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Worship Series: God’s Government
Worship Theme: Origins & Power
Lesson: 1 Samuel 24:1-8 (EHV)
Lesson & Sermon Text: Romans 13:1-7 (EHV)
Music: CW 90 The People that in Darkness Sat, Alleluia!, CW 617 Christ, by Heavenly Hosts Adored, CW 619 God Bless Our Native Land (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
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Message: Origins & Power
Are you happy with where things are in our country? Are you frustrated with our leaders? Are you struggling with politics? I have to be honest—I’ve been struggling with these things for a while, and that struggle has grown and amplified since COVID hit back in March. Who do I trust? Which leaders are making good choices and which ones are making bad choices? Are any of them telling the truth? What do I say when our president makes outrageous statements, and then the people running against him make statements that are just as outrageous? People are choosing sides, and if someone is on the opposite side there’s no respect - only animosity. I am struggling!
Our sermon series for the next five weeks is called God’s Government. We didn’t call it Politics Is Driving Me Crazy (even though it is!), or ask the question, How Can We Fix Our Government? It’s God’s Government. In this series we’ll take a closer look at the reason why it’s God’s government, how we deal with conspiracy theories, the power in and the point of politics, why we need to vote our faith, and finally, we’ll remind ourselves of these things so that we can live as God’s people in these troubled times. Today we’ll take a closer look at the origin and powers of the state and of the Church.
Origins are important. Paul wrote about the origin of the church in Ephesians 1: “God also placed all things under [Jesus’] feet and made him head over everything for the church. The church is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22–23 EHV). God established the Church—the gathering of all believers—which Jesus rules over and protects. What about the United States of America? At the time of the Civil War, Americans traced the origin of our nation to the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln began his famous Gettysburg Address with these words: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He knew that the nation needed to see that our origins are not tied to a document, but rather to the idea of liberty and the principle of equality expressed so beautifully in the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln’s words were the ones our nation needed to hear, and helped bring about the “new birth of freedom” he so powerfully proclaimed.
Lincoln spoke beautifully of our nation's origins, but he didn’t go back far enough. Paul wrote, “For no authority exists except by God, and the authorities that do exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1 EHV). So—how many authorities and leaders and governments are established by God? All of them! If we pull on that thread for just a couple of seconds, we can begin to grasp how much that matters. We begin to see that if God set up the government - it’s like marriage - we should not drag it down, not in any way. We are, as Paul says, to submit to it. There are far more ways to tear down a country than through revolution or war. It’s like marriage in that way too. Marriages usually don’t crumble in one big, bad act. Marriages usually crumble under the weight of a thousand creaks and strains caused by many, many small acts of indifference, disrespect, and dishonor for the holiness and sacredness of God’s gift. That’s why we need to recognize the sacredness of God’s government. “Pay what you owe to all of them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, and honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7 EHV). This gift of government is sacred. It is a gift from God himself.
Seriously? Even when the government and leaders are 100% ungodly? Do you remember the reading from 1 Samuel we heard just a little while ago? David lived the principle. He honored and respected his own king, even while Saul hunted him down. David had the chance to kill Saul. Instead, he was conscience-struck when he dared to cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
Paul lived the principle as he dealt with the Jewish leaders. On trial in front of the Sanhedrin, one of the Jewish leaders ordered Paul to be struck in the face. Paul called the man a whitewashed wall. As soon as he realized the man was the High Priest, the highest authority in the room, he confessed he should not have spoken so quickly and quoted the Old Testament law: “You shall not speak evil about a ruler of your people” (Acts 23:5 EHV). Paul was even willing to honor and respect the Roman government. Rome hated Christianity. Rome had established the cult of the emperor and demanded that its citizens worship Caesar. Paul told the congregation to submit, honor, and respect that government.
Every authority that exists has been established by God. That means we respect God when we respect his authorities. We also disrespect God when we don’t. There’s plenty of room for repentance here for all of us. Remember the good news for all who have disrespected this sacred gift: Christ died at the hands of an unjust Roman government. He did that for us. That’s why he can forgive every crime against God’s government. We can also know that God uses government to bless us, his Church, even when it seems like all the government is doing is trying to tear Christianity down. Government must serve God’s purposes whether it intends to or not because, finally, it is truly God’s Government.
God is the origin of Church and state. Paul also wrote that God has given the state power. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to evil. Would you like to have no fear of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will receive praise from him” (Romans 13:3 EHV). Government has power to hold back chaos and anarchy. What if there were no speed limits or stop lights on Highway 36 through Stillwater? It’s bad enough when a thunderstorm knocks out a stoplight at just one intersection. Take it a step further. What would happen in this world with no military? How much chaos and anarchy would go on? Government has the power to curb bad behavior, and it works. I’ve had more than one person tell me that their worst fear on this earth is going to jail. The government’s threats and praise, reward and punishment changes people’s behavior. It allows us to live our lives peacefully. It allows us to keep our goods and property. It gives us a framework for economic prosperity. Paul said, “He [the government] is God’s servant for your benefit” (Romans 13:4 EHV).
That power is, of course, very different from the power of the Church. The government has temporal, earthly power to pass laws and shape behavior for now. The Church has the power of the gospel to reshape human hearts for eternity. Even the ways they wield these powers are different. The state wields its power through the sword—through threat and reward. But the Church wields its power - not through reward and punishment - but through the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17 EHV).
The most critical difference between the powers of the Church and the state is this: the state’s power is civil law and the Church’s power is the gospel. Civil law can accomplish a lot, but it does have its strict limits. For one, civil law can never get at true morality. The state by its very nature can’t truly judge or get at the heart. It can affect behavior. That’s why God’s moral law eclipses the state’s civil law. Moral law runs much deeper. The state says don’t kill anyone. The Church says pray for your enemies. The state says don’t steal other people’s stuff. The Church says don’t even covet other people’s stuff. The state says let your neighbor live in peace. The Church says love your neighbor as yourself. Civil law has its limits. No policy or law can get deep down inside and change a person’s heart.
Doesn’t that inspire us to appreciate the true power that Christ has given his Church? Picture yourself going into a courtroom. You wait on the edge of your seat for what the judge - the government authority - will say as he rules on your case. You hope beyond all hope for a favorable decision. His decision is law, and regardless of what we think, we have to abide by it!
Do we realize that we have walked into God’s courtroom today? We wait on the edge of our seats for the pastor - who has been entrusted with the sword of the gospel - to announce God’s ruling in our cases. We came in here today with all kinds of sins to confess, including sins against our government and elected officials. We laid those things out before the Judge of hearts and minds. Then we hear this undeserved verdict: “With Jesus’ promise and command, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Be assured that you are a dear child of God and an heir of eternal life.”
That’s the power the Church wields. Not to threaten. Not to praise good enough behavior or condemn bad behavior. We are here to release spiritual prisoners and open up the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf so that they can see God’s tender smile and hear his gentle voice say, “I am your God. I have held you in my heart in eternity. I have sent you my Son. I have bought you with his blood. I am sending you my Spirit through this gospel that you might believe it. And I am taking you by the heart in this very moment that you might believe you are my children again.” Do you know what that does for us? It fills us with peace and joy! That’s why we’re here. We, the Church, are here to win people to Christ through Christ for Christ. Do you know what I love about this country and why I thank God for it? I could share his gospel freely with you without fear of punishment. I thank God for that!
God’s government is a sacred gift, even when it may not look or act like it. Out of love for Jesus, let’s honor and respect it. If the government wants us to pay taxes, let’s do it. If they tell us to do something we’d rather not do, something that doesn’t step across the line of God’s perfect will, let’s humbly submit and do it anyway. Then, as Christ’s Church let’s take up the power that we have and pursue our calling in this world. We don’t need the state’s sword for that. We have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Our world really needs it. As far as I can tell, there are plenty of angry people out there who need to know Jesus’ love and be able to love each other. There are plenty of sad people who need the joy that only Jesus’ salvation can offer. Our government has given us the freedom to share it. Thank God that it’s HIS government! Amen.Special thanks to Pastor Jon Bourmann, Peace, Aiken SC, for sharing this series. This message uses ideas and thoughts from the sermon he wrote on Romans 13:1-7.