TEXT: Romans 13:1-10
Proper 18, A
“Isn’t it sad?” we say to each other. “What have politics come to?” we sagely proclaim to the air around us. “Is it all just a bunch of self-promoting, glory-seekers?” we ask ourselves with a grimace and a shudder. “Where did the honesty and integrity go?” we sigh and shake our heads knowingly. We go through this whole process of politics, be it as a spectator to the elections down south of the border, or as the never-ending corruption and scandals plague our own system north of the border, and we sit back and watch as if we know better, as if we are better. But we’re not really are we? When it comes to politics we the voters, do just as much approval seeking as the politicians do.
We make our opinions known to anyone who will listen, so they can see the value of our ideas. We tell others why “so and so” is obviously IS or IS NOT the right person, and here are the reasons why. We don’t always bother to keep informed, especially between elections, telling others in one way or another, that we are just far to busy with important things to bother with something as trivial as a bunch of grown people arguing around in circles. We vote for the same party as our friends or family, so we don’t stick out, or just because that’s how its always been done. Or because “We don’t want to waste our vote on someone who will lose.” There literally hundreds of ways that each and every one of us use politics to try and seek approval for ourselves, just as surely as the politicians do.
And yet God’s words in Romans 13, are not so much for these people of politics as they are for you and me. This text is about our relationship as citizens, to the governing authorities God has placed over us. We so often get frustrated with politics because the people involved are more concerned with gaining their own approval, than they are God’s approval. But the way we tend to treat the situation is often worse and can just as easily lead us to lose the approval of our God. (7) Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
And yet, when we make remarks that damage the credibility of another are we giving them the respect they are due? When we don’t bother to be a part of the process, by listening and making an informed opinion, is that honouring the time and effort of those involved. When we don’t bother to vote, or don’t bother to find out what the candidates stand for, is that looking out for the best interests of our neighbours (after all, they will have to live with our decisions)? When we say things like “I sure am glad I didn’t vote for this government does that safeguard anyone's honour and integrity, or does it just make it that much harder for those elected to have the respect their position of authority deserves.
And don’t fool yourself. Just because there are sinful people involved in this thing we call government, doesn’t mean you are not obligated to respect their authority or give them what they are due. (1-2) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. These words of Paul are very clear.
But they also become even more remarkable when you consider what happened shortly after he wrote them. Paul was mistreated by one government after another, both locally in Jerusalem, Phillipi, Ephasus, Thesalonica (to name only a few) and even up to the level of Rome itself. Within five years of writing this, the emperor Nero would begin the first large scale persecutions of Christians in the empire. Yet never in all of Paul’s subsequent writings is this command ever rescinded. God wants all people at all times to obey whatever form of leadership is over them.
Does that mean that God fully approves of everything that is done in governing His people? Of course not! The authority comes from God but the sin and greed, and abuse of that power comes from sinful men and women like you and me. But even recognizing this, there is only one instance in which we are withhold support from those in authority over us and that is only when they are in direct contradiction to the will of God. In such cases we are commanded to obey God rather than men. Indeed, the only reason we are to obey civil governments in the first place is because by doing so we are really obeying God.
The commands of God in this respect seem simple enough. We are to be subject to the government in all things, and we are to give them their due. And yet if we were to look at our lives and how we live up to those commands, we would have to admit that our track record is no better than the politicians we so often scorn. We very rarely keep our ‘election promises’ to God. By our day-to-day actions and attitudes we do a lot of seeking approval, and losing approval but very little keeping of God’s approval.
By ourselves, and through our own actions, we couldn’t possibly gain God’s approval. But we do have God’s approval. And it is 100% How? Through Jesus Christ our Lord. (8) Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. This is exactly what Jesus has done for us. Through His love for us He has fulfilled the law. You see, Jesus too sought approval but not His own. He sought approval on our behalf. In love, Christ gave up all that was rightly His in heaven so that he could come to earth and be born a man. He gave up everything so that He could live under the law seeking approval for all those who would never be able to earn it themselves.
But in doing so, it also meant that Jesus for a time would end up losing His own approval in the eyes of God. Once He had perfectly fulfilled the Law of God (lived up to our election promises, if you will) then He willingly took upon himself the sins of all mankind. The sins of each and every one of us. He took them upon His shoulders so that He could bear them on the cross, wash them away with His own spilled blood, and eventually bury them forever in the grave. But in taking those sins upon Himself, He lost the one thing that means the most, God’s approval. While Jesus bore the sins of the world, God could have nothing to do with Him. On the cross, Jesus suffered the worst fate anyone could, He was separated from God, without approval. That’s what hell is, finally knowing for sure that there is a loving God, but that He will never approve of you or love you. That’s what Christ bore out of love for you.
And He bore it all because He knew it would bring about a final reconciliation between God and men. God approved of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. We know this because Jesus rose from the grave. All sin had been paid for, and death was swallowed up forever. But even more, God then restored Jesus to His rightful place in heaven, giving him all authority over everything in all of creation. And so it is that Jesus rules over everything and every one, always looking out for the best interests of those who believe in Him.
And to make our life in this world easier, and safer, Jesus delegates some of His authority to the governments of this world, to see to our daily needs, to protect us, and to give us peace. And even when those governments sin, He is able to use them for our best interests. And so Jesus promises that when we obey our earthly authorities we are really obeying Him, and doing His will. Whether that means not littering, not speeding, making and informed decision in the next election, or even earnestly praying for that so-and-so who is ruining our lives by such-and-such a decision. Each can be our Christian duty and our Christian witness to Him and one another pointing to the approval we have with God, through Jesus, our Lord.