Let us pray: Dear Savior, in the midst of a national crisis, we turn to You for help. And by Your grace You are providing it in the form of national, state, and local governments. Lord, give our civic leaders wisdom in dealing with social disorder. Give them courage in dealing with lawless elements. And give those who are suffering a rich measure of the love, care, and compassion of Your people. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, WHO ORDERS OUR LIVES FOR GOOD!
TEXT: Romans 13: 1-10
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
The images are forever burned on our memories. Floodwaters, destruction, acts of great heroism, and of course, the looters. If you have ever doubted the reality of original sin, after this week you should doubt it no more. For when the veneer of social order is stripped away, we have often seen people at their very worst. And we have also seen the importance of government to maintain and promote good order for the sake of all.
As I wrote this sermon on Friday morning, I went briefly on the internet to get the latest news from the hurricane disaster zone. The word “anarchy” was being used to describe the situation in New Orleans. National Guard troops had been given orders to “shoot to kill” by the governor of that state, too. All I can say to that is: “It’s about time.”
I don’t know what other churches will talk about today or what other preachers will dwell on in their sermons. But, I can surmise that amid those liberal churches that reject the whole concept of original sin and who often portray God as Caspar Milquetoast, much hand-wringing and second-guessing will take place. Well, you’re not going to get that here. For here in this lesson we don’t see God defanged. Instead, we see Him locked, loaded, and ready for action amid a world gone crazy. Yes, right here St. Paul lays out for us:
GOD’S ANTIDOTE TO ANARCHY
Now, lest you think that St. Paul was exempt in his own life from anarchy like we’re seeing in New Orleans, and therefore was idealistic in his writings, recall that in 57 AD he had a mob in Jerusalem who tried to rip his head off. Recall also that Roman soldiers saved him. Remember, too, that a few months later when on the way to the port of Caesarea, another mob of assassins waited to attack the Roman troops guarding him in order to murder Paul. Yes, St. Paul well knew the trauma of social anarchy. So, what does he say about it under inspiration by God?
“Everyone (no exceptions!) 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. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”
Today in America there are many who want to blame the government for the problems caused by the hurricane. And then they want to use that as an excuse to reject lawful authority. Paul says that such an attitude is really a rejection of God Himself. And note well that at this time Rome was not a benevolent government at all. In fact, a few years after he wrote these words, Rome put Paul to death for confessing Christ. Good Rome wasn’t. But that didn’t matter then and doesn’t matter today. For God had established Rome to insure social order and they did.
“For 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”
From this it is obvious that Paul would not disagree at all with the current “shoot to kill” order for looters in New Orleans. Even if they make some mistakes and shoot innocent people, Paul would mourn that situation, but it would not negate his principle which is: evil, lawless people must be controlled for the good of all. Recall also that Paul never said: “Rome does not have the authority to put me to death.” He patiently bore that mistake as a cost of living in a sinful world.
We are to obey the laws of the land, period. We are to do so out of fear of punishment. That corrals our sinful nature. But, he adds something very important, too. As Christians, we are also to obey “because of conscience.” We obey, even amid suffering, because it is the right thing to do. Because it honors our God who honored us by giving His innocent life on a cross to save our souls eternally. Yes, we Christians are called to a higher level of behavior than the rank and file unbelievers. They are answerable to the government for their actions, but we’re answerable to God Almighty.
Now, St. Paul goes on to give some specifics to the principle he has laid down. And he touches on issues which were unpopular then and still are today. “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.”
Notice that he makes no exceptions for governments you like vs. ones you don’t like. In doing so, he mirrors Christ’s own words: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Government demands our obedience to its laws. God demands our hearts. One is external, the other is internal. Sometimes they overlap, sometimes they don’t. But, we are never to be a law unto ourselves. Anarchy is excluded.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. (God’s law.) The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandments there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
This is God’s will for you and for the people of the Gulf Coast. And if people would take it to heart and practice it, anarchy would cease. Yes, God has an antidote to what is happening in New Orleans. It is a two-edged sword. One side slays evil-doers to protect the innocent. The other side heals wounds and binds up broken hearts with the respect for life and limb that only Jesus Christ brings. And this, my friends, is why the bible is totally correct when it says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.” Amen