20th Sunday after Pentecost October 10, 2021
1 Timothy 2:1-6
528:1-5,14-15, 339, 529, 575
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities. For no authority exists except by God, and the authorities that do exist have been established by God. Therefore the one who rebels against the authority is opposing God’s institution, and those who oppose will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to evil. Would you like to have no fear of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will receive praise from him, because he is God’s servant for your benefit. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because he does not carry the sword without reason. He is God’s servant, a punisher to bring wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore it is necessary to submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of conscience. For this reason you also pay taxes, because the authorities are God’s ministers, who are employed to do this very thing. Pay what you owe to all of them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, and honor to whom honor is owed. Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet (and if there is any other commandment)—are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, so love is the fulfillment of the law. (EHV)
You see a news report or a commercial regarding politics that upsets you. You see footage on the internet of unrest, violence, and a regime takeover in Afghanistan, or in some other area of the world. You watch a 9/11 remembrance on the 20th anniversary of those horrifying attacks on our country. What do you do next?
Do we bow our heads in prayer? “Oh Lord, thank you for the government that you have placed over us. Thank you for the privilege of paying taxes that pay for so many of the services we depend on and appreciate so much. Thank you for Your protection over us and our country and please continue to do so.”
Or is our first reaction more likely complaining, or words of contempt and dishonor to our government officials, or feelings of worry, anxiety, and concern for our safety and the safety of our country and its citizens?
We’d like to have our first reaction be that of prayer and praise to God, but all too often it is not, is it? In the chapter right before our sermon text the Apostle Paul begins this section of his letter the Roman Christians with this encouragement, “Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy and pleasing to God—which is your appropriate worship.” (Romans 12:1) A very important, yet admittedly very challenging, part of our living as a “sacrifice” to God in “worship” in our daily lives is the respect, honor, and obedience we pay to His representatives, the “governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) whom He has placed over us.
Paul begins our text with a profound truth that applies to literally everyone: “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities. For no authority exists except by God, and the authorities that do exist have been established by God.” (v. 1) God has established and delegated certain aspects of His authority at various levels and in various areas to provide an ordered structure in human society. For this reason, He places certain people in various places of authority in our homes (parents, grandparents, guardians, etc.), in our schools (teachers, principals, coaches, etc.), in our workplaces (managers, bosses, owners, etc.), in society (police officers, government officials, judges, etc.), and in church (pastors, teachers, elders, church officers, etc.). He has given us these men and women as His representatives and has given them His authority to carry out the work He has appointed them to do for the people of this world, especially His believers, His church.
Our text for today deals with the representatives God has placed over us in society as the “governing authorities.” (v. 1) Paul gives us compelling reasons as to why God has given us this command to “submit to the governing authorities,” and in doing so, also gives us compelling reasons why God has established these “governing authorities” in the first place:
Paul also gives this very profound warning in v. 2, “Therefore the one who rebels against the authority is opposing God’s institution, and those who oppose will bring judgment on themselves.” (v. 2) The implication there is not only judgment in the form of punishment from the courts according to the laws of the land, but also judgment from God on our sins of rebellion against the authorities He has established.
So why does it tend to be so difficult for us to follow God’s Word Regarding the Government which He gives us here in these verses and elsewhere in Scripture, including the 4th commandment which deals with this very topic of His representatives on earth, starting with our parents? There is no such thing as a perfect government, there is no such thing as a perfect ruler or president or governor or any other person who is in a position of “governing authority.” We may not like those who are in government over us. We may disagree strongly with their policies, with the laws they enact, and we may believe that we have very good and reasonable, common-sense reasons for thinking and feeling this way.
It takes an incredible amount of humility and trust in God to follow His command here in these verses. It takes humility to admit that we also are flawed, sinful human beings who do not always know better than those in authority over us, or that we don’t, in fact, know everything, or have all the information. It takes trust in God to remember and believe that no matter who is in authority over us, ultimately it is Jesus who rules this state, this nation, this world, and all things in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). That is why Paul includes these words in v. 5 as an important reason why we are to obey the “governing authorities:” “Therefore it is necessary to submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of conscience.” Our Spirit-led, Bible-directed conscience reminds us that we obey our earthly leaders because in doing so we are obeying God.
But we have all kinds of excuses, don’t we? “But you don’t understand how bad (insert name of government official here) is! You don’t understand how far off (insert city, state or country name here) has gotten from its founding principles!” Well, if we think it’s hard to abide by the laws and to honor, respect and obey the government that is over us, consider the political situation the original readers of this letter were in (which would have been a similar political situation during the time of Jesus’ life on this earth as well).
Listen to these words from one Lutheran professor and author:
“In the context in which Paul is writing, his directives to the Romans especially include respect for secular government. That is perhaps the more remarkable when we realize that in Paul’s day the civil government of Rome was undoubtedly totally pagan. In fact…[at the time we assume Paul wrote this letter] Nero would have been the Roman emperor—hardly a model of kind and benevolent leadership! And yet Paul says, ‘He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.’” (Panning, Armin J., The People’s Bible: Romans, p. 212. Northwestern Publishing House, 1999.)
There is, of course, one very important exception to this command from God. That is found in the words of Peter and the Apostles when they were ordered by the authorities to do something that was against God’s Word, namely to stop preaching about Jesus. But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)<> If the “governing authorities” command us to do something that is a sin or is against God’s Word and His will “We ought to obey God rather than men.” That is the only exception God gives us in His Word.
Now, that also brings us to a very important responsibility and privilege we have in our country. We have a say in our government and in the making of our laws. As President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it, ours is a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” We are truly blessed that this is the case. The government that God has established in our country is one of the reasons we are able to have the privilege of “liv[ing] a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:2) We have the powerful right and privilege to vote, to take legal action if needed, and even to peacefully protest when we object to laws or government officials. As Christian citizens we have the privilege and responsibility to stand up for things that are in accordance with God’s Word and will, such as upholding and protecting the sanctity of human life from the unborn to the aged and everyone in between.
We also have the powerful privilege and responsibility that Paul wrote about in our Scripture reading from 1 Timothy 2: Prayer! First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all those who are in authority, in order that we might live a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and dignity. 3This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4 EHV)
When we are tempted to complain, worry, or despair when we look at the leaders in our government or in the world around us let’s remember instead to pray. We can be grateful to the Lord for the blessings He has given us in our country and the blessings He has given us through our government.
Above all, let’s remember the most important factor when it comes to the laws of our country or the Law of God: Love! In the last verses of our text Paul reminds us, “Do not owe anyone anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments—do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet (and if there is any other commandment)—are summed up in this statement: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor, so love is the fulfillment of the law.
Whether it is obeying the Law of God or the laws of our land, God wants our obedience to be out of love for Him. Obviously, you and I will never do this perfectly. That should make us all the more grateful to the One who is King of Kings and Ruler of all because He did exactly that for us! And in love even went so far as to give up His life for us to pay for our sins on the cross. What a Leader we can follow wholeheartedly and whose words we can trust unquestionably! What a Savior! Amen.
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The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.