A few things I wish I would have emphasized that half came up after the sermon:
#1: I believe submit does not mean stay in ongoing abusive relationships just because the Bible says so. "Submit" does not mean allow yourself to be abused and smile about it.
#2: One of the heroes of faith is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (most famous book is "Cost of Discipleship" in which he talks about "cheap grace" among many other amazing topics). Bonhoeffer is a modern day martyr that was hung for his Christian faith during WWII. The crime? Plotting to assassinate Hitler. Whatever this scripture says, I personally cannot condemn Bonhoeffer for his decision. Others may not be called to do what he did, but whatever this scripture means, it has to account for men like Bonhoeffer. "Submit" does not mean "blind obedience."
Enjoy the message, I hope it is challenging, and as one person said afterward, "It gives me a lot to chew on." ~ Pastor Carl)
What is most important? Everyday we make decisions about what is most important. Today’s scripture, in context, is about priorities? Here’s one man’s cute story of priorities: “As she slid behind the wheel for her first driving lesson, my daughter couldn’t contain her excitement. "You need to make adjustments so the car is comfortable for you, the driver," I began. "Now, what’s the first thing you should do?" Without hesitating, my daughter replied, “Change the radio station.” Ultimately this scripture is about priorities, focusing on the main thing, I will get to it…
We come to Rom. 13:1-7; the verses seem confusing: What does Paul mean, “Everyone must submit himself to the governmental authorities”? …
Problem: Rom. 13:1-2 goes against our grain READ. In the U.S. one of our most precious freedoms is the freedom to criticize the government. We have complete freedom to bash the representatives at all levels from the local city hall worker up to the President of the United States. I don’t want to take away that right/responsibility.
Paul is speaking in the context of the government of his day. You think our government has problems! We are governed by angels compared to the emperor of the day when Romans was written: Nero. Here’s one description of Nero: “Nero, who hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tallow, tied to stakes and burned like candles in his garden. He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked and pagan ancient Rome really was. … the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. Sorcery and black magic abounded. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome. Yet Paul said all authority comes from God” (Ray Pritchard). ///
Let’s take it one step further. Paul knows all about the unjust government under Nero as he writes these words, but he may have had a man in mind just as cruel as Nero that he knew much better. All Paul had to do is look in the mirror. In the book of Acts we read that Paul himself, a Roman citizen by birth, in his zealousness to keep the Jews pure, before he was a Christian, attained for himself the full backing of the Roman government and travelled around the region seeking to find Christians to murder them. “Submit to the governing authorities.” Paul knows full well the weightiness of such a statement.
Submit is a sticky word. It grates against our ears, yet Paul says voluntarily follow those in authority. Submission is in contrast to living in “terror” ~ we’ll come to that in Rom. 13:3. If the authority is good it is easy to submit…, but even when the authority over you is bad, submission is still good because it takes away the main power the evil ruler seeks to impose upon you: fear. Do not be afraid, to not be bitter, do not be angry, but submit. Satan wants you to focus on everything that is wrong to inhibit the Kingdom of God. Submitting frees your heart to seek the things of God. Submit to the authorities ~ do not let the government or any other authority consume you.
Submitting is different from obedience. Obedience refers to outward performance while submission touches the heart. Paul nowhere says in here obey everything you are told. You may not always be able to obey if you are required to do that which is unjust ~ I agree with civil disobedience when the law of the land is contrary to the law of God ~ yet you can always have a heart of submission. Submission vs. obedience can be seen in the boss that raises questions, submitting means fitting into the way the boss wants things done, the bosses decisions, only refusing to cross the line when the requirements go into the illegal or unethical…
A simple definition of submission: believing God is able to accomplish his will in my life through those he has placed in authority over me. Submit to the government, submit to the authorities in your life, whether it be Nero, or the government of the U.S. in 2014: whether you give a thumbs up or a thumbs down, believe God can accomplish his purposes no matter who is in charge on earth! Submission means the focus is on God, not on the person in authority. Take your pastor, please! Look at him, submitting to whatever authority he has doesn’t mean he is always right, it means you believe God can do great things through him even if he is a louse of a Crouse. One person said it this way: “We all have to contend at times with unsaved husbands, mean-spirited parents, cranky bosses, and teachers who can’t wait for the end of the semester. Sometimes we’ll work for people we can’t stand. Or live with people who treat us cruelly. Or suffer under a government that consistently promotes evil” (Ray Pritchard). We are called to submit so we can see God with more clarity!
If the person over you is a louse, what do you do? You have many options: rebel. fight. Suffer in silence. Complain to others. Anger. Rom. 13:3 says you can live in terror! The most important thing: the attitude of your heart. Submission is not so much about what you do as it is your attitude. You submit to the one in authority in the sense that you believe God has put that person in your life for a purpose and that God’s will is being done in you in spite of that person even if you don’t see it and don’t understand it. The truth is that submission is no problem if the authority is perfect…. You want to follow. It is only a problem when you disrespect, disagree, have questions… Submission means to see the person through the lens of God, perhaps praying for the person/government, finding ways to live in peace, obeying as many bits as you can…
Here is why it is important for all of us to submit to authority when the authority is a louse: any other heart response other than submission will be focused on the negative, you will become bitter, and you will fall into the hands of Satan. By submitting, your heart is free to follow God.
A key line in this scripture is found in 13:3: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right…” Aha! Underline, circle, put in neon flashes that phrase… READ BETWEEN THE LINES… the Christians in the Church at Rome are living in TERROR. They are afraid. They are stymied. They are Zombies that need to be find freedom in Christ.
The problem with the leaders in the church in Rome is that they are a very controlling group. In a sense, they have become similar to the governmental authority that terrifies them, because they are tightly controlling who is acceptable in the circle of their church. Isn’t it amazing? Have you ever wondered why the abused child so often grows up and becomes an abuser? That’s all they know. It’s all about control. Fear does that. The leaders in the Church at Rome are picky about who they let into the inner circle because they are afraid. Sometimes when I see people micromanage their lives and are too controlled, like nothing can bother them, I wonder “who hurt you in your past.” The Romans were protecting themselves, keeping out the messy people that were not like them, they were living in terror, so they became an exclusive group ~ this is NOT the design of God. The adult children of alcoholics, I’ve noticed, live in a shell. They grew up learning to cover the hurt and the damage, the forever secret that results in a hardened exterior. Learn to be vulnerable, learn to trust. Submitting to authorities is liberating. It is freedom from terror. As the church of 2014 learns to live without fear, there will be no stopping the spread of the Kingdom of God.
Do not live in terror but boldly do what is right. The government may make many decisions you disagree with, but the government has no power to make you an unhappy fearful person ~ do what is right and God will commend you (Rom. 13:3b).
The people were living in terror and their response was to micromanage the church in order to have control. Like the person who has a bad day, goes home, and kicks the dog! What did the poor dog do? What did the people do that the Roman’s were excluding from the Church? The leaders are living in terror and taking it out on the very people they are trying to reach with the gospel, their friends.
READ Rom. 13:4-7. Just do what is right. Paul is not saying that all government authorities always do what is in the best interest of the people. God knows the bigger picture. Veggie Tales is onto something when they sing, “God is bigger than the boogie man.” It’s true: God is bigger than the government/the rules/the unjust dictators… Rather than living in fear of the authorities in your life, submit in your heart, do what is right, use the control you have within your power, within your influence, and be a loving and godly person, accept those that are searching, go forward in reaching the world for Christ in boldness.
I told you in the beginning this is about priorities… "You need to make adjustments so the car is comfortable for you, the driver," I began. "Now, what’s the first thing you should do?" Without hesitating, my daughter replied, "Change the radio station.” What’ important.
One of the problems in understanding Rom. 13:1-7 is that we read it in isolation. Randomly we are told to obey the government. I think part of the message in this scripture is don’t get stymied in your Christian walk by worrying about the government ~ be a responsible citizen and participate to the extent that you are able, pray for the leaders, obey the just parts that which is expected of you, pay your taxes, do what is right… submit, so you can be free to enter God’s Kingdom work.
What’s the main thing? The top priority? It’s not getting the right radio station! It’s not fighting the government. Don’t let anything distract…. The person who is doing what is right finds freedom… the main thing is a verse we will look at more closely in two weeks, Rom. 13:11 READ. Salvation is near. The strategy of Satan is to sidetrack us from our main focus by causing us to live in terror/fear. If we let the government, or culture, or anything else sidetrack us from this one purpose then we are giving in to Satan himself. “Salvation is Near.” may that be our rallying cry, may that be the reason we open up our church to let more and more people in, people who look different from us, people who are messy that we don’t always know what to do with, may that be the reason we go out to a hurting world that needs the peace of Christ in their lives, because the day of Salvation is near.
The reason Paul took the time to address submission to the government and pay your taxes is because the Roman Church leaders were being stymied by their fear. I imagine they had debates about the merits of paying taxes to a tyrannical government. Paul says don’t be sidetracked, just pay your taxes, do the right things, let your purpose, your identity be that which is positive for Christ, focusing on Him… Salvation is near, let that truth dictate your day, your attitudes, our church.
Submission brings freedom to emphasize what is most important: the message of salvation to a hurting world. Salvation is near, Jesus is coming very soon! May we find freedom from our fears of where our world is headed and what in the world those in authority are doing, and instead focus on Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. Amen.