Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit is three-in-one,
Little Johnny was going to public school and was doing very badly in math. So, knowing that parochial schools often offered better training in math, his mother decided to put him in a Catholic school. When she got his report card at the end of the term, his marks in math had improved tremendously. When she asked why, he replied, “When I saw that guy nailed to the plus sign, I knew they meant business.”
I remember Mrs. Zerr, my fourth grade teacher. We all thought she lived in a house with the blinds pulled shut because she didn’t seem to like life very much. She was usually very strict and matter-of-fact and rarely smiled. The few times we saw her with a smile on her face were when we were leaving for the day.
But, as I look back, I remember so much more of what she taught us because she demanded perfection. She really cared that we knew what we needed to know before we went to 5th grade and I think all the kids knew this. She expected us to behave and to learn. I have only respect for her now.
Mrs. Zerr was one of the first authorities I ever had to deal with in such a way. There were times that weren’t as good as others, but she always demanded respect and usually received it because we knew she cared.
Our New Testament lesson deals with this very topic. As much as Christ criticized many in authority, including the leaders of the faith at that time, He demanded that those in authority be respected and obeyed. He knew that order depended on it and for this God established them in their leadership roles.
All the authorities that exist have been ordained and established by the ultimate authority, God. This theory becomes fact to us as we learn first to obey our parents, then our teachers and others who God has placed in authority over us. God established authority to bring order and if we didn’t have authority figures, there would be chaos and death all around because it is when people have no respect for a certain authority that chaos happens.
In all of this, God is the supreme power figure and we Christians follow and obey Him based on our faith in Him. As such, we know that God has certain expectations of us. He expects us to believe and obey.
Today, in many respects, authority, at least governmental authority, has taken a big hit. People’s attitude towards government has, in some cases, grown hostile because the respect it demands hasn’t been earned. We wonder what could possibly be God-ordained in some of the things we see from our leaders. How can it be God-ordained when such ungodly things seem to be happening?
It’s because we live in a world ruled by selfish ambition and sin. God doesn’t pre-arrange our lives or the lives of our leaders. He is not a puppet master. He rejoices in the good and experiences sorrow at the bad just like us. He allows all of this because each experience helps us to grow.
To be sure, it is a God-pleasing thing to have a boss or a teacher or any kind of leader that works toward the betterment of mankind. We have all had to work with leaders throughout our lives and some have met this goal more effectively than others. But whether they have received our approval or not, they have the backing of God Himself.
So, God teaches us in His Word that we must submit ourselves to those He has placed over us. Consequently, those who defy authority are also defying God unless those in authority are motivated by evil and disunity. Those who choose to defy proper authority only bring judgment upon themselves when they do.
The law of the land is God-ordained and God expects us to follow its rules. As God was bringing order out of chaos in His creation He made man to rule the earth and even before there was sin there was the law. God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”
At first Adam and Eve obeyed this law but then when tempted she lost her respect for God and placed her hope in something apart from God and those things that separate us from God are sin. Because the law was broken, sin was allowed to reign. God is the guardian of the law and has given us the law to direct us to faith and peace. When that law is broken, it leads us off the path toward heaven and towards doubt and disarray.
And just as we must pay for the laws we break on earth, so too will the breaking of God’s law demand retribution. When we make our own way by disrespecting the authority that God has established, we can expect to receive our due punishment. Paul asked Titus in the 3rd chapter of His letter to: remind (his congregation) to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Not only is all authority established by God, but the governing authorities are meant to bring blessings from God. Paul says in verse 3 and into 4 of our text, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.”
God only wants the best for us. He longs to bring us blessings so that our life might be full and He knows that to receive these to our greatest pleasure, we must live by the order He has established.
Take a moment to think of what those in authority provide. Our bosses provide us direction, our work provides us an income, our government provides us bridges and roads and schools, our police and firemen provide us protection. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on the blessings when we see so much wrong with our world, but God provided authorities to bring us the blessings He longs for us to have.
Although we may not like everything the government does, the fact remains that God uses everything under His feet to bless us.
Paul wrote in his letters to the Ephesians (1:22-23) “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
God established earthly authority, but He knew it couldn’t end there. God expects perfection, in fact He can’t deal with anything less. So He gave all authority to His Son who took our judgment upon Himself through the perfect sacrifice.
Now God asks us to submit to His Son in heaven and we do this, partly, by submitting to the authorities here on earth. The greatest of gifts have been given to all those who put their faith and trust in Christ. The ultimate reward has been granted to all those who get their very direction from the authority that Christ has established.
With Christ, we have all the authority God can give us, authority in its purest form without blemish or decay. In Christ we have gained freedom from the shackles of sin and death because He has fulfilled the requirements of the law that we had no hope of satisfying.
And as Paul has written, the law has been fulfilled in love. Paul says in verses 8 and 9, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus obeyed the authority of His Father onto death so that the law could be fulfilled in love. It was love that brought Christ to the cross and it is love that will save us all who are under authority.
If we live with the love of Christ in our hearts, it will be shown in how we submit to authority. If we show that same love as a reflection of Christ in our lives, the law will be fulfilled because “love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. (Verse 10)
Lately, I have heard many people and read many things that show great disrespect for some of the authorities we must live under, and I am just as guilty as anyone. But, as we have been commanded, we must submit to the authority that God has ordained.
This doesn’t mean that we have to be satisfied, that is why God established the electorate. This does not mean that we must bow to those who promote the things that go against the will of God. But it does mean that if we see corruption or sin, we must be loving agents for change and if no ungodly things are present we must be good citizens and examples of Christ like love and understanding.
May God grant us the patience and wisdom to distinguish wrong from right and may He give us the wisdom and love we will need to follow His commands. As the ultimate authority, God has established those in authority over us to be a blessing. May all those who find themselves in authority over others understand the role they play in God’s plan. Amen.