With the Coronation of King Charles, it is worth reflecting on the Christian understanding of political authority. If Christians see God as the ultimate authority, how are we to relate to earthly rulers? Both the good and the bad? Claire explores the Biblical teaching in Romans 13.
Preacher: Claire Coleman
Whose law is it?
Our title slide asked the question whose law is it?
This week has seen significant political events take place . We’ve had the local elections and we celebrated the coronation of our king.
Whatever your political standing or views on monarchy. These events took place. And there are a variety of opinions and engagement with these ruling authorities and powers.
In our passage from Romans 13, Paul is writing to the early church. Before this passage in ch12, He’s been writing about the churches conduct in the world. In ch 12v9 he writes ‘love must be sincere, hate what is evil cling to what is good.’ And in v21’ do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’. Then following on from this verse Paul writes the passage we’ve just heard read about their relationship to the governing authorities.
As we look at these verses my prayer is that we discover more about how God wants us living in the world, about how we react to and engage with the governing authorities in our world and that we discover more about our God who greatly loves us.
After the local elections this week many news articles are pointing out how people are not taking advantage of their political vote, they’re not engaging with having their voice heard or even believing their voice can be heard, with only 18-32% of people who can vote actually voting in the local elections.
In relation to the coronation A poll was done earlier this year on March 17, and of 5,133 brits surveyed -7% said they were very likely to watch the coronation, 13% said they were fairly likely, 20% said it was fairly unlikely, 38% it was very unlikely and 22% said they had no plans to watch the coronation at all. Might give some indication of people’s views on monarchy.
I wonder if we went back in time and this was repeated in the times of the early church, and in Rome, what voter turnout would’ve been like, or how many would’ve watched the crowning of the Emperor?
Whatever our political standing may be or our view on the monarchy, or whether we engage or not it is a fact that we are earthly citizens and that there are governing authorities and laws in existence.
Paul thought how the early Christian’s viewed governing authorities was important enough to write about in his letter.
God establishes rulers
The early Christians were living under Roman rule. At the time, Paul was writing the atmosphere was actually quite stable. It was Neroes early reign before he turned against the Christians and persecuted them. And yet here we have Paul talking about the Christian’s relationship to the governing authorities following on from his discourse about interacting with the world in a way that has love pitched against evil.
Paul’s opener is – submit to the governing authorities . And why? because he says there is no authority except that which God has established.
This seems to have been a common Jewish teaching and as we look back into the old Testament, we see evidence of this:
In Proverbs 8 we read – by me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just , by me, Princes govern and nobles – all who rule on Earth
Daniel chapter 2 we read ‘he changes times and seasons he deposes Kings and raises up others
And in chapter 4. ‘The most high is sovereign over the kingdoms on Earth and gives them to anyone He wishes’.
In job chapter 12 Job says about God ‘he makes nations great and destroys them, he enlarges nations and disperses them.’
There seems to be a clear understanding in Old Testament thinking that all in power have been given that gift by God. And all can have that power removed by him too.
Jesus himself before Pilate in Johns gospel says: ‘you would have no power over me, if it were not given to you from above’ (19:11).
So Paul’s conversation about the early churches relationship with governing authorities, comes from the belief and assumption that they’ve been established and put in power by God.
(Do we believe that God is our creator God who establishes and deposes leaders?)
Therefore submit to authorities
It’s because Paul views the governing authorities as being established by God that he calls the early church to submit to them. He calls them to submit Because God has entrusted them to maintain order.
Whether we think this or not laws, are often established to maintain order to prevent chaos to have structures and boundaries.
God gave the 10 commandments to his chosen people the Israelites, and the Levitical laws as ways of establishing order for the good of his people, systems that maintained fairness and justice for all. Systems that looked out for the widow and orphan, those on the margins.
In verse 3 of our passage from Romans Paul says rulers hold no terror for those who do right, meaning following the rules of the governing authorities. he goes on to say if you want to be free from fear of those in authority do what is right.
Paul says if you follow the laws of the ruling authorities, then all will be well. And punishment will come if you don’t. What do we make of that?
It’s interesting that he says submit to the governing authorities and not obey. Submit means to give over or yield to the authority of another. Whereas Obey means to comply with or follow the commands of another. There is a difference in the two.
Paul doesn’t say obey everything that your governing authorities say but he does say submit. He summarises this sentiment in verse seven, when he writes if you owe taxes, pay taxes, if revenue than revenue, if respect than respect, if honour then honour, and this is in the context of giving to everyone what you owe them
It has a ring about it of Jesus’s own words in the gospels. When he was asked about paying taxes, and he responded with these words, ‘give to Caesar, what is Caesars and God what is gods.’
What about Russia, Hitler, Polpot?
This saying of Jesus’ may help in the difficulties that we might have had when first hearing this reading. I wonder when you heard the passage read whether questions like these entered your mind – what about Putin, Hitler, PolPot or any other regime that has an example of governing authorities that can be viewed as oppressive and evil? What about Nero later on in his reign when he persecuted the early church severely? What are we to do when people clearly abuse their power?
Although Nero was fairly stable at this point when Paul was writing Romans, Surely Paul wasn’t naive to the reality of bad, leadership, bad rulers, bad powers and authorities. Rulers that abuse their power? He himself had encountered beatings even at the hand of the state. Is he asking the early church to submit to these type of rulers?
One commentator says that there are two prongs to Paul’s argument about submitting to the governing authorities. He writes that 1st believers are to willingly submit to the authorities on the assumption that they are just, and secondly, if a rulers authority derives from God, they must rule in a way that is consistent with God’s justice.
It can probably be well argued that Putin, Hitler Polpot have not lead with Gods justice.
One commentator wrote on this subject – ‘perhaps our submission to government is compatible with disobedience to government in certain exceptional circumstances, for heading the hierarchy of relations, in which Christians find themselves, is God, and all subordinate submissions must always be measured in relationship to our all embracing submission to him.’
Remember what I said at the beginning that this passage on submitting to governing authorities follows on from ch 12 – v 21 which says ‘do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’
In verse 4 of Romans 13 Paul says that the governing authorities are God’s servants for your good. And repeats this sentiment in verse six saying that they are Gods servants.
Paul is clear that those in governing authority are established by God and are also therefore servants of God. And should be governing for the good of their people. And as servants of God their rule is to be in line with God’s rule. We are to overcome evil structures with good.
There’s a phrase that gets bandied around ‘ be the change you want to see.’ As Christian’s we can respect those in authority. We can get engaged. We can submit but not obey if it’s contrary to Gods will, we can respect authority but oppose policies and regimes. Importantly we can pray that those in governing authority do lead with Gods rule of justice.
God’s law – the law of Christ
In yesterday’s coronation service the gospel reading was about Jesus, standing up and declaring what he’d come to do from Luke’s gospel and the fourth chapter. Jesus reading from the prophet Isaiah declared that he had come to give sight to the blind to set the prisoners free to care for the orphan and widow, in other words, to see justice being done.
When King Charles was given the Bible in yesterdays service, he was told that this is the Royal law, the lively oracles of God, and was commanded in his rule to maintain the laws of God. King Charles was given Spurs, and told to be an advocate for those in need and the sword he was given was to represent justice and mercy. There was a theme of being strong and keeping gods commandments walking in his ways as his reign as Monarch throughout the service and a strong sense of his authority being one of service just like Jesus.
Our title slide asked the question whose law is it? And from yesterdays coronation and from Paul’s letter to the Romans, law and rule was established by God. But Paul doesn’t just tell us who established it but also what has fulfilled it.
Love fulfils God’s law
In his conversation about governing authorities, Paul writes in verse seven, ‘give to everyone what you owe them if you owe taxes pay taxes, if revenue then revenue, if respect then respect, if honour then honour’, he goes on to say in verse eight, ‘let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.’ And then in v 10 he says ‘love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.’
One commentator writes ‘ by continuing to pay their debt of love to one another believers will give expression in their lives and behaviour to what the law of Moses sought to produce.’
Paul sites off some of the Ten Commandments saying in v9 that commands can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The command to love your neighbour as yourself comes from Leviticus, chapter 19 verse 18, where it says, do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but Love your neighbour, as yourself, I am the Lord.’
And Jesus in the new Testament summed up the law in this way when he said Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. On these two hang all the law and the prophets.’ Suggesting that it’s love that fulfills all that has come before.
Looking out for the neighbour, treating them as precious as yourself. Ensuring justice for them, is an outward sign of Gods law.
In Jesus teaching, in the parable of the good Samaritan he showed that a neighbour is any person we encounter in need.
What are we doing that shows sincere love for one another ? That seeks to address injustices we see around us?
Whose law is it? Well, according to Paul, true law is from God, and seeks justice and fairness. He is the one that establishes governing authorities and can tear them down.
Gods law is fulfilled by love as Christian’s that we can show one another – sacrificial serving love. This is how our governing authorities should be serving and how we should be serving one another.
So let’s keep praying for our governing authorities here in our town and country and also worldwide, that whether they know God or not they will govern with sincere love. May we also seek, to see where we can challenge Unjust systems and serve where there is need, and in our interactions with each other have sincere love for one another.