Independence Day

Preached: July 5, 2009

Submit to the Authorities, For They Are God's Servants
Romans 13:1-7

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit directs us to live for Jesus is Romans 13

Let everyone be subordinate to the higher authorities. For there isn't any authority except under God. Those that exist have been arranged by God. Therefore whoever sets himself against the authority stands against God's arrangement, and they who stand against [it] will receive judgment. For the rulers aren't a terror for good work but for evil [work]. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from them. For they are God's servant for you for good. If you are doing evil, be afraid. For they do not bear the sword for nothing. For they are God's servant, an extractor of justice against the evildoer [leading] to punishing wrath. Therefore, it is necessary to be subordinate not only because of punishing wrath but also because of conscience. For because of this also we pay taxes. For they are God's public servants devoting themselves to this very thing. Surrender to all what's owed: taxes, to the one owed taxes; revenue, to the one owed revenue; fear, to the one owed fear; honor, to the one owed honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our crucified and risen Savior:

1. Who's really in charge?

King George III thought he was in charge. He was King of Great Britain. Along with the parliament he ruled the British people on both sides of the Atlantic. Who were those colonists to rebel against him?

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and others thought differently. They agreed that the King and parliament had had ruling power over the thirteen colonies. But they insisted that by his actions the King had abdicated government here. For in their opinion, ultimately not the King but the people were really in charge. They expressed it in the Declaration of Independence with these words: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the Governed,” that would be from the people.

So who's really in charge? Is it the government, whether that's a king or prime minister or president? Or is it the people as our founding fathers contended?

God gives us the answer in his Word. “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1 NIV). Neither the government nor the people, but God is really in charge. Remember that dear friends. And contrary to what our founding fathers thought, note the order God has arranged in government: God above all, then the rulers as his servants, under them the people. That's the arrangement God has ordained and established. That's why he commands: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1 NIV). That's where we focus our theme: Submit to the authorities, for they are God's servant.

Submit, remembering who is really in charge. That's part one, which we've already started talking about. Submit, giving thanks for the good God works through them. That's part two, which we'll address a little later. Submit to the authorities, for they are God's servant.

A. Remember who is really in charge

1. How does this comfort us in the face of evil done by governments?

How much evil though hasn't been done by governing authorities? Just consider how various governments in our own country use tax money to fund abortions, sanction gay marriages, allow euthanasia, and so on. How can such governments be God's servant? How can we submit to them? Shouldn't the people overthrow evil governments?

Our fallen reason troubles us with these questions. But remember, dear friends, who is really in charge. That not only answers these questions, but comforts our hearts in the face of so much evil.

Repeatedly in the text the Holy Spirit calls the governing authority God's servant (Romans 13:4). But that does not necessarily mean that they are good and faithful servants. Because of sin so often they use their authority for personal gain rather than the public good. They promote evil rather than uphold justice. But whether they are good servants or bad servants, they are still God's servant. He is in charge. He will hold them accountable. So don't worry that they are getting away with it. There will be a final reckoning much great than any ballot box.

Remember who is really in charge. What comfort that our heavenly Father, who daily cares for us and protects us his creatures, is in control! What comfort that our Lord Jesus Christ, whose blood redeemed us to be his own, rules over all things for his people in his resurrection glory! Yes, God works good even through evil governments. He makes them serve his purpose. Whether they like or not, even whether they know it or not, they are his servant. Remember how God raised up Pharaoh in Egypt. Even though Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let God's people go, God used that evil to work good for his people as he showed them his glory through the ten plagues and the crossing of the Red Sea a picture of a much greater deliverance he would work through his Son. Remember who is really in charge and be comforted.

2. What does remembering who's in charge lead us to do?

That does not mean, though, that we should be complacent when we see government doing wrong. We want good government. But we work within the system following the laws. Rebellion is not an option. “He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted” (Romans 13:2), Paul writes. Remember who is really in charge, so who is rebellion actually against?

Remember who is really in charge. So the first and foremost thing we do to work for good government is to pray. Pray to the one in charge. Pray to your heavenly Father. Pray that he grant us wise and faithful leaders, that he protect our country, that he allow us to live peaceful and quiet lives to his glory. Pray, dear Christian, pray.

Then also, as you remember who is really in charge, use the tools he has given to us to work for good government. For God often answers our prayers through our own actions. And he has blessed us with so many legitimate ways to take action. Vote for leaders who are more likely to govern wisely in line with what is right. Use your freedom of speech to support laws that are good and right and just. Might God even use you in a position of authority in the government? He entrusts us to decide with our Christian judgment how much time and resources to devote to these and other political activities. Use them as appropriate, not trusting those things to truly fix the problem, but remembering who is really in charge and that he works through the actions we take to accomplish his purpose.

3. What if the government orders us to do something sinful?

But how do we submit if the government orders us to do something sinful? Can we rebel then? No. Even evil governments our God's servant. But as we remember who is really in charge, then we obey him instead of man. We don't follow that sinful law, but we submit in everything else. Think of how the Apostles submitted to the Jewish authorities. They allowed themselves to be arrested and beaten. They never advocated rebellion. But when ordered not to speak about Jesus, they kept on telling the Good News. They obeyed God, for he is really in charge.

Or consider David. He knew that God wanted him to be the next king. The prophet Samuel had anointed him. But he still submitted to King Saul. Even when Saul unjustly wanted to kill David, David still submitted to Saul as King. David didn't turn himself in for execution. For that would be going against God who wanted him to be the next king. But David did not rebel. Twice when he had opportunity to kill Saul, he refused. For God had established Saul as king, and David left it to God to remove Saul at the right time. David did not raise his hand against the Lord's anointed. He remembered who was really in charge.

So also as you and I remember who is really in charge, we submit to the authorities, for they are God's servant. God, who gave us his Son, will certainly take care of us no matter what evil or injustice the government brings against us. No matter how difficult or painful the government might make our earthly life, even if it takes our life, it cannot rob you of the heavenly inheritance Jesus won for you by his death, the eternal inheritance kept in heaven for you who believe in Jesus. “Take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Let these all be gone, They yet have nothing won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (The Lutheran Hymnal, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” 262:4).

B. Give thanks for the good God works through the authorities

1. What good does God work through the government?

But what a blessing that we do not regularly face those decisions of whether to obey the government or obey God. God has blessed us with many good things through our government. Give thanks for that. This is the second part we want to touch on this morning.

God wants to bless you through the authorities. That's another reason to submit to them. God has given us the government to keep law and order so that we can enjoy earthly peace and prosperity and live lives that glorify our Father in heaven.

Paul describes the role of government to carry out justice. He writes, “Rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3-5 NIV).

Give thanks to God that criminal activities and personal vendettas are not the law of the land. Although imperfect, God has blessed us with a great degree of peace and prosperity because of the order our government has enforced. God entrusts the government with the responsibility to carry out justice. He doesn't punish the evildoer by sending a bolt of lightning from heaven. Rather he delegates that job to his servant, the government. To carry out the job of justice, God gives the government the authority and responsibility to punish. That's something we don't have the authority to do in our private lives. We are to forgive those who wrong us, but the government is to carry out justice, punishing those who do wrong. Yes, even if it means ending a person's life for certain crimes. “He does not bear the sword for nothing” (Romans 13:5), God's Word says.

Give thanks to God for the many times that, despite the imperfections, justice is carried out through our government. Give thanks to God for the peace and prosperity we do enjoy because of the law and order our government enforces. Give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion. We enjoy these freedoms because the government enforces the laws that protect them. Give thanks to God for the good he works through government.

2. How can we express our thanks?

How can we express our thanks? By submitting to the government. By paying our taxes. For you see, enforcing law and order among sinful, rebellious people, is a full-time job. Give thanks by showing respect and honor toward those who hold office of authority over us as they carry out their job whether it's the DNR agent, the traffic officer or other law enforcement, whether a judge or legislator, whether a governor or the president or soldier. Respect and honor the office they carry out. We show our thanks as we put Paul's words into practice: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (Romans 13:6, 7 NIV).

Give thanks to God for the good he works for you through the government. Give thanks to him by submitting to the authorities as God's servants. For you see, as we carry out our responsibilities towards the government (even that work of paying taxes), we can do it with joy and thanks. For we are obeying God's command and honoring his servants. What joy that brings us! For he is the one who is really in charge.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313