Books of the Bible
Church and Politics
sermon can be adapted and used for a Sunday on or near July 4th.
Or the Romans Series can be adapted and this sermon can be preached
early in the series, on or near July 4.)
We need to pause
for a moment in this summer series of sermons and review some basic
facts about the Bible. You know the answers to the following
questions. The first four books of the New Testament are called the
four…… The names of the four gospels are ……… The four
gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are about the life of ……
The next book after the four gospels and the life of
Jesus is called the book of ……..
The book of Acts is about the life of the……. Yes, the
second half of the book of Acts is all about the Apostle Paul, his
conversion experiences and missionary journeys. After the
book of Acts is the book of ….. . Romans, the book we are
currently studying this summer. This was the last book that the
Apostle Paul wrote, but it is his finest book and so it is at the
top of the list of fourteen letters that Paul is said to have
written. So let us say
the first six books of the New Testament together. Matthew, Mark,
Luke, John, Acts, Romans.
Romans. Let us
pause for a moment and focus on the word, Rome.
When I think of
Rome, I think of the city of Rome which was the capitol of the Roman
Empire, the most grand city on earth at that moment in history. It
was a city of engineers and builders. They were builders of the
ancient Coleseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon plus other
architectural marvels around the world.
Also, when I think
of Rome, I think of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus, Shakespeare’s
plays about Julius Caesar. Their empire extended all around the
When I think of
Rome, I think of the Roman soldiers. From plays and television
productions, we all have images of Roman soldiers, with their red
plumed helmets, their metal breastplates, and their burly legs. In
the New Testament, there are only positive references to the Roman
soldiers and centurions. There is not one negative reference to the
Roman occupying military forces. In the New Testament, the Roman
centurion is highly respected and is always an example of genuine
When I think of
Rome, I think of Roman roads. The Romans were great road builders
and they built their roads about fifteen feet wide. The roads were
made out of cobblestone and you can go to Rome today and walk on
ancient cobblestone from the Appian Way. Like our American highways
and freeways connect our cities with each other, so also in the
Roman Empire. Their roads crisscrossed their empire, and the
Christian missionaries traveled those roads to christianize the
Roman empire. Those roads were very important to the Apostle Paul,
the greatest and earliest missionary of the Christian faith. He was
going to travel those roads over to Rome and then on to Spain.
When I think of
Rome, I think of Roman citizenship. If you were a citizen of the
Roman empire, you had a passport. Your passport guaranteed you
safety and protection under the law. You did not have to live in
Rome or Italy to be a Roman citizen. The Apostle Paul, who was the
greatest missionary of the early church and who wrote half of the
New Testament, he was a Roman citizen … from birth. Paul was proud
of his Roman citizenship that he received at birth, which means that
his mother and father were also Roman citizens. Paul was a Roman
citizen and he had a Roman passport and he used that passport to
travel the Roman roads all over the world. In his travels, when the
Jews would start to beat up on him too much, he would pull out his
Roman passport and say to the effect, “I am a Roman citizen,
buddy. Back off.” When Paul was arrested, brought to trial and was
facing Roman officials in Roman courts, Paul appealed to face trial
in the courts in Rome. His legal plea was granted…which gave Paul
a safe passage to Rome. In other words, the Apostle Paul benefited
enormously from being a Roman citizen. His Roman citizenship was a
passport to the whole world, got him out of trouble and saved his
life on more than one occasion.
It is with this
background that we approach Romans 13 in which Paul writes about his
positive attitude towards the Roman government. Just as you and I
are very appreciative of our American citizenship and enjoy living
in a democracy, so the Apostle Paul was appreciative of his
protecting government. When you have an American passport, you can
travel safely almost in any place around the globe and you feel the
protection of the American government. It was the same with the
Apostle Paul. He was appreciative of the protection and legal rights
that were given to him because he was a Roman citizen.
Would you pull out
your bulletin insert with the Scriptures for the day? Let us walk
through these seven verses together and then stop and pause at
13:1 Let every
person be subject or submissive to the governing authorities above
them. Focus on the words, every person. Every person on earth needs
to be subject to their governing authorities. That is true if you
are a person in China, Norway, the Sudan, or in any nation around
the globe. God has organized the world in such a way that we humans
need government above us in order to survive. Similarly, God
instituted the human family for our survival. We need mothers,
fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles; we need
family in order to raise healthy human beings. You cannot be a
civilized human being without family. The family is not uniquely
Christian; the family is not uniquely Jewish. Families are found
throughout the whole globe and all of history because families were
instituted by God in order to raise civilized human beings. So also,
human beings cannot lived together in a civilized way without
government. Government, like family, is instituted by God. So if you
live in a remote village in China, Norway or the Sudan, at the heart
of community life, is the need for governing authorities.
Let’s focus on
the word, subject. It means to be submissive to. For example,
let’s say you have been speeding in your car and you get stopped
by highway patrolman or woman for speeding. The police car’s
lights are flashing and you get pulled over to the side of the road
and you roll down your window. What is your attitude as the police
person comes up to your door? Meek? Submissive? Respectful? All
human beings, not just Christians, are called to be submissive. This
is part of universal moral law. All peoples everywhere are to
respect governing authorities.
authorities. All people of all cultures are to be submissive to the
political authorities over us. Governing authorities refers to
parents, to police men and women, judges, military, the city
governing officials, the county officials, the state officials, the
national officials. We are to be submissive and respectful to the
governing authorities because that is the only way that human
community can work effectively together.
have been instituted by God. In the book of Ephesians, it said that
God instituted marriage. God created the institution of marriage for
our good. So likewise, God instituted human government for our good.
If you do not have human government, you have anarchy and chaos.
Those who resist
authority will incur judgment. You break the law, you normally will
Do what is good and
you will receive the authorities’ approval. This is true in all
the world. In China, Norway and the Sudan. If you obey the laws, it
will go better for you. If you don’t, you will be punished.
13:4 The government
official is God’s servant for your good. Notice, that I have those
words in bold print in your bulletin insert. This line is the key to
our understanding of government. A public official is God’s
servant for the good of the human community. That is what government
needs to understand. That government is a servant. If you are a cop,
a fireman, a council person, a state senator, you are God’s
servant for the public good. Martin Luther talked about the masks of
God; that God’s Presence is hidden behind masks such as good
government, good family, good education, good economics. A
government official is God’s servant, even if he or she does not
realize it. In the Old Testament, God was using Pharaoh; Pharaoh was
working for God but did not realize it. He was a servant of God
without understanding it.
Be subject to the
authority, not only to escape God’s wrath, but because of
conscience. In other words, we obey the laws of Des Moines, the laws
of the county, the laws of the state of Washington, not simply
because we are afraid of punishment, but also because all of those
laws make possible human community. So we obey the laws, not only
because of fear of punishment, but more importantly, we obey the
laws because we know that obedience to civil laws make human
community possible. We would have anarchy if we did not obey the
city, country, state and federal laws. Human community is possible
because of them.
13:6, 7 Let us pay
our taxes. Pay all of your taxes. We, as Americans, are fortunate to
pay taxes. Taxes are a gift from God. Taxes are a sign that
government is at work. Let me explain. It takes money to run this
congregation. You cannot run this church without money. It takes
money to run a human family. You cannot do it without money. It
takes money to run government and you cannot run government without
money. Government is a gift from God, especially good government is
a gift from God.
Respect to whom
respect is due. Honor to whom honor is due. There is to be an
attitude of respect and honor to those who are in authority.
Romans 13 is at the
heart of Pauline theology. Here was a man who was a Roman citizen.
He traveled the Roman roads all over the world as a missionary. He
had a Roman passport and he said to the Jews, “You can’t beat me
up because I have a Roman passport. I am a Roman citizen.
Consequently, the Apostle Paul had a very positive regard and
appreciation for the Roman government.
So I ask: how can
we apply Romans 13 to our lives here in America? Paul was
appreciative of the Roman government and we are appreciative of our
American government. So how do we apply his words to us today?
I am going to use
the word, AMERICA, and have each letter symbolize a quality that I
admire and appreciate about America.
The letter A in the
word AMERICA stands for appreciation. We are all appreciative that
we live in a stable democracy. There are so many places around the
world which live in awful political situations such as Rwanda and
the Sudan. We are incredibly appreciative of living in a stable
democracy. None of us can truly measure this benefit to our lives.
M. What does the
letter M represent? The letter M stands for mission and what is the
mission of our country? We are to be a strong, stable democracy as
an example to the world. We are to encourage other nations to be
democracies as well. Our mission to encourage democracies to be
established around the world. We can send certain countries food,
money and other commodities but we all want for these countries to
establish their own healthy democracy. The best kind of government
in the whole wide world is a democratic government. On the recent
July 3rd, wasn’t it great that Yeltsin won a democratic election
in Russia? The most important event that may have happened this year
was a successful democratic election in Russia. If democracy is
genuinely established in Russia, perhaps many of you younger
children here today may not have to go to a war in which our country
is fighting the Russians. In Latin and South America, it wasn’t
that many years ago that these nations did not have democracies, but
there are now numerous democracies that have emerged there in the
past thirty years. One of the missions of America is to encourage
stable democracies to be established around the globe.
E for education. In
America, we have a commitment to public education. That all people,
rich and poor, handicapped, and people with problems will have a
right to a quality and good education. A quality education is not to
be available only to the elite. Not only for the rich.
Many of you are public school teachers, and my wife as a
public school teacher is very proud that every kid in a America can
receive a good education. Even the handicapped students and the most
difficult of children that are often passed over by private schools
are welcomed into our public schools. The public school teachers may
grouse and complain about the number of difficult and problem
children with whom they deal; but at the same time, those teachers
are proud that America is committed to public education for all, and
I underscore, ALL of its citizens. … We also know that the primary
way to escape poverty is through education.
R stands for
religion. It stands for religious pluralism. One of the greatest
facts about American is our diversity of religions. One of the
reasons that America was founded in the first place is that our
pilgrims would have religious freedom and that a government would
not impose a religion on them. We are grateful that in our country
there are Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and every other
religion under the sun. We Christians are very careful because we
Christians are in a majority and we are careful that we do not
impose our religion on those who don’t want it imposed on them. We
Christians are sensitive to special times like Christmas and Easter
so that our Christian majority does not impose our religious
traditions on Americans in public places. We appreciate our
religious pluralism in American. We are perhaps more religiously
pluralistic than any other nation on earth. We believe in religious
pluralism, not merely Christian pluralism.
I stand for
individual initiative. People need initiative to succeed. This is
not the kind of country where you can sit back and have the
government take care of you. That people would work hard with their
individual initiative and get ahead. Recently, I came back from
visiting our sister church in Russia and there I experienced a
culture which for seventy years did not know what individual
initiative was. When we went to the new McDonald’s restaurant with
the yellow arches in Moscow, they were teaching those Russia kids
initiative, how to move fast and get the job done with quality
performance. Here in America, if you work hard and take initiative,
you probably will get ahead.
The C stands for
character. We Americans are committed to the poor of the world. One
thing I am moved by is when I visit New York City and Ellis Island
and see the statue of liberty. I love those words on the bottom of
the statue: Send me your poor, send me your hungry, send me your
masses of humanity and bring them here to America. I think of my
mother, as a child of four years old in 1911, coming through Ellis
Island, a Danish immigrant and family, my mother who lived in
poverty for her early decades saying that she was “dirt poor.”
Our country is always committed to the poor and wants the poor of
the world to come here. We have character. We are always an
immigrant nation, welcoming the immigrants from around the world.
These immigrants become great American citizens. I remember one day
when was at Swedish Hospital in downtown Seattle and a class of
people who were being trained as hospital orderlies came out from a
door, and every single person in that class was of Asian descent.
They were all immigrants. They were taking jobs that local Americans
would not stoop to do. We are blessed and enriched by these new
A stands for
attitude. Our country has always that that positive attitude, that
“can do” attitude that gets so many things done. That reminds me
of the Greek god, Prometheus who believed in progress. Our nation
has that promethian quality; that we can do the job in front of us.
It is an attitude. I like the quotation by a current theologian.
Attitude is the most important quality that you can have. More
important than education. More important than money. More important
than status. More important than job. More important than what
happens to you. The most important thing about you life is what you
do with you life and that is heavily determined by your attitude.
So the Apostle Paul
was appreciative of his Roman passport and citizenship just as you
and I are appreciative of our American passports, citizenship and
about the Apostle Paul who understands sin so deeply, that sin can
get hold of people and really mess people up and sin can get a hold
of nature and really mess nature up, but Paul did not really grasp
that sin could get a hold of government and really mess government
up. It seems to me that Paul was blind to the fact that sin can get
a hold of government and really mess government up. When sin gets a
hold of government, you have the worst kind of evil in the world.
Sin got a hold of Hitler and his nation executed six million Jews.
Sin got a hold of Stalin and his nation wiped out twenty million
Russians. Sin got a hold of Big Daddy Amin in Uganda, and his nation
wiped out thousands of people. Sin got a hold of the Pol Pot regime
in Cambodia, and his regime wiped all most of the doctors and
teachers in that land. It is possible for the power of evil to get a
hold of government and that government will become increasingly and
insanely evil. The Apostle Paul did not have a feeling for that. The
Apostle Paul was so appreciative of his passport and the blessings
of the Roman government to his own life, he didn’t see how evil
could deeply penetrate the government of Rome.
Therefore, it is
important go to Revelation 13 to see what happens when evil gets a
hold of the Roman government. Romans 13 and Revelations 13 are often
contrasted with each other. Romans 13 is an appreciation for good government whose
officials are the servants of God; Revelation is a distain for evil
government whose officials are the enemies of God.
In Revelations, Rome is called the Beast, the Whore, the
Prostitute. The Romans empire is that whore that is beating up all
the Christian and killing the Christians, first under the Emperor
Nero. Nero is crazy, is burning Rome, is intermarrying with his own
family, committing incest and the royal family is growing
increasingly insane. The attitudes towards Roman authority in
Revelation 13 is opposite of the attitude of the Apostle Paul in
Romans 13. Revelation 13 is also the Word of God, just as much as
Romans 13. There are
times that Christians and other people of good will resist those who
are in authority e.g. Bonhoeffer and his partners had to resist
Also, the church
has always been called to be the moral conscience of the government.
For example, in the Old Testament, you always had the kings, but all
the kings were bad except for two. In those situations, there was
the prophet, and the prophet was to be the moral conscience of the
king and say to the king, “Your values are messed up. Your
policies are messed up. Your policies do not reflect the justice of
God.” The purpose of the church today is when necessary, to say to
the government, “Your laws are messed up. Your policies and laws
do not reflect the justice of God.” Wasn’t it a black woman,
Rosa Parks in the 1960s who got on front of the bus and said,
“Your laws are wrong. I am going to disobey your laws because your
laws are not of God.” So people rose up and disobeyed the law. The
laws themselves had become sick and needed to be changed.
today we are thankful for Romans 13 and for living in a democracy.