Happy Mother’s Day! I hope you called your mother today. If you haven’t already, please do so. Why is Mother’s Day such a big deal? Did you ever wonder why? Because as much as fathers try to help with the kids, and I can say this as a father of 3, we can’t hold a candle to the moms. Moms simply do more. There are exceptions, but as a general rule, the moms do a bulk of the work when it comes to raising kids and it only makes sense that Mother’s Day is such a big deal. Because they deserve to be recognized for their sacrifice and love for us. Flowers, cards, presents, dinners happen on Mother’s Day. Father’s Day – do we even celebrate that in this country? I can’t tell.
We are going to revisit this idea later in the sermon, but hold that thought for now. Let’s read Romans 13.
This chapter has 3 distinct sections.
- Part 1 – Give to the worldly authorities what you owe them.
- Part 2 – Using that same principle, give to Christ what you owe to Him.
- Part 3 – Give to Christ what you owe to Him with a sense of urgency because Jesus is coming back soon.
Let’s focus on verses 1-7. It’s interesting that we are covering this topic on the Sunday after Bin Laden was assassinated. And I read a bunch of news articles related to his death. And one in particular gave me some pause because the journalist reported various crowds breaking out into cheers and chanting, USA, USA. And frankly I was bothered by that. How should we apply Romans 13 to the death of the most wanted terrorist in world history?
In this country, on either extreme, you have 2 groups of people. You have the ultra-fundamental, ultra-conservative Christians who carry rifles and believe in the military and support every war that our country is currently engaged in. And their automatic assumption is that the US government and the will of God are kind of synonymous. Meaning, God has chosen us, the United States of America, to be a super power and to right every wrong in the world. I might be overstating my case a bit but I think you get what I am saying.
Then, you have a second group of Christians in this country who are completely apolitical. They don’t care about politics. They never vote. Why? Because everything in this world is passing away and the important thing is the heavenly home that awaits. Poverty? Social injustice? Who cares. Read your Bible, pray, live in a monastery, and save souls. They say, that is the extent of our Christian responsibility. Therefore, what job we do, our career choice, these things are really unimportant. What matters is salvation and preparing ourselves for heaven.
I believe this passage helps to address both camps. To the first group of fundamentalists, I think this passage teaches that God is in control of every nation and every ruler. And at times, God punishes evil rulers. But there are also times when God has to punish his own people and his judgment comes in the form of evil rulers and nations doing harm on the good guys.
To the second group, I think this passage speaks that we have our responsibility to submit under the authority of the government because heaven is more than just a place where our disembodied souls go to be with God. Heaven in the final portrait in Revelation is actually a new heaven and a new earth, in fact, heaven comes down and crashes into earth and forms a kind of new eternal dwelling place with God and His people, a new Jerusalem, a city of God.
It should not be surprising, then, that some speculate that Paul in his day was writing to address Christians in the church of Rome who didn’t think it was necessary to pay taxes to the government. Perhaps they felt justified to not pay taxes because they did not care about this life and only cared about the life to come. And that is why Paul even mentions specifically that they ought to pay taxes in v6-7.
And the overall principle is simple. Submit to the government, and concretely, pay taxes to them. Why? Because those men and women in power are God’s servants (v4). And the word for servant is the same word for deacon or minister. These are people appointed or ordained by God to fulfill a role in society as servants of God. And they may be secular leaders who don’t even believe in God, yet they unknowingly are serving God’s greater purposes. Because God is in control.
Governing is an all-consuming job. They have to protect their people. They have to provide a stable society where we can abide by laws and not kill each other. And in a healthy society, good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is punished. Society that functions with justice and fair treatment is part of God’s design. Without that, there would be chaos and anarchy.
Government is God’s idea. He appoints people. He rewards people. He punishes people. And the important principle to remember is that God gives authority to these human rulers. It’s like Pilate — he had no authority on his own. His authority was given to him by God.
This means, everything in the world, on a personal scale, on a national scale, on a international, world scale is all in the hands of a sovereign God. Remember in the book of Isaiah — God used pagan kings of Egypt and Babylon and Assyria to punish Israel. And God also used pagan kings like Cyrus to allow for the people to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
How do we apply this to Osama bin Laden? It’s all over the news so I thought it is very relevant in light of this text. Jackie and I were there in Manhattan when the Twin Towers collapsed in Sept 2001 so I am brought back to that memory. Bin Laden’s rise to power — did God know about it? Yes, he did. Do we know exactly why someone like him rose to power? No, not exactly. But we do see the biblical precedent of God using evil rulers to punish the people of God. What about the 3,000 innocent victims of the Twin Towers terrorist attack and their families? Did this occur and catch God off-guard? No, God knew. Why didn’t He intervene? Only God knows. Did God know exactly when Osama bin Laden would be killed? Yes, he did. His days were numbered and his time ran out. These are difficult questions and the only thing we know for sure is that God is in total control and He gives authority to certain people to rule and govern and lead .
So what should our response be in light of this famous assassination? Should it be cheering? No, I don’t think so. It should be prayerful reflection. God, what are you trying to show us? Are you calling us to repentance? Prayers of mercy for bin Laden and his family. After all, they are human beings and they are lost without Jesus. What about his wife and kids? They need our prayers. Prayers for world peace. This past Thursday, Cinco de Mayo, was also the National Day of Prayer. So for the first time in my life, I thought it made sense in light of everything that is happening in our world to spend some time praying for our world leaders. Certainly, I don’t think Christians should be cheering with such patriotic zeal at the death of a human leader, no matter how evil he was.
How can we apply this idea on an individual level? If you are having some difficulty with a secular “ruler,” an advisor or boss or manager or some relational difficulty, can we just dismiss it and say, that is the secular realm and that part of my life is totally separate from my spiritual life? I am a Christian in the spiritual realm and so things that happen in the secular world like conflicts at my dorm room or workplace are irrelevant. I am just annoyed by that person so I should either remove myself from the situation or hope that the bothersome person can be removed. No, we can’t think this way. If we believe in the sovereignty of God, then in every circumstance, we have to pray and ask, God, what are you trying to teach me? Sometimes, the greatest growth in our character and in our prayer life happens not in a church, but in these day-to-day annoyances and interactions. So look for those. Don’t just get annoyed. Ask God to reveal himself.
Another thing I should say on this topic is that submission is not the same as absolute obedience. We submit to the government but in cases like the Holocaust in WWII or slavery in this country, Christians should speak up and disobey. The early church didn’t submit to their Roman persecutors when they were asked to renounce their faith and many of them died because they refused to obey the government.
God is in control. All of the leaders of the world have been appointed by God, they have been given authority by God to achieve His redemptive purposes in world history. So submit to the government as long as it does not come into conflict with your faith in Jesus Christ.