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One of the big words that we learn in Confirmation Class is “omnipresent.” It’s one of the attributes of God that means, ‘everywhere present.’ Jeremiah 23:24 says, “Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.”
That’s either good news or bad news depending on whether you’d like to hide from God or go someplace where you could escape God’s presence. For instance, if you were hoping that once you left here that you wouldn’t have to worry about bumping into God for the rest of the week wherever else you go, ‘omnipresent’ is not a good word. That there is no where that you can go where you don’t bump into God, is not welcome news if that’s what you are trying to do.
But God’s ‘omnipresence’ is good news if you’re someone who is anxious to worship God wherever you happen to be and everything you do.
This morning we hear St. Paul tell us that we bump into God Himself even in the government and in that messy business we call ‘politics.’ God is present in the ‘governing authorities,’ and that therefore we are to “submit to them,” “obey them,” “respect,” and “honor them.”
Listen again, “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 whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Rom. 13:1-7)
This may be a hard pill to swallow, but Paul is telling us that we are to “submit to the governing authorities,” as to the Lord, “because those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” They are His servants who carry out His purpose through the ‘God created’ institution of government.
If this sounds like we are mixing politics and religion here, we just may be. But only because God has mixed the two by giving us an opportunity to worship Him by submitting to the “governing authorities.”
We may be more comfortable referring to ‘government’ as a ‘necessary evil,’ which immediately excludes God, for God is not a part of anything that is ‘evil.’
But Paul calls government a ‘necessary good’ that God is very much a part of. “For he is God’s servant for your good.” And no one should understand this better than the Christian. We have the Word of God which tells us that all people are by nature, ‘anarchists.’ We all want to be a law unto ourselves. We all resist submitting to a law imposed upon us. We don’t want to submit to the God’s law, the 10 Commandments. How much less the law of the land?
So we need a ‘governing authority’ to keep the peace and maintain order amongst because without it we slide right into disorder and chaos.
Even the Baptized in Christ need this, because even though there is a ‘new, Christ-like nature’ alive and at work in us that wants to ‘submit’ to God’s Law and live under His rule, the ‘old anarchist’ is also still alive and kicking in us until the day that we die. Even if the whole world were Christian, we would still need authorities to rule over us because all of the baptized are simultaneously 100% sinner and 100% saint.
We need to be ruled over to keep us from harming our neighbor, and our neighbor needs to be ruled over to keep him from harming us, and we need someone to judge between us when peace and order between us is broken.
And that’s what God has instituted ‘government’ to do. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”
So, the government is a gift from God for our good. As we just reminded ourselves, it’s a 1st Article gift. “He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.” How does God do this? ‘Through the ‘governing authorities.’
When we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” we understand that ‘daily bread’ includes “everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes… and GOOD GOVERNEMENT.”
But just to be sure we understand this, the government is all about ‘law enforcement.’ It’s not at all about ‘gospel enforcement.’ We don’t look to the government to forgive our sins or preach about Jesus. That’s not their purpose. They have no authority from God to do that.
And sometimes governments need to be reminded of this when they try to exercise their authority in matters beyond their God-given jurisdiction and in ways that are in clear violation of the Word of God. ‘There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.’ And God cannot contradict Himself. He does not have one Law for His Church and another for the government. That would never work because they’re the SAME PEOPLE.
If God’s law says, “thou shall not murder,” and it does, the governing authorities cannot legalize murder, at any stage of life. They have no ‘authority’ to do this. To “submit to the governing authorities” would mean that we would have to DISOBEY GOD’S LAW. And when the “governing authorities” create this dilemma for their own citizens, “we must obey God rather than man.” (Acts 5:29). And we must work to help the governing authorities change their minds.
In all fairness, we must also say that the Church also has its fair share of guilt in confusing the work of ‘government’ and that of the ‘church.’ The mission of the government is ‘law enforcement’ and the mission of the church is ‘spreading the gospel.’ But all too often we use politics to try to advance our religion and we use religion to advance our politics. No wonder the governing authorities get confused about where the boundaries lie. A clear headed understanding of the distinction between the earthly and the heavenly kingdoms is essential.
Following our Lord, we are not out to ‘change the world’ through government. We’re not interested in establishing a ‘Christian nation’ or ‘religious nation’ the way that Islam is. We don’t believe that God prefers to work through one system of government more than another. And we do not believe that one particular candidate for office vs. another has the answer to all our problems.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the only answer to all of our problems, and that He has indeed already solved them by His cross. He became a citizen of this world and lived under the law of the land, and submitted Himself to the governing authority, Pontius Pilate. Jesus suffered the greatest travesty of ‘civil injustice’ the world has ever known – for you, for me, for all people. For Republicans and Democrats and Independents; for communists and socialists and even jihadists. He died for all.
And He calls men and women, boys and girls from every nation, who live under any form of government into His kingdom. We have a dual citizenship. We are citizens of this earthly kingdom or some other through birth or naturalization, and we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven through our baptism.
But the important thing for us to keep straight is that God the Father rules over both kingdoms through His Son Jesus Christ. “ALL AUTHORITY, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH, has been given to me,” says Jesus. (Matthew 28:19).
So we bump into God even in the ‘governing authorities,’ whether we happen to agree with their policies and decisions or not. By faith, we see “ministers of God” in the ‘governing authorities.’
They may not see it. They may be totally unaware that they are servants of God and that their authority comes from God. But we do.
And so when we “pay to all what is owed them: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due” BY FAITH, seeing what the world does not see, this becomes our ‘spiritual act of worship.’ Who would have thought that paying your taxes is an act of worship?
When we exercise the privilege that we have in this country to vote, even our voting becomes an act of worship.
There is one more way that we worship the Lord when we submit to the ruling authorities, and that’s when we pray for them. Paul writes to Timothy saying, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Those who govern need our prayers. No matter what we may think of the way that they carry out their office, it’s not easy to be a minister of God’s earthly kingdom. And whether they have a citizenship in the kingdom of heaven and access to the throne of God through Jesus Christ or not, we do.
And so, every Sunday here in worship, we bring the ‘governing authorities’ to the throne of God our Father through Jesus Christ because, as He says, “no one comes to the Father except through me.” And we petition God to protect them and direct them to carry out their office according to His will.
It’s important for us to always remember that governments and ‘governing authorities,’ ‘taxes and revenues’ are only temporary patches meant to hold things together for a limited period of time. It’s there just to keep our sin in check. But there is a ‘day’ coming when all the ‘kingdoms of this world’ will come to an end because they will no longer be necessary.
On a day called ‘the last day,’ the King of kings and the Lord of lords and the Prince of Peace, and He will gather all of the citizens of His kingdom of heaven into a ‘new creation.’ And everyone will be 100% saint and no sinner. And there shall be perfect peace and order. And everyone will be perfectly subject to Him.
But until then, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”