Manuscript of this sermon is available for reading services.
Reading: 1 Peter 2: 13-25
Text: Romans 13:1-7
A Minister of God for Your Good.
1 Peter 2 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
As Newborn Babes
2 Therefore, putting aside all [a]malice and all deceit and [b]hypocrisy and [c]envy and all [d]slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the [e]pure [f]milk of the word, so that by it you may grow [g]in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted [h]the kindness of the Lord.
As Living Stones
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is [i]choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, [j]are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in [k]Scripture:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone,
And he who believes in [l]Him will not be [m]disappointed.”
7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve,
“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”
“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may [n]because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of [o]visitation.
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent [p]by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For [q]such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Act as free men, and [r]do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the [s]king.
18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are [t]unreasonable. 19 For this finds [u]favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds [v]favor with God.
Christ Is Our Example
21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; 23 [w]and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself [x]bore our sins in His body on the [y]cross, so that we might die to [z]sin and live to righteousness; for by His [aa]wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and [ab]Guardian of your souls.
Romans 13New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Be Subject to Government
13 Every [a]person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except [b]from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore [c]whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for [d]good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves [e]his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love [f]does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now [g]salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us [h]behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
A Minister of God for your good
1 Peter 2: 13-25
In this section of Romans we are still focusing on relationships. Life is all about relationships. With respect to our relationship with God he is the one who took the initiative. We were estranged from him, our relationship with God was broken by sin. But God has mended this broken relationship by sending his Son to pay the penalty for our sin and reconcile us with God.
What God has graciously done in restoring the relationship with us is the pattern on which we build our lives. So in chapter 12 we have seen that when it comes to our response to God’s grace Paul urges us to offer our bodies and minds as living sacrifices. We are to live lives which are pleasing to God. As we reflect on our belonging to the body of Christ we are urged to discover and use our gifts in in God’s service and to help build up the church. When it comes to our relationship with one another in the church the encouragement there is to exercise brotherly love and humility. In the last five verses of Romans 12 the focus shifts to the wider community and how we are to relate to those outside the church; especially those whom Paul describes as doing evil. In a word we must love them too. And now in chapter 13 we also have a relationship with the governing authorities. How should we regard them? What is our duty to the state?
We’ll find out as we look at the text in three parts,
1. First, God has vested the state with authority.
Paul wrote, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God and those that exist are established by God.” Some have suggested that these authorities might be the same as the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms; demonic forces mentioned in Colossians 2:15 over whom Christ had the victory on the cross. In that victory Christ destroyed their spiritual power over those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. However elsewhere in 1 Cor. 2:8 the rulers of this age refer to those who crucified Jesus. These were certainly not spiritual beings. They were Jewish and Roman government agencies. Furthermore the context here in Romans 8 indicates that authorities mentioned are the governing authorities in other words the state because angelic beings do not wield iron swords.
Over the years there have been times when the relationship between the church and the state has been rather controversial. History reveals a variety of approaches. For example some have proposed a sharp separation between church and state where the church has as little to do with the state as possible, ie. Christians refusing to bear arms, regarding the state as part of Satan’s realm and therefore not to be trusted. That was the view of the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation and is also the attitude of the JWs today. Then there have also been times when either the church or the state have tried to Lord it over one or the other. Well the confusion is cleared up for us here in Romans 13 where are encouraged to recognise the God given authority of the state and cooperate with it.
I believe the theologian Abraham Kuyper got it right with his model of sphere sovereignty. The idea is that there are three basic spheres of responsibility under the sovereignty of God; the church the family and the state. The spheres are mostly separate meaning that one cannot Lord it over the other but there is also some overlap of the spheres meaning that there are some areas where the church submits to the state, can influence the state, the family to the church and state and the governing officials are given their position and mandate by the people.
And so Jesus said “give to Cesar what is Cesar’s and Paul enlarges on that here.
So what authority does the state have? Well Paul makes it clear the state has divine authority. Some have objected to that because the Christians who lived under the Roman Emperors were treated cruelly and used as fodder for the lions and gladiators in the arena. Must we say that Hitler and Stalin’s ruthless governments were established by God?
Romans 13 doesn’t teach a ‘divine right of kings’ to be used or abused at the whim of a king. What it means is that God is the Lord of History. Daniel 2:21 says that It is the Lord God “who changes the times and the epochs. He removes kings and establishes kings.” Psalm 22:28 says “The kingdom is the Lord’s, he rules over nations”. There are examples of that in both the OT and NT such as the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. According to Jeremiah 1:15 God called kings of the earth to set their thrones against the gates of Jerusalem because of Jerusalem’s wickedness.” This doesn’t mean that God approves of the evil acts perpetrated by such kings but what it means is that nothing happens outside of God’s providence or outside of his decrees. For example an evil act committed by one nation against another can be a form of God’s judgment against a wicked people by delivering them people into the hands of tyrants. Or God can move the heart of a king to help his people as he moved King Cyrus heart to liberate the exiled Jews.
Governments are established by God and Paul has a particular reason for making this clear in his letter and that is that he wants Christian readers to submit themselves to the governing authorities and that includes us. Even if we were to find ourselves in the unenviable position of living under the rule of an unrighteous government there is still a fundamental responsibility to obey. Paul and the Christians in his day lived under a government which would later execute Paul and persecute the church and yet he calls on the church to render obedience to it.
Christians are to be noted for civil obedience rather than civil disobedience.
We are to pay our taxes and do whatever necessary to be model citizens in our communities with one qualification and that is that we obey God first.
This is where the believers got into trouble with the Roman authorities in Paul’s day. The Romans insisted that they worship the emperor something a Christian may not do according to the 1st commandment
Here in New Zealand we glorify Christ by doing what we can to be model citizens as well. We pay our taxes, obey the laws of the land, submit to our government where and when it is lawful under God to do so. However if our government were to require us to do something which is unlawful and contradicts the word of God then it would be moral duty to disobey the state. For example if the state required me to solemnize same sex marriages I would have to refuse. There is at times a place for civil disobedience.
However that’s often the exception rather than the rule and what Paul is impressing on us here is that the government is established by God and our duty is to obey where it is lawful to do so under God.
2. Secondly let’s consider the ministry of the government
The word for ministry can also be translated as servant meaning the government exists to serve its citizens and there are essentially two ways it does that. The first is to restrain evil hence it has been empowered by God with the sword. This sword can be used in a number of ways. It has happened many times in history that one nation has waged war against another, murdering anyone who would stand in its way in order to subjugate another nation. A war of aggression like that can be seen as a violation of the 6th commandment. If an individual were to murder another individual the government has the power of the sword to avenge the victim and his family by executing the murderer. Similarly a government would have the right to raise an army in order to protect its boarders and repel and restrain a sinfully aggressive nation.
Well that does raise the question of capital punishment for serious crimes such as murder. In NZ capital punishment has been abolished because some claim it isn’t a deterrent and therefore serves no useful purpose. Others claim that no-one has the right to take another person’s life under anyu circumstances. Still others claim that there are inequities when it comes to ensuring mistakes in the judicial system are not made.
What does the Bible say? Capital punishment is not a cultural thing as though it belongs to a bygone era and is no longer acceptable in a modern less primitive society. Capital punishment is actually a creation ordinance and therefore transcends time and culture. In Genesis 9:6 it says, “Who-ever sheds the blood of a man by man shall his blood be shed.” The reason for it is not just as a deterrent but for justice and retribution as well. Man has been made in the image of God and to murder a man is to attack the very being of God. As well as that there is not a hint of any repeal of capital punishment in the New Testament and certainly not here in Romans 13 where the iron sword is clearly an instrument of execution and is to be feared by those who do evil.
The other ministry which the government has is not only to restrain and punish evil but to also promote that which is good. For example in Paul’s day the Roman government built roads, planned cities, built libraries and public baths , employed an army , policed their territories and the sea routes in the Mediterranean keeping it relatively free of pirates. The result of these efforts is often known as the Peace of Rome. It was this relative peace and stability which enabled the gospel to spread as rapidly as it did during the first century after Christ.
Our governments today have a similar role in doing good to its citizens by encouraging virtue and promoting education, encouraging citizens to share the burden of welfare for the poor and organising the health care system among other things. That’s essentially why God established governments to restrain and punish evil and to promote and reward good and that for the sake of Christ and His church so that we can be free to worship evangelise and plant churches and so on.
That then brings me to the third thing
3. Our relationship to the state and there are a number of important aspects to that relationship.
The first one is prayer
1 It says in 1 Timothy 2 “I urge you that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be made on behalf of all men for kings and all who are in authority in order that we may lead a tranquil and godly life.” When Hitler was in power many people prayed ‘Lord convert him or take him away’. Nehemiah prayed and King Artaxerxes gave him safe passage and permission to rebuild Jerusalem. Who knows how the Lord has answered the prayers of Christians in New Zealand? What is evident that people do pray and God has answered these prayers favourably since we are able to live tranquil and godly lives here in this country. James also reminds us that the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. So keep praying pray for our Prime Minister Mr Key and his cabinet and the opposition, the judiciary and law enforcement agencies. Pray for your local government too, that all may make wise decisions which contribute to the peace of New Zealand and the well-being of Christ’s church.
2. But as well as pray we must pay!…..taxes! This is mentioned twice here in Romans 13 in verse 6 and 7. Governments have a great weight of responsibility based on the authority which is derived from God. Rom 13 teaches us to help rather than hinder them in their responsibility . One way we can help is by cheerfully paying our taxes. In Paul’s day they had no income tax but had property tax, poll tax, and merchandise tax, as well as customs duty . Well each society structures taxes differently and we may not agree on the way all the money is spent. Paul would not have agreed which some of Rome’s policies. However that didn’t prevent him from being a model citizen and paying his taxes . After all he know that the thing which would eventually have a powerful impact on the Roman Empire for good was the gospel. That’s true here in New Zealand as well. There are things here which we will disagree with when it comes to how our tax dollars are spent but that is probably not going to change unless the percentage of committed Christian citizens in NZ and Christian politicians in Parliament increase significantly. We must continue to faithfully preach the good news about Jesus Christ. It’s the gospel alone which can make a lasting difference.
So the next thing which we must do as well as pray and pay taxes is have a voice. A government is only as good as the people who are elected into office, so have your say, vote and be politically active if you have the opportunity. We know from Acts that Paul appeared before governors and kings and made his appeal to Caesar himself. When he went to Corinth (Acts 18) the Jews gave him a hard time but he managed to get Gallio the governor of Achaia onside meanwhile Crispus the Synagogue ruler was converted to the faith so you never know how the Lord will user your witness and your voice.
Finally Paul encourages us to honor and respect the government. He does give us in these verses a very positive concept of the state , the ideal kind of state perhaps. We know that this is often not the case. There are totalitarian governments run by dictators who treat their citizens shabbily. How can citizens honor and respect a ruler who confiscates private property at will and misuses tax payers money to buy extravagant luxuries for himself his family and his supporters while the poor starve.
But these are the exceptions and what Paul presents here is the rule because Biblical principles such as submitting to state authority is based on the rule or the norm rather than the exception. So conscientious Christians will do more than merely tolerate the government as a necessary evil but will submit to its authority, honour its representatives, pay his taxes and pray for the welfare of the government, have a voice so as to encourage the state to fulfil its God appointed role to restrain evil and promote the good.
Why? For the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake; to make Christ know and to show the love of Christ. It says in Colossians 1:20 that God is reconciling all things to himself on earth as well as in heaven. All spheres of life are under the sovereignty of God; church, family and the state. God has instituted the state for the peace of the church and ultimately for his saving purposes. Therefore we are to cooperate with, honour and pray for our government for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake.