Well, this week certainly was interesting. You know, when God brings these sermon series to me, I jot the basic overall structure of it down with working titles and Scriptures. I do this so that I can go back and be reminded of what God wants. This week I thought I knew what we were going to talk about, but then when I sat down, I read the bare bone structure of the series, and you know what the working title for week 3 was? Submitting and standing against leaders. I read that Wednesday afternoon and just laughed to myself. What God has planned out matched with the events of that day.
This has been a politically charged week, but really, what week hasn’t for the past several, can I say years at this point? Now with the protests, and riot that broke out at the capital, we as Christians must condemn the violence. I have my own thoughts on the matter, but those thoughts are not on the docket today. In fact, I try to separate and share with you, as best I can, not my feelings or thoughts on any one topic, but rather what God is calling us to.
Its for this very reason that we are doing this Not Political sermon series. I have my thoughts on politics, which I am willing to share with anyone that would listen, and it can seem, with those that do not as well. But as Christians, we are called to, in a sense, be beyond politics. That’s not to say that we are not to involve ourselves in the political sphere, I think that if we don’t, it is to our determinate, especially here in the US. Yet, we must realize the difference between those issues that are solely political and therefore finite in there application, and those issues that move beyond the political realm and speak to eternal realities.
That’s why in our first week of the series, we talked about the reality that every issue we discuss whether with an eternal or finite application, has at its root a spiritual war. Behind the scenes in our lives, there is a spiritual war that rages. Every interaction we have, every thought that crosses our minds, every response we act on, and every problem we encounter has a spiritual battle that’s being fought. And so, we must realize that as we talk, we’re dealing with that battle and we must be prepared for it. This is why the Scriptures in Ephesians 6 tell us to to put on the full armor of God, because the battle is everywhere.
Then in our second week, we began to discuss these issues, tackling the controversial topic of abortion. We not only went through the biblical stance and historical precedent, but we showed how we as Christians are called to make a stand against the act of abortion as have our predecessors in the faith.
But let’s not stop with the controversy yet, instead let’s talk about what we as Christians are to do in the face of a government that we may or may not like.
Here is the reality of the situation, most attenders of our church body are on the more conservative side of the political isle. We do have several that I know of that are on the more liberal side as well, but more so than not, our congregants tend to be more conservative. I won’t bore you with all the intricacies of my political beliefs, but I am, in the wide scope of things conservative myself. And in the last presidential election cycle, more often than not, conservatives voted for President Trump. Now, some didn’t and I can understand their reasoning, and I can understand why, even now, those that voted for Trump believe that he should still be the president.
But as of Thursday, President Trump has said that he would transfer power, meaning that Vice-president Biden will be the president, unless an act of God happens from now until January 20th. And then we’ll see how long until Harris becomes president, that’s a joke.
Now here’s the thing, I know the beliefs of what many of you believe a Biden-Harris presidency means. But the reality is, and one of the first things we talked about in the opening of our sermon series is that, we are first and foremost citizens of heaven. And no matter what happens in the next four years, or eight years, or a hundred years, we have been called to specific actions by our Savior, and it doesn’t matter what type government we live under or who is leading that government.
So let’s see what the Scriptures say about how we as followers of Jesus are to respond to government.
In the oppressive, sometimes it would seem sadistic, rule of the Romans, the Jews wanted nothing more than to rebel. Playing off this, some Jewish leaders came to Jesus as recorded in Mark 12, starting in verse 14, and asked “…‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?’ But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. ‘Why are you trying to trap me?’ he asked. ‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’ 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. 17 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ And they were amazed at him.”
Here, Caesar represents the government, any government, and the question, what should we do in response to a government we don’t like, is a natural one for us to have. Because within us, there is a tendency towards rebellion due to sin, in which we first rebelled against God. But also, if we are truly citizens of heaven then how do we work within a system that might be counteractive to the ways of God?
So in this question, Jesus gives us two sides to the answer, we must give to the government what is the governments and we must give what is God’s back to God.
Let’s look at the first side of the answer, giving back to the government what is the government.
Romans 13:1-7 reads, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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 you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
Peter follows this up in 1 Peter 2:13-17, “13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
And so, even in the oppressive Roman government, submission to authority was required by all who followed Jesus and call on him as Savior and Lord. And it’s in times when we are called to submit, even to those that we do not want to, that the Lord aspect of who Jesus is in our lives really comes home. But that’s not the last word on the subject.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 4:7-12, “7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. 9 Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, 11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
How we respond in times such as these, whether in violence or in peace, reflects how our testimony among non-Christians is received. Take the COVID-19 situation, if we as Christians run around fearful of the possibility of getting the virus; if we respond to the situation as many in the world do, then what is the difference between a believer and a non-believer? It is the same with submission to government. If we run around constantly rebelling against government, then how are we really different than the world? David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders which is dedicated to showing how the US was founded on the Bible and Judeo-Christian principles, has said that the average constitution lasts only about eleven years. There’s a reason why the US has been under the same constitution for almost 250 years, though we have had our share of wars and problems, believers have sought to deal with a lot of those through peace.
It is because of verses like Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God…”, that Christians throughout the centuries have done as much as they could to seek peaceful resolutions to situations, and we should as well.
This is why the early Church writers wrote things like this, “Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins. [...] For he that is made good by compulsion of another is not good; for he is not what he is by his own choice. For it is the freedom of each one that makes true goodness and reveals real wickedness (https://books.google.com/books?id=aS88AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA581#v=onepage&q&f=false).” That was written by Clement of Alexandria in the late 2nd century, still under Roman rule.
Other early church writer, Lactantius (lack-tan-tea-us), lived through times such as the Diocletian persecution, which has been called some of the worse persecutions the Church faced in ancient times. He wrote this, “God might have bestowed upon his people both riches and kingdoms, as he had given previously to the Jews, whose successors and posterity we are. However, he would have Christians live under the power and government of others, lest they should become corrupted by the happiness and prosperity, slide into luxury, and eventually despise the commandments of God. For this is what our ancestors did.”
And so this early understanding that it is not so much the place of the Christian to change governments, but rather to live within those governments and while there, to show the goodness of God, through our sacrificial and holy living.
That’s the first side of the answer, give to Caesar what is Caesar. Now, let’s look at the second side of the answer Jesus gives, give to God what is God’s.
A common response to the first side of the answer of Christians living within a government that is antithetical to the Gospel is, what if we try to live peaceful lives but because of our faith, they try hurt us in some way?
It’s to this that we get passages such as Matthew 10:26-33, where Jesus says, “26 ‘So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’”
And in other places like Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus says, “11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Persecution due to our faith is bound to happen. The first 300 years after Jesus death and resurrection, saw the Church in and out of persecution. Even when Christianity became an accepted religion, those that stood on biblical truth have always been persecuted, even by those that claim to be Christian. Right now, all over the world, the Church is persecuted. We in the western world have had it easy for hundreds of years, and it is becoming ever more clear that our time is coming. We need to stand as our brothers and sisters have throughout the centuries and throughout the world. And it’s at our faith that we must draw the line. The same apostle Peter who wrote, “3 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…” also spoke these words as recorded in Acts 4:19-20, when standing before the Jewish council after being arrested for preaching Jesus, “…‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”
Our faith must be the thing that distinguishes us, and it must be the thing that causes us to be persecuted. If our persecution comes at the hands of not living peaceful under our governments, then our testimony will not be one that brings glory to God, but to ourselves.
In speaking of his own trek towards martyrdom Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ (https://books.google.com/books?id=fyUMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA75#v=onepage&q&f=false)."
And Polycarp, following after him several decades later, was recorded as saying, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt (https://books.google.com/books?id=fyUMAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA41#v=onepage&q&f=false)." This, was after he was told that all he had to do was deny Christ and he, an old man at this time, would not have to suffer a horrible death.
It’s living within both sides of this issue that I think the life of Ambrose of Milan is a life that we could look towards as an example. Ambrose was a man that was hurled by the populace to become the Bishop of Milan around the late 300s. He was a Christian and a politician, but not a theologian, nor a person who had as his goal to become a full time minster. But Ambrose was so loved by the people because he was a seeker of peace, honest and forthright man, that when the bishopric of the city became available, the people chanted for Ambrose to take the role. Though he wasn’t a theologian, Ambrose took the position, studied theology, and became a giant in the faith. Ambrose is my favorite early church father because he wasn’t a man that sought to be the head of the churches in Milan, but was chosen because he was a faithful man of Christ. The peace of his life showed through. In addition there were two moments in his bishopric that can teach us what it means to stand firm in our faith against governmental authorities.
The first one came when Ambrose stood for the orthodoxy of the faith. And what I mean by the orthodoxy of the faith, is that Ambrose stood against those that would change who Jesus was from fully God and fully man, to a created Demi-god that was less than God the Father. This unorthodox belief was called Arianism, and it came to a head when the Roman Emperor of the time, who was in favor of these Arianists, ordered Ambrose to give two of the church buildings in Milan to the group. Instead, Ambrose and a handful of his congregation stood against these calls, going to the point of locking themselves in the buildings and refusing to leave them. And so, Ambrose stood against the government in light of holding true to the faith.
But that wasn’t the only time Ambrose stood against an Emperor. In 388 AD, the third Emperor that Ambrose dealt with, was named Theodosius. A riot over a chariot race had broken out, and Emperor Theodosius had quelled the riot and in doing so, had slaughtered many people. In response, Ambrose barred Theodosius from partaking in fellowship with the Church. Mind you, Theodosius sided with Ambrose in areas of theology, especially against Arianism. Responding to Ambrose’s barring, Theodosius came to the church to remove the Bishop from his post, and Ambrose famously tells the Emperor to come get him. Ambrose told Theodosius that what the Emperor did was wrong and he, Ambrose, will stand by his decision until the Emperor repented.
In Ambrose we see the working out of what we as Christians are called to do. On the one hand we are called to a peaceful life that shines in front of all people, and on the other hand we are called to stand against that which not of our faith. We did this last week when we talked about standing against abortion. We did this several weeks ago when we talked about standing against the Progressive teachings that are seeping into the Church. So we must do both. If we are then persecuted for living godly lives, then our persecution will be a light for other people, but if our persecution comes because we are doing wrong ourselves, then it will be a deterrent for others.
We are called to live in such times as these. When we feel like things are against us, we must ask the question, are they against me because I rebel and do not seek peace, or are they against me because I live as Christ does?
The words of 1st Peter 2:16 speak volumes here, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”
For us as Christians, freedom does not come from a document. I love the constitution of the United States, because I believe it best represents the closest thing we can get to a human government based on Scripture. But my freedom does not come from it. No, my freedom comes from Christ himself. That freedom is lived out when I hold tightly to Jesus. To his commands, and his decrees. In the face of those that desire me to bow the knee to any other Emperor, my freedom is walked out even in man’s shackles. To echo Polycarp, twenty years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.
But we can only say this when we are living a life seeking peace as much as we can, so that our testimony is unblemished by the strife of this world.
So my challenge to you this week is this, has your testimony as a Christian been blemished by the politics of this world? If you took a step back and asked yourself, has my language and action reflected a peaceful response to the political world, or not? If not, we need to repent. There are things I have personally said, that I have had to repent about in this election cycle. Does that mean we can’t speak out and hold political views? No, but the question we must ask as we do so is, do I express those views in a way that brings or takes away glory from Jesus?
And as we move into the future under a new representative government, we must make a commitment to be known for our dedication to peace and righteous living as we follow after God. Does that mean we don’t take biblical stands, of course not. Does that mean we do not speak up when we see injustice or bad things happen, no. But it means that we drench our words and actions in the blood of Jesus, so that in all things we bring him glory.
This should be our goal, whether we like the government or not, to be ambassadors of Christ to a dying world. Because he has sent us out to a world that once reject our Savior, but to which he responded on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 32:34).” Let us have that same response as well. Amen.