Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Titus. It was a short letter that Paul wrote to Titus in the Greek island of Crete. Last week, we began looking at the first verse in Titus 3. It deals with the topic of the Christian and human government. What is our responsibility to the state? According to the NT, it is to honor our leaders and submit to them.
In Greek, that means voluntarily. It doesn’t just mean be subject but submit yourselves. It is not qualified in any way. We also looked at the very rare times in which a citizen is justified in disobeying the government: if it violates your religious freedom (prohibits you from praying, preaching the gospel or orders you to worship a false god) or if it violates your conscience and actually orders you to sin.
Today, I have a lot to cover and it is very important. Some of you may find this teaching shocking. I want to start by looking at why we are to submit to government. Why should we do this? Peter and Paul both give some reasons why we are to do this.
Peter’s Reasons for Obeying the Government
What are Peter’s reasons for doing this? He mentions two reasons in I Peter 2:13-15. He says we are to do this “for the Lord’s sake” (2:13) and because this is “God’s will” (2:15).
Paul’s Reasons for Obeying the Government
Paul gives more extensive reasons for obeying the government in Romans 13:1-7. He mentions six reasons why Christians should obey the government.
Government is Instituted by God
“The powers that be are ordained of God” (KJV), according to Romans 13:1. The NLT reads, “All authority comes from God” (whether elected or not). If you are a little slow and did not get that, Paul said it twice in 13:1. What are some implications of government being instituted by God?
1. Government was Created by God.
The institution of government comes from the hand of God. Paul is not dealing with particular forms of government. He does not say that only democracy is ordained by God. Paul is speaking about all human government.
Man didn’t start government. God did. Government is not just a social compact. The Declaration of Independence is based on the idea that man creates government and that government is a social contract. God instituted human government after the Fall in Genesis 9.
2. Government is Good (13:3-4).
It was designed for the benefit of man. Government is not evil. It is created by God and it is good. One of the main purposes of government in a fallen world is to restrain evil, to prevent and punish crime (13:3). That is why we have laws and police officers and judges and courts and prisons. No government is perfect but bad government is better than no government. That is why anarchism is wrong.
Civil Authorities are God’s Servants
In fact, they are even called “ministers of God” (KJV) or God’s servants’ (13:4, 6). That is very interesting. They may not know they are God’s servants. They may not even be saved but God calls them his servants. They do his will.
Police officers are both cops and ministers. They are not ordained ministers but they are still ministers. They have a ministry from God (the ministry of government or law enforcement).
In fact, Paul uses two different Greek words for servant. He uses διάκονός in 13:4. That word does not just mean people who hold an office in the church (“deacons”), it means servants. The word is used of angels (Hebrews 1:7).
The second word is λειτουργός. It is used in 13:6 and is another Greek word for just plain old servant (Matthew 20:26; John 2:5, 9; I Corinthians 3:5 etc.).
Government leaders are God’s servants. Was Hitler God’s servant? Was Muamar Gadaffi God’s servant? Was Sadam Hussein God’s servant? Yes. They were in the position of government.
Positionally, they were God’s servants. That does not mean that they are good servants. There are some righteous servants and wicked servants. Some servants are abusive. Some governments are abusive. They abuse their authority.
Paul knew about the abuse of political authority. He was not ignorant of that. He suffered first hand from the Roman authorities. His head was cut off by a Roman sword. Jesus was crucified by the very government which Paul told the Romans to submit to.
People can abuse their authority. A parent can abuse his or her authority. The police can abuse their authority. A pastor can abuse his authority but they still have a God-given authority that was intended for good and Jesus submitted to the death penalty, even though he had done nothing wrong and even though it was unjust and was a miscarriage of justice. Not all servants do what they are supposed to do but they are still servants.
God gives rules for governments and he gives rules for citizens. Many believe if government is not doing its part, then we do not have to do our part as citizens. Governments are supposed to reward good and punish evil. Some governments punish good and reward evil. They are abusive and we do not have to submit to that kind of a government. That is unbiblical.
It is like a wife saying that because a husband does not love his wife as Christ loved the church that she does not have to submit to him (he is not doing his part). It is like a child saying, “Since my parents are not doing their part, I do not have to honor them or submit to them”. We are only responsible for ourselves and what we do. We will stand before God for what we do. We have no control over what someone else does.
Government officials are given power by God himself
No one gets into political office unless God puts them there (whether they recognize that or not). They may think that they got into office because the people put them there or because they put themselves there but, according to Scripture, no one gets into office apart from the sovereign program of God and that includes good rulers and bad rulers (cf. Romans 13:1; Daniel 2:21; 4:17; John 19:8-11). God uses even the bad rulers for his glory.
God used wicked Egyptian Pharaoh for his purposes (Romans 9:17). He used wicked pagan King Nebuchadnezzar for his purposes. God calls unsaved and wicked Nebuchadnezzar “his servant” in Jeremiah 25:8-9. He used him to conquer Jerusalem. He carried out God’s purposes. God even used Hitler. The state of Israel came into existence in 1948 largely as a result of the actions of Adolf Hitler.
Rebellion against Government is Rebellion against God
When you rebel against government, you are rebelling against God himself, because he was the one who established government in the first place and commands you to submit to it (13:2). If you say, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t like government. Government is evil” then, you are rebelling against God.
You will get punished if you do not Obey the Government
Disobedience will lead to punishment by the state (external reason). “If I do that, I might get caught. I might be arrested, jailed or imprisoned.” (Romans 13:3-5)
Your Conscience will Bother you if you do not Obey the Government
Disobedience will lead to punishment by God (internal reason). Even if the state never finds out what I did and I was never punished, God will not be happy with me, because I disobeyed a clear command of Scripture (Romans 13:5).
We looked at what Peter and Paul said about government, what does Jesus say about government? He said the same thing. He said to submit to government. He did not encourage rebellion against the government. Jesus was not a political revolutionary. He was accused of that by his enemies.
When Jesus was arrested, the Romans came in with swords and clubs to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray and he said “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? (Matthew 26:55). I want to look quickly at two passages.
Jesus says that we are not to resist an evil person (5:39). What if a government is evil? Should we resist it? No. One of the examples Jesus gives deals with the government (5:41). It was the custom of the time to compel a person to do this for one mile.
By Roman law a Roman citizen could compel a subject from one of the conquered lands to carry his backpack, or load, for him for one mile, but one mile only. Don’t resist even a foreign occupying power that oppressed you.
The Jews hated it. They would go a mile complaining and hating every second of it but would not go a step past a mile. Jesus says carry it a second mile. The first mile was compulsory. The second mile was voluntary. Now, there are exceptions to this rule of not resisting even an evil government but the exceptions are limited by Scripture (if the government tells you to sin or disobey Scripture).
What is going on in this section? The Pharisees hated Jesus and wanted to trap him. The Pharisees tried to trap Jesus with a trick question. Do people still do that? All of the time! Every election there are people running for President that journalists try to embarrass or trip up by asking them questions that they know they can’t answer, like who is the leader of some obscure third world country.
That way, they will look stupid and people won’t vote for them. In the Republican debates, some of the candidates have already been asked trick questions, like when Michelle Bachman was asked if she was President whether she would still submit to her husband while in office.
So they were going to ask him about the poll tax. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” (22:17). Now before we look at Jesus’ answer, you have to understand the historical background of the question. The Jews in the first century hated this tax. Why?
First, it was a tax and no one likes to pay taxes anyway. Second, this was a tax to Rome. Rome took over Israel in the first century. They took over the country. Judea was under Roman rule. This tax was a sign of their subjection to Rome. It went to an occupying power and just supported the oppression of the Jews.
Let’s rephrase the question. Should a Jew pay taxes to a heathen foreign government? Either answer would get Jesus in hot water. If he said, “Don’t pay taxes to Rome,” it would be considered treason and they could turn him into the Roman authorities. If he says, “Pay taxes to Rome”, then he would not be considered a good Jew who is loyal to Israel.
Jesus was asked a trick question as well but he had a brilliant reply. What was Jesus’ answer to their question? He said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
We do not have a Caesar in America. We don’t have an emperor but we do have a president. Caesar stands for political leaders. This one of the most important statement Jesus ever uttered in the area of politics. There are three very important implications of this.
Political Applications from Matthew 22:21
1) Caesar and God are DISTINCT
That means that God is not the state. It means that Caesar and God are separate entities.
2) We have an obligation to BOTH God and Caesar
We have an obligation to God and to Caesar, to God and the government. All of us have political and religious duties that we need to fulfill. Notice what Jesus says. The questions was, Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar OR not? They made it an either-or question. Jesus’ answer was “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, AND give to God what belongs to God.
We have an obligation to God and we have an obligation to the state. We need to give God what we owe him and we need to give the government what we owe it. Loyalty to God does not mean disloyalty to the state, even a secular pagan state. Just because you love God does not mean that you have to be unpatriotic. You can love God and you can love your country.
Mathew Henry said that “True religion is not an enemy of civil government but a friend to it”. Charles Finney said, “Christians must do their duty to their country as part of their duty to God”.
Jesus was not a revolutionary. He could have said, “The evil Romans have occupied the holy land of Israel, let’s overthrow the pagan invaders. Let’s overthrow the evil oppressors.” He did not say that.
He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars”. In the context, what he meant is to pay your taxes. That is not our only political responsibility but it is one of the main ones.
3) Duties to God and Caesar should NOT contradict one another
Don’t use God as an excuse not to give Caesar what we owe him. Don’t say, “I would love to pay my taxes but I can’t because I am giving all of my money to God”. God doesn’t get everything.
4) Duties to God ALWAYS take precedent over duties to the State
Caesar is not God. The state should not demand worship. Worship belongs to God alone. We are to obey the government but we are not to worship the government.
You say, Who would be stupid enough to worship the government? If you study history, you would know that many people throughout history have worshiped the government. In ancient Egypt the Pharaoh was believed to be a god.
Emperor worship took place in ancient Rome. Many of the Roman emperors were worshiped and had temples built to them. The emperor of Japan was believed to be divine, even after WWII (e.g., Hirohito). That is a core part of Shintoism. The North Korean dictator Kim Jung-il is also worshiped. In North Korea, religion is banned but everyone must worship the leader.
There is a cult of personality that surrounds him. He is deified in the schools. Another example of this was the Hitler oath sworn by German officers and soldiers during the Third Reich. The oath said, “I will render unconditional obedience to the Fuehrer of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler”. Unconditional obedience goes only to God.