Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Love Your Government Neighbor
As we get into chapter 13, let?s sum up where we?ve been. Chapter 12 marks a big change in Romans?going from the theological to the practical?how do we live out what we?ve learned about God and us and God?s plan?
Chapter 12 could be summed up like this: ?The only reasonable thing to do in response to God?s mercy is to make ourselves available to God each day?to become more like Him and less like this age?as part of an organism called the body of Christ, empowered to glorify God and encourage others to experience God?s rescue plan through Jesus. We do this by loving genuinely even and especially to those who do not love us?that we should be an example of God?s love and mercy, even to our own hurt.?
In chapter 13, Paul gives us some concrete ways to put this kind of character into action in our daily lives?through our obedience to criminal and civil laws, and above all to let love be the defining characteristic of our lives, not our rights!
As we begin, remember last time we talked about whether Christians should be doormats? I said no ? but the reasoning to decide whether it is better to show love in the face of suffering was whether the situation would encourage or impede my ability to glorify God and spread the gospel. It is in that context that we look at the role of government in the life of the believer.
Submission means loyalty, and cooperation. Paul says this in the context of the mighty and cruel Roman Empire. It wouldn?t have taken much to wipe out the Christians?living as peacefully as possible means having more opportunities to spread the gospel. We don?t become ?rebels with a cause?, nor do we withdraw and cloister ourselves away?we live in a war zone, in a hostile environment, but like Jesus we engage and spread God?s love in a peaceful way so that the Holy Spirit virus infects as many as possible!
Despite what we might want to believe, God is not an American, nor is He a Democrat or Republican. But God is over all the nations, and allows them to exist under his constraints and subject to His judgment.
2 Chron 20:6 \"O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.? (Jehoshaphat)
Ps 22:28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
So how do we reconcile this obedience, what we might call ?compliance? with governments and leaders that are clearly bad? Let?s talk about that as we move on.
2 ? 5
By and large, governments exist to keep order and provide services to the general population. We should obey the laws of government because for the most part they actually uphold God?s Law. Most of the laws that exist today can trace their origins back to the Ten Commandments. Some people feel that we should have nothing to do with government and only serve the Lord. Some feel that church and state should be completely separate and never the twain shall meet. Still others act like since they are part of a different kingdom they have no need to follow the laws of this age. Others feel that we have a responsibility to be involved in government, vote, obey its laws, become involved and try to help governments serve the people.
I am of this last opinion. I am not saying that the state can bring about righteousness in people?s lives, but I believe that Christians serving in the government can make the government act more like Christ than the other way around, and that makes for better government and people more likely to come to Jesus.
That being said, there is a time when we should not obey the government?and that is when it tells us to disobey God. If a government law tells you to murder someone, you don?t do it. If a government tells you that you can no longer profess the Lord Jesus then you go right on loving the Lord, no matter the consequences.
In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin told Peter and John to stop preaching the gospel. Peter said ?We must obey God rather than men.? Personally, I think we need to make sure we are really unable to preach or worship Jesus, not just be inconvenienced. So know the Scriptures and don?t use your freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey the law!
But aren?t all governments under the control of Satan? In a way, yes. Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world if he would bow and worship him (Luke 4:7). But God is in ultimate control. Satan is doing the worst he can all the time, but he can only do as much as God allows, and God always has the bigger and better purposes in mind. Most of the time, God does not step in and wipe out evil. He lets it play itself out and eventually implode. When that happens, God then moves redemptively in the situation. The holocaust, for instance, gave birth to the nation of Israel returning their land and moving God?s prophetic timetable of His return forward.
David: was respectful of Saul, even though God had rejected Saul and anointed David as King (2 Samuel 24).
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are a good example of being peaceful, yet obedient to God, and willing to suffer the consequences for your faith (Daniel 3).
No matter how far away from God we might think a civil authority is, in punishing bad and rewarding good, they do God?s work?add to that then, the fact that our own conscience tells us it is better to obey.
So now Paul goes on to extend that to a somewhat controversial area, taxes!
6 ? 7
Back in chapter 12 verse 18 Paul says ?If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.? As Christians we should not call attention to ourselves, but to the Lord. By claiming we are exempt from supporting public servants as they try to provide for the people we are putting the focus on the wrong thing?our freedom and citizenship in heaven, rather than on the Lord.
Jesus also felt this way. Matt 17:24-27 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, \"Does your teacher not pay the tax?\" 25 He said, \"Yes.\" And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, \"What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?\"? 26 And when he said, \"From others,\" Jesus said to him, \"Then the sons are free.? 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.\"
Our responsibilities towards civil government goes way beyond just obeying traffic laws?pay the taxes you owe, pay the respect that public servants deserve, honor those who are giving their lives for the public good.
Peter also addresses this in his first letter. In chapter 2 he says ?Be subject for the Lord?s sake to every human institution.? Why? ??that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.?
The idea is?don?t detract from the gospel by fighting petty battles over taxes or laws or whether we should respect the president of the United States even if we didn?t vote for him. Don?t put the focus on you?put it on Jesus. Many people today think Christians are a bunch of rebels and that?s all they can see. Shut them up by being a compliant Christian citizen, working alongside public servants.
How does Paul sum this up? In the next verse.
8 ? 10
First of all, Paul is not saying we should never borrow money. Jesus said: (Matt 5:42) Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. What he?s saying is: pay off your debts?but there is one debt that should never be ?paid in full,? and that?s love. See, love is the real key to this. We obey because we have God?s love and we want God?s love spread around. If we love our neighbor we should have no fear of government.
I like how The Message puts it:? Don\'t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other.
By the way, his focus here is not on monetary debts, but that we should show love so don?t take this as Paul?s exposition on proper money management.
We can add something to our summation: ?The only reasonable thing to do in response to God?s mercy is to make ourselves available to God each day?to become more like Him and less like this age?as part of an organism called the body of Christ, empowered to glorify God and encourage others to experience God?s rescue plan through Jesus. We do this by loving genuinely even and especially to those who not love us?that we should be an example of God?s love and mercy, even to our own hurt because the time is short.?
Jesus is coming back soon. ?And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt 24:14)?
That?s why we need to focus on the big picture: how can the gospel spread, rather than the little picture: I don?t like the worldly people and institutions around me.
So not only are our attitudes towards those of this age vital, but so is our example to them:
12 ? 13
We don?t have time to be fooling around with sin. There is simply too much at stake. The actions we take and the attitudes we have do matter. They become part of our witness, either for or against the gospel. So how do we do this?
There is a very interesting way of translating this verse. ?Let Jesus Christ be your armor so you can stop giving attention the flesh to satisfy its desires.? We are on duty. Everything we say, think, and do matters in the war zone. We have to decide if we are going to keep dinking around, letting the flesh rule over us, or let Jesus rule and transform us and those around us!
To sum up in four words: be good, do good. All the while keep your mind on the higher purpose of spreading the gospel.
How do we respond? Remain aware of times when the gospel is threatened, then move in prayer and be active. An example for us recently was when the city where our church resides tried to zone us out of existence. We heard it straight from the staff of the city, when they said to the planning commission, ?You don?t want churches in this zone, do you?? We engaged civilly in the process and in prayer. The matter was tabled.
Bottom line?live in this age as a redemptive power, both in how you present yourself, and how you engage yourself. It still comes down to bringing God glory and spreading the gospel.