From the sermon, Church v State by Richard J. Rizzi, Phd/Theo; DD
preached on May 31, 2020
Let’s begin with reading our text right up front today:
1Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13.1-7 nkjv
Imagine yourself as a German citizen, a Christian, under the regime of Adolf Hitler. As his power grows, the nation becomes increasingly anti-Semitic and systematically round up and exterminate as many Jews as they can find. Some of those people were your neighbors, good friends, people you ate meals with and enjoyed great conversation and good times. Those people are ripped from their homes, taken to death camps, never to be seen ever again.
Your government officials call on you to help them find even more Jews. It is the command of the “governing authorities”.
Even the pastors of churches all over your country are asked to preach from Romans 13.1-7 and tell every person in every congregation to obey the government because this is the very will of God. Nearly 6 million Jews were killed by order of the “governing authorities”
We are not in 1930 Germany. We are in 21st century America. This is where Roe v Wade has been decided as law of the land sine 1973. The “governing authorities” have decided that Abortion on demand is to be accepted as a right of women who wish to end a pregnancy for any reason.
Since 1973, 61,628,584 lives were ended because of the legalization of abortion on demand.
I have heard many messages, read many commentaries and articles about how we as believers are to obey the earthly government and the laws that they enact and seek to enforce in each of our lives.
I totally disagree with this position and have prepared this message to propose that Romans 13.1-7 does not mean believers are called upon by God to obey an earthly government, especially when it violates the commands and instruction of God and His will.
Now follow along as I share with you the rendering I have from the Greek as, what I believe, a more precise reading:
1Every immortal soul is to be in subjection to the higher powers. Because there is no power except from God, the powers that be are appointed by God. 2So if anyone resists the powers resist the appointments of God and those who resist will be condemned. 3For those who rule are not to bring fear about doing good works but to what is wicked. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from them. 4Because they are servants of God to teach you good, if you do what is evil, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain, he is the servant of God to carry our justice and execute wrath on those who practice evil. 5So you must be submissive, not because of the wrath but for conscience’ sake. 6And this is why you offer tribute, because they are God’s servants attending to this very thing. 7Render to everyone what you own them; tribute to whom tribute is due, money to whom money (is owed); fear to whom fear and honor to whom honor.
(As exegeted from the TR, the basis for the NKJV and the KJV)
The very first thing we are to learn from this passage is that there is no caveat or warning of any condition, stipulation, or limitation on the higher powers (or governing authorities) as defined by God in this passage.
I have been told that the Bible clearly demonstrates that believers are to obey an earthly government and that there is a stipulation that we can refuse when it violates our faith in God.
One such text is from Mark 12.17:
Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” His reply left them overcome with wonder.
Mark 12.17 CEB
This statement cause Jesus’ audience to wonder what He meant. If this was a clear and concise message to obey earthly government, then they would have understood this completely. That is not the case in Mark 12. Just the opposite. What did Jesus mean, then? I have my thoughts and that is what this message is about.
If we, as believers, are to obey every earthly command, edict or law enacted, except for those that go against God and our faith in Him, would there not be a place in Scripture that teaches this? Would God not have given us that very specific instruction so that we could say, without any doubt that when we disobey our earthly government by following the doctrines of God, we do so in the name of the liberty that He has granted us?
When we look at Mark 12.17, we have to ask ourselves: “What did Jesus actually mean by this?”
I say this because there is one small word in the text
that makes a huge difference. In one translation the text can read:
Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
His reply left them overcome with wonder.
Mark 12.17 CEB
Or it can read like this:
Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar or to God what belongs to God.”
His reply left them overcome with wonder.
Mark 12.17 CEB
The word is Kai and can be translated as either and or or, but the context is important.
I personally have not found a passage that indicates to me that God has told His people, ever, to obey earthly government except when it violates Biblical principles.
In fact, I can cite for you several instances of believers who refused to obey those who were in the position of authority over them.
What I do find in Scripture is a message to we who have placed our faith in Christ as to exactly which governing authority we must submit to.
Jesus told His disciples this:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6.24
Now, remember this verse: Isaiah 9.6: For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government* will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
*Hebrew - hrsm misrah, mis-raw' = the power of the empire (Note - The kingdom of God. RR
The government, written of here Isaiah, is not an earthly government. It has nothing to do with elected official, fallen humans, with all of the flaws and personal preferences and prejudices, but a governing from the only One who could possibly offer His people the best message on how to live lives according to His plan.
Our Savior, Jesus, is the One true authority in this world and unless an earthly government patterns every one of its laws, statutes and rules according to the Word of God, it fails and rendered impotent. It is something that believers will tolerate and observe as long as it does not violate our faith in Christ, but the truth is we have no real obligation to follow earthly laws. Yes, to willingly disobey earthly laws would mean earthly penalties.
That would be giving to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar. Jesus said, “Give to God what belongs to God”. And by giving to God all that belongs to God, none of us would have a qualm over ignoring what leads God’s people in the wrong direction, away from giving to God what is God’s.
Here’s what Paul wrote about the true authority for believers:
5Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; Romans 1.5,6
Paul and the rest of the apostles had been given grace and the calling of their work in ministry for “obedience to the faith” - to be a testimony to all the nations of what faith in Christ really means.
It does not mean giving into an earthly government first (unless it violates your faith). It means you give into God’s calling, to obey His message to you.
In the dawning days of Christianity, in the face of a very powerful Roman Empire, what did those people do?
42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
There was no caveat in any text that I can find that tells us to obey those who have power in this world unless it violate our faith, ever. We are to (back to Romans 13) look to the higher powers, the leaders appointed by God, and follow Christ.
Ephesians 4.11-14a: 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors* and teachers**, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine...
Greek: *poimhn poimen, poy-mane' = shepherd; pastor
**didaskalov didaskalos, did-as'-kal-os = master; teacher
I believe that this is consistent with what we find with the calling upon the elder who “rules” or presides before the congregation to present the teaching of the Word of God. cf = 1 Timothy 5.17 RR
The position of overseer, pastor/teacher is to be carefully accepted because God does instruct His people through the precise teaching of His Word.
1 Timothy 3.1,2: This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop*, he desires a good work. 2A bishop* then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach**...
*Greek - episkoph episkope, ep-is-kop-ay' (overseer; pastor) = to look out (for); guard
** Teach = to instruct; didaktikov - did-ak-tik-os'
(Note - best word is overseer and is consistent with the position of pastor. RR)
Now the message to any man seeking to accept the position of overseer is this:
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers*, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. James 3.1
(*teachers = instructors; Greek - didaskalov - did-as'-kal-os)
The warning is given to those men, appointed by God, to instruct the people of God for the work of God from the Word of God.
there are many examples in the Word of those who followed God first and not the laws or rules given by mankind.
Hananiah Mishael and Azariah refused to obey the earthly authority in their lives. The consequence was a fiery furnace. They were saves by God but their testimony was this:
16Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Daniel 3.16-18
You might say that’s the Old Testament, God was always doing great things like this. OK, what about the New Testament?
In 1 Peter 2.13-16: 13Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men– 16as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 1 Peter 2.13-16
The meaning of this text, knowing the Peter and John had been thrown in prison for preaching the gospel. What did these men do when commanded earthly government not to preach Christ? They faced their punishment for disobedience. They submitted to accept the penalty for their violation.
17But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” 18So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” Acts 4.17-20
My conclusion is this:
Romans 13.1-7 is a message to God’s people about following God’s Word and His will.
When it comes to earthly laws, statutes and rules, know this, that when we follow God first, like Peter, John, Paul and many others, we must realize that earthly consequences are justifiably applied to us.
Yes, we must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.
We must accept the earthly consequences of disobedience.
Romans 13.1-7 is about being obedient to God by heeding the biblical instruction from the Word of God, His sword, that gives us complete instruction to live the life to offer the testimony of faith in Christ.
Everyone has the right to choose. I am here, not to command you to obey God. That has to be your choice because God is convicting you to do so. My calling is clear. I am here, by God’s appointment and your acceptance of that appointment, to offer you the best, most clear instruction from God’s Word to the very best of my ability. I know that God will have me stand before Him and judge my actions and my intentions.
It is my intention that this place of worship not stand closed as a testimony to fear, but stand open as a testimony of a people’s faith in Christ.