay. Let’s talk about paying back God for taking our sin and placing it on Christ. It’s a big debt. We could try to finance it over time—even eternity—and still not repay it.
So what are we to do?
Make sure that we are the best ever followers of the 10 commandments?
Memorize 613 commands and laws and live without making a single mistake?
Or can we pay our debt daily by loving one another? The law says love God and love your neighbor. Jesus said if you want to be my disciple then love one another. If you do this, everyone will know who you follow.
The commandments—that are all rooted in the love of God—will be fulfilled when you live a life of love.
The darkness of this world that day by day grows apart from God’s ways will not invade your life if you love one another.
The patterns of this world will not have dominion over your heart and mind if you love one another.
The fullness, completeness of our salvation is getting closer and closer. We know that we are saved from sin and from death and we are doing our best to be good disciples, but one day the kingdom of this world will completely give way to the Kingdom of God and we will know the fullness of our salvation.
We have blessed assurance that we are saved from sin and death but God has so much more for us as we stay the course of our discipleship.
Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what the Lord has in store for those who love him. How do we love him? We do it by loving one another—by truly being his disciples.
When we respond to the grace and mercy of God by loving each other, we are fulfilling the law. Love completes the law. We were never meant to be a rule-bound people, but in our love, we abide by rules and directives and commandments.
Some might say that love is just second nature to us. We are charged to make it our first and only nature.
Our rebellious nature must stop its work. We are to give God’s nature given free reign in our lives. How could we not live his way?
We live in this world playing by the rules that the authorities have put in place. We know not to sacrifice out faithfulness to God.
We render honor and respect where it is due.
We do our best to live debt-free in the things of this world and to teach our kids God’s wisdom concerning money and things.
And we pay our debt to God the only way that we know how, by loving one another.
I have decided to follow Jesus. Sometimes that means I will follow rules and laws that I don’t particularly like.
I have decided to follow Jesus. Sometimes that means the only rebellion that I display is to vote for somebody else, but I will give respect to the office without defaming the individual.
I have decided to follow Jesus. I will love one another.
I have decided to follow Jesus. I will continue to love my brothers and sisters until the Kingdom of God is the only kingdom that I will know for the rest of eternity.
I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.