Sunday, June 14, 2015

[Matt's Messages] "God's Servants"

“God’s Servants”
All Roads Lead to Romans
June 14, 2015 :: Romans 13:1-7 

The last 6 messages in Romans were all about how God is in the business of changing us. We surrender our whole selves to Him. He transforms us into the people He wants us to be.

And the last message was about what I think might be the hardest change for us to undergo: God’s transformed people love...their enemies.

We don’t repay evil for evil. Instead, we overcome evil with good.

How did you do on that this last week?

Today’s message flows out of that but also onto a different subject.

I’m going to call it, “God’s Servants.”

And if you haven’t read ahead, you might be surprised to find out who Paul says are God’s servants in Romans 13.

It’s not most of us, here, but another group.  “God’s Servants.”

So, in Romans 13, who are the servants of God?

It’s the government, isn’t it?

It’s the “governing authorities” (in v.1) or the “rulers” in verse 3 or just “the authorities” in verse 5.

Paul calls these governing authorities “God’s servant(s)” in verse 4, twice. And again  in verse 6. Did you catch that? There are different Greek words for “servant” in verse 4 and in verse 6, but the general idea is the same.

These folks are the government.

In Paul’s day, they were the Caesar, the Proconsuls, the Senators, the Governors, Tribunes, Magistrates, and many other lower level government authorities.

In our time and place, they are the state and federal lawmakers, the judges and magistrates of the justice system, and those that enforce the law, the executive branch of government, the police, and so on.

The governing authorities.

Paul says that those folks, whether they know it or not, are servants of God.

So if last week’s passage was about how transformed followers of Christ are to relate to their enemies, this week’s passage is about how transformed followers of Jesus are to relate to their rulers, to those that govern them.

And to do so, remembering that God calls them His own servants.

I’m going to draw three main points from these seven verses. All of them are applicational.


Submit to the governing authorities. Verse 1.

“Everyone [including Christians] must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Submit to the authorities.
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Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always feel like doing that.

Let me tell you one of the times when I least feel like it.

When I see one of these!

Man, 25 is so slooow.

I don’t always feel like submitting myself to the governing authorities.

I think that’s one of the reasons why Paul includes this paragraph in his application section on the gospel.

Remember, chapters 12 through 15 are the application of the gospel of grace that Paul has been teaching since chapter 1.

And it’s possible that believers who have received this gospel of grace might get the mistaken idea that they are now above or beyond human authorities.

“I don’t have to obey the law, I’m a believer in Jesus.

I live under grace, not under law. I don’t have to listen to the police or the magistrate or the President of the United States.

I only listen to Jesus! He’s my Commanding Officer.”

Amen, to Jesus being our Lord.

But our Lord has temporarily delegated some authority to other humans.

Yes, sinful humans. Imperfect humans. Often foolish humans.

But, placed by God in positions of authority and calling for our submission. Verse 1 again.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Paul says it twice so that we get it.

The authorities over us are placed there by God.

Now, they don’t always know that, but we now do.

And it’s not just the good authorities that are placed over us by God, but also the not-so-good authorities.

Does anybody know who was the Caesar when Paul probably wrote this letter to the Romans?

It was an evil man named “Nero.”

Someone once pointed out that these days we name our sons “Paul” but our dogs “Nero.”

Now, this was probably written during the relatively good part of Nero’s reign. That was the part where he was still somewhat popular and had not yet set his city on fire nor killed Christians for sport nor hung them up as human torches to light the city and make an example.

This was before that, but he was still an oppressive ruler before that who demanded high taxes and was power-hungry and attention-hungry. He was a tyrant.

I just read a chapter about Nero in a book on church history that I’m reading. He might not have been insane like Caligula was, but he was incredibly dangerous to everyone that wasn’t him. He probably had his mother and stepbrother killed. When he died, the Roman Senate proclaimed him an enemy of Rome.

But Paul says that he was God’s Servant.

Well, Paul isn’t saying that Nero was a particularly good servant of God.

Just that he was in a position established by God and called by God to rule.

Whether he knew it or not. Whether he acknowledged it or not. Whether he did it well or not.

The rest of the Bible tells the same story. Pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar are told that they are in the position they are in because it is God’s will.

Our Lord Jesus told that same thing to Pontius Pilate at his trial.

“The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

And we, as Christians, are called to submit to them.

Now, what does that mean?

To submit means to place yourself under someone else. It’s a posture. It’s an attitude. Most of the time, it issues into obedience, but it’s more the step before obedience where you recognize that someone else is in authority and you place yourself under their authority.

And not because you feel like. Sometimes you won’t. But because “the authorities that exist have been established by God.”

And God is your ultimate authority!

Now, I think it’s important to say here that human authorities are only temporary and never absolute in their authority.

This is not calling us to do absolutely whatever a human government might ask us to do.
The Bible is clear that when there is a true conflict between human law and God’s law, that Christians are to disobey that human law and obey God’s law.

The apostles were told in Acts chapter 5 by the authorities, to stop preaching the
Word of God.

But they went on preaching the Word of God!

And when they were confronted with their rebellion, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

So, there is a higher authority that we must obey when the two authorities are in conflict.

But when they are not in conflict, the higher authority says that we should submit to the lesser authority. (And be ready to bear the consequences.)

Whether we feel like it or not.

Because if we rebel against their authority, we are rebelling against God’s. v.2

“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

That follows, doesn’t it? If God has placed this authority over you, then to rebel against it, is to rebel against God.

Submit to the authorities.

Don’t commit crimes.

Now, you might hope that we shouldn’t have to say that here at church, but Paul is saying it to the Roman Christians so we probably need to hear it, too.

Don’t commit crimes.

Find out what the law is and follow it.

That’s the general stance, posture, attitude, approach that we ought to have.

Christ-followers should be some of the best citizens in any country we live in.

It’s part of our witness.

The Apostle Peter said in his first letter, “Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13-15).

They are watching us.

People are watching us Christians and watching to see if we follow the law or try to get away with stuff.

If we submit to the authorities, we can silence the ignorant talk of foolish men and maybe lead some of them to Christ!

Don’t commit crimes.


“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Now the point here is that Paul is calling Christians like us to do what is right.

When the government is working the way it should (and Paul knows that it doesn’t always work the way it should, but when it does), then you won’t be scared of the authorities because they are concerned with lawbreakers, with criminals.

The government “bears the sword,” that is has the power of coercive weapons, for a reason–to bring wrath and justice on the wrongdoer.

Now, here’s where I think this intersects with last week’s passage.

Last week, we learned that we are not to become vigilantes and pursue our own justice.

We don’t become Avengers for ourselves.

And someone might come to the conclusion that this means that evildoers can just get away with whatever they want to in this world, at least as far as injustice against Christians is concerned.

“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

But you’ll have to wait until eternity for that.

No. That’s not how it works.

God’s justice does come, however imperfectly, in this world, as well.

He has servants to bring that justice. V.4 again.

“For [the governing authority] is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment [or vengeance] on the wrongdoer.”

What is the application, again?

Do what is right.

You’ve got nothing to fear if you do what is right.

That’s what God is after here. He’s not actually explaining everything we might want to know about government and how it’s supposed to work and how it actually does function.

I wish He did! I have a lot of lingering questions after studying this passage this week. I wish it said more about what to do when the government does the opposite of verses 3 and 4.
What do Christians do when the government punishes those who do right and commends those who do evil?

What do you do if you live in Nazi Germany, for example?

Paul is not naive. He knows that government doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to. He knows what the governing authorities did to Jesus!

But he’s not teaching on that right here. He’s teaching on how we are, as Christians, to follow our rulers when they are not asking us to do something wrong.

He’s telling us to do the right thing.

And not just because we can get into trouble if we don’t. V.5

“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment [wrath] but also because of conscience.”

Because it’s the right thing to do.

And we know it.

Do what is right.

And you can do that no matter who your rulers are.

Paul is calling these Christians to do it under Nero.

You and I can certainly do it under elected leaders in our democratic republic.

It’s really nice to live in the United States of America where our government is largely elected through democracy. We have a lot more say in who our governing authorities are than Paul and the Roman Christians did.

That means, of course, that we also have a lot less to grumble about.

And it should be much easier for us to live out Romans 13 than someone in a more difficult political system.

It doesn’t matter who the rulers are, we as Christians, are called to do what is right.

And here is what Paul says is right:


“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

Paying our taxes is one of the chief ways that we show that we are submissive to our governing authorities.

Paul say that we should pay our taxes, not only because of possible punishment but also because of our consciences.

We know that paying our taxes is the right thing to do.

But it’s not very fun, is it?

Anybody here love April 15th?

It might be somebody’s birthday, but the for most part, we all dread Tax Day.

Even tax-preparers who make their living off of it, tend to hate Tax Day!

But when we pay our taxes, we are funding God’s servants to do their ministry.

We are paying the public officials to carry out their God-given tasks.

Now, you and I might be unhappy with how they use our tax-money. And amazingly, we actually have a say in that in our democratic society. Paul couldn’t imagine having a say in what was done with his taxes!

We might be unhappy with how they use our tax-money, but the real question is how will God feel about how they use our tax-money?

I wouldn’t want to be in some authorities’ shoes when they have to given an account to our Lord for how they used the tax-money!

If you are God’s servant, you will have to give an accounting for what you did with the authority God granted you.

That’s true of church leaders, and it’s true of parents. And it’s true of police officers and it’s true of judges, and lawmakers, and presidents.

Those with delegated authority will have to answer for what they did with that authority.

Our job, if we are under authority is to give them what is due them. V.7 again.

“Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

The “revenue” here, from what I understand, is indirect taxes. There are direct taxes like property taxes and income taxes. Revenue would be like sales taxes and excise taxes and tolls, that sort of thing. If you owe them, pay them.

Christians should not be delinquent in paying our taxes.

Our Lord taught us that, didn’t He?  I think that Paul is echoing him here from when Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Christians should be quick to pay our taxes.

But it’s more than that isn’t it?

We are called to show respect and honor to those in authority over us.

Whether we feel like it or not.

For some reason, we tend to think that public officials are fair game for our disrespect and dishonor and that simply is not true.

The world does that!

The world calls leaders names.

The world shows as much disrespect for anyone they don’t like and especially those in authority.

But we are not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing our minds.

“Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

I know that for many of you, it was difficult for you to respect and honor President Bush when he was in the White House.

For many others of you, it has been difficult for you to respect and honor President Obama while he occupies that role.

It doesn’t matter who is in the chair. We, as Christians, should render our respect and honor to the chairholder.

I am ashamed of some of the things I’ve heard and seen supposed Christians say about our president.

It’s destructive to our witness.

That doesn’t mean that you have to agree or like whoever is in that chair.

But we are called to respect and honor and pray for our leaders, whether we chose them or not.

We owe them that.

Not because they are so great in and of themselves, but because they are God’s servants.  Give what you owe.

That’s as far as we’re going to get today. You can see that in verse 8, Paul takes this idea of owing in another direction. He calls us, again, to love.

We’ll get to that next time.

But this time, I want to circle back to that one little word in verse 5 that begins with a “c.”


What does your conscience say today?

Is your conscience clear?

Or is your conscience pointing something out to you that needs repenting of?

Is there some way that you need to change in your submission to the governing authorities?

Is there some area where you know that you are not doing what is right?

Is there something you owe that you have not been paying?

What does your conscience say?

We could do the right thing just out of fear of punishment, but Christians have a higher motivation. We want to please our Lord.

And our Lord loves to work through our consciences to show us where we are in the right and where we need to change.

Where might you need to change?

Is there a dishonoring statement on your social media that you need to repent of and take down?

Is there a bit of taxes that you’ve been evading?

Is there an attitude of unholy rebellion that needs to be turned away from?

We believe in grace.

We preach grace here.

We only get grace through what Jesus did for us on the Cross.

And we invite everyone to come get that grace!

But that grace doesn’t make us lawless. It actually helps us to submit to authority.

To submit to God’s Servants who are here to do us good.

Let us both receive that grace and use it to fuel our obedience to do what is right and give what we owe to everyone.


Messages in this Series:

01. All Roads Lead to Romans
02. I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel
03. The Bad News
04. Hope for Holy Sexuality
05. The Even Worse News
06. The Worst News
07. Justified
08. Father Abraham
09. The Blessings of Justification
10. How Much More
11. New You
12. Slaves Of...?
13. A Life-Changing Relationship with Jesus Christ
14. No Condemnation
15. If the Spirit Lives in You
16. The Spirit of Sonship
17. We Know
18. For Us
19. Who?
20. God's Word Has Not Failed
21. Israel Stumbled
22. God Raised Him From the Dead
23. God Always Keeps His Promises
24. Therefore
25. How to Think of Yourself
26. A Transformed People (Part One)
27. A Transformed People (Part Two)
28. A Transformed People (Part Three)
30. A Transformed People (Part Four)


I am not sure the best place to respond since this started on Facebook. I will go here. Why did you leave out an explanantion of the phrase about the government over us to do good. When the Christians started being killed, it would have been right to oppose that and a government who was espousing it.

If i owe them respect??? Well when Bill Clinton was caught exploiting a yourg intern, I had no moral or biblical obligation to show him respect

Point is this there is a place for everything you said and now we should debate the other side. We should admit that a government can run amuck and must be held accountable. We should admit there is a limit to how loyal we'd be to all laws (i.e. no employer should have to provide Health Insurance that provide any type of abortion. The government should not redefine marriage - they can define civil unions, but not impose their will over a religious ritual.

On a lighter note, if we no the police aloow ten miles an hour over the speed target (it should never have been called a "limit" if they allow 10 over) we should go at least a little above that "target." 25 is impossible!!!!


Thanks for your interaction. It's always good to have one's views sharpened through brotherly dialog.

Personally, I can't go as far as you do with the phrase "to do you good" in verse 4. I don't think it necessarily follows from that verse that a government that is failing at being what it should is then disqualified from being submitted to--Nero would never have qualified, yet he's at the top when Paul writes this letter. At the most, I could say that this passage does not teach what to do in those cases and that we'd have to find justification for un-submissiveness in some other place in the Bible. What NT passages teach that followers of Jesus should oppose a wicked government? What do you mean by "oppose" the government or "hold it accountable?" I certainly can see where followers of Jesus can and should speak out against injustice, even in the rulers. But I don't see a place in the NT for Christians to get involved in revolt or even reject a basic posture of submissiveness. I'm open to seeing that in the Scriptures, if it's there, because there are definitely times when government fails to live out verses 3 and 4 (extreme cases in history include Nazi Germany). But I don't think this passage teaches anything but submissiveness. It's here in the Word to shape us that direction not to goad us into another. We shouldn't be looking for loopholes when we come to this passage, but endeavoring to apply it to our hearts and lives.

You and I disagree about the respect that was due to President Clinton when he was in office. I believe that while we needed to not respect his sinful actions (quite the opposite), as the officeholder of the presidency, we should still have shown him respect. Just as "Honor your father and your mother" always applies even when a parent may act dishonorably, we don't get a pass on honoring officeholders when they do something blameworthy (1 Peter 2:13). I think the example of Paul in Acts 23 is instructive when he is hit on the mouth by order of the high priest. When he learned that it was the high priest, Paul backed off of his stronger words because they weren't respectful enough. It didn't change the fact that Paul believed the priest's order to be wrong but that he himself was in the wrong by speaking in that way to the high priest, as a ruler.

I agree with you that government can run amuck, no question about it. And I agree that there is a limit to how loyal we'd be to all laws. Submission is not a blank check. As I said in this sermon, there is definitely a place for obeying God's law above human law. We need to do what is right and follow our consciences even if it means accepting negative consequences when the government is wrong and comes down hard on us.

And wonderfully, we live in a country where we Christians are able to speak our opinion about what is just and right, and even have a vote in establishing what should be the law. We should take advantage of that privilege while we have it. But we are to do it respectfully and submissively to the powers that be.