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Description: Is there a good reason to pay taxes? What is the problem with disrespect for authorities? Is there a way we can effectively change government?
Authorities and Authority
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
This is the last Sunday, loved ones, that we will discuss the relationship of God’s children to the
civil government and that’s because we’re coming to the end of this portion in Romans 13 where God
talks to us about the Christian in politics. Many of you have agreed with some of the things I’ve
shared and have found them in your own experience, and many of you, I know, think differently. And
it seems to me very important that in this last conversation that we have that I give an
introduction and then give you an opportunity to ask questions that you think express maybe another
important side to the issue.
So loved ones, we’re coming to the last of this portion of Romans 13, and we’ve come to the verse
where Paul summarizes what God has said through him about our relationship to the civil authorities.
You’ll see how Paul puts it in Romans 13:7, “Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are
due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”
In other words, God is saying through Paul, “You ought to give the civil and political authorities
what is due to them because of their position — what is due to them in money and what is due to
them in respect. You ought to pay the Federal and the State income taxes. You ought to pay the
import duties and the tariffs. You ought to show respect to teachers, to policemen, to judges, to
all Federal and State authorities and you ought to give honor to people in those positions. You
ought to give honor to the President of the United States and to all other people who are in
positions of official authority, both political and civil.”
Why? Well actually the biggest reason, loved ones, is Romans 13:1. That’s the biggest reason of
all. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Because God says so, that’s why.
That’s the first reason you should do it. If you say, “Why not kind of circumvent their regulations
if you possibly can? Why not treat the President or the judges or the policemen as figures of fun?
Why not treat them according to their ordinary human weaknesses and frailties or according to their
own abilities and virtues? Why not make fun of teachers? Why not make fun of people in authority?
Why not try to get around the regulations and find loopholes in their system if you possibly can?”
Well, the biggest reason is because God says you shouldn’t. That’s the biggest reason of all. He
says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” And loved ones, just about a
second after you die, there’ll come a moment when you’re alone; absolutely alone. And it will
require your blind and immediate obedience to the God of the universe at that moment, to go down the
right pathway in that twilight zone between life and death. And that blind and immediate obedience
does not come after a life of disobedience. It will only come at that crucial moment, a second
after you die, because you have practiced a habit of obedience to your God. And then, at that
moment when you’ll be coming out of whatever it is — the pains of cancer or unconsciousness — at
that moment, you’ll immediately obey your Lord at the crucial time. So that’s why we should do this
— because God says it.
Now if you say, “Does he tell us why he says that — why he tells us to give such respect and such
submission to these civil and political authorities?” He does loved ones, and you’ll find it in
Romans 13:4a: “For he is God’s servant for your good.” For he is God’s servant, that’s why. You’re
paying them and their salaries because they are God’s servants. “God’s servants — you mean people
like Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, J. Edgar Hoover were God’s
servants?” Yes, that’s what God says; God says they are his servants.
Now you may say, “That’s stupid. There are thousands of men like that in political and civil places
of authority throughout the world that don’t care a bit about God. They don’t even believe in God;
or if they do believe him they just blaspheme his name. How can you say they’re God’s servants when
they have no interest in God and no interest in doing his will?”
Loved ones, in the same way as God called another such person his servant. There was another mighty
king that opposed God’s will for his people in every way possible and yet God used him as his
You’ll find that in Romans 9:17: “For the scripture says to Pharaoh” (Pharaoh was the enemy) “I
have raised you up.” Or God, in other words says, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of
showing my power in you so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.”
God didn’t make Pharaoh bad; Pharaoh chose to be bad himself. But then God used him — so, in that
sense, God’s servants. In other words, to make it clear, you can look at the rest of Romans 13:4a to
see in what sense God’s servant: “For he is God’s servant for your good.” That’s it. God used
Cyrus who was not a Jew. He used Pharaoh who was not a Jew. He used the Babylonians who were utterly
opposed to Israel. He used many of the nations, who didn’t believe in God, as his servants to
provide for the survival of Israel.
In that same sense God uses the civil and political authorities to provide for our survival. It’s in
that sense, loved ones, that they are God’s servants. You remember how all that civil and political
authority business started. It was back in the early days of the world’s creation when a certain
chaotic situation occurred. You’ll find it in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of
man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil
continually.” Then in Genesis 6:11, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and the earth was
filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted
their way upon the earth. And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for
the earth is filled with violence through them; behold I will destroy them with the earth.'” The
place was so chaotic because of us all doing what we wanted that God had to destroy the whole place,
except for Noah and his family, with the universal flood that lasted for a year.
Then the flood disappeared and God made a strange kind of promise. You’ll find it in Genesis 8:21.
“And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse
the ground because of man, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I
ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.'” God promised, “I’ll never destroy the
earth again, but in order to corral the selfishness of man and their determination to destroy each
other, I am going to initiate the rule of law.”
That occurred in Genesis 9:6 when God established the basic law of all civil laws:
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.”
That was the beginning of civil government and political authority. God did it to keep us from
destroying each other, so that all of us who will eventually receive Jesus would have the chance of
doing so without being wiped out by the chaos and anarchy and violence around us.
So that’s why political government exists, loved ones. And that’s why God has made these political
and civil authorities his servants for our good in order to keep us alive. In other words, God uses
the policemen and the judges and the Presidents and the legal authorities to prevent the cruel hands
from choking us to death before we have a chance to get to know Jesus. That’s using the power of the
sword to restrain the cruel hands from creating chaos and violence in our society and destroying us
before we have a chance to get to know Jesus.
The power of the Spirit in the body of Christ exists to change the cruel hearts that direct the
cruel hands. It’s an entirely different function we have as the body of Jesus. Our job is not to
restrain the cruel hands — that’s the job of the civil and the political authorities. Our job, as
the body of Jesus, is to change the cruel hearts that direct those cruel hands and that’s why God
initiated civil authority and why we are to respect it.
Every time we see the civil authorities in that light, we release certain powers. Every time we see
the President — not as a silly cartoon figure that we regard as just an ordinary man, or, at the
same time, as a kind of royal President that we elevate beyond any criticism — but instead see him
as a man that God has allowed to come into that position. And when we see that he is God’s servant
in order to preserve us from violence and chaos, we see him by faith. By faith we see him in the
position as God’s servant, rather than seeing him by sight as somebody we’ve elected, or as some
ordinary person who is trying to do a job that’s too big for them.
And every time we do that – every time we know these figures of authority, not according to the
flesh; not as the other non-Christians regard them — as people who happened to get elected — but
every time we know them after the Spirit — as people who are God’s servants to us, we release two
mighty powers to influence their hearts.
The first is found in Proverbs 21:1. And every time we look at them in faith it is unto us according
to our faith in regard to this mighty truth. “The king’s heart” — or the President’s heart or the
boss’s heart or the manager’s heart or the foreman’s heart or the teacher’s heart or the professor’s
heart or my father’s heart– “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he
turns it wherever he will.” It’s a stream of water coming down from the faucet. God overrules
according to the faith of his people that these men are his servants. God is able to overrule even
their wrong decisions so that it does not turn out for our harm; but it turns out for our good.
The other mighty power it releases is in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to them
that love God.” God works all things for our good even through the drunken cop on the end of the
street, or the cop that takes bribes from prostitutes. He is able to use the good judge and the fair
judge as well as the alcoholic judge. God is able to turn them in his hands as long as his children
will see them by faith as God’s servants whose purpose is to preserve the world from chaos while
they, as God’s children, allow his Spirit to change people’s heart’s through their lives.
Now you may say, “What about when they use your taxes to fund abortion or to build nuclear
submarines? What if they use your taxes to do things that you don’t believe are right?” Well loved
ones, in a democracy like ours, where the majority rule has to count whether we like it or not, you
first of all vote. You exercise your right to vote to get the right person in. You write to your
representatives in Washington, deluging them with mail if you want to. But you write to them. You
run for office yourself, if God calls you to that vocation.
But you do not further God’s will by disobeying his direct command to pay them their taxes and to
give them respect. Do you see that? Such civil disobedience as refusing to pay taxes or refusing to
give them the respect that God tells you to give them, simply furthers the cause of chaos and
anarchy and it cannot be used by God to change their hearts. It cannot be used by God to change
In other words, we are in the same position as Jesus: “Put away your sword. If my kingdom were of
this world, my servants would fight. But my kingdom is not of this world — my kingdom is not this
external kingdom of America or Russia. My kingdom is within men’s hearts. That’s the kingdom that
will remain after death occurs. That’s the kingdom I am fighting for.” And loved ones, for those
of us who are God’s children, civil disobedience is a civilian pursuit. It’s something that
soldiers of the Cross do not get involved in because they have one task — and that is to bring
hearts into the kingdom of Jesus. And they will do anything to do that.
What if the authorities tell you to do something that would force you to disobey God — what do you
do? If the civil authorities tell you to do something that would force you to disobey God, what do
you do? Well loved ones, it’s clear and is found in Acts 5:27. This situation occurred several
times in the New Testament and this is one of them. “And when they had brought them, they set them
before the counsel. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to
teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring
this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than
men’.” That’s it.
Actually, our present government here in the States allows you a great deal of latitude: you can
educate your children at home if you want, you can start your own schools if you want, and you can
refuse military service if you want. In most ways, we are able to submit to God and to submit to the
government also. But if there should ever come a time when you have to choose, you obviously are
told, by God himself, that you must choose God.
What if you live in a fascist society, or one of the military dictatorships of South America, or a
godless oligarchy like Russia? The same truth applies, and it’s the basic truth; the king’s heart
is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord. That’s the basic truth for every ordinary Christian.
Even in a Siberian prison you can still love God and have heaven in your heart. Even when you’re
about to be executed the next day, it is still true that God can control the worst dictator in the
world for your good. Maybe not for your present happiness in this life, but he still can control it
so that you will enter heaven, whatever occurs in this present life. That’s the general, basic,
guide that God gives to us, and thank God that he gives us that.
How many of us here are not facing Siberian prisons, but we’re facing difficult circumstances and
hard things and we live or work in awkward situations? Loved ones, the truth is that there is no
external circumstance that can prevent you being a full, complete child of God and going to heaven
when you leave this world. God has assured us of that.
Now, I’ll keep quiet so that you can ask questions.
A:(cid:9)The question is roughly this: Doug is pushing me on capital punishment. He’s pleading all kinds
of the best examples possible so that I would agree with him! I understand Chuck Colson’s
encouragement that you give as much time to prisoners to repent as possible. But it’s interesting,
Doug, even in Chuck Colson’s last newsletter, there was a detailed account of a man, who has a
friend here in the body who knows him and prayed for him in those important days, and even that dear
man pleaded that they would execute him and that he would receive what was due to him. He had
repented and had become a Christian and died a Christian.
As someone wrote me in a little note: “What about people like David, or some of the kings like Saul
who obviously weren’t executed even though they caused another man’s death? Well, maybe because
they caused it indirectly, but I still think they were due death. In each case, you remember,
death reigned throughout the family: David’s son was killed, and there were others that continued
to be killed as a result of his action. So it seems that in those special cases, because they were
the kings and were still being used by God, they were not executed but the execution was virtually
carried out in their families.
It seems Doug, difficult to find in this book (the Bible), reason for opposing capital punishment
unless you hopelessly and illogically mix up the realm of the civil authority and the religious
authority. Then you start applying the Sermon on the Mount to the political authorities – “turn the
other cheek” and all that. But then that prevents war. If you’re going to apply that to political
authorities, nobody can fight. And the truth is that the Sermon on the Mount and the whole spirit
of those commands is given to the heart within; the kingdom that reigns within our hearts. But
still, there are mosaic laws that apply to the external civil authorities.
In other words, loved ones, you’d be in a hedonistic situation if you started to try to apply the
law of continual forgiveness in the case of every robbery that took place: there would be chaos.
You’d be opposing the whole purpose of God’s laws, which is to create order and prevent chaos and
anarchy. But think what would happen if every time somebody did a million dollar Brinks job, we
simply said, “We forgive you!” They’d be doing it again tomorrow and it would become the rule of
So I think Doug, still, you have to keep on this side of the issue the political authorities that
govern by the mosaic law and on this side the kingdom: the authority of the kingdom and the
spiritual authority governed by Christ and his commandments.
A: I think I can respond, Tom, in a way that will put you at peace. Loved ones, when Jesus calls
you to stand up for something like abortion or to oppose abortion, I think you are governed by your
conscience to do it. But Tom, what I am desperately afraid of is that the church, as a whole,
begins to turn its eyes from saving souls to issues like that that are secondary to the saving of a
soul. So that’s what I’m concerned with. Brother, I’m with you. And I don’t think you should apply
what I’m saying to the individual. I think all of us are called by Jesus to stand up for different
things as Christians. But I was very concerned that with the whole impetus and drive in the
country, it would be like Jesus’ disciples suddenly turning from saving people’s souls and turning
around to abolish slavery. That would have been disastrous for us. We’d never have found the
kingdom. So that’s it.
No brother, I am for what you’re saying and I am for the individual’s right to do it. But I think,
loved ones, it’s very important that we, as a body of Jesus, do not get directed down a side road.
Do you know one of the concerns that are on some of our hearts about what we regard as a religious
movement that has taken place in America? How many missionaries has it sent abroad? You know that
the answer to that is pretty pathetic if you compare it with all the religious books that have been
published and all the churches that are filled with people.
It’s amazing how few missionaries have been sent out by it and the mark of revival is that there’s
always a great explosion of missionary endeavor: people are concerned first of all for others —
for those who do not know Jesus. That’s, I think, what God put on my heart: that we needed to keep
our searchlight on the main issue. It was a bit like the anti-Semitism attacks were for us, it was
vital to keep on preaching our way through Romans, looking for God’s word. We were not to get
deviated and start defending ourselves against anti-Semitism.
So loved ones, you’ll find that in your own life as well. There are a thousand side alleys you can
go down. But we have been introduced to Jesus for one reason — to introduce as many others to him
as possible before we die. That’s the purpose of our lives.
A: Loved ones, here’s what I would love to share with you — this time as a European. It’s very
important that we Irish, when we’re in Ireland, do not tell you in America what you should do in
your situation. But as a European could I say to you that it’s very important, too, that you don’t
try to tell us (in Ireland) what to do in our situation because it is so very, very different from
yours. And brother, that’s one great caution I would bring to each of us in this room. About as
much as we can manage is to get God’s mind on what we are to do in our own situation.
When we begin to talk about loved ones in Russia or in other countries, it seems to me we need to
talk with great caution and with great respect to their situations. So I would be very reluctant to
say, “Yes, that’s the answer”, but I do think that loved ones in Russia have already shown that
those who have grown in Jesus are those who have kept their eyes on Jesus. Those who have got
entangled either in trying to compromise with the authorities or trying simply to oppose the
authorities have found that they have got preoccupied with civilian pursuits.
So I would certainly agree that the whole attitude in Russia would be very possible for you to say
that God will not let anyone, even powerful leaders, do anything that will prevent me knowing Jesus
in my heart. And even if God allows me to be sent to a Siberian prison, he will so arrange things
that I will still be able, whatever brainwashing or torture I have to endure — to stay with Jesus.
I believe that that’s what has enabled many loved ones to die in peace in Russia. It seems to be
that that would certainly be a reasonable position to take and, loved ones, a position that many of
us in Europe have had to take. We’ve often been in situations where we haven’t been able to change
the circumstances. One of the beauties of America is you can often change the circumstances —
except that sometimes, now we’re beginning to find even we can’t change the circumstances.
As the power of evil intensifies in the world, we find it increasingly difficult to make things the
way we think they should be. And many of us in Europe and in Asia have suffered all kinds of
impossible external circumstances and yet lived in freedom in our hearts. I would submit to you
that probably the final circumstance of all that we each meet in this life is such a circumstance:
that circumstance when you stop breathing. At that moment, to all intents and purposes, our life
has ceased. And at that moment it’s so important to have our reality inside.
A: I am very skeptical, Jim, of the idea that there are legal revolutions. That’s the distinction
that some theologians make: that there are godly revolutions and ungodly revolutions. It seems to me
it does not stand up to logical analysis. The only thing I suppose one can say is that that majority
in a certain nation come to a certain point where God allows them to do certain things that are not
his ideal, just as he allowed Israel to have a king even though he didn’t think it was the ideal.
I am sure many of us who face the violence of our present society and some of the anarchy in our
present society have wondered if we’re not reaping some of the benefits of our attitude earlier on.
But it seems to me very difficult. I can’t answer that question (about God’s thoughts concerning
revolution). At least I am honest.
A: The question is regarding the issue of bearing arms. And it seems to me even our government
make provision for us to refuse and to do alternate service and that’s why I think it’s part of
the bewilderment that we have in trying to explain the origin of our nation. There is so much
evidence that God has blessed America and blessed us with an enlightened government and with a
liberal government and blessed those dear men, people like Jefferson and many who weren’t Christians
at all. He seems to have given them wisdom beyond their understanding for us. And I think all of
us who are Americans stand in the middle of a great miracle for which, loved ones, there’s no one
more grateful than the naturalized immigrant. He knows more than anybody else what a blessed country
we have. What a dear nation we have and what a great government we have.
A: It seems to me Jesus has called us to be responsible citizens in every way, loved ones. And it
seems to me what he is saying is do it with love in your heart and respect for your authorities and
not with a rebellion in your heart. But be responsible citizens and speak out on issues and use
your vote and exercise your right to vote and write to congressmen and run for offices as God guides
you. But do it with a heart that trusts God and not trusting your ability to change things. That’s
the heart of it, loved ones.
Trusting God that even if you are not able to get your way on abortion or even if we’re not able to
get our way on capital punishment, that God himself will so overrule that nothing will happen that
will prevent us doing what he wants us to do for Jesus and that, finally, the heart of the king is a
stream of water in the hand of the Lord. And loved ones, as we encourage our children to exercise
that faith, there’ll be a peace that they will come up in — not that fearfulness of the people
running to the mountains and storing in the food and the guns — but there’ll be a faith and a
confidence that our children will come up in knowing that we have someone who is governing the
governor. And that’s what’s so important: that we rest in that peace.
So you should know that, in regard to your bosses or those who are in authority over you, the heart
of each one of them is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord. God will not allow anything to
happen to you that he cannot use for his glory in your life. That’s probably the final deliverance
from slavery, isn’t it?
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you for the way you deal with everything in your world. And we thank you for
the book of Romans that has been such a blessing to us over these years. We thank you Father for
the encouraging direction you give us to trust that you are in charge even of the world leaders.
You are in control even of those military dictators and you are certainly in control of our
President and those in authority over us in this nation. Then we thank you, our Father, that with
that strong faith in our hearts, you are in a position to direct us to take certain actions.
Actions that stem from faith and not from fear. Actions that stem from your intuition in our hearts
and not from some label, phrase, or emotional issue that is raised by others.
Father we thank you that we can act from a position of quiet faith that God will work all things for
good to them that love him and that the heart of the king is a stream of water in the hand of the
Lord. And then we can act in peace and in blessing.
Lord, we thank you for that. We thank you Father that it applies to us in regard to our taxes and
in regard to those who are in authority over us in our businesses and in our jobs and in our
schools. Lord, we don’t need to be anxious about them or worry. You will allow them to do what is
good for us and nothing more. We thank you for that.
Now, the grace of our Lord Jesus and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with
each one of us, now and evermore. Amen.
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