Philippians 3:1-2 Questions

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.

  1. Have each person talk about something he/she enjoys or is a lot of fun.
  2. What does it look like for you to rejoice in the Lord?
  3. Why do we need to be told repeatedly to rejoice in the Lord? See Philippians 1:25-30 and 2:17-18.
  4. Dogs often eat garbage or dead animals, so the Jews considered dogs unclean. Read Matthew 15:10-11. What makes a person unclean?
  5. An evil worker is someone who preaches a false gospel. What is the true gospel and what are some false gospels?
  6. Read 1 Kings 18:25-29. Does cutting the flesh cause God to listen?
  7. What are some things that look religious or godly but can get in the way of you trusting Jesus?

The Weak and the Strong; Romans 14:1-4

Main Point: Our standard must be God’s welcome not personal sanctification.

It’s not unusual these days for a person to grab on to a good and helpful idea and then quickly turn militant and judgmental about it. You know the person who starts with wanting to clean out a closet and the next thing you know they’re living in a tiny house with three changes of clothes and a composting toilet. Now, I’m all for simple, the problem arises when this person begins to condemn others who don’t live in tiny houses. If you judge a person’s Christianity by the size of their house, you are in dangerous waters.

It is easy to read Romans 13:11-14 and turn extreme or militant. Wake up from your sin-slumber! Jesus is coming soon. The night is far gone and the day is at hand. Stop sinning! Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Walk properly. Live holy lives. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.

Have you heard this call, our Master’s call? The call to follow Christ necessarily includes the call to turn away from sin. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to the believer so the believer can put sin to death. We are an extreme and militant people when it comes to our sin. Maybe you have been there. You started cleaning out some closet in your heart and found some dangerous sin lurking inside. With the gospel and the Spirit’s leading you cleaned it out but didn’t stop there. You started with one closet and ended up in a tiny house with only three changes of clothes and a composting toilet. Out of the tiny window in the tiny loft in your tiny house you see other people living with closets and attics and storage buildings and you begin to judge them. Those people in those big houses can’t be Christians! If they knew the danger lurking in their closets, if they loved Jesus and were filled with the Spirit, they would live in a tiny house just like me.

Here are the dangers we must face as we live together as the church: first, after you begin to follow Jesus and put sin to death, you will be tempted to judge your brothers and sisters who don’t do life the way you do. Now, let’s be clear. It is right and good and commanded that we judge sin (1 Cor 5:12). What we are dealing with in Romans 14 are those things which you find helpful as you seek to glorify God in all of life. God does not require all Christians to do these things, they are matters of indifference, it’s just that you have found them helpful. In the context of Romans 14, we’re talking about kosher foods, religious days, and drinking wine. In some form or another, we all will face the temptation to be judgmental concerning matters of biblical indifference because we all have our preferences and we all find various things more or less helpful. Then, on the other side, after you taste Christian freedom, you will be tempted to despise your brothers and sisters who disagree with your use of freedom. In some form or another, we will all face the temptation to mock or ridicule our church. Some of us are going to be tempted to be scrupulous and judgmental. Others of us are going to be tempted to be reckless and arrogant.  What are we to do? Let’s turn to the Scripture.

Romans 14:1-12

I. God’s welcome is determinative

Do you know that word? Kids, do you know what determinative means? Marriam-Webster’s dictionary defines determinative as “having power or tendency to determinetending to fix, settle, or define something.” If something is determinative it defines who you are, and it defines what you do. Galatians 2:20 is determinative, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our union with Christ determines that we will live all of life by faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 14 we need to understand that justification is determinative. The things we find helpful for sanctification are not determinative.

  • We must make a distinction between justification and sanctification (3)

We make this distinction because God’s welcome of a person is determinative. Look at verse 3 with me. “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

Welcome is a wonderful word. It means to be brought in to the family. It means to be accepted. As you think about your brothers and sisters and the great number of decisions they will make every day, it is crucial that you look at them through the lens of justification not through the lens of those choices. God welcomes us because of our union with Christ, not because we are vegetarians, Sabbatarians, or teetotalers. Being a vegetarian, Sabbatarian, or teetotaler is fine as long as you don’t depend on those decisions for your standing with God. God welcomes you, and God welcomes your brothers and sisters, because of justification. In turn, our welcome and acceptance of one another must also be based upon personal faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Here’s the warning. Don’t make those things which help you grow in godliness the standard by which you judge if a person is a Christian or not. Make a clear distinction between justification and sanctification. And know this

  • Every Christian lives as a servant who belongs to Christ (v4)

Look with me at Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” Here’s the scenario. You walk by a home and see a servant doing something that you don’t approve. That servant isn’t washing the car, mowing the lawn, or doing the laundry the way you think it should be done. You start to scoff or fume. “What a terrible servant!” But wait a second, who do you think you are? That servant isn’t your servant. That servant belongs to another. It is so dangerous and divisive when we pass judgment on our brothers and sisters because they don’t eat, drink, or worship like we do.

I want you to see that Jesus’ ownership is determinative. You might have questions about that person’s sanctification, but has he been united to Christ through faith? Has Jesus redeemed that servant? Union to Christ through faith is determinative. Ask yourself, “Can I talk to that brother and hear his desire to live as a slave of Christ?” Maybe he won’t give up his smart phone, break all his cd’s, and maybe he made a different choice than you about how to school his children, that’s ok. Is he seeking to live as a servant of Christ? If you can establish that, then you can disagree on a lot and still enjoy fellowship together.

Let’s skip ahead to verse 8. Verse 8 says, “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

  • Every Christian lives all of life unto Christ (v8)

What we need to see, among the weak and the strong, is that all Christians possess a clear and obvious dependence upon Jesus Christ. Here we must remind ourselves of the exhaustive reign of Jesus Christ. Remember, all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16). Remember, Jesus is upholding all things by the power of his word (Heb 1:3). Remember, the Father is working all things according to the council of His will so that we Christians can bring Him glory (Eph 1:11). Remember, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Normal, basic, and weak faith is found in the person who is seeking to honor Jesus with every decision. The weak sister may have some scruples, she may struggle with some things that biblically speaking are issues of Christian freedom, but at the end of the day she possesses a clear desire to live all of life unto Christ. It’s because of Christ that she abstains. It’s because of Christ that she honors that day over another day. Welcome the weak sister because she’s a sister. Accept the scrupulous brother because he wants to live all of life for Christ.

Now, we have a hard time dealing with matters of indifference among Christians because we have wrongly tolerated men and women who are indifferent toward Christ. But remember, the problem in Romans 14 is not people who eat pork without any thought of Christ. The problem is how to deal with people who don’t eat pork because they want to live for Christ. Here’s what we have to keep in mind.

  • God makes the Christian stand (4)

Imagine the weak brothers shaking their heads in disgust as they hear of their fellow church members eating meat, not worshipping on a certain day, or drinking wine. Do those meat-eaters not understand holiness!?! Dear weak one, it is the Lord and not the diet that will cause the brothers to endure. If earlier we rejoiced over the fact that God welcomes us, now, let’s rejoice over the fact that God will cause our brothers and sisters, with whom we disagree, to stand.

Our first big truth is that God’s welcome is determinative. Now, let’s take our next major point

II. God assigns varying measures of faith

We saw this truth back in chapter 12 verse 3 concerning spiritual gifts. We are to think about our giftings according to the measure of faith that God assigns. God gives to the members varying gifts and within those gifts God gives varying strengths. Just as we all have different gifts, so also we have different strengths of faith. Some people, verse 1, are weak in faith

  • Some Christians are weak in faith

What does that mean?

The weak in faith are those who have not worked out the implications of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone. The weak are saved, but they don’t yet appreciate all that it means to be saved.

C.K. Barrett explains the weak like this, “[weak in faith] attests to a failure to grasp the fundamental principles, which page after page of this epistle emphasizes, that men are justified and reconciled to God not by vegetarianism, or Sabbatarianism, or teetotalism, but by faith alone—or, better, by God’s own free electing grace, faith being man’s recognition that all is dependent not upon himself but God” (256).

Established by faith, the weak often think that they bring Christ glory by obeying the kosher laws, avoiding any drink tainted by idolatry, and keeping the feasts. They haven’t yet grasped Colossians 2:17, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Please notice that being weak in faith is not cause for exclusion. Being weak in faith is cause for patient love on the part of the strong. Some Christians are weak and

  • Some Christians are strong in faith

Wouldn’t living together as the church be so much easier if we were all the same? If we were all weak, or if we were all strong, that would remove so many causes of frustration and judgment in the body. But in God’s wisdom he makes us to eat differently and drink differently and do holidays differently. Here’s some advice for the strong. First, be sure that what you think is ok is actually ok. Your flesh may convince you that some choice is ok when it’s actually sin. Your desires may convince you that some decision is an issue of freedom when it is not. We only have to look back to 13:13 to see that orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy are never acceptable in any form. So check yo self before you wreck yo self. Second, be sure that you are loving and not mocking your weaker brothers and sisters. Don’t invite the weaker brother over so you can argue with him. Invite the weaker brother over so you can love him and build him up. What is the one thing the stronger sister owes the weaker sister? Love; you who are strong owe love to the weak.

Here’s a good summary statement from Collin Kruse, “Strong faith, based upon a proper understanding of the gospel and the liberty it brings, frees the conscience to allow a person to eat anything. However, weak faith, based on an inadequate understanding of the gospel and the liberty it brings, will render the conscience unable to allow a person to eat anything—he or she will be unnecessarily in bondage to scruples” (Collin Kruse, 514).

What must the weak Christian do? Avoid condemning others and seek to love others. What must the strong Christian do? Avoid mocking or despising and seek to love others. Let’s look quickly at three aspects of the Christian life.

III. Justification, sanctification, and freedom

I think it will be helpful for us to camp out for a while on one single phrase. Here is the phrase, “A Christian must…”

  • A Christian must repent and believe

A Christian must repent to God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ knowing there is only one means of justification. Jesus, not what you eat or drink, is the only way to the Father. We require personal faith in Jesus Christ for membership. In our church and family covenant we commit ourselves to offer and accept no substitutes for personal faith in Christ. We welcome one another because of our shared union with Christ our righteousness. We do not welcome anyone into baptism, membership, or the Lord’s table who does not repent and believe. Justification is necessary and happens only one way, through personal repentance of sin to God and personal faith in Christ’s righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. We will accept nothing else and nothing less. A Christian must repent and believe and

  • A Christian must pursue sanctification

1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us that God’s will for our lives is that we be sanctified.

A Christian must pursue sanctification, but there are many helps for sanctification. There is only one way to come to life but once alive there are many ways to grow.

Take Scripture memory; scripture memory is an important part of our sanctification. But must a person memorize Scripture in order to be saved? No. It’s helpful for growth but not necessary for salvation.  As a church, we are starting Philippians 3 this week and it is a great time for you to get into, or get back into, Scripture memory. But let’s be careful with one another. One sister might say memorizing large portions of Scripture is the only way to go. Another sister might say memorizing a verse here and a verse there as needed for each day is the way to go. Who is right? They both are right, and neither should judge or despise the other.

The point is, there are many helps for our sanctification. Think about all the ways and places a person can pray. Think about fasting. What should you fast from and for how long? Consider the spiritual gifts and their uses in the gathered church and through the scattered church. What about Christian hospitality, financial giving, local missions and international missions? All of these disciplines are good and should find expression in each of our lives. But let’s be careful to love one another and give one another the freedom to work each discipline into our lives in a myriad of ways. So realize this,

  • A Christian must have a category for Christian freedom

Look with me at Romans 14:2, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” Then look at 14:14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.” There are people who are not going to do Christianity exactly the same way you do Christianity. They will repent and believe in Jesus like you do, but they won’t eat or drink like you do.

To put it clearly, some of you have done some things that I think are dumb. I dare even to think that I have done some things that you think are dumb. What do we do? First, we commit to love one another. Second, we need to seek biblical discernment in order to determine if that decision is sinful, foolish, or an issue of preference. We can do something foolish, but it not be sinful. Should the toilet paper roll over the top or backward and down? That’s an issue of preference. You are free to do what you want to do. I’ll love you and love will cause me to believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

Let’s take immigration reform for example. Is your opponent sinful, foolish, or just taking a different route than you? What about marriage? Are that brother and sister free to marry? If yes, you may think it’s foolish or something you wouldn’t prefer, but in the end it’s an issue of Christian freedom. Your responsibility is to love and not despise. The call to church membership is the call to carefulness.

IV. Be very careful when you judge and when you despise

  • Christian freedom will tempt you to despise your church

Stick around the church long enough and there will be weak and immature believers who make you want to pull your hair out. You’re going to disciple that group, they’ll become strong seniors, then they’ll graduate and you’ll get a group of freshman who can’t tie their shoes. Get ready to exercise the spiritual gift of patience. Not only that,

  • Sanctification will tempt you to judge your church

Christian, you are going to battle some temptation, put sin to death, and then be tempted to think every Christian has to do it the same way you did it. You defeated lust by getting rid of your computer and smart phone. That’s great! But that doesn’t give you the right to judge or view with suspicion every Christian with a computer or a smart phone. A particular doctrine is going to help you, so you will love that doctrine with a deep appreciation. Other Christians won’t share an identical passion for that doctrine. This shouldn’t cause you to question their salvation. Get ready, spiritual growth is going to tempt you to look down in judgment on your brothers and sisters. So, what should we do?

  • Major on the gospel and encourage growth

Before you judge people’s decisions or mock their carefulness talk with them about the gospel. You may disagree about that tattoo, but can you agree on the glory of God shining brightly in the face of Jesus Christ? Is there union with Christ and an expectation of His return? Then encourage growth. Don’t argue about issues of preference, labor to build him up in the faith.

I’m not here to get my way. You are not here to get your way. We are here to love one another and help one another follow Jesus. We are here to help one another follow Christ who is the way. When Christ returns let us be found faithful; let us be found loving one another because of Christ.


Put it into Practice- Romans 14:1-4

  1. In what way did God comfort, challenge, or correct you today?
  2. Read 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. How does your view of church square with this passage?
  3. Describe the differences between justification and sanctification.
  4. List a few things that are helpful for you as you live the Christian life but are not required for salvation.
  5. What are some things that other Christians do that bother you? Are these matters of preference, prudence, or biblical morality?
  6. Are you weak in faith or strong in faith? How do you know?
  7. What things do you think fall into the category of Christian freedom?
  8. Consider how you think about the church. Are you working to get your way, or are you working to help others find Christ who is the Way?

Love Fulfills the Law, Romans 13:8-10


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Main Point: Those who are righteous love.

There is a world of difference between saying “the one who loves is given righteousness” and “the one who is has been given righteousness is empowered to love.” Does love produce righteousness or does righteousness produce love? Which comes first, righteousness or love? Why do we love and where does love come from?  In order to understand our short passage today, we need to remember where we have been in the book of Romans. Here is one of our guiding truths:

II. Believing the gospel empowers obedience to the law

The gospel does not destroy the law. The power of the gospel enables us to keep the law. Remember,

  • God expects obedience and punishes disobedience
    1. The goal of the apostles’ ministries was to bring about the obedience of the faith (1:5)
    2. We are told, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (1:18). It is the doing of things that brings judgment and death (1:32; 2:3, 6).
    3. All of Romans chapter 2 is a summons to obey the law or suffer the consequences of disobedience. The law matters but,
  • Obeying the law cannot justify a sinner
    1. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin (3:20).
    2. The law brings wrath (4:15) and the law increases the trespass (5:20).
    3. Romans 9 warns against trying to earn righteousness by keeping the law (9:32). 10:4 puts it plainly, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Righteousness by obedience does not work. Only righteousness by faith works. Christ has worked for us, so Christ is the end of the law as a means of gaining righteousness. But this does not mean righteousness, obedience, or law keeping are inconsequential.
  • The gospel transforms us for obedience

Here is the big picture. The gospel is not simply something we believe. The gospel is the power of God by which we are empowered to live life God’s way. Let’s work through the details.

If God requires righteousness according to the law, but the law cannot secure that righteousness, where does righteousness come from? Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Those who trust in the righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Christ for righteousness are credited with righteousness. We are justified, or declared righteous, because of faith in Jesus Christ not because of loving or any other act of law keeping. Justification is a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Justification is not a wage we earn by keeping the law. Romans 3:28, “We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Because of Jesus’ righteousness given to us by faith, we are declared righteous.

The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes the gospel (1:16). Keeping the law cannot save. Those who believe the gospel are credited with righteousness not those who keep the law (4:16, 24-25). Salvation is received it is not earned. Righteousness is given to us it is not a mark attained by us.

A problem arises when we think about the gospel like it’s a starter and nothing more. It is more accurate to think about the gospel in terms of a starter and fuel. Put the key in your car’s ignition, or push the button, and that closes the circuit and causes the starter to fire. This is the gospel as ignition system. The gospel brings it all together, fires the starter, and gets everything going. But is that all? Does the gospel sit there like a paper weight after you have been born again? Is going back to the gospel like trying to start an already running car? No, the gospel is the starter and the fuel of the Christian life. The love of the Father, the cross and resurrection of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit start the Christian life and fuel the Christian life. Romans celebrates the fullness of the gospel. The gospel starts the Christian life and empowers the Christian life.

What I mean is some of you are overwhelmed and crushed by Christianity because you are trying to push a dead car. The law demands that the car gets from point A to point B. The law demands love God and love neighbor. You set out to obey the law in order to earn your salvation; you start pushing the car. Sometimes it’s easy. The car rolls down hill and you love God because life is good and you love people because they do what you want them to do. But then the car shifts from the downhill-easy to the uphill-hard. God is not easy to love, and people are not easy to love. You push and push and push because you want to measure up and earn your standing with God. Eventually momentum will turn and that car you are pushing uphill is going to overpower you and run over you. You’re going to hit the point where loving God and loving neighbor are impossible in your own strength. Enter the power of God in the gospel that starts the car and fuels the car so you can run uphill and downhill. The gospel enables us to love and empowers us to love. The gospel does not merely provide salvation and justification; the gospel provides the ability to obey God’s commands.

The gospel restores us to life with God. And restored to God we are able to turn away from selfish-sin and live lives of love. “God help me to love” should be a regular prayer of the believer. “Holy Spirit give me the strength to love,” should be often on our lips.

So, Jesus earns or secures God’s love for us and the Holy Spirit is the person who delivers God’s love to us. Empowered by God’s love, secured through Christ and delivered through the Holy Spirit, we have peace with God. Not by works of the law but because of the gospel, we stand firm, rejoice in sufferings, endure, and we live lives of character (5:1-5). It is God’s love for unworthy sinners, delivered by the Holy Spirit, which empowers us to love the unworthy sinners around us. It is the gospel that gives us justification and life (5:18).

Romans 6 makes the explicit point that our union with Christ provides the power to live new lives of holiness. United to Christ, empowered by the Spirit, we present ourselves to God as instruments for righteousness (6:13). Christians obey God because we have been restored to life with God. Romans 6:17 goes as far as praising God because Christians, once united to Christ, become obedient from the heart. We are joyful slaves of righteousness.

This means we must understand the law from two different perspectives. On one hand, you have to view the law from the perspective of the unregenerate. The law crushes the unregenerate  with its demands, the law condemns us with its authority, and the law stirs up more sin (read chapter 7). The command to love God and love neighbor crush and condemn those who do not have the Spirit. On the other hand, from the perspective of the regenerate, the law guides us. Empowered by the Holy Spirit we are freed and empowered to love God and neighbor. The law crushes the non-Christian and guides the Christian. We must be exceedingly careful that we use the law appropriately. We do not love one another in order to earn our salvation. We love one another, we obey the law, because we have already been given salvation.

Listen to how John Stott explains it, “Love and law need each other. Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration” (Stott, John. pp. 349-350).

That’s our introduction to Romans 13:8-10. Let’s stand and read our text (Romans 13:8-10).

We are a redeemed people, justified in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to love. When we present ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, we are committing to loving one another in humility and with the full force of our spiritual gifts. In this same vein, we love genuinely; hating the evil and encouraging the good. What Paul writes in 12:9-13:7 prepares us for verse 8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

II. We owe one another a perpetual debt of love (8)

Some have taken this to mean you cannot ever borrow anything or you cannot ever be in debt to anyone. John Piper said that Romans 13:8 was George Mueller’s reason for not going into debt as he built orphanage after orphanage. It is wise to avoid debt. Proverbs 22:7 says that the borrower is a slave to the lender. The question is, does Romans 13:8 mean don’t get a mortgage or buy a washing machine on credit? I don’t think so because of two main reasons. First, from verse 7, we are constantly in debt owing honor, respect, revenue, and taxes. This debt is not a sin. I wish that it was enough to only pay taxes one year and then be done for ever, but this is not the case. After we pay our taxes on April 15 we enter back into debt on April 16. This debt is not wrong. Not paying the debt is wrong. We have debt which is not wrong. Second, from Matthew 5:42, Jesus tells us, “do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” Jesus says, “let people borrow money and be in debt to you.” Is Paul contradicting Jesus? My understanding of the unity of God’s Word leads me to say no, there is no contradiction. Here’s the point

  • Pay what you owe

Paying what you owe is an act of love. R.C. Sproul says, “If we borrow our neighbor’s rake and do not return it, we are failing to love our neighbor” (Sproul, R. C. Romans p. 462). Go into debt slowly and carefully then get out of debt as quickly as possible.

Don’t be conformed to this world. Don’t lust after the things of this world. Don’t go into debt you cannot pay to buy things that will waste away. Make a budget that honors the Lord and get out of debt. Resources like Crown Financial, Financial Peace, and The Money Challenge by Art Rainer will get you started. Pay what you owe, and we owe one another love.

  • We have an obligation to love

Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other.” You should pay off your credit cards, mortgage, car loan, and tax bill, but you can never pay off your obligation to love your neighbor.

Think about God. God is love. God never stops loving. God has always and will always love. We were made in the image of God for the purpose of loving God and loving neighbor. God defines love and when we love we show people what God is like. This obligation to love, this debt of love, will never run out. For all of eternity we will be gladly and joyfully and fruitfully loving one another. Love never ends. Today, we are called to continually make payments according to the obligation of love we owe one another. We love because God is love and we are being transformed into his image. But there is more

  • Those who love fulfill the law

This point is why we spent so much time sorting out the law and its commands with the gospel and its power. Romans 13:8 says, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Remember, we don’t obey the law in order to earn righteousness or salvation or love. Since we are loved, made righteous in Christ, and given the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to love. By the free gift of God, we are empowered to obey the commands of God. We are not a people set free to make it up as we go. We are a people set from selfishness and sin so that we can love everyone as we go. So,

  • Obey God’s law by loving

What is the most important thing that needs to happen in this worship gathering today? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. What is the most important thing that needs to happen tomorrow when we go to work? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. What is the most important thing for us to do when we go home, go to the grocery, or go out into our neighborhoods? We must obey God’s law by loving him and loving one another. This guy, who is loving well, is doing what God requires. This girl, who is loving well, is doing what God requires. That guy, who is selfish and angry, isn’t being led by the Spirit or maybe he doesn’t even have the Holy Spirit. Loving is what God’s people do. And remember, your love for your neighbor does not make you righteous. Your love for your neighbor demonstrates your righteousness. The fruit of the Spirit is love and against such things there is no law (Gal 5:22-23). But notice that love is not whatever we want to do

  • God defines love

Paul, like Jesus, points us to the 10 commandments to demonstrate what God requires of his redeemed people. The 10 commandments tell God’s people how to live, and love is the unifying theme. Love for your neighbor keeps you from committing adultery. Love for your neighbor keeps you from murdering. Love keeps you from stealing and love keeps you from lying. Love protects marriages and families. Love protects life, property, and the truth. But coveting? Really? I understand why love keeps me from committing adultery, killing people, stealing, and lying but coveting? If I stand in my house, peek out of my blinds, and covet my neighbor’s things what harm is that to him? He will never know!

It is a terrible lie from the pit of hell that my sin will not hurt other people. Think about coveting, wanting what someone else has. If I am jealous of you, if I want what you have, it is highly unlikely that I will give you what you need. I’m not going to serve those I envy. And this is love; love is giving what is needed regardless of the worth of the recipient. If I am jealous of my neighbor and allow that jealousy to turn to bitterness it is highly unlikely that I will love and serve my neighbor.

Look at the end of verse 9, “all the commandments are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Do you want your neighbors to hate you and curse you and wish you evil because you have a job, a house, a car, a spouse, or a swimming pool? Do you have a job, and do you love your neighbors? Share your income and your abilities and your influence with your neighbors. What do you have and what do you enjoy? Love your neighbors by sharing it with them. This is true from the greatest love, your love for God, to the smallest pleasures like a good poem or a good fishing lure. The opportunities to love well are everywhere. Here’s our final verse, verse 10, “Love does no wrong to your neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” This is what love does.

III. Love fulfills the law (10)

Love leads to obedience in two ways.

  • Love fulfills the law by doing no wrong

Love your neighbor by paying your taxes, fleeing sexual immorality, putting off anger, not stealing, telling the truth, and not being jealous. Love does no wrong. Some of us may need to start there today. We need to start loving our brothers and sisters, coworkers, spouses, children, neighbors, parents, and fellow members by stopping the wrong. We love our parents when we stop being disrespectful. We love our government when we stop cheating on our taxes. We love our church when we stop gossiping. What evil thing are you doing that is harming the people around you? Love fulfills the law by doing no wrong and

  • Love fulfills the law by doing good

Imagine if God defined love simply doing no wrong, “For God so loved the world that he left us alone.” That would be our damnation! But that’s how many of us choose to love our neighbors; we simply do them no wrong while leaving off the requirement to do them good. Galatians 6:10 tells us, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We should be the most creative as we lovingly honor our parents, honor our government, and build up the church. What positive thing can you do as an act of love for the people around you?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (John 3:16). God demonstrated his love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do (Rom 8:3). He sent Christ to make us righteous. He gave us the Holy Spirit to enable our love. This is our high and holy calling- love your neighbor as yourself. Those made righteous by faith in Christ are enabled to love and those who love fulfill the law.

Prayer- God help us to love. Holy Spirit, give us the strength to love. We pray for those among us who are overwhelmed by the commands of the gospel. We know there are husbands and wives here today who are struggling to love one another. There are children here who are growing bitter towards their parents. There are church members who we find difficult to love. Love us o God. Forgive us and empower us to fulfill the law. Show us the glorious gift of our salvation so that we become generous givers.

We pray for the unity of this church. As we gather to pray tonight, give us unity. As we gather this week to share the gospel with our children and neighbors, give us unity. As we seek to build a building, give us unity. Make us the most loving people in this community. Make us like you.

Romans 13:8-10; Discuss

  1. Does love produce righteousness or, does righteousness produce love? Why does this distinction matter?
  2. In what ways have you been living in disobedience to God’s laws?
  3. As you seek to obey God’s laws, where is the strength to obey coming from?
  4. What problems arise when you think about the gospel as something that relates only to the beginning of the Christian life? How does the gospel work as fuel in the Christian?
  5. If a person believes that God only loves people who are worthy of love, what standard will that person use when determining who to love?
  6. Do you agree with the following statement? The law crushes the non-Christian but guides the Christian?
  7. Why does love fulfill the law?
  8. Why is coveting your neighbor’s things evidence of a lack of love?
  9. What wrong thing are you doing? How does the gospel empower you to repent?
  10. What good thing are you struggling to do? How does the gospel empower you to do good?

The Christian and the Government, part 2

This is the second sermon I preached recently from Romans 13:1-7. Again, I want to point you to Jonathan Leeman’s book, How the Nations Rage…

Last week we took some time to think about authority. Looking at Romans 13, we see that God is sovereign over all authority. It doesn’t matter if you’re in North Korea or North Dakota, God rules over all rulers. God rules over the kingdoms of men and gives authority to whomever he wills. Authority was a part of God’s good creation, so authority is not inherently evil. Government does not have to be bad. Authority was put into creation by God to provide structure and order. Government is called by God to uphold justice and provide safety so that the gospel can advance quickly. Safe streets aid the spread of the gospel.

What we want from government, what we labor to realize in our government, is for the authorities to commend those who do good and punish those who do evil. So, yes, government is inherently moral upholding what is good and prohibiting what is evil. The question is who determines what is good and what is evil? Either we will look to God to define good and evil or we will attempt to define good and evil for ourselves. The basic goods of life, marriage, work, and property rights should be honored by government. If you abuse or kill one of God’s image bearers, you should be punished. Marriage is one man and one woman for the flourishing of families. If you take someone else’s things you should be judged. If you expect others to work so you don’t have to, you should not receive honor. Governments should protect these good things while seeking to punish what opposes them.

So, the big picture is that God establishes authority and government for the good of the citizens. We are going to develop that point just a little more and then look at how to engage with government, both good and evil.

Read Romans 13:1-7

  • See government as a servant and minister

We should seek to do what is good and receive the praise of the one in authority because, verse 4, he is God’s servant for your good. The phrase is repeated in the middle of verse 4, the one in authority is the servant of God. The proper use of authority, commending good and condemning evil, causes governments to function like a servant to its citizens. Think about hunting regulations. It is unjust to cause citizens to starve by refusing them access to animals for meat. It is also unwise to allow citizens to kill as many animals as they want and thereby destroy a food source. A good government will serve its citizens by making and enforcing regulations that allow people to eat while refusing to let its citizens take too much. The government serves the people. But notice the one in authority is not just a servant, he is also a minister.

Verse 6 calls the authorities ministers of God. The one in authority is established by God, a servant, and a minister of God. God is ruling over all authority and good governments are like a faithful steward ministering to the needs of the people. A faithful steward labors to use the resources at his disposal for the good of others. Evil governments are like evil stewards who exploit and abuse the people. The mentality we want in our authorities is one of a steward or servant. The authority given to these men and women does not belong to them or originate from the consent of the people. Authority is given by God and must be stewarded faithfully. When a government uses its authority properly, serving its people and keeping them safe for gospel advance, there can be great blessings.

But, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the government is all praise and service. We should see government as servant and minister, but we should also

  • See government as executioner

Look back at verse 4. “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 wrong-doer.” This takes us back to Noah and Genesis 9. After the flood, the creation mandate is repeated, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. What is added is the requirement of life for life, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Murder is an attack on the image of God and is to be punished with the sword.

One of the purposes of the government is to protect citizens by rightly punishing evil, namely, the evil of murder. God has ordained government to serve its citizens and protect the peace by the just use of capital punishment. In this sense, government becomes God’s instrument of vengeance. Capital punishment is not the victim’s wrath, or the governor’s wrath, but God’s wrath. Here we see that the church must influence the government. The proper and careful use of capital punishment should be our concern.

At this point it is helpful to compare the civil government and the church. The civil government has the sword and the church has the keys. The civil government upholds justice and executes those who destroy the image of God. The church upholds righteousness and excommunicates those who claim to be Christians but refuse to follow the Son of God. Awful, wicked, and terrible things happen when the church tries to use the sword and when the civil government tries to use the keys. Awful, wicked, and terrible things happen when the civil government refuses to use the sword justly and when the church refuses to use the keys faithfully.

Let’s apply these principles. Imagine a church member is being abused by her non-Christian husband. What do we do? We pray, call the police, and we provide a safe place for her to stay. We seek to do good. We pray for him to be saved. We love her and protect her and provide for her. We visit him in prison and share the gospel with him. We encourage her and hold her up and help with the kids and love them well.

Now, imagine two church members, husband and wife, no one knows abuse is happening until the police show up and she has been killed. You might want to kill him, but you don’t have the authority. The government should punish the evil doer with the sword of execution. This act honors the image of God in woman and warns other husbands who would abuse their wives. We, the church, do not bear the sword but we do bear the keys. In grief and sober-mindedness we would call a members’ meeting and use the keys to remove him from church membership.

Two weeks ago I told you that one of the ways we overcome evil is by calling the police. In a just government, the authorities uphold justice and provide safety so it’s citizens can flourish physically and spiritually. Government provides the safe roads for the gospel to travel on. Or at least governments should provide safe roads where the gospel can advance.

Let’s summarize with verse 5, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

  • There are two good reasons to submit to government
    1. To avoid God’s wrath

God instituted government. To go against government is to go against God and invite his wrath. Every act commanded by a government that is not sinful should be done. God will hold the disobedient accountable. The first reason to submit is to avoid God’s wrath. The second reason to submit is

  1. For the sake of your conscience

It is an awful existence to constantly fear getting caught or being punished. Is today the day I get caught? Is today the day I get punished? Well, what’s the answer? Obey God and wherever possible obey those in authority. I hope by now you are growing in your biblical appreciation for government. What we want to do now is move

II. Toward a Christian engagement with authority

Read Romans 13:6

  • Fulfill your financial responsibility to government

We have already seen that government comes from God. Governments should be servants and ministers to the needs of the people. Its citizens should pay taxes in order to support the work of the government. For the sake of conscience, pay taxes. We want to finance the work of servants and ministers. We want to support what God institutes. And we want clear consciences. So, pay your taxes. They need taxes, they have the authority to collect taxes, so pay taxes.

But God’s expectation doesn’t stop with giving Caesar’s coins to Caesar. Look at verse 7 (read it)

  • Give appropriate respect and honor

Pay to all what is owed. Pay up. Pay your debts. Pay your tax debt. Pay your revenue debt. Pay your debt of fear or respect. Pay your debt of honor. We should not be surprised by income tax, property tax, or sales tax. Knowing the extent of our fall into sin, we should not be surprised by the misuse of tax money. Where we can, we should labor for the just and fair use of tax money. Concerning taxes, if you owe it, pay it. If you don’t owe it, don’t pay it. Pay taxes to whom taxes are owed.

Things get a little more uncomfortable when we move past paying taxes and revenue to paying respect and honor. Respect is literally fear and points us back to fearing the government that carries the sword in order to punish wrong doers. When citizens no longer fear the consequences of murder, that city, state, or nation has rejected God’s purposes and is in a terrifying position. We should give respect or fear to those authorities to whom we owe respect or fear.

We are also called to give honor. 1 Peter 2:17 says, “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” We are called to honor that which is honorable and we honor someone when we rightly understand and appreciate that person’s value or status. Government has been instituted by God and is therefore worthy of honor. We should appreciate the value or status of governing authority. How do we do that?

  • How do we show respect?

The most basic ways we respect or fear the government is by paying taxes and obeying its laws. Give Caesar his coins and be worried that you’ll get punished for doing evil. Pay your taxes and drive the speed limit. Buckle your seat belt, buy a fishing license, and don’t kill people. Respect.

  • How do we show honor?

How should we recognize the value or status of those who govern us and are instituted by God? Some might say, “We should never honor or value government because all authority is evil.” But this is not the Christian worldview. One of the most basic ways we honor the government is by not thinking ourselves above the law. You might think a law is foolish, wasteful, or even down right dumb but as long as obeying that law does not cause you to sin, you should show honor and obey. It is right for us to do things that demonstrate respect and honor toward government.

I believe one way we can show respect and honor is by the placement of the flags in this room. Now, it has to be said up front that we are not required to have flags in this room. It would certainly be simpler not to have them. But they are here. How should be think about them?

Occasionally someone will ask about the placement of flags in this room. Flag etiquette says the flag of highest honor should be on the preacher’s right hand. Our government states that the flag of the United States of America should hold the place of highest honor. But I ask you, “Whose kingdom holds our greatest respect? Whose authority do we fear over all? Is it the temporary kingdom of the USA or the unending kingdom of Christ? Ultimate fear, honor, and allegiance belong to Christ. We can show honor and respect. We are on US soil and most of us are US citizens. We are not anarchists. But our ultimate allegiance is to King Jesus not President Trump. When we must choose between God’s definition of good and the Supreme Court’s definition of good we side with God. Should we have flags in the worship gathering of the church? It would be simpler not to. If we do, the flag of the kingdom of Christ will stand in the place of honor over the flag of the kingdom of men. We can show honor, but we will never give to man what belongs to God.

Now, last week I said we would try to tackle the question of evil governments. What should we do about wicked governments that terrorize good and commend evil? Here is the simple answer from Romans 12:21, when evil governments rise

  • Do not be overcome by evil

To be overcome by evil means to retaliate and repay evil with evil. To be overcome by evil means to give in to or capitulate to evil. When the government is evil don’t be overcome by evil. Don’t give in and go along. It is helpful here to remember the book of Daniel. Last week I reminded you that Daniel was written when the people of God were exiled from Jerusalem and ruled by wicked pagan kings. God reminded them repeatedly that all authority, all rule, is established by God and given by God to whomever he wills. At the same time Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to follow the evil command to bow down to the idol. Daniel refused to follow the evil command to pray only to the King. The three young men would not bow down and Daniel kept praying.

In Acts 4, the council of Jewish priests and Sadducees ordered Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Here is their answer, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Peter and John disobeyed, went out, and kept speaking and teaching in Jesus’ name. Peter and John understood the consequences, they told the rulers to do what they had to do. Nevertheless, Peter and John knew what God had told them and they chose to obey God (Acts 4:18-20).

The same thing happens in Acts 5. You guys better stop preaching and teaching in Jesus’ name. Listen to their answer, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). When I was talking with Pastor Aaron about this he made a great point. There is a distinction between submission and subjection. Submission means we place ourselves under the authority of the government and do our best to obey what God would have us obey. Subjection means the government places us under it’s authority and we cannot do anything but obey. Christians are in submission not in subjection, come what may. Do not be overcome by evil. Do not give in. Instead,

  • Overcome evil with good

We need to be consistent and thoughtful concerning God’s call to redeem all of creation. The curse of sin has not just infected our souls, minds, and bodies. No, the curse of sin has infected government. Part of our work of redemption is the work to redeem authority.

1 Peter 2:15-16 says, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God.” Live as servants of God. Live as people who seek to establish just and fair government. We have not been given freedom for our own self-preservation. We have been given freedom to do good. So, get involved in government in order to overcome evil with good. Vote in ways that seek to overcome evil with good. May God see fit to raise up and empower pastors and politicians from our number. May each one of us seek to do good, however that looks.

We must break through the walls of pride. The love and justice of our God should not be locked inside. We humbly take the good out in to the public square. Doing good means creating new ways to share God’s love with every race and land. Doing good means being aware when our neighbors are grieved by injustice. Weep with them and seek redemption. Until Jesus returns we will be blessed by or persecuted by government. At his return let us be found faithful submitting to government and overcoming evil with good.

The Christian and the Government, part 1

This is the first of two sermons I preached from Romans 13:1-7. The audio differs from the manuscript at some points in application and delivery but not in content. I also want to point you to Jonathan Leeman’s book, The Nations Rage. I found it a great help in sorting out God’s will for the Christian and the government….

It is possible that someone has advised you not to discuss religion or politics in polite company. Now, as Christians, we are called to be polite. We are a people who bless and do not curse. We are a people who refuse to repay evil with evil. Instead, we seek to overcome evil with good. There is no room for meanness or nastiness in a Christian’s conversation. So, of all people we should be polite as we seek the greatest good. We should also be a people who seek to understand and obey all of God’s Word. This means that as polite Christians we are going to look at Romans 13:1-7 and talk about religion and government. We will see that God has a role in government, government has a role in our lives, and we have a role to play in government.

Now, I’ve been saving the following quote from Roger Deeds for over a year. Roger Deeds is the sheriff of Hood County and he said the following in connection with the 2016 crime report. Looking back at 2016 Sheriff Deeds said, “I’m glad to see burglaries down from last year and no murders at all. As for the violent crimes such as assaults, we do our best to make people behave, but we can’t be everywhere.”

What’s the role of the Sheriff’s Department? What are they trying their best to do? They are trying their very best to make people behave and behave is defined as don’t steal from one another, don’t kill one another, don’t assault one another, and don’t abuse one another. The role of the government is to ensure the safety of it’s citizens and punish those who do what is dangerous. When a government upholds justice it’s citizens are free to work and worship.

I will tell you upfront that this is going to be a two-part sermon. Keep those notes and bring them back with you next week. The plan is simple. We are going to work through Romans 13:1-7 and seek to understand what God is saying about himself, government, and citizens. Next week we will finish up our study then talk about different scenarios such as paying taxes and how to respond to an evil government.

Let’s begin. Romans 13:1-7

I. Toward a Christian appreciation for authority

We live in uncertain times (just like every person who has ever lived). Some of us have put too much hope and trust in the government so I’m going to try and move you to a more God-centered understanding of government. You may be in the camp of putting too much stock in government if the first identifier you use for yourself is Republican, Democrat, Conservative, or Liberal. You may be in danger of making Uncle Sam your messiah. Others of us don’t put enough hope or trust in government. I’m going to try to move you to a more God-centered understanding of government. You may be in this camp if the first identifier you use for your self is Revolutionary, Rebel, or Anarchist. You may be in danger of making your autonomy your messiah.

Romans 13:1 addresses the anarchist first, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” To put it simply,

  • We are called to submit
    1. The citizen submits to the government
    2. The church member submits to the church and its elders (Eph 5:21; Matt 18:15-20; Heb 13:17)
    3. The elder submits to the other elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 4:16)
    4. The prophet submits to the prophets (1 Cor 14:32)
    5. Servants submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18)
    6. Children submit to parents (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20)
    7. Wives submit to husbands (Eph 5:22)
    8. Husbands submit to Christ (1 Cor 11:3)
    9. The Son submits to the Father (John 5:30)

Submission is not inherently evil but a part of order; there is a whole lot of submission going on. Where did it come from? Sin and the fall did not introduce authority. God, who made us to bear his image, created with authority built in. Authority, dominion, and rule are built into creation as a reflection of the image of God.  So, we might not like it, but we should not be surprised to hear Romans 13:1, “Let every person, let every soul, be subject to the governing authorities.” And Romans 13:1 is not alone.

Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.”

1 Peter 2:13-14, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” Submission is no unusual command.

One of the hardest things to do when reading Romans 13:1-7 is to think like a Christian first and like an American second. Remember, Romans wasn’t written first to Americans. The Letter to the Romans was written to a group of Christians in Rome who had little to no rights. Nero was emperor and, for the time being, he was nice Nero. Nasty Nero is coming, widespread persecution is coming, but for the time being persecution was at the local level. Paul experienced local level persecution when there were riots and beatings and escape plans. Think biblically, Paul is writing these things knowing that it was the Roman government that crucified Jesus. Paul is writing these things with aching scars on his back given by the whip of Roman magistrates. Paul isn’t writing in the wake of a supreme court decision upholding religious freedom.

Think about this verse from a different angle. Romans 13:1 applies in North Korea as much as in North Dakota. Romans 13:1 applies in China as much as in Cleburne. Come back next week when we sort out the differences. Today we need to bring all governments together under God. It’s not one nation under God, it’s all nations under God.

Verse one tells us not only to submit but we are also told why we should submit. “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.” Why do we submit?

  • We submit because of God

This is the place in the sermon where we make taffy with our practical understanding of God’s sovereignty and providence. We try to comfort ourselves by saying God is responsible for just governments; he is behind that. But God is not responsible for unjust governments; he is not behind that. But this is not the case. There are no governing authorities except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God. God is just as responsible for Barak Obama as he is for Donald Trump. God is just as responsible for Abraham Kuyper as he is for Adolph Hitler. If you look at one president and say “God did that” but look at another president and say, “But God didn’t do that” you are wrong. God is in control of all authority.

Let’s do a little biblical survey

Daniel has the most pronounced statements about God’s sovereignty over the rulers on earth. Daniel was written while God’s people are in exile, ruled by an idolatrous king. When God’s people are at one of the lowest points, under one of the worst pagan rulers, we read this, “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan 2:21). “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.” That truth is repeated three times (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32). Look at King David; God did that. Look at King Nebuchadnezzar; God did that.

Psalm 2 asks, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’”

The nations and kings and rulers try to do away with God and go their own way. Governments try to use their God-given authority for their own ends, but God holds them accountable. Africa rages against God. America rages against God. And God rules over the raging nations. Let us be mature in our understanding. God doesn’t always rule the way we want him to rule and he doesn’t terrify evil rulers as quickly as we want him to terrify them, but part of God being God is that he does what he wants, not what we want. God is the authority over all authority.

Think about Jesus’ trial and how he responds to Pilate the Roman authority. After beating Jesus, Pilate says, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Listen to Jesus’ response, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” Where did Pilate’s authority come from? Jesus and Romans 13:1 tell us Pilate’s authority, all governing authority, is from God.

So, whether you are in China or Cleburne, North Korea or North Dakota, look past those governing authorities to the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 17:14; 19:16). God rules all rulers.

We submit to governing authority because it is God who has ordained authority. Let’s get back into Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” The government will punish you for not submitting. God will punish you for not submitting. Now, some of us do not like what we see in God’s Word. It makes your skin crawl. It makes you fume. It makes you want to vomit or weep or scream or fight. But stay with me. This is no endorsement of Pharaoh’s law to kill all the Hebrew boys or Nebuchadnezzar’s law to worship the idol. Used correctly, Romans 13:1-7 does not endorse evil or endorse the abuse of citizens. This is not an unconditional call to submit and be overcome by evil. I’m asking you to stay with me.

Let’s recap. Authority is not bad in its self. The use of authority determines if it is good or evil. God has ordained authority. Our default is to submit unless the command of man causes us to disobey a command of God. To resist authority is to resist what God has appointed and therefore incur judgment. Throughout history rulers have tried to use these verses to defend submission to evil or unjust commands. But notice,

  • God’s intention is good authority

Look with me at Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” It is a dangerous oversimplification, but I’m going to summarize the purpose of government authority. Governments should exist to establish justice so that all citizens can be safe and the gospel advance. 1 Timothy 2:1-6 directs us to pray for kings and all who are in high positions. We pray for those in authority knowing that God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. What is the connection between government and people being saved? We pray for those with governing authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. We pray for stable governments whose upholding of the good provides smooth paths for the gospel to run on. We want governments to secure safety and enforce justice so that the gospel can advance more rapidly.

It’s sounds simple, but it is important. Roger Deeds working so that you are safe from being killed or abused helps advance the gospel. It is a great blessing that we can sleep at night and invite neighbors over to share a meal without having to post an armed guard. Many Christians, right now, do not have the blessing we enjoy. For the advance of the gospel, we want those with murderous plans to fear the government and not murder. We want those with plans to steal to fear the government and not steal. We want parents who would beat their children to fear the government and not abuse their children. We want husbands to fear the government and wives to fear the government and thereby be encouraged to love one another and not abuse one another. God’s intention is for government to establish order and punish evil such that people who want to do harm are fearful. We should all have a healthy fear of good authority.

Take the highway patrol for example. If you make a habit of speeding, driving at a speed deemed dangerous, and you pass a highway patrol, you should fear. That’s a good thing. Government should cause those who do evil to fear. But what precisely should those who engage in bad conduct fear? Verse 4, government does not bear the sword in vain. God has ordained government to punish the evil doer. And God has ordained government to punish the evil doer in such a way that the punishment rightly reflects the evil and danger of the crime.

Again, I will admit, there has been much evil committed by those in authority. And, we must strive to overcome evil with good. We must listen to victims and seek to punish those who would abuse authority; especially when that abuse is committed by those with authority. But the misuse of authority does not make all authority inherently evil. What we must understand is that all authority is inherently dangerous. Authority is like that really sharp knife in your kitchen drawer. That knife does a lot of good when used properly. But that sharp knife can do a lot of evil when used improperly. Christians must be about the proper use of authority. So, what should the government do?

Instead of supporting evil practices, government should commend what is good. Romans 13:3 asks the question, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.”

Connect this with Romans 12:17, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable/good in the sight of all.” Do your neighbors know you as a person who seeks the good of the neighborhood or do you have a reputation for looking out only for yourself? Do you have a reputation for loving, serving, and caring for others, or do you have a reputation for looking out only for your family? Do you use your strength, your wealth, and your influence to achieve good or to get more for yourself? The police in Granbury, the judges in Hood county, what do they know you for? Are they more likely to commend your good or punish your evil?

Titus 2:7 calls us as Christians to be models; to be models of good works. Titus 2:14 reminds us that Jesus gave himself to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works. Titus 3:8 insists that those who believe in God should be careful to devote themselves to good works. Regardless of the good or evil going on in government, we are to be a people passionate about doing good.