Text: Romans 13:1-7 — 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 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.
Introduction: Americans’ trust in government has hit an all-time low. But that lack of trust hasn’t always been a part of the American experience. A chart published by the Pew Research Centershows the dramatic decline. The collapse began during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which overlapped with the Vietnam War. The 1970s—thanks to Vietnam and Watergate—sped up the loss of faith in the government. After a slight resurgence during the 1980s, the trend line for the past few decades is quite clear. With the exception of relatively brief spikes that overlap with the first Gulf War and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of people who trust the government has been steadily declining. The most recent data suggests that just 24 percent said they trust the government “always” or “most of the time.” Exit polling from the midterm elections makes clear that things haven’t improved in the trust department since that Pew poll. Just 20 percent said they trusted the government to do what’s right “always” or “most” of the time, while 79 percent said they trusted the government only “some” of the time or “never.” The collapse of our collective trust in the government—and, by extension, its ability or willingness to help solve problems—has massive reverberations for politicians. They are considered less-than-honest brokers by large numbers of the American public, meaning that everything they say or do is viewed with suspicion. Sadly, this lack of trust is the new normal.
Now before we come down too hard on government employees, we have to admit that, at least on some occasions, they are known for their ingenuity and creativity. Take the two bone-weary public servants who were working their little hearts and souls out. Their department, however, was just too busy for staff to be able take some time off. But there had to be a way … That’s when one of the two public servants suddenly came up with a bright idea. “I know how to get some time off work” the man whispered. “How?” asked the second worker. Instead of answering, the man quickly looked around. No sign of his Director. He jumped up on his desk, kicked out a couple of ceiling tiles and hoisted himself up. “Look!” he said, then swinging his legs over a metal pipe, hung upside down. Within seconds, the Director emerged from his office at the far end of the floor. He saw the worker hanging from the ceiling, and asked him what on earth he thought he was doing. “I’m a light bulb. I’m a light bulb. I’m a light bulb,” answered the public servant. “I think you need some time off,” barked the Director. “Get out of here – that’s an order – and I don’t want to see you back here for at least another three days! You understand me?” “Yes sir“, the public servant answered meekly, then jumped down, logged off his computer and left while murmuring, “I’m a light bulb.” The second worker to the surprise of the director was hot on his heels. “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked. “Home. After all, you can’t expect me to work in the dark.”
Today, in our third message in the series called “Hot Topics,” I want to talk to you about the Christian and government. Given the current political divide between Democrats and Republicans, I don’t think I have to do much to convince you that this is an explosive subject with strong opinions and feelings on both sides. So, this morning, I’m going to share what the Bible has to say about government and then share with you my take on whether capitalism or socialism is better for our nation. I realize you may see it differently, and want you to know that I’m open to further discussion. Now let’s start with this:
What’s is the purpose of government? God is the one who established the concept of government (there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God) and so ultimately any government is accountable to God. He expects three things from them.
- Government is expected to punish evil.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.The government is meant to restrain evil through the threat of punishment for wrong-doing. If you murder someone, then you are going to be punished by the government for doing so. When you break a law, it is the government’s responsibility to hold you accountable for it.
- Government is expected to protect human liberty. Within the bounds of the laws, people are given the freedom to make choices for themselves. These include what kind of job to hold, where to live, whether or not to get married, how many children to have, what to do with your money after taxes and a bunch of other stuff. Government is put in place to protect these human liberties. Freedom means you get to control the choice, but because God is sovereign over all, you don’t get to control the consequences(Psalm 103:19 – The Lord has established His throne in the heavens and His sovereignty rules over all; Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men). Ultimately that’s His call.
- Government is expected to promote good.Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. This means that rulers should encourage the people to do good. In addition, Paul also calls them God’s servants for our goodwhich tells us that they should be promoting what is good in society as well. (punish evil protect human liberty and promote goodness)
What should the government expect from us? Romans 13:1is clear on this: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. Here’s how this verse is applied to us.
- We should obey the laws.Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed…Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but for the sake of conscience.
- We should pay our taxes.For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.
- We should pray for our leaders.1 Timothy 2:1-2 — 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.
- We should vote God’s values. The Bible doesn’t specifically command that government leaders should be chosen by a democratic process, but since all people share equally in the high privilege of being made in the image of God(Genesis 1:26), what reason can there be for any person to think he or she has a special right to rule over others without their consent? By electing officials, we provide a strong incentive for them to act for our good (which we just said is what they’re supposed to do). When we vote, we should cast a ballot for the party, person or platform that we believe best represents His values.
What if we don’t agree with the laws of our government?
- We can disagree(publicly and respectfully). We can share with others what we believe. We can express our opinion by voting for other candidates. We can write letters to those in office and appeal to them to do what is right.
- We can protest. When the normal channels of influence don’t work, we can resort to other measures including marches, boycotts, rallies, sit-ins. This is what brought change to America when it came to our racial divide. People marched
- We can disobey. When government commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, we may have to choose to disobey and be willing to suffer the consequences that result from our decision. Remember that the Hebrew midwivesrefused to follow Pharaoh’s orders and kill any newborn male children born to the Israelites. Danielrefused to stop praying to His God and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednegorefused to bow down and worship the image of gold set up by King Nebuchadnezzar. Each was willing to suffer if necessary, for doing what was right. 1 Peter 2:20 says, “…how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.”
What form of government does the Bible endorse? Israel had a theocracy where God ruled over His people so that there was no separation between their government and their faith. In America, we have a democratic form of government. There are others that operate based on a monarchy(One ruler – Saudi Arabia) an autocracy (dictatorship – North Korea and Venezuela), and still others that embrace Communism(China)? Which one is the right one? The Bible does not endorse one over the others. While we believe (with good reason) that democracy has great advantages, it is not the only form of government that can serve God’s purposes.
Which is better … capitalism or socialism? Capitalismis an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private ownership for profit. Socialismis a political and economic system which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange of goods and services should be owned and regulated by the government. According to a Barna poll, today more Americans think Jesus would prefer socialism (24%) than capitalism (14%). The other 62% responded neither or not sure. This poll reveals a disturbing trend. Is socialism the answer to our problems? I don’t believe so and here’s why:
- Socialism teaches that the great moral issue of our time is the unequal distribution of wealth. This is what some politicians say. They believe that the answer to pain and suffering therefore is to redistribute the wealth so that everyone has their fair share. This view, however, stands in opposition to Christianity which says that mankind’s greatest problem is sin and that salvation is found in Christ alone and not be the redistribution of wealth.
- Socialism punishes the virtue of hard work. It shares wealth with people according to their need, regardless of whether or not they work for it. This runs the risk of removing God-designed reward and consequences. It can punish those who work hard and reward those who do not by giving them what they did not earn. The Bible says, “Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness…If anyone is not willing to work, let him eat – 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 10).
- Socialism endorses stealing. President Obama once defended his socialist policies by saying to a little girl, “We’ve got to make sure that people who have more money help the people who have less money. If you had a whole pizza, and your friend had no pizza, would you give him a slice?” It sounds pretty Christian except that he wasn’t endorsing voluntary sacrificeto benefit another, but the government forcibly taking a piece of the piefrom one person (stealing) and giving it to someone else. This is acceptable because socialists don’t believe in private property despite the fact that the Bible clearly teaches it. How can the law prohibit stealing (Thou shalt not steal – Exodus 20:15) if no one owns anything?
- Socialism encourages class warfare. It demonizes the rich and blames all of society’s problems on them. Said one senator, “Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders on Wall Street and elsewhere, whose policies and greed are destroying the middle class of America.” While Scripture clearly warns the rich and powerful not to oppress the poor (Proverbs 14:31 — He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God), but simply possessing wealth doesn’t mean that they’re stealing it from the masses. In fact, the top 1% of our nation’s wealthiest are paying of our taxes! They are also creating jobs for many people. The Bible does not teach that the have nots should demand money from the wealthy, but that we should not covet and be content in our circumstances because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:12-13).
- Capitalism creates opportunities for people to increase their wealth through hard work.
- Capitalism recognizes the value of personal ownership. The whole principle of stewardship is based on the idea that people own stuff (given to them by God and to be used for His glory). Some argue that the early church was an early form of socialism because they held everything in common(Acts 2:44-45 — All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need). But this ignores the fact that people chose to sell their possessions and give them to be shared with everyone.
- Capitalism recognizes the need for wealthy people because they create the middle class by providing jobs that can support them and their families.
- Christians should influence government for good. Wherever possible, we should try to influence our local, state and federal governments in ways that promote good to everyone.
- Transformed people are necessary for a transformed society.Merely passing good laws and electing good leaders will never be enough to change society. Do not think that if a certain party gets elected that America will become a holy nation.
- Salvation is a work of God, not government.Do not put your hope in government to make a sinful people holy. Put your hope in God and in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the King of Kings.
Conclusion: Listen to this quote by C. H. Spurgeon: There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought to more earnestly contend to than the doctrine of their Master over all creation-the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands-the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne…for it is God upon the Throne whom we trust. Last week, I shared about my Venezuelan friends who are suffering under the rule of Nicholas Maduro, a very evil man who cares nothing for his people. When I questioned how they were able to maintain hope in the midst of their suffering, they answered, “Pastor Kerry. Hope does not come from the President. Hope comes from God. We know He’s in charge and we trust that in His timing, His justice will be served.” Now isn’t that a pretty good way for all of us to look at things? Thank God that He is ultimately in charge over us and He is eternally good and gracious and kind towards His children. We do not trust in government. We trust in God alone.