Romans 13:1-10 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. 6 And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. 7 Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
8 Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
You may have noticed that recently there has been a little kerfuffle at NFL games. There have been football players who have decided to sit or kneel or link arms or stay in the tunnel during the singing of the National Anthem.
I’m sure you have an opinion on their actions. Everyone does. With my grandfather fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and one of my daughters wanting to go into the military, I find the players actions disrespectful. The National Anthem and the American flag honors those who have fought and continue to fight for our American freedoms.
As Christians, we kneel at the cross; we stand for the flag.
Sadly, a lot of people do not understand that their form of protest appears disrespectful to most Americans. That’s because we have lost respect for others – not just the flag, or the President, or the government – but just respect in general.
When I teach God’s Fourth Commandment to my Catechism students, I teach them that it is about respect. God commands: “Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Martin Luther explains the Commandment in this way: “We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents or others in authority, but honor, serve, and obey them, and give them love and respect.”
Respect and love go hand-in-hand.
I teach the students that if there is an NBA team that is invited to the White House, they go. They may disagree with the President, but they go because they are to respect the office. If you get pulled over by a police officer, you may disagree with her giving you a speeding ticket, but you show her respect because of her position. When you go to a village board meeting or a meeting with your child’s teacher or make comments about public figures on social media, you do so with respect because they have authority over you.
They have been given that authority by God. St. Paul explains: “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” When we disobey those in authority, it is really disobeying God. When we don’t have respect for those in authority, it’s because we have lost our respect for God. When we don’t love those around us, it’s because we don’t have love for God flowing through us.
When we see football players kneel during the National Anthem or college students shout down a campus speaker or protestors tearing down statues or the President using foul language in speeches or on Twitter, they are only doing what comes naturally to them. What comes naturally to us. They are letting their sinful nature loose.
Dwelling within each individual is a natural-born anarchist. Our Old Adam – our inborn sinful nature – will not submit to God’s rule, and he certainly won’t submit to the rule of law. He has no king but himself. He hates order, government, submission, all the words associated with authority. This is why we see so much chaos in our country, in our homes, in our schools, within our culture – because we hate authority.
We see this anarchy at work already when one of our children’s first words is a defiant, “No!” Don’t think that we ever grow out of being that little brat. We are every bit a sinner as we were when we were little. Now that we are older, we just become more “polite” in the ways we sin.
This lack of respect, anarchy, refusal to submit to another’s authority is really a lack of love. After writing about how we Christians should submit to the governing authorities because they have been established by God, St. Paul summarizes how we act toward those in authority and others around us with one word – “love.” “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
How we love others reflects how we truly love God. And, how we love God should naturally flow into how we show love to others.
What do we mean by “love”? It’s much more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. Love in the Bible is always an action verb. It is a decision to act in a certain way. What to do and what not to do toward your neighbor. It is to help and not to hurt him. It is to build him up and not tear him down. It is to treat him the way you want to be treated. That’s what is meant by “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19). Or, as Jesus taught, “Do to others, as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).
St. Paul gives some practical examples of keeping the commandments by demonstrating love toward your neighbor. “Do not commit adultery.” You show love to your spouse or future spouse by keeping the marriage bed pure” (Hebrews 13:4). “Do not murder.” You show love by not hurting someone, but helping. “Do not steal; do not covet.” You show love by respecting the property of others. “And whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
Our natural inclination is to rebel against the governing authorities, to disrespect those around us, and love ourselves. Your love shown toward your neighbor – even those in the government – reflects the love Jesus Christ has shown toward you. But, the only way we can submit to the governing authorities, show respect to others around us, and love our neighbor as ourselves, is through Jesus.
Though the Son of God had established the governments and had authority over them, still Jesus submitted Himself to the government of His day. He obeyed the Jewish and Roman laws of His land. Though, He wasn’t Joseph’s biological Son, He perfectly honored both His father and mother as the authorities that God the Father had placed over Him. Jesus became a citizen of this world, under a less-than-perfect government. He stood before Pontius Pilate, wrongly accused of blasphemy and treason. But, He accepted the Roman governor’s death sentence.
In all of this, Jesus acted upon His love for us.
Jesus did this, not to show you what to do, but to honor, respect and love those in authority over Him … because He knew that you and I wouldn’t and couldn’t. This is Jesus’ active obedience. He perfectly and actively kept all of God’s laws in our place. He then gave that perfection of His active obedience to us – to cover over our imperfections.
God cannot be pleased with the lack of respect we show our governing authorities. When we disrespect and disobey the rule of these authorities, God gives them the right to punish us. “So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.”
The good news is that Jesus came to pay for those sins that make us deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. He faced temporal judgment at the hands of those who had temporal authority over Him – the Roman government. He endured spiritual judgment at the hands of Him who had spiritual authority over Him – His heavenly Father. He willingly accepted this judgment so that we would not have to. He gave His life for our rebellion and disrespect. He lovingly shed His blood to forever wash away the sins caused by our lack of love.
Now, as His forgiven children, God gives us government and leaders to physically bless us in many ways. St. Paul reminds us: “For government is God’s servant for your good.”
Some people call government a “necessary evil.” But, government isn’t evil. It is a “necessary good,” a gift from God to curb our sins, to keep temporal order, to provide protection, to judge disputes, to curb the anarchist in all of us, and to keep us from infringing on our neighbor’s peace and liberty. The government, whether it be good or bad; our leaders, whether they are eloquent or inflammatory; are God’s servants. They are God’s servants through whom God grants us material blessings.
God gives us physical blessings through those whom He has placed in authority over us. These are First Article gifts – clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all I need to keep my body and life. When we pray the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer of “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying for godly and faithful leaders, good government, peace and order, and faithful neighbors.
Martin Luther wrote in his Large Catechism that when we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying that God “endow the emperor, kings, and all estates of men, and especially our princes, counselors, magistrates, and officials with wisdom, strength, and prosperity to govern well and to be victorious over the Turks and all our enemies; to grant their subjects and the people at large to live together in obedience, peace, and concord” (LC III.77).
In return for these physical blessings by those in authority over us, God wants us to honor, serve, and obey them, and give them love and respect.
A lot of the issues that we are currently dealing with in our nation are caused by giving the government too little respect, while at the same time granting them more power than God gives. Having the right President or politicians is not going to force people into respecting the life of the unborn or keep people from tearing down statues or make them stand for the National Anthem.
As Christians, we love and respect those over us because we trust our God who has placed them in authority over us. We cannot change people’s hearts and make them behave as believers by enacting certain laws. But, we submit to authority because we are citizens of two kingdoms. We have “dual citizenship.” We are American citizens, praying for and supporting our governing authorities, respecting the President and honoring the flag. We are Christian citizens, preaching the gospel and forgiving sins, recognizing that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Non-Christians might assume that we Christians make terrible citizens, since we acknowledge a power higher than an earthly king and claim heavenly citizenship. The reverse is true. Scriptural Christians make the best citizens and can silence critics by honoring and respecting those in authority over us. Because we realize that God has placed them in authority over us. We honor and respect them – even if we do not like them. We honor and respect them because we love them. And, we love them because Christ first loved us. Amen.