God's Right Arm

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God's Right Arm

Romans 13:1-7             February 10, 2002


Scripture Reading:


Paul continues his discussion of how the gospel should take effect in our lives.

In chapter 12 we learned that it should enable us to live sacrificially, think transformationally, relate graciously, and love infinitely.

This is how we make a difference since the gospel has made a difference in us.

But now he extends it to an arena that is sure to prompt much discussion – that because of the gospel, we should submit to governmental authority by being good citizens.

It is interesting that this discussion of human government immediately follows the statement about overcoming evil with good.

ILLUS: Sayings – One Liners About Government

Every man needs a wife because there are some things that go wrong he can't blame on the government.

The trouble with marriage is that a fellow can't support a wife and the government on one income.

Inflation is the price we pay for those government benefits we thought were free.

One of the things we have to be thankful for is that we don't get as much government as we pay for.

The Congress is a body of government that does not solve problems--it just investigates them.

The government should be glad the public has what it takes.

Government rarely does something for you unless it does something to you.

The main reason the government fights organized crime is because it resents the competition.

Some people take the money and run; politicians run and then take the money.

After the government takes enough to balance the budget, the taxpayer has the job of budgeting the balance.

The taxpayer no longer fears that Congress will let him down; he just hopes it will let him up.

A taxpayer is a government worker with no vacation, no sick leave, and no holiday.

The biggest job Congress has is to get the money from the taxpayer without disturbing the voter.

A taxpayer is one who does not have to pass the civil service exam to work for the government.

The American taxpayer may be America's first natural resource to be exhausted.

Taxation is based on supply and demand--the government demands and we supply.

People who don't pay their taxes in due time, do time.

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

When you think of the government debt the next generation must pay off, it's no wonder a baby yells when it's born.

Everybody should pay his income tax with a smile. I tried it, but they wanted cash.

   I went to Washington and visited the Tax Department. I just wanted to see the people I'm working for.

   With my latest raise, I can now afford to pay last year's taxes.

   I'm putting all my money in taxes--it is the only thing sure to go up.

   Patrick Henry should come back to see what taxation with representation is like.

   When a Congressman says he's for a tax cut--it simply means he wants his cut of your taxes.

A great bumper sticker that was spotted shortly before April 15th.  It read:

   "Thank God we don't get all the government we pay for!"

No matter what your religion, you should try to become a government program, for then you shall have everlasting life.

Big Question:

Why should we submit to (not necessarily meaning to obey) the government?

I.       Cycle One

          A.      Narrative (v. 1)

For any exposition of how the eschatological people of God should live within the political realities of the Roman state, this was the obvious first thing to be said. Little gatherings of Christians, living in the capital city, without political power, dependent on the good will of the authorities, who could be very arbitrary and unpredictable in their rulings regarding minority ethnic or religious groups, were only acting prudently if they sought to avoid giving any cause for offense. Paul states it as an exhortation not so much because his readers might think otherwise, but rather because the recent history of Jews in Rome made them that much more vulnerable. Paul’s reminder is, in effect, to say: since you cannot change the terms under which you live, and since your position is already hazardous, remember the political realities of the politically powerless and live accordingly.

          B.      Implication

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representative of God's sovereign authority – in principle.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

II.      Cycle Two

          A.      Narrative (vv. 2-3)

It should be noted here too that this is not a specifically Christian line of reasoning. There is no implication here that Christ has overcome the “authorities” or anything like that. The argument does not depend on the assumption that a new state of affairs exists by virtue of Christ’s ministry. These are rather the conditions under which the people of God has operated for centuries. Indeed, since the theology of good government applied also to the Jewish state during its years of independence (as in 2 Sam 12:8), it can be said that this is the condition under which the people of God always exists. In other words, the argument is theological, not Christological; it is expressed in terms of the normal circumstances of social order, not in terms of salvation-history. Nor is it particularly eschatological, as indicating a state of affairs which is temporary and from which the people of God will soon be delivered. It is simply a recognition that this is the way society operates, always has and always will, but given a crucially theological and moral dimension by repeating the Jewish affirmation that God has so ordered it for the good of humankind in society and with the corollary that both ruler and ruled are responsible to God in consequence.

          B.      Implication

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representatives of God's righteous judgment – in principle.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

III.    Cycle Three

          A.      Narrative (v. 4)


          B.      Implication

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representatives of God's good purpose – in principle.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

IV.    Cycle Four


          A.      Narrative (v. 5)

          B.      Implication

We should submit to governmental authorities because we are conscious of God's authority, judgment, and purpose in human government – in principle.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

V.      Cycle Five


          A.      Narrative (vv. 6-7)

Paul does not idealize the situation he is addressing. He does not pretend the authorities of whom he speaks are models of the good ruler. His advice does not particularly arise out of his own experience of Roman protection and the pax Romana. He and his Jewish readers in Rome knew well enough the arbitrary power of Rome. The tradition of Jewish wisdom on which he draws had already been well tested by the fires of persecution. Paul would have no illusions that a quiet subservience would be sufficient to guarantee peace. But his advice is not conditional on Roman benevolence. It is simply a restatement of the long-established Jewish recognition of the reality and character of political power. Political realism for Paul meant living within the political system even if that meant living to a large extent in the terms laid down by that system.

          B.      Implication

We should respect and provide for governmental authorities because we depend on them as God's servants to govern us – in principle.

          C.      Illustration

          D.      Application

Isn't it interesting that this passage comes to us at just the time of year we are beginning to think about working on our taxes?


In short, this passage does provide a basis for a theology of political power. The fact and inevitability of political power is affirmed and validated—for every person. The state on the corporate scale is the equivalent of the body on the individual scale; it is the means of corporate existence in this world. As there is no basis for a spirit/body dualism in Paul, so there is no basis for a social dualism, whereby political power and political activity is regarded as evil or antithetic to religion. On the contrary, Paul seems to go out of his way to eliminate any such division. State officials not simply can be, but properly speaking are, “servants of God.” For Paul who lived his whole life as one of priestly ministry (15:16), there was no clear division between sacred and secular. Christians could be involved in the political structures of the time and wield political power without ceasing to be Christians, and indeed as part of their Christian service.

Beyond that we cannot go with confidence. Paul does not envisage the possibility of a Christian political party or a Christian state. At that point a different set of theological principles would probably come into play. For Paul would certainly be fearful lest any other political or national entity made the same mistake as his fellow countrymen had—that of identifying God’s purpose of salvation with one particular nation’s well-being and political dominance. Nor does he speak to the issue of whether civil disobedience or nonviolent resistance can be Christian. Here we must recall that his advocacy of political quietism is in the context of the political powerlessness of most members of the ancient state.

Big Answer:

Why should we submit to (not necessarily meaning to obey) the government?

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representative of God's sovereign authority – in principle. (v. 1)

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representatives of God's righteous judgment – in principle. (vv. 2-3)

We should submit to governmental authorities because they are representatives of God's good purpose – in principle. (v. 4)

We should submit to governmental authorities because we are conscious of God's authority, judgment, and purpose in human government – in principle. (v. 5)

We should respect and provide for governmental authorities because we depend on them as God's servants to govern us – in principle. (vv. 6-7)

Timeless Truth:

The right arm of the law is God's right arm institution of human government.

If you would honor God, you must honor what he has chosen to represent his purposes, even human government, even in this fallen world.

God does not take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious "powers that be" or for their shape or identity; they already are.... He orders them, brings them into line, [and] by his permissive government he lines them up with his purpose.

   -- John Howard Yoder

But ultimately, human world government will eventually give way to church world government with Christ at its head. (Rev. 3:21; Heb. 2:5-9)

The government may not be the gospel, but until the church prevails, it the next best thing.

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.

   -- Martin Luther King, Jr.  Leadership, Vol. 16, no. 1.

Christianity introduced no new forms of government, but a new spirit which totally transformed the old ones.

God governs the world, and we have only to do our duty wisely and leave the issue to him.

   -- John Jay (1745-1829)

In the early 90's, the leaning Tower of Pisa began to lean too far. Seeing that the 180 ft. tower would soon become dangerous, engineers designed a system to salvag the 12th century landmark by holding the lean constant. First the engineers injected super cold liquid nitrogen into the ground to freeze it and thereby minimize dangerous ground vibrations during the work that followed. Them they plan to install cables to pull the structure more upright. Engineers hope that the underground cable network will pull the tower toward center by at least an inch. The work was to be completed in 1996. Left to itself, our world resembles the leaning Tower of Pisa: tilting and heading to catastrophe. To prevent total anarchy, God establishes governments to maintain order. Governments and their laws function like the steel cables that will hold the leaning tower. The tower still leans. It's not perfect. But the cables prevent total destruction.

Government originated as an ordinance of God. It is, in one sense, God's response to the nature of the people themselves. While it cannot redeem the world or be used as a tool to establish the kingdom of God, civil government does set the boundaries for human behavior. The state is not a remedy for sin, but a means to restrain it.

   -- Charles Colson (1931- )

I spent the first half of my professional life in politics and public service. I really believed that people could be changed by government being changed.

   But when I became a Christian, I gained a new perspective on the actual influence political structures have over the course of history. I began to see that societies are changed only when people are changed, not the other way around."

   -- Chuck Colson, Against the Night, p. 11.

Governments, like clocks go from the motions men give them. Wherefore governments rather depend upon men than men upon governments. Let men be good, and the government cannot be bad. But if men be bad, the government will never be good. I know some say, "Let us have good laws, and no matter for the men that execute them." But let them consider that though good laws do well, good men do better; for good laws may lack good men, but good men will never lack good laws, nor allow bad ones.

   -- William Penn.

God is in control of world affairs, world governments and world leaders:

In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:  "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. (Ezra 1:1-2 NIVUS)

 Praise be to the LORD, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way  and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the LORD my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me. (Ezra 7:27-28 NIVUS)

 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1 NIVUS)

When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, "I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. (Isaiah 10:12 NIVUS)

 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. (Isaiah 40:23-24 NIVUS)

 "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:  I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.  I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.  I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,  so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:1-7 NIVUS)

"‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’ (Daniel 4:17 NIVUS)

 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. (Daniel 5:21 NIVUS)

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." (Romans 9:17 NIVUS)

God expects and enables and rewards us for following higher authority in cases of conflict:

 But there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon— Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego— who pay no attention to you, O king. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:12 NIVUS)

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up." (Daniel 3:16-18 NIVUS)

Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Daniel 6:10 NIVUS)

 Then they said to the king, "Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day." (Daniel 6:13 NIVUS)

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:18-20 NIVUS)

 Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood."  Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:27-29 NIVUS)

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast— all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.  He who has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints. (Revelation 13:8-10 NIVUS)

 He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. (Revelation 13:15 NIVUS)

Even though governments may not be what they should be, Jesus upheld the principle of respect for government:

 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?"  "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes— from their own sons or from others?"  "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him.  "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." (Matthew 17:24-27 NIVUS)

 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.  Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"  But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius,  and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"  "Caesar’s," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s."  When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:16-22 NIVUS)

 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him."  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.  Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.  With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.  "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"  At that time Jesus said to the crowd, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me.  But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (Matthew 26:47-56 NIVUS)

There is a righteous One from God whose government shall prevail:

 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIVUS)

 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, "I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."  "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. "But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63-64 NIVUS)

For now we must endure respectfully, prayerfully and victoriously:

 Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, "My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day."  At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!"  Those who were standing near Paul said, "You dare to insult God’s high priest?"  Paul replied, "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’" (Acts 23:1-5 NIVUS)

 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12 NIVUS)

 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior,  who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4 NIVUS)

And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them." (Revelation 14:11-13 NIVUS)

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