Midweek Lent 3 – Romans 13:1-7
When it comes to the Table of Duties, everything seems to fit nicely into place. We understand the relationship between Preachers and Hearers; we see the benefits in the Biblical relationship between Husband and Wife; and we strive for the relationships detailed in Parents and Children and Employers and Employees.
But the one relationship that we struggle with in our understanding of, is the one we look at tonight; that of Government and Citizens. The reason we struggle is not that we disregard the portions of Scripture that relate to Government and Citizens, such as our readings from Matthew and Romans this evening; nor is it that we, like some, want nothing to do with the government at all, and refuse to participate in even the simplest of civic activities.
The problem is that we are Americans.
The problem is that written into our nation’s history, written into our founding documents, written into our political mindset are things that go against the Table of Duties, regardless of whether we speak of Government or of Citizens.
The list would be quite long to state what Government and Citizens are not to do, therefore we will look at the much shorter list of what they are to do.
The Government is to reward righteousness and punish wickedness.
Citizens are to submit to their leaders and to pray for them.
It is important to note that these roles can cover a variety of things, but they do not have to cover everything that we have come to associate with the roles of Government and Citizens.
Punishing wickedness does includes maintaining a military and using it for the benefit of the nation. It means having police and jails where those who break the law can be punished. It includes having laws and courts in place to oversee the exercise of all of this in a fair and just manner; and yes, this may even include charging a tax for these services.
Rewarding righteousness includes rewarding those citizens who do well in society; giving medals and trophies, and even naming streets in honor of those who are upstanding. But it can also mean that citizens just enjoy good roads and peace of mind; it may mean that citizens can rest secure knowing the banks are safe, stores will not be looted and homes will not be burned; and if they are, the violators will be punished. Rewarding righteousness may mean that you live your life and are never interrupted by the government.
Does this require a 2 party system? Does this have to happen with 3 equal branches of government? Can this only with a Constitution and Bill of Rights?
No; this can happen in a democracy or a republic; but it can also happen in a monarchy, or even with a dictator.
And what of citizens?
Submitting to your leaders may be the most difficult part of all of this because it requires that we trust our leaders. Trust that they will work for the good of the society; trust that they will fulfill their roles in punishing wickedness and rewarding righteousness. Submitting to your leaders means paying taxes and trusting that they will be used for the benefit of society and not squandered.
Submitting to your leaders means looking at laws and not seeking the loopholes or the potential lawsuits, but how the law benefits society. Submitting to leaders means using the legal methods available, not distorting or transgressing the law.
Finally, submitting to leader’s means, as stated in the Fourth Commandment, that Government leaders stand in the place of God. Government leaders are most certainly not God, but they have been placed into positions of authority for the purpose of carrying out God’s will.
And so the Citizen is called upon to pray for their leaders. Pray that their leaders will be directed and guided by God to fulfill His purpose in caring for His people. Pray that the leaders show mercy where mercy is needed and justice where justice is needed. Pray that the leaders would make possible the free exercise of the Christian faith.
Can this happen with a voting system? It can indeed. But it can also happen under a dictator.
Is it true Governments overstep their boundaries and take on tasks and pass laws that are not given to them? It most certainly is. And is it true citizens in turn refuse to submit to their leaders and ignore the rule of law established for their benefit? It is true indeed.
But it is also the case that this is nothing new.
We need look no further than Holy Week for how Government and Citizens forsake their duties resulting in the downfall of the society.
Pilate forsakes his duty in rewarding righteousness and punishing wickedness by sending an innocent man to death and releasing a murderer. The citizens forsake theirs by threatening to riot and overthrow Pilate if he not submit to their will.
And yet it is in Pilate and the citizens of Jerusalem failing in their role as Government and Citizens that we find our hope.
The innocent man sent to die is none other than Jesus; so that we, like Barabbas, may be go free.
Jesus suffers death for all the times the Governments, both elected and unelected, fails in fulfilling the role it has been given by God. And Jesus dies for the Citizens, both the oppressed and the free, for their failure to honor the leaders God has put in place.
We would like to tell ourselves that when it comes to Government and Citizens there is nothing for Scripture to tell us, we instead will seek out the Constitution and Bill of Rights; and yet, once more, we are reminded that Scripture supersedes these documents. Our role as Citizens is to submit to our leaders and pray for them. Pray that the President, Congress, courts, and yes even school boards and dog catchers, serve their positions honorably to the glory of God, so that we may live in peace and be free to pray, praise and give thanks to God for the Government He has put over us.