Good morning and welcome to worship! I want to begin this morning be recognizing all our veterans! Would you stand please! Thank you for your service to our country. I also want to recognize all those who have served in law enforcement or as firemen. Now bear with me, I want to recognize our teachers. How about those who have served in public office?
Our topic today is citizenship! Let’s open our Bibles to Romans 13. As Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms – a heavenly one and an earthly one. Which one is the kingdom of God? They both are. God established both the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom and God is sovereign over both - although the leaders of the kingdoms of the world often refuse to recognize God’s sovereignty over them.
So what does Paul say about the leaders of these earthly kingdoms? “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:1
In Creation, God established rules and boundaries for the physics of the planetary motion, the behavior of galaxies and sub-atomic particles. In fact, every law of nature flows out of God’s supreme authority. Our relationships with each other are no different.
The structure of human society is founded on God’s commandment. “Honor your father and mother so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Ex 20:12
Every authority in heaven and earth has its origin in God regardless of how that authority is used or misused. A guy named Nero was the Emperor of Rome when Paul wrote this. But Nero’s misuse of power didn’t change the fact that his authority originated in God.
Paul goes on, “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and those who do so will bring judgment upon themselves 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 he will commend you for he is God’s servant to do you good.” Rom 13:2-4
We are citizens of both a heavenly kingdom and an earthly kingdom and God has given us responsibilities in each of them. Part of that responsibility includes the willingness to submit to the civil authorities. Why? Because they have been put in place by God for the sake of order in the community and without them, there would be chaos.
Why is Paul so emphatic about this? It seems there were Christians in his day who were ignoring Roman law by claiming they were citizens of heaven. What’s wrong with that?
God has made us citizens of two kingdoms. These kingdoms are not the same. To be Christian and to be American are not the same. Yet both are instituted by God. In the heavenly Kingdom we are to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the earthly Kingdom we are to honor our father and our mother – and their representatives – which includes all those in authority over us so that we will “prosper in the land the Lord has given us”.
In verse 6, Paul makes this painfully practical. “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants who give their fulltime to governing. Give everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor then honor.” Rom 13:6-7
One of the issues we face in our culture today is the assumption that our entitlements outweigh our responsibilities. We want a double standard. “We want other people obey the speed limit, pay their taxes, mow their lawns, do their jobs, but we want to excuse ourselves.” That’s rubbish!
Good citizens are always more concerned with fulfilling their responsibilities to the community than in demanding their entitlements. Would you agree? My guess is that Paul wrote this because there were people in his day that were having these same issues.
Now I know some of you are going crazy thinking “But what about those governing authorities that abuse their power? Are we supposed to submit to their abuses?” What do we do when the authorities write laws or demand things that are in conflict with our obedience to God? Great question! Since the Bible is the best interpreter of the Bible let’s see what the Bible says!
The first example I’m aware of is recorded in Exodus 1:15-20. Let me share it with you. It was sometime after Pharaoh had invited Joseph and his whole family to come live in Egypt. Joseph had been dead a long time and a new king that knew nothing about him came to power. By this time, Israel had become a great nation and the Egyptians were afraid of them. So the Egyptians enslaved them.
Yet the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more prolific they became. Finally Pharaoh called in the Hebrew midwives and ordered them to kill the baby boys but let the girls live. But the midwives refused to obey the king’s command. As a result, a baby named Moses was born and survived the king’s command.
Paul says that God wants us to submit to the governing authorities but these midwives refused to obey the Egyptian king. Were they sinning against the LORD or does God’s law take precedence over the law of any earthly king? Let’s keep looking!
800 years later we have a second example. Israel has become a mighty nation, yet because of their rebellion against the LORD, they have been taken into captivity by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar has selected the brightest young men from every nation he has conquered and put them into college to train them to serve as bureaucrats in his empire. Among them are 3 Hebrew teenagers named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
In an attempt to consolidate these various nations, Nebuchadnezzar issues a degree that everyone has to submit and bow down to a huge statue he has made of himself. These 3 Hebrew boys can’t do that, even though they have been serving a pagan king in a pagan government. God’s law takes precedence over the King’s law.
The king gets so furious he tells the boys that unless they bow down they will be thrown in the fiery furnace. The boys tell King Nebby even if he does throw them in the furnace, they will never bow down to the image of gold he has set up. Nebuchadnezzar believes that all gods are pretty much the same. When it comes to earthly gods, he’s right. But the boys know there is a God in heaven who is sovereign over all the kings and kingdoms of earth. As a result of their faithful witness, King Nebuchadnezzar comes to learn that as well.
The third story is Daniel. Its 60 yrs later. Daniel is an old man. Babylon has been conquered by the Persians. Daniel has become a trusted advisor to King Darius of Persia. Some of the other advisors are jealous of Daniel. They trick the king into signing a decree that anyone who makes a request of any authority other than the king will be thrown in the lion’s den. It’s called politics. It sounded like a good way to consolidate his kingdom, so Darius agreed.
Now Darius knows about the kingdoms of this world, but he doesn’t know about the Kingdom of heaven. He knows about politics and earthly kings, but he doesn’t know about the LORD, the Sovereign King of Heaven who has put him on the throne of Persia.
When Daniel hears the decree, he continues to pray three times a day to the LORD just as he always has. The spies catch him and throw him in front of Darius. Darius is stuck. He has no choice but to obey his own decree. He tells his friend Daniel, “May the God you serve protect you.” And that’s what happens. But instead of eating Daniel, the lions eat the conspirators.
Daniel was a faithful citizen in the kingdom of this world, until it conflicted with his citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Then he chose to serve God rather than men. He was a faithful citizen of both kingdoms, but he never lost track of which kingdom was sovereign.
We are called as God’s children to submit to the authorities of this world and serve them as faithful citizens, but when the authorities of this world demand obedience that is in conflict with the laws of God then we must obey God rather than men.
Here’s the kicker - in every case where God’s people have been willing to stand against an ungodly law in the land in order to serve the God of heaven, God has used their faithfulness to bring even pagan kings to himself.
Application: If God’s people don’t stand up and get involved in the politics and civic discussions of our day who will? If we don’t work to change injustice wherever it occurs, who will? We are citizens of an earthly kingdom and a heavenly kingdom and we need to fulfill our responsibilities in both. But we must never forget which kingdom has first place.
Following his experience with the 3 Hebrew teenagers, King Nebuchadnezzar wrote the following proclamation – “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Daniel 3:28-29
God isn’t finished with Nebuchadnezzar. He’s still a pagan king, but its a start! Brothers and sisters, we are citizens of two kingdoms and the Lord calls us to serve both to the best of our ability. But when conflict arise, and it will! For the sake of the unbelievers who are threatening us, we must obey God before men regardless of the consequences. Because, believe it or not, just as we see in the cross - that is the way of love! God will use our stand to touch people for Jesus and transform the kingdom of this world.