What can we believe? Can the Bible offer reliable guidance for our careers, relationships, financial problems and the evil that appears to control our world today? Here are 300 intelligent, thoughtful “verse-by-verse” half-hour video expositions of the classic explanation of reality as explained in the Book of Romans.
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Undermining Civil Authority - Romans
Undermining Civil Authority
by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Last Sunday we studied Romans 13:1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For
there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God”, and today
we’re studying Romans 13:2, “Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed
and those who resist will incur judgment.”
It’s very natural to say, “Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. That’s exactly the kind of attitude
that forced Lech Walesa to be interrogated for hours simply because he visited his former colleagues
in the underground Solidarity trade union. It’s exactly that attitude that has brought that about —
this business of submission to the authorities at all costs. It’s this attitude that enabled
Russian tanks to roll into Hungary and Czechoslovakia. It’s this attitude that has enabled thousands
of rulers down through the years to hold their subjects underneath them. It’s this kind of attitude
in Christianity that has committed so many people to slavery when they could have been released into
freedom. It’s this kind of attitude that kings and princes used for years in Europe to keep their
people underneath them. It’s ridiculous. This kind of attitude in Christianity is the opium of the
people. It’s what drugs people into passivity: into a passive looking forward to some ideal heaven
and therefore an absolute irresponsibility with regard to the utterly unjust temptations in which
they’re living here on earth.”
The difficulty with that response, apart from the fact that it is utterly in opposition to what the
Bible says, is the company it forces you to keep. Do you know who said that “religion is the opiate
of the masses?” That was Karl Marx. Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” He said it’s
this kind of attitude in Christianity that tells people they should be subject to their authorities,
regardless, because God has appointed the authorities. It’s this kind of attitude that has drugged
them into passivity and enabled the rulers to continue to hold sway over them.
The problem is — we know that that is Karl Marx’s justification of violent rebellion by the
Proletariat in order to take control of the production techniques of the country. And that that has
slaughtered far more human beings than all the Czars put together. It’s the justification of violent
revolution in order to overthrow the established order that has brought about so much lawlessness
and so much anarchy.
In other words, this verse that tells us to be subject to authorities and not resist them because
they are appointed by God — this verse may well be misused by unjust rulers in order to keep their
people under them. But this verse certainly tends to stabilize and prolong the rule of law. It
tends to encourage people to avoid the violent revolutions that have destroyed so many human rights
and thrown so many people into labor camps.
This verse tends to hold humanity back from plunging into the chasm of anarchy and lawlessness that
destroys so many lives and so much freedom in godless revolutions. Maybe that’s the answer: maybe
godly revolutions are alright. Maybe godly revolution such as the American one, which brings about
law and a rule of law, are alright. And maybe godless revolutions that bring about anarchy and
chaos are the ones that are wrong. That would be a very neat solution and we could all go home for
lunch and feel happy about 1776!
Except, loved ones, that isn’t what the Bible says. You may say, “Couldn’t it be interpreted that
way?” Let’s look at it in Romans 13:2, “Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God
has appointed.” And you say, “Now could it be that when you resist authorities that God has
appointed, you’re wrong, you’re disobeying him; but when you resist authorities that God has not
appointed — godless authorities that have no submission to law or absolutes in their minds at all
— then you’re right?” Except that that’s not what the Bible says. The Bible doesn’t say, “He who
resists the authorities that God has appointed will incur judgment”, the Bible says, “Therefore he
who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed.” And in the previous verse, at the very
end of it, Paul clarified this because he said, “Those (authorities) that exist have been instituted
by God.” Romans 13:1b
Do you know the ones that existed? Nero — he was the emperor. Admittedly they were enjoying the
temporary peace that Nero had brought to the Roman empire at that time, but in a few years Nero
would be illuminating his garden parties with Christians whom he had covered with pitch and set fire
to. Yet Paul says, “Those that exist have been instituted by God and if you resist them, you are
resisting what God has appointed.” Moreover, the Jewish authorities who had just crucified the most
perfect man who had ever lived in the world, God’s own Son Jesus, were ruling at that very time that
Paul wrote “Those authorities that exist now have been instituted by God.”
The Sanhedrin gave him authority to go and slaughter the Christians; that was in existence at that
very time. Now, you may say, “Wait a minute — God didn’t institute Nero. He didn’t appoint Nero to
go and slaughter the disciples of his son Jesus.” No, he didn’t: Nero chose to do that. Nero chose
to be that kind of man and to do that kind of work. But God worked that into his plan for the
nation in which his son would be born. So you’re right: Nero wasn’t forced by God to do it; he chose
to do it himself. But God then used his free will choice and worked it into his plan.
That’s stated very clearly about a man who was actually much worse than Nero — Pharaoh, king of
Egypt. He was a ruler who was not a godly ruler, who was a godless ruler; a ruler who was not a kind
or enlightened ruler at all and yet this is what God says about him in Romans 9:17: “For the
scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘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.’” And when we studied this verse several years ago,
we came to the same conclusion: that Pharaoh chose to do that himself. He chose to slaughter and he
chose to keep the Israelites in Egypt as long as he could. He chose to do those things but God used
his free choice and used Pharaoh to further the workings that he was carrying out among his own
In other words, loved ones, it’s failing to see how big our God is to say you can only afford to
submit to the authorities that are legitimate, that are legally appointed; the authorities that have
gained their power legally. It’s bringing God down to our size. As well as that, it’s a principle
that is very hard to exercise because it means we are the judges of what authority is legal and what
is illegal so it’s bringing God down to our size.
God, down through the centuries, has been involved in taking the less than perfect actions of man
and often the godless actions of rulers and working them into his plan. So it is never right to
initiate political action or civil rebellion on the basis of the fact that things have got out of
There may be other reasons for initiative, but there’s no place for ever initiating political or
civil action on the basis of belief that things have got out of God’s control — because things are
never out of God’s control. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. And you do
not need to disobey his word in order to make sure his purposes are fulfilled. He is well able to
fulfill his purposes while we obey every detail of his good word.
You may say, “Why does he allow such rulers to exist? Why does he allow rulers that are unjust? I
see that you have to submit to them because they’re instituted by God — or at least he has allowed
them to be there. But why does he allow people like that?”
Two reasons: one is free will. In Germany in the 30’s, enough loved ones in that dear nation used
their free vote; it was free will at that time, to vote in a certain Adolph Hitler who then began to
exercise his terrorism. Just the same way, lest we’re all feeling self-righteous in America, as all
of us voted in Kennedy and Johnson and Nixon, who brought about Vietnam and Watergate.
In other words, one of the reasons we end up with rulers that are less than perfect is because of
man’s free will: we vote them in. We allow it to happen. As Nixon once said, “We do nothing; we just
let it develop.” Another reason, and maybe the more important one, is the one that Jesus gives in
his words in John 18:36, where Pilot was questioning and Jesus answers: “My kingship is not of this
world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over
to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” Jesus made it absolutely clear that his kingdom
was not going to be established here on earth; that his kingdom was a kingdom that was established
in the hearts of men. And that when he came again at his second coming, he would establish, in the
millennium, his kingdom here on earth by his own mighty act in his second coming. But his first
coming was in order to show the life to men and women that he had made possible for them by his
Jesus made it clear, repeatedly, that his kingdom was involved with delivering individual people
from the evil in their own hearts: remaking them through his death and his resurrection and making
them like his own Father inside. And he was not concerned with establishing a kingdom here on the
earth. That’s one reason why God is able to use even evil civil rulers — because he is not about
the job of establishing his kingdom here on earth after this, his first coming. He will do that in
his second coming but not now.
The kingdom of God is within you. It is the individual deliverance of our hearts from the power of
self and of evil; to be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved
son. That is why Jesus came. And so he is not concerned with whether every civil ruler is exactly
suitable for him to use to build his kingdom because they are not the people that he is using to
build his kingdom. Jesus uses the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who builds Jesus’ rule in
men’s hearts and by whom people are fully formed in Jesus.
Now you may say, “Don’t the civil rulers do something? Don’t they fulfill some function in God’s
world?” Yes they do, loved ones, and it’s defined clearly in Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came,
we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed.” Most civil
authorities are based originally on the Mosaic Law; whether it’s the Magna Charta or whether it’s
our own constitution, most of it is based on the Mosaic Law.
The civil authorities keep sin under restraint, that’s their function. They keep sin from throwing
the whole world into anarchy and chaos and bringing about all our destruction before we have any
chance to get to know Jesus. That’s the purpose of the civil authority: through the law, they keep
sin under restraint. They keep anarchy from breaking out and destroying the whole world and that’s
their purpose if you look at Galatians 3:21. “Is the law then against the promises of God?
Certainly not; for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed
be by the law.” Is the job of the civil authorities to build the kingdom of God? No. A law can’t do
that. If there had been a law that could be given that could make people alive, then righteousness
would indeed be by the law.
If God could do it through the civil authorities, then he would do it. But the only purpose of the
civil authority is to hold anarchy back and hold sin from destroying us all while we get a chance,
individually, to allow Jesus to deliver us personally from our sin. But the civil authorities can
never build the kingdom of God.
I don’t want to anticipate the nitty-gritty questions that we’ll try to deal with next time:
Vietnam, abortion, all those things. But could I say this to you and ask for your sympathy? By law,
I am on neither side, okay? I am on neither side because that takes you off the whole center of
truth, so I am on neither side. But still, by law you may stop the wee girl killing the baby, but
by law you cannot give her life, just remember. By law, you may stop the wee soul killing the baby
but you cannot use law to give that wee soul life through Jesus and that’s part of it. Part of the
meaning is: the civil authority is there to hold back sin and hold back anarchy but it can never
Now that’s the mistake the Jews made, do you realize that? That’s the mistake the Jewish nation
made. They took the laws — the civil and moral laws that God had given them to preserve society
and to keep it back from chaos while he began to give life to individual people who sought him —
they took those civil and moral laws and tried to build a theocracy here on the earth.
A theocracy is a national society and a political society that goes exactly according to God’s laws;
that is governed by God’s laws. And that’s what the Jewish people tried to do. They took the laws,
civil and moral, that God had given simply to preserve society from anarchy and chaos, and they
tried to use those laws to build a theocracy here on earth. And it took centuries of defeat and
subjugation at the hands of their enemies to persuade them that the only way that kingdom would ever
come would be through the Messiah coming and establishing it by his own hand and by his own power.
It took the Assyrians to come and cross them and take some of the mandates out; the Babylonians to
come and take some of the mandates out; the Persians to come, then the Greeks, then the Romans.
Year after year after year, God allowed nations to come over and destroy this theocracy that the
Jewish people were trying to build here on earth in order to persuade them, “My loved ones, it’s
only when my Messiah comes and writes these laws on your inward hearts that you will begin to enter
In fact they actually misunderstood the whole plan for God’s kingdom so much that even after Jesus
resurrection some of his own followers were still trying to play that same tune. You’ll see that in
Acts 1:6. It really is a heart rending question when you realize that Jesus has spent his life
trying to make it clear. And of course his Father had spent centuries trying to make clear that the
kingdom, at this his first coming, was to be built in people’s hearts through their willing
submission to his Spirit – and would not be built here on earth in civil and political expression.
Acts 1:6, “So when they had come together”, and you can imagine Jesus looking forward, “Here I am
alive, and they’re going to see me”, “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will
you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’” They were still at the same thing. And do you see
how he answered? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has
fixed by his own authority.” That is something that the Father will bring about by his own power,
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses
in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
In other words, he said, “Forget about that civil, political, kingdom building. You go on and
witness to the people that I have died for. That’s what you’re here to do while you’re here on the
earth.” So loved ones, next time we meet, I’d like to try to share a little about the ways in which
we can influence the civil authorities as Christian citizens; but here I’d just like to conclude by
saying there are two ways in which we can resist the authorities and therefore incur judgment
because we resist what God has appointed.
The first is by trying to make them do what they were never appointed to do: that is, to try to use
them as an extension of the church of Jesus Christ to build a theocracy here in America. They were
never appointed to do this: that isn’t why they’re appointed. That isn’t what they’re fitted for.
And that’s why so many congressmen are not Christians, perhaps. That’s why so many Presidents have
not been Christians. Because God is able to use them to do what he has appointed them to do: hold
back anarchy and hold back chaos so that his Spirit can get to work bringing salvation to individual
So we resist the authorities when we try to make them do what they were never appointed to do. We
try to use them as an extension of Jesus’ body to build a kingdom of God here on earth. In other
words, we try to do what the loved ones are doing — or many of them are doing — in Israel at this
moment: they’re trying to restore the kingdom to Israel. They won’t believe that all the prophecies
in the New Testament show clearly that this is something that Jesus will do in his second coming by
his own power and by his visible appearance. They won’t believe that that’s not something that they
can bring about by their own manipulation or their own methods and that all this present movement
will come to nothing. It has to; because the whole purpose of God’s plan is that man’s abilities
and efforts and powers will be seen to be laid in the dust and man’s only hope will be when Jesus
comes and delivers us from the anti-Christ and delivers Israel also.
But many of us make the same mistake as loved ones do in Israel: we try to build the kingdom here in
America. Loved ones, that’s where we get into seeing America as “the chosen people”; “America as the
promised land.” That’s where we get into that and it’s not true. Schaffer (Francis Schaffer) is
right: “There is no Christian consensus in this country and there may actually never be.” And
indeed it may well be one of God’s greatest plans that there never will be — that the only way to
bring Jesus into a person’s individual heart is in the context of the kind of civil and political
mix and pluralistic society in which we live today.
The one way in which we can resist the authority is by forcing them to try to perform a function of
building the kingdom here on the earth that they were never meant to fulfill. The only function they
were meant to fulfill is to hold back chaos and anarchy in order to prevent sin utterly and
absolutely destroying us before the Holy Spirit can deal with it.
The second way is by outflanking and circumventing the civil and political institutions by giving up
on them and saying, “They’re beyond doing anything with” and by withdrawing the glue of the body of
Christ that alone sticks the civil and political authorities together and by withdrawing the oil of
the Holy Spirit that alone oils and enables the civil and political institutions to operate.
Every time we outflank and circumvent and get around and probably do better without the political
institutions, we make another little dent in the only bulwark that God has set up in the world to
hold back the Lawless One. And bit-by-bit we pick and pick until that day will come when civil
power will no longer be able to hold the thing together. And a man will stand up and say, “America
is ungovernable.” Or a German will stand up and say, “Germany is ungovernable.” And that moment
will come when the civil and political institutions are no longer able to do their job of holding
back the chaos and anarchy of citizens. Loved ones, we resist those authorities when we pick and
pick and subtly and cleverly outflank and circumvent these institutions instead of getting in and
making them work.
That’s what Paul was saying: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, I know — I agree with you: it’s
utterly lawless at times. It seems cruel and unfair. It seems like a godless bunch in government,
but it fulfills the function that our God has. And I ask you to submit to it and to support it and
to do everything you can to make it fulfill the function that it has to fulfill, which is to
preserve society in order to keep it from chaos while the Spirit of Jesus is able to get in and
redeem man’s life.”
Loved ones, will you think and pray about those things? Try to deal with the ways in which we can
influence our society. Let us pray.
Father, we want to thank you first of all for this dear country and for all that we have here. But
Lord, we see that even this place, beautiful as it is, is not meant to be the kingdom of God here on
earth and will never be. And Lord, we apologize if we have, in our enthusiasm, hoped to make the
civil government in some way an extension of the body of Jesus.
Lord, we see that if we succeeded in doing that, we would drive all kinds of people away from you as
they sense the overbearing, domineering influence of the body of Jesus instead of the winsome,
humble, loving influence. So Lord, we would stay away from that. And we thank you for this nation
and thank you for its political and civil institutions and thank you that the church is separate
from the state. Thank you that there is a reason for that.
We thank you Lord that we express the redeeming grace of God in the church and that the civil and
political authorities express the preserving grace of God. Then Lord we would thank you for showing
us that we have such a contribution to make to these civil and political institutions that in a way
we are not only the conscience of the nation but it is the very love and stability and respect and
submission that you have put in our hearts that will enable these institutions to continue long
enough for your kingdom to be completely gathered in before the lawless one comes. So Lord, we thank
you for that.
We ask you dear Father to give us wisdom and grace not only to understand these things but to do
them in a way that fulfills your plan for us in them. 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.
Supporting The Civil Authorities - Romans
Supporting the Civil Authorities
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’ve been talking about the Christian and government and the Christian’s attitude to the government
and to politics. What we have seen in scripture is that there are two unscriptural views one can
take of the government, or of the civil authorities.
The first is the view that the Federal government, particularly, but even the State government, is
not only separate from the church but is antagonistic to the church. This view sees the government
as the enemy of the church — sees the government as the devil in some sense — and as the leader of
evil. This view sees it as the destroyer of religion in schools, as the initiator of unjust wars,
as the killer of the unborn. Generally the attitude is that the government is evil and is against
all that is good.
Now, at different times the government may be those things. But the error of this view is that it
treats the civil authority in the light of the particular politicians or the particular policies
that you happen to have experienced at a certain time in history. And it begets in the body of
Christ the siege mentality. It begets the “persecuted minority” attitude. It begets a self-defensive
attitude. It begets the “ghetto complex” in the body of Christ — the “run to the hills with your
weapons and food until the second coming” attitude. And down through history, that attitude in the
church has always brought about a withdrawal from the political process. In other words it has
brought about a tendency to withdraw from any participation in the political and civil process of
the nation. And indeed, it has brought about a tendency to circumvent the institutions of the civil
authorities and to set up our own institutions in parallel to their institutions, instead of acting
as leaven in the society. This is always brought about by a withdrawal attitude on the part of the
Now, apart from the fact that such a “ghetto complex” or such a self-defensive mentality is
ridiculous in a democracy like ours — where we can vote and run for office and change things if we
want to — apart from that, the fact is that that “ghetto complex” or the “siege mentality” is
utterly unlike the attitude that is expressed in this dear book (the Bible) and that is encouraged
in the Christians of that day. The spirit of the verse we’re studying is utterly different from
that. You can see that if you look at it in Romans 13:1: “Let every person be subject to the
governing authorities.” I suppose we’d call that a “friendly” verse; “Let every person be subject to
the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been
instituted by God.”
And loved ones, these people had every right to say “the government is the tax gatherer and the
misuser of taxes”. They had every right to say, “The government is the suppressor and the repressor
of our freedom.” They had every right to say that. But here is Paul, in the same days as Nero the
emperor, who lit live Christians to illuminate his gardens when he was running his massive parties
and he says “No, don’t run for the hills. Don’t gather your weapons and food and withdraw. Don’t
pull back. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority
except from God. And those that exist have been instituted by God.”
The Christian leaders that followed and led the church immediately after the death of the apostles
— people like Clement and Ignatius and Arodius — the great Christian leaders that came into
existence after the apostles died out, had the same attitude. Not an antagonistic attitude to this
government, but an attitude that this government was instituted by God to hold society back from
anarchy and to preserve it from the spirit of lawlessness — that is really the spirit of
anti-Christ — while the redeeming grace of God in the body of Jesus could get to work saving
individual souls. I don’t know if you’ve read some of the reports of the persecutions in the early
days. They were hideous. They dressed Christians up in animal hides and then put them into the
arenas with wild animals to be torn apart. They crucified children and mothers together. They were
Some of those accounts are written by a man called Clement — a famous leader of the church. He left
us a prayer that he used every Sunday in his church. This is the same man who knew those
persecutions wrote the accounts of them that we have. Here’s his prayer, written after an especially
intensive series of persecutions that had just taken place. “Give concord and peace to us, and to
all that dwell on the earth, while we render obedience to thine almighty and most excellent name and
to our rulers and governors upon the earth. Thou, Lord and Master, has given them the power of
sovereignty through thine excellent and unspeakable might, that we, knowing the glory and honor
which thou has given them, may submit ourselves unto them; in nothing resisting thy will. Grant unto
them therefore O Lord, health, (this was to a man like Nero) peace, concord, and stability that they
may administer the government which thou has given them without failure. For thou, heavenly Master,
King of the ages, gives to the sons of men, glory and honor and power over all things that are upon
the earth. Do thou Lord direct their counsel according to that which is good and well-pleasing in
thy sight.” A few days after, he watched Polycarp being burned.
And loved ones, the “ghetto complex” attitude, and the “siege mentality” attitude brings about
certain judgments upon us; any unscriptural resistance to the government brings about a judgment
upon us. You can see that in Romans 13:2: “Therefore he who resists the authority resists what God
has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment.” We resist the authorities when we treat
them for something that they’re not; when we treat them as through and through evil; as utterly
antagonistic to God, as utterly antagonistic to his plan; as not part of his plan for the world. And
when we do that in regard to this “ghetto complex” that we adopt, we incur a certain judgment upon
First of all, we bring up our children in fear. We do. We bring up our children — not in faith but
in fear. Fear that the heart of the King may not be in the hand of the Lord. When we adopt a siege
mentality, or a ghetto complex towards the government, we bring up our children in fear that maybe
God cannot overrule this — maybe that’s one thing that’s too big for him. Maybe he cannot overrule
the actions of the government in regard to my life. Maybe the heart of the King, as the Bible says,
is not, in fact, in the hand of the Lord. So of course, we force them to withdraw in fear from
anybody or anything that is secular, instead of encouraging them to be strong and go forth into
society, and influence it and be leaven in it. We encourage them to withdraw from anything that is
not religious or that is not part of our church.
On the other hand, we affect the person who does not know Jesus by our kind of “ghetto complex”
mentality. We create a feeling that Jesus is exclusive and withdrawn and is actually pretty
impractical. We create a feeling that he doesn’t have much to do with the normal organizations and
the normal governments that we have to deal with in this life. And we begin to undermine the
authority that was specifically appointed by God to prevent the world from plunging into anarchy.
We begin to nibble at the bit of order that exists in our society, just as if we had built the
barricades years ago in the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. They may have been built on very good
principles, but they had the overall effect of encouraging the man of lawlessness.
So, loved ones, that’s one view: the view that regards the government as evil and as the devil. Now,
strange enough, the other unscriptural attitude is the very opposite of that. It regards the
government, not quite as God, but as the kingdom of God. And it has the attitude that the best
thing possible would be if every Senator and every Congressman were a full time evangelist! Really
— there are loved ones that think, “Boy, that would be the greatest — if every Congressman and
every Senator was a full time evangelist, and the laws of our state and our government enforced
Christian belief and behavior upon everybody.” In other words, the other unscriptural attitude is
the attitude that thinks, “We ought to be making this a Christian nation. We should make this a
theocracy — a community that is bound and governed by laws that not only enforce the Ten
Commandments, but enforce belief and obedience to Jesus as well, on pain of penalty.”
Of course, the worst thing about that attitude is, it’s unscriptural. Jesus said in effect, “My
kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would fight — they
wouldn’t be standing back here. My kingdom is not of this world. My kingdom is not the Senate of the
United States. It’s not the Congress, it’s not the government of China, and it’s not the government
of France or Germany or the government of Ireland. My kingdom is not of this world.” Then Jesus
went on to point out, very clearly, that “The kingdom of God is within you. It’s within men’s
hearts, that’s where my kingdom is. That’s the only place it can be built. It’s an invisible
kingdom. It’s like a seed that rose silently overnight in a farmer’s field. It’s growing quietly and
secretly. Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t. Most times it’s invisible. It is not a
God spent thousands of years scattering the Jews again and again with invasion and exile because
they were constantly trying to form a theocracy. They were constantly trying to form a state that
would be built on the Mosaic Laws. Not that the Mosaic Laws would simply be used to hold back
anarchy and chaos, but they were trying to build a state that would be a perfect expression of God’s
law here on earth. And God is still in the business of trying to destroy that. Some of us are
involved in trying to build it up because we misunderstand what’s happening. But down through the
years God has constantly scattered the Jewish people every time they have tried to establish a
visible expression of what the kingdom of God is because it’s impossible — it was never God’s
Loved ones, this view is a failure to make the clear distinction that Jesus makes between the
kingdom of this world and the kingdom of the next world; or the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of
the earth. Jesus made it clear when he said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to
God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) In other words, he said keep them separate and make
sure you remember that you can’t make the one into the other. It was never meant to be and it will
The civil government is there to keep us from killing each other, while Jesus is able to send his
Spirit into our hearts. But the kingdom of this world can never, with its laws, form Jesus in a
person’s heart. Only the Spirit of God can do that. Galatians 3:21 states very clearly that the
law was never meant to do that. “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if
a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” So,
loved ones, if you could make people alive by laws, then God might permit us to have a theocracy.
But there is no law that can make a person alive. There’s only a willing surrender of their own
wills to Jesus. Not an enforced submission of their wills to an external law.
But this wrong view of government incurs a judgment too — just the same way as the other one did.
And the judgment is this: that those of us who look upon America and the Federal government and the
State government as organizations that we should try to make into the kingdom of God, or to match
the kingdom of God as carefully as possible — or to make it act as an arm of the church or do the
work of the church — we end up using the sword to do it. We end up preoccupied with issues, we end
up preoccupied with laws, and preoccupied with public relations questions. We end up with
power-brokering — with being preoccupied with block votes and all the clumsy paraphernalia that men
and women here on earth use to try to influence each other against their will. And those of us who
get involved in trying to make the political situation into the kingdom of God, end up utterly
preoccupied with the very same issues that occupy the politicians — everything that is involved in
external politics. We become involved in those instead of being preoccupied with a love of Jesus,
and a love of men’s individual souls and hearts, and prayer for them because of him and then we lose
the fragrance of Jesus in our lives.
We get coarse and we spend all our time in political arguments and all our time trying to move in
caucuses of all kinds — trying to move people this way and that — instead of being preoccupied
with what Jesus said when he was asked, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He
said, “It’s not for you to know the times or places that God has set in his own good time but you
shall receive power and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the end
of the earth.” So instead of concentrating on being his witnesses, we become what we like to think
of as “Christian politicians” — moving something that will move back three months hence or two
years hence or ten years hence. The picture that the person who doesn’t know Jesus gets of the body
of Jesus is hideous. No longer is it the glance at the winsome bride who, in humble and lowly and
loving people, tells him of the secret to life. Instead it becomes a domineering, dominating,
overbearing church or Christendom trying to force it’s will on the majority of the people.
So loved ones, the two uses are extremes. And they incur their own judgment upon us. Now, how can
we best support civil authorities — because that’s the topic this morning: not just resisting them
but supporting them? How can you best support the civil authorities? It’s important to see that
that’s what Paul is talking about. He is not trying to give an answer to every political situation
that exists throughout the world; he is not. And we’re foolish if we get involved in that kind of a
discussion. God is not, through Paul, trying to give recommendations for solving every political
situation that exists throughout the world. All he is doing is directing us, as the body of Jesus,
in the ways that we could support the civil authorities to enable them to perform the function that
he has given them. Or preserving the world from chaos so that the body of Christ can continue on
it’s ministry of redemptive work and individual hearts. So that’s what he’s dealing with.
How can we support the civil authorities to perform the function that God has given us? First, by
being whole-heartedly involved: by voting, by running for office if God guides us to, by taking part
in every way in the political process, as we are obligated and privileged to do as citizens. Not by
withdrawing from this society but by acting as leaven in it — by being active people who are
operating inside an institution that God, himself, has created.
That means, at times, that we’ll be involved in the same thing as Paul and Peter and the other
apostles were involved in. They were often involved in un-Christ-like laws. Laws that were utterly
opposed to the will of Christ and utterly opposed to the will of anybody who loved Christ. And yet
those laws had either been passed by the majority, in a democratic situation, or they had been
imposed by a dictator. And the apostles, faced with that situation, did not try to fight that, but
they did everything possible to bring a Christ-like spirit into the exercise of those laws.
If we had slavery in the United States today, what a wild uproar would be in the church. If you go
by our present record, I think probably nobody would ever get saved because the church would be so
busy opposing this terrible evil by political power and maneuvering, that it would have no time to
deal with little ones who wanted to get to know Jesus. And yet, loved ones, that’s the situation
the apostles faced. Do you realize that in their time more than half of the people in the Roman
empire were slaves? Now, what was Paul’s attitude? Did he lead a crusade against slavery? No. It’s
unnecessary to point out to you that the whole spirit of love that is presented in the Christian
gospel is utterly opposed to slavery — that’s plain and obvious. The message is all for
preferring the other before yourself, honoring the other person, loving the other person as
yourself, giving the other person a better situation and better privileges than yourself, so is
utterly opposed to it. Yet here is what Paul writes in Ephesians 6:5-9, “Slaves, be obedient to
those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ;
not in the way of eye service as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from
the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever
good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
Masters, do the same to them, and forebear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and
yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”
Paul knew that if he were ever to try to change the laws on slavery, all the attention would go off
Jesus. All the attention would go off the gospel, all the attention would go off the issues that
are involved in living eternally and a searchlight would come on to slavery. And this little
Christian group would suddenly become the anti-slavery group that was out to destroy the power of
the Roman empire. Paul knew that as soon as that happened, he would be involved not only in the
lawlessness that the anti-Christ brings, but in the group pressure that the anti-Christ brings to
coerce men’s will. So Paul, instead of that, introduced the Christ-like spirit into the way these
people dealt with each other. And actually the book of Philemon, (if you know it in the New
Testament), Philemon was the owner of a slave. Paul was writing that letter to him, because he was
sending back his slave to him who had now been converted. And Paul had told the slave, “Go back to
That’s why things like the Golden Crib, I think it’s in Philadelphia, is so good. The Golden Crib is
a group of people, who, when they discover a girl or a woman who is going to have a baby that she
doesn’t want and she wants to get an abortion, they get in touch with her. They put her in touch
with a family who wants to adopt the little one. The family pays for her treatment and for her
support during those eight or nine months and during those months, they also find her another family
to stay with that is going to be an adoptive family for some other child, not for her child. So she
lives with that family, experiencing Jesus’ love and kindness and tenderness, and the baby is born
and then adopted. That’s why it’s so good: the wee girls that are in trouble for all kinds of
reasons don’t see a Jesus that is saying, “Don’t get an abortion — you are killing your child.
You’re evil if you kill your child — don’t do that. We’re against you and we’re going to make the
laws against you and we’re going to dam up the money so that you can’t do it.” And suddenly the
little girl — she is wrong, I admit, she is wrong — but let him who is without sin cast the first
stone. Instead, she sees a Jesus who is like the Jesus who met the woman caught in adultery, you
remember. He said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” So “go and sin no more” should
be our aim. And that’s why things like the Golden Crib are so much more in keeping with this spirit
that you get in the New Testament in regard to Paul’s attitude to slavery.
So that’s one way to support the government. Support it in everyway — vote, run for office, take
part in the operations, the organizations, and where there are un-Christ-like laws, bring a
Christ-like spirit into the operation in the exercise of those laws. The second is the one that is
plainly stated in the New Testament lesson: if a government, by forcing you to obey them, is going
to force you personally to disobey God, then you must obey God rather than them, there’s no
question. It’s important to do that because that helps the government, too. It keeps the
government inside its function and inside the limits that God has set for it. It cannot force men to
disobey their God. You’ll see that in Acts 4:18-21, “So they called them and charged them not to
speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right
in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of
what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding
no way to punish them, because of the people; for all men praised God for what had happened.”
And then Acts 5:27-30, “And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. 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. The God of our fathers raised
Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.'” And yet, of course, they had to receive the
beating that was the legal punishment.
So we can be conscientious objectors, and we can do other service. In fact our government provides
service for us to do rather than go to a war situation. We can educate our children at home and we
can do other things in education. In areas where we, personally, feel that God’s commands to us are
being corrupted, or we are being pushed to disobey God, then of course we must obey God.
Now, any questions?
A: The question is: how do you see the Presidential position influencing church leaders to speak
out for things? No. You can’t have it. It’s not just politics, apart from anything else, but it’s
certainly not good theology for the President to try to influence church leaders to influence the
people to vote a certain way. On the other hand, the church leaders got themselves into it. It’s
their own fault — they kind of opened themselves to it by saying, “We could be power brokers too.”
A: What about Bonheoffer, who was the German theologian, who took part in the plot that failed to
kill Hitler? And, loved ones, I thought, how will I answer that if somebody asked! And immediately
it came to me the same as that dear man Lech Walesa. I don’t know where he stands, but don’t you
tremble? Don’t you hesitate to say, “He was wrong”, or, “He was right.” I feel the right answer,
brother is: what would I do if I were in Bonheoffer’s place? What do I do if I were in Lech
Walesa’s place? At the moment I am not. And I’d be humble and lowly and say those are hard
decisions. It’s obvious that the Hitler situation came about partly through Christians failing to
take their position in the political process; failing to vote their conscience and to stand up and
speak strongly before the terrorism got going. So Bonheoffer ended up trying to catch a ball that
had already been dropped by his team.
A: The question is if we trust, if we believe that God is able to overrule and to bring all things
according to his will, why would we get involved in something that is possibly unscriptural or not
according to his will? Seems to me, we would always get involved in things that are according to
his will because even though he is able to overrule all things, it’s only in the light of our full
obedience and willing submission to his directions that he will be able to do that. So undoubtedly
there’s no difficulty with the things that he tells you to do in scripture. But why would you get
yourself involved in things that are possibly unbiblical or not his will if we really believe that
he is able to overrule all things? I think, I fear it’s a lack of faith. But again, you have to
be deeply, sympathetic with someone like Bonheoffer. You have to be deeply sympathetic with a man
who finds himself in that position. But undoubtedly, in the coolness that we can experience here,
of our own thinking, it is not lawful for us in that way to engage in evil in order to do it.
A: Brother asks what about the church offering sanctuary for Salvadorians. I didn’t think of that
one brother, so you caught me! That situation has always seemed to me such a token expression; a
kind of, “we want to do good, and we want to help others.” I was a liberal Methodist, at one time.
And we always used to look for issues that would make us seem to be doing God’s work to society. We
always liked to be more benevolent than society and certainly more benevolent than you evangelicals!
In fact my wife and I met at that bread and cheese lunch which we ran to feed the hungry. So we
always loved that kind of stuff because we often were pretty bankrupt inside in our own spirits and
hearts. So I always thought of that (offering sanctuary) as having something of that. I am sure some
other loved ones do it out of real love for the Salvadorians. It seems to me wrong. I just think
you can’t live under a government that is as relatively enlightened as ours and be pulling the rug
from under it like mad in your church buildings that are tax-exempt. If you want to carry it on and
on, it seems to me if we were in some other countries, they’d roll the tanks in and take care of us.
So it seems to me, apart from being unscriptural, a very unloving attitude to take to our
government, which, I think, has been very kind to us.
A: Tim asks wasn’t Israel, before the time of Samuel or Saul, somewhat of a theocracy? Well, Tim
it was. But it was interesting during the time of the judges; God gave the laws and then allowed
local judges to apply those laws in different situations throughout the country. And it was, in a
sense, only before God, reluctantly, gave them a king. You remember they said, “We want a king. We
want a king so that we can act against the other nations with the same power of the sword.” And he
refused and refused, and then let them have a king, of course after a number of years. It was a
disaster. So it seems to me that you could say there was some former government but it would be
hard to call it a theocracy. Undoubtedly he allowed them to experience something of a theocracy in
order to see its frustrations and futility. So there I’d go with you; that he allowed them to
experience it so that they would see the futility and the frustration. I just don’t think it was his
ideal will for them.
A: Lannie is asking what about President Reagan asking for a week of prayer for the nation and for
sin and so forth. And loved ones, it’s not our place to tie the guy (the President) down. We have
to pray for him and love him. And I’ll ask God to give him wisdom, for what he does and what he
doesn’t do. But I don’t feel it’s our place to pontificate on what he should or what he shouldn’t
do. Next, you’d be telling me what I should do, shouldn’t do. Seems to me that there’s a place for
good love and great kindliness and graciousness and the guy is not always going to speak perfectly.
I think if all of us had our conversations recorded day-by-day that we’d have enough to put us in
prison at times! So I am reluctant, loved ones. You have to give the fellow, I suppose, what we’ll
put up with. Maybe that’s what you can get away with. But it seems to me hard to say he shouldn’t
make any pronouncement on prayer. What he should do or what he shouldn’t do is a matter of his
judgment and we have to pray for wisdom for him. I don’t think we ought to get ourselves into a
tight legal situation, “this you can do, this you can’t” because life, itself, does not operate that
way even in our own personal experience.
A: The question is how can we appear not to be anti-Semitic if we don’t support the things that are
done in Israel? This is, believe it or not, what I was trying to say three years ago but it was
lost in the shouting! It seems to me that many of us evangelical Christians without any question in
our minds and without much study of prophecy identify Zionism with the return to Israel that is
prophesied in the Bible. And even in Israel the most orthodox Jews believe that that is heresy.
They believe that the whole Zionist thing is not right and that this is not the return that is
prophesied when the Messiah comes. That the return that takes place when the Messiah comes will be
so much an act of God and an act of Jesus or the Messiah returned to earth that it will have nothing
to do with all the manipulating, the power broking, the managing, the killing, the fighting that is
going on by the power of our right arm in Israel at the moment. And even the orthodox Jews will not
touch the belief that this is actually the final biblical return. But we evangelical Christians, we
will not study our prophecy. We will go with those who want, at times, to make use of us, or those
who want to interpret the Bible in their own way and we identify that as the biblical return, and
therefore we go with it completely and absolutely. We back all the money that is being spent, and
we back all the weapons, and we find ourselves in these uncomfortable situations where we have the
destruction that takes place of all those men and women in Lebanon. We feel “it’s not right, it’s
not right but this is right”. And we get ourselves into that spot because we identify this return
as the biblical return prophesied. And we’re like Gamaliel; we think we’re opposing God, when in
actual fact we’re not.
Now, of course, the other side is trickier because they know that. And so anybody that does not
support what is being done in Israel at the moment, they give a name to. And once you give that
name to a guy or a girl, it doesn’t matter what he does, he just goes down in the chaos. He is
actually in the same position as Paul with slavery: if he speaks up and answers, then it becomes
anti-slavery or an anti-Semitic church. So he shuts up and just goes down quietly. It seems to me
that that is the issue. I love loved ones who are Jewish. You can’t even say the term Jews, become
somebody will accuse you of being anti-Semitic when you even use that term. I have nothing but love
for what God has made and have no feeling of antagonism to the Jewish people at all and love them.
But what is happening in Israel is not the scriptural return prophesied. The scriptural return that
is prophesied is very clear if you look at the terms of it: it’s Jesus returning and delivering
Israel from the power of the anti-Christ and settling them in their own land by miracles. It’s not
this kind of manipulation which actually, I think, will be doomed to failure and, I think, will
crumble from within.
A: I don’t want to draw this out, but I remember Clyde Anderson, who is a lawyer here, saying,
“Shouldn’t we write to the papers?” This was during the anti-Semitic thinking (towards the teaching
of the church), “Should we not write to the papers and oppose and fight?” I think it’s good that we
didn’t engage in the power of the sword battle. I think that’s wrong. I think if people accuse you
wrongly then you should be willing to go down. I think we’ll hold it here.
Shall we pray?
Dear Father, we thank you for your great love. And we thank you for the bigness of your heart, the
greatness of your heart, the benevolence of your heart. Lord, we thank you that you did not deal
with us according to our sins and you did not reward us according to our iniquities. Lord, we thank
you for that. And Father we thank you that you have begotten in us that same heart of forgiveness
and mercy — that same big heart.
Lord, we want to thank you for the government that we have. We want to learn more how we can be
citizens that are a blessing to you in this nation. And Father, meanwhile, we would pray for our
President and for the other dear men and women who are in the government. Lord, we know there is
much evil and much wrong and much sin, but Father we would pray, as Clement of Rome prays, that you
would continue to overrule and to preserve our government as a bulwark against the men of
lawlessness and the spirit of anti-Christ, that we may have more years to tell others about Jesus.
We ask this for your glory.
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.
Government and Good behavior - Romans
Government and Good Behaviour
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
During the past few weeks, we have been discussing what our attitude should be to the government and
to civil authority and we’ve been doing that because we’ve arrived at that point in our study of the
book of Romans. It’s this particular chapter that we have arrived at, that deals with this topic but
I think all of us would probably agree that it is a pretty topical subject.
The tax revolt in California is perhaps the most obvious expression of defiance by ordinary citizens
against what they see as the excessive growth and the ever-increasing influence of government in the
individual lives of people, but actually there are many examples today in our country of citizens
who have kind of given up on the government and have taken the situation into their own hands.
So it’s appropriate for us to be clear in our minds, as far as we can understand it, what God wants
us to think of for the government and what attitude he wants us to take. If you just think for a
minute of the underground bartering system that operates in our society — you know it’s widespread.
It’s an underground bartering system whereby we exchange goods and services with each other to avoid
what many of us believe is an unfair tax system, and yet you wonder if that is right. Then you
think of the groups of vigilantes that have been formed in different areas of the country. They
carry guns and are prepared to use them because they feel the legal system has let them down and is
no longer effective in protecting the property and the rights and the safety of ordinary individual
Then you’ll think of Christians. Think of how many Christians have set up their own school system
and have actually won the right to educate their children at home because of the Godlessness of the
study for truth that is being pursued in our state school system. And you think of the hundreds of
people that use demonstration marches and mass marches to try to prevent the administration policies
being implemented on things like nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons. And of course you can see
that all of those are, in a way, subtle evasions, certainly, of the government and of its rule over
So it is important for us to be clear what we believe God wants us to think of our government. And
loved ones, at least the spirit of what he wants us to think is clearly stated in some verses that
we’ve been studying. Maybe you would look at them in Romans 13:1-2. “Let every person be subject to
the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been
instituted by God. Therefore, he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and
those who resist will incur judgment.”
So the heart of it is to show respect and submit to your government, because civil authority is
something that God himself maintains to keep the world in order. And actually the very authorities
that govern your country have been instituted by him so if you resist them, you are resisting God
and you will receive punishment or judgment for that.
The ones that we mentioned at the beginning were the people who had kind of opted out of the system,
but it’s interesting that at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who think, “Oh yeah, we
shouldn’t opt out of the system like that by an underground bartering system or our own schools or
other methods. We should control and correct the system.” So there are large groups of us that use
the block vote and the massive lobbying campaign to try to correct or control the system.
So you have the banking lobby effort where the great banking industry used its massive financial
resources to influence politicians through a great mailing campaign in connection with the
administration’s plan to introduce income tax withholding on dividends. You have the same thing, in
a way, operating in connection with subjects like abortions. These are groups of us that decide,
“Yes, you shouldn’t opt out of the system; you should try to control the system by massive lobbying
campaigns and particular special interest group efforts.” And what you have to do is to try to set
all that alongside the spirit of Romans 13:1-2. We’ll all probably take some time settling the
details — but the spirit is interesting, isn’t it?
The spirit of Romans 13:1-2 is, “respect your government, submit to it, because civil authority is
something that is being maintained by God to keep anarchy from overcoming us. So I want you to
submit even to the very authorities that are in your present government, because those very
authorities have been instituted by God, and if you resist those, you’re resisting God and you’ll
Now why does God say that? Well, the answer is in the next verse loved ones, if you look at it, it’s
Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” — that’s why. In a way he is
saying, because rulers, on the whole, are for good conduct. Maybe not in every detail, but on the
whole they are on the side of the good guys, because God has appointed them. And on the whole, they
are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.
A Lutheran commentator, Richard C.H. Lenski has put it like this — and the important quotation is
the one he gives of Luther — Lenski says, “The world is full of wicked men and God has placed
rulers among them to check and to control this wickedness by means of laws and penalties, all of
them being directed, not against good deeds, but against evil deeds.”
So one reason God says we should submit to the authorities is that they are appointed by him and
generally they are against bad behavior and for good behavior. Then Lenski quotes Martin Luther, who
had a lot of common sense, and yet dealt with the realistic world. Luther has often said, “It is
God’s way to hold the world, which is full of bad fellows, in check by means of bad fellows as
rulers.” He has no foolish idealism about Watergate [a political scandal in America] or about other
things like that, but he points out that just as God used Pharaoh, God uses government and often bad
fellows in government.
It’s interesting that even in communist or heathen lands on the whole, the rulers are against bad
conduct and for good conduct. The simple truth is that when God instituted civil authority in
Noah’s time after the flood, he also put into most men and women common grace — the common grace
that enabled them to realize that if people are allowed to murder and lie and steal without
restraint, they’ll eventually murder and lie and steal from me, so most rulers grasp that. Most
rulers grasp that if you let selfishness go unrestrained, it will eventually find its way to my door
and so even the Soviet government sees that if they don’t restrain drunkenness, their mighty
production machine is going to be hurt by it. So even in Soviet Russia the rulers are, on the whole,
on the side of the good conduct and, on the whole, against bad conduct.
Now you may say, “Why, then, is Siberia full of Christians who have been condemned to labor camps
because of their Christian faith?” Well loved ones, it’s easy to see because the Bible says, “For
rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad.” It says good conduct. It doesn’t say godly
“Rulers are a terror not to good conduct but to bad.” But it doesn’t say, “not to godly conduct,
but to ungodly conduct.” In other words, God is not suggesting here that the governments and the
civil authorities actually promote godliness, nor is he suggesting that they punish ungodliness; he
is really saying that actually isn’t their business.
The job of civil and legal authorities is, as it says in so many statements, “To protect people from
destroying each other’s property and estate.” In other words, it maintains civil order. It’s to
encourage good behavior, as far as our own property, our persons and our estates are concerned. It
isn’t there to make citizens holy. That’s the privilege of the church. It’s the privilege of the
body of Jesus to make people holy. It’s the responsibility of the government to keep people’s
badness from destroying other people.
In other words, civil authorities through the power of law can restrain selfishness, and that’s what
they’re there for, but only the body of Christ through the power of the Spirit, can replace
selfishness with godliness. You see, I think we mix those things up. I think especially in a land
like America, where Christians and godly people, or church people, have so much influence, it’s very
easy for us to miss the point that the government is not there to make us godly. We may wish that it
was, but that isn’t God’s plan. The civil government is there simply to stop us murdering each other
and to stop us destroying each other; to give us time here on earth to receive Jesus Spirit, if we
Now you may say, “Why has God arranged it that way?” The answer is in a verse we looked up before,
it’s Galatians 3:23. (I’d like to try to have a little question time loved ones, if possible at the
end so maybe you will keep your questions in your mind.)
Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until
faith should be revealed.” That’s why God has arranged it that way. The purpose of law, of civil
law, of the Mosaic Law, is to keep us under restraint from destroying each other until we enter into
You remember a few verses up it’s very plain why the government cannot make Christians; it’s
Galatians 3:21, “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not; for if a law had been
given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”
If you could make people like God by laws, then the government could be held responsible for
defending godliness, but loved ones, laws don’t make a person like Christ and this is the
arrangement that God has. You remember Jesus talked about it. He said, “The wheat and the tares grow
together, that’s my Father’s plan. The wheat and the tares grow together and it is the job of
government to make it possible for wheat and tares to grow together, and as the wheat and tares grow
together, so the wheat grows stronger and blossoms or it is choked by the tares, but that is the
In other words, his plan is that governments would hold back the world from chaos, but would still
allow sufficient signs of the fallen state of mankind to exist in society so that people would
realize things are not as they should be. And that, Jesus has taught us, is the most fruitful,
prosperous climate in which people can grow up into Christ.
In other words, that’s a more fruitful way for people to exercise their free wills to choose God
than if they were placed, this is amazing, than if in their fallen state, they were placed into
their perfect world or a religious ghetto. That kind of hot-house environment would not, in the
present state of fallen mankind, be the best climate in which we could grow up into Jesus. So
actually God has arranged that governments will probably not do things perfectly and will not
produce a Christian state. They will simply hold back evil from destroying us while the body of
Jesus, through the Spirit, can woo us to himself.
Now let me push you a little, on some possible conclusions. I don’t expect you to agree with me,
but I share them you anyway. Is there any truth in what I am going to say now? Even though the
abolition of prayer in schools is based on a silly misinterpretation of the first amendment —
misunderstanding “freedom of religion” for “freedom from religion” — even though the whole basis of
it is stupid and the first amendment actually opposes the establishment of any one religion, (which
is presumably an objection to the position that the Anglican Church perhaps held or the Lutheran
Church held in the old countries) yet it defends free exercise of religion. So even though the
abolition of prayer in schools is based on a stupid misconception and misinterpretation of the first
amendment, yet I wonder is it nearer the spirit of what we’re reading in this verse than if we had,
say, compulsory prayer in schools? I would share with you as an ex-school teacher, that it’s very
difficult in school when dealing with children to have prayer for everybody without making it
compulsory. It’s very difficult to lead a class in prayer unless they all understand that we have to
have prayer today.
So I wonder, is no prayer at all in schools better than the formal forced prayers that so many of us
endured in the schools. And I wonder is the freedom intended to be for a child to say its own
individual prayers when it sits down at its desk in class? Is that more in keeping with the real
world of work in which most of us spend our lives, and I wonder, in that sense, is it a better
preparation for that kind of life?
In other words, when you begin to cease to expect love from the government and look to Jesus and his
body for that, and you begin to expect from the government simply justice; when you cease to expect
the promotion of godliness from the government and begin to be satisfied with just the restraint of
evil, could it be that you find yourself in a more biblical position? Because, you remember, this
verse goes on that, “Rulers are a terror not to good conduct, but to bad.” So if you want to be free
from fear of the governing authorities — then do what is good and you will receive their approval.
That kind of forbearance towards the authorities seems more in keeping with that scripture. It’s
certainly more in keeping with that famous scripture, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance”, and then, that great phrase,
“against such, there is no law.” They can’t make a law against that. If you live your life filled
with that fruit, you’ll be well on the right side of any law.
Now, how would it work out in detail? Well, regarding prayer in schools — is there anything to be
said for leaving it abolished, and for developing a strong Sunday school education system that will
deal with issues like evolution through the very accomplished and able teachers that we have in our
body? That will deal with issues like evolution against creation, and deal with issues like the
history of mankind and the development of a church and the benefits it’s brought to society and will
also deal with the responsibilities of personal prayer and witnessing, and will prepare the children
to go into what is a “wheat and tares” situation in our school system and enable them to speak up
for what is true and right? Is there anything to be said for that as opposed to trying to protect
them from evil influences — which it gets very hard to do after a certain age, I think you will
agree. Is there anything to be said for that?
Why I say that is, I think I taught for maybe three or four years in the British school system in
Ireland and in London, England. Do you know the one subject that is compulsory by the Education Act
that was passed in the U.K. in the 1940ss? Not math, not science, not English. The one subject that
is compulsory is Divinity, or, Religious Education — that’s right. Even in the State schools,
that’s the one compulsory subject.
I was in one school where I taught half a week of English literature, and about half a week of
religious education in a State school. As you can guess, on Graduation Day, we had the ordinary
graduation — and then we canonized saints! Well, you know, we didn’t! It was just as if they
hadn’t had religious education, because it was a compulsory thing and it was often done from hearts
that were not filled with love of Jesus.
So is there anything to be said for what I am sharing, then, loved ones, in regard to something like
the issue of abortion? Is there anything to be said for concentrating on evangelism, which alone
produces hearts that produce pure lives that produce godly children, and at the same time to
concentrate on taking our Christian responsibility for unwanted children in adopting them and making
sure they come into good homes? Is there anything to be said for that whole positive attitude?
Instead of what so often appears as a negative attitude of trying to secure, by law, the submission
of certain people to our beliefs about the unborn? Is there anything to be said for that?
You can see some of the benefits of such a forbearing attitude to civil authorities. For one thing,
that lets us get on with our business, which is to save souls and to make people like Jesus and to
get them filled with the fruit of Spirit, “against which there is no law.” For another thing, it
delivers us from these coercive efforts that we get involved in — like mass marches, mass
demonstrations, massive lobbying efforts, that actually contain in them the seeds of the destruction
of democracy, because they are actually an attempt to coerce men and women’s wills.
For another thing such forbearance with the civil authorities allows us to fulfill our obligations
to the political system by exercising our vote freely, by taking part in local politics, taking part
in PTA meetings, taking part in all the local organization of government, and certainly in writing
to our congressmen and telling them what we want them to do, and then in running for office
ourselves as God guides us. Such a forbearing attitude to the government enables us to do those
In other words, should we not be concentrating on building the kingdom of God in men’s hearts,
instead of trying to Christianize the kingdom of this world? Certainly, we will appear more like
Jesus if we do that, because he was in no doubt. He said, “You render to Caesar the things that are
Caesar’s and you render to God, the things that are God’s and you don’t spend your time trying to
Christianize Caesar. You spend your time trying to save from this untoward generation, those who
are willing to submit to my Father’s will.” Now, is there anything to it that you would like to push
Question from audience:(Inaudible)
Answer:(cid:9)Gandhi is being made out to be such a great and honorable fellow and you might even use the
term, “saintly fellow.” It seems to me, loved ones, that one of the great dangers of our society is
that we pick up label names and we run with them. We’re all against abortion. We’re all for prayer
in schools and we mistake label names and immortal phrases and we substitute them for real thought
and reflection. So Richard Attenborough produces the film “Gandhi”, it shows through all the
theaters, and so we all rush to judgment without reading anything about Gandhi. We accept the movie
as the interpretation of Gandhi. And of course many of us would feel that Gandhi was a dear man,
but he was not in any way a Christian, and he was very definite about that attitude.
I think I was at school when Gandhi was negotiating with the British government and undoubtedly, he
was a dear man but he was a man who had been brought up in the atmosphere of Cambridge, Oxford. He
had been exposed, very fully, to all the truths about Jesus, and he had decided “thus far and no
further; I will remain a Hindu and I am dedicated primarily to the independence of my country, and
to the unity of the Hindus and Muslims in the country.” That’s fair enough.
But in no way would we have ever thought of him as a Christian, or as standing up for Jesus in any
way. He was certainly very willing to quote Jesus as far as turning the other cheek, when the whole
technique of mass demonstration and civil disobedience was necessary, but he used that part of the
Christian philosophy because that was about the most powerful way he could deal with what– because
there are loved ones from India here — what I would respectfully suggest to you, was made possible
because you were dealing with a fairly sane, fairly civilized government and not dealing with a
Soviet Russia, who would have just mowed us down like tin soldiers. I think this thought made it
Question from audience:(cid:9)(Inaudible)
Answer: The comment is that what I just said is important and yet that it takes an American to
say, because a Britisher seems to have a personal interest. But that it is questionable if India
was ready at that time for it. And you only have to look at the continued slaughter of the Muslims
and Hindus to wonder if that was God’s time or not. I would respect any loved one from India who
would say, “Oh well, you Britishers — you would never have let go.” Well, who knows, but it
certainly does seem that it brought great pain in the end.
Question from audience: (Inaudible)
Answer:(cid:9)Loved ones, if your theory is bad, your practice is bad. If your doctrine is bad, the
outworking is bad. So if by any chance our doctrine or our theory on issues like prayer in schools
and abortion — if by any chance that’s bad and wrong, then there will be the same trend of evil
consequences, as a result of that. So it is very important that we know what we believe about these
things and what we should do. Otherwise we can very easily end up with a polarized society; with the
“good Christians” over here and the “bad, evil, non-Christians” over there, and that has never been
Question from audience: (Inaudible)
Answer: I tried to deal with it a little over the past few Sundays, because I pointed out that Paul
was undoubtedly writing this in the midst of the rule of Nero. Now admittedly, Nero, the Roman
Emperor, was at that time running his five years or so of quiet, peaceful government. But
undoubtedly, Paul had seen the execution of Jesus by a combination of the Jewish authorities and the
Paul himself had been involved in some of the persecution of the Christians and so he undoubtedly
was writing in a similar situation to what many of us endured in the Second World War, and it does
seem to me that he is saying you submit, presumably, unless you are in a position where you can do
something about it. What I suggest it was, that in the 1930’s as Hitler rose to power, there was a
time for especially the knowledgeable middle classes, to vote and vote with their conscience. And
it seems that if we don’t exercise our responsibility at the right time then we end up in situations
that, as you say, are utterly unjust and so God is requiring us to submit in situations that aren’t
ideal at all but it does seem he still wants us to submit.
One cannot say that Deitrich Bonhoeffer [Christian theologian who plotted to kill Hitler] is proved
one way or the other. It certainly didn’t work and yet you feel for Bonhoeffer. But it seems
questionable if we should ever engage in doing evil to do good.
Question from audience: (Inaudible)
Answer: I understand and I would like to make it very clear, I am not arguing for abortion. I am
arguing for our responsibility to preserve the free will of loved ones who don’t think like us. It
seems to be very important to maintain that.
I think that if we will respect people’s free will, as God has done even at the cost of his own
Son’s death, then it seems to me, we can expect God to overrule even some of the dreadful
consequences that will follow. It seems very important not to get ourselves into the position of God
where we say, “No, we have to keep this little one alive at all costs, whether you, as the mother,
want to or not. We have to do it so that this little one will have a chance to come to God.”
It seems to me in the process, in a very embittered, resentful woman, you might actually drive one
away from the kingdom, even as you were trying to win a chance for the other to enter the kingdom.
So I am not against opposing abortion, but I’m wondering, should you do it in such a way that you
appear as a domineering, self-righteous church, trying to run the lives of other people, that’s what
Question from audience: (Inaudible)
Answer:(cid:9)The position of so many of us is that we should not support, by tax dollars, a policy that
makes abortion possible. And I urge us, loved ones, to see that there are many of our fellow human
beings in this nation that do not think the same way as we do about abortion, and they have a right
to influence the policy of government also. What I am pleading is that we allow that policy to be
set by the normal system of voting and that we go very close to coercion of will when we get into
It seems to me that many of us in recent years have been troubled by the power of the special
interest groups. It seems often to oppose the very basis of democracy, which is “every man one
vote”, and then the result of that decision is what governs our society. And it seems to me that
we, as a Christian body, have to be in the forefront of defending what Churchill said was a dreadful
system of government but it was the only one worth having, democracy. And it seems we have to be
in the forefront of defending that and well away from any of the methods that seem to undermine the
So brother, I think I agree with you, probably, on the whole theory of the abortion and infanticide
— or certainly I won’t disagree with you — but I wonder given that, have you the right then, to
play God over other people, or to use methods that may not be democratic in the best sense of the
word, to bring that about? Now maybe we have, maybe. And people could argue, “The special interest
group is here to stay. The power of the mass demonstration is here to stay.” I would only say to all
of us that we receive Jesus because we have the free will to reject him if we want and most of us
who were coerced into religion in our early years found we rebelled strongly against it. So that’s
what I wonder about, are we really being as clever as Jesus is, who gave us this great freedom to
choose or reject? And I wonder are we getting ourselves into the position where we coerce?
Question from audience:(cid:9)(Inaudible)
Answer: Brother is saying, “Have I not responsibility to try to stop a person aborting a life —
that is doing something wrong?”
I think you have a responsibility to try to stop them, but it seems to me brother, by the only way
that Jesus has tried to stop us: by his love — by his own attitude of self sacrifice. That’s why I
urge things like that Golden Crib organization in Philadelphia where there’s real concern for the
adoption of unwanted babies — provision of help for them rather than coming over as just a negative
It seems to me brother, all of us whether we’re school teachers, parents or pastors, all of us are
sure, there’s only one way to stop a person doing evil and that’s a wooing, you know, wooing them to
the good, and it’s, we’re all like little dogs. If you want us to do something, tell us not to do
it. There is something in human nature that is perverse and until it is changed, a person will tend
to go the opposite way to the way you tell him. So, I suspect brother that is even poor psychology,
apart from what seems to me, bad theology, but it could be, it could be, watch yourself.
I think we should close, loved ones.
Dear Father, we thank you for your love for us and the love that you have begotten in our hearts for
each other, so that we are able to love each other, even if we disagree. Lord, we thank you for
that. Thank you that that’s because we know you are the great overruling power, and that we may
misunderstand things utterly, and yet if our hearts are right towards you, you will do what you
promised. You will work all things out according to the counsel of your will.
So, we thank you Lord that we have a responsibility to be real and analytical in our pursuit of
truth, but we thank you Father, that when we get to the end of this life we will be amazed how you
have blessed us when we have understood so little because now we “see through a glass darkly, but
So Father, we thank you for this deeper way that you have brought to us, a unity of spirit, not
necessarily a unity of mind on everything, but a unity of spirit that derives its strength from the
fact that you are the God, not us. And you will take even our mistakes and work them into your
plan, if our hearts are right and our intentions are good.
So Lord, we thank you for that. We pray therefore that through the Holy Spirit, you will guide us
individually and guide us as a body in these areas that we have been discussing, and above all, that
you’ll enable us to mirror you, Lord Jesus, to the world. That when the world looks at us, they
will see a group of people who have a smile and a kindliness in their hearts, and who have such
trust in their God that they themselves do not need to be gods.
Oh Lord, make us like Jesus so that others may be drawn by his beauty to your own heart. 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.
Government and Bad behavior - Romans
GOVERNMENT AND BAD BEHAVIOR
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
We’re all brought up with rules that our parents give us, or our society provided us with to guide
us. One of the rules that we were brought up with in Ireland was, if you meet a stranger, and you
want to have a good relationship with him, there are two things you don’t talk about; religion or
So we’ve been talking for the past month at least about both religion and politics and therefore,
it’s amazing we’re still friends! Except that when you have a dear book like this (Bible) that
contains the very thoughts of our Creator about how we should live, and when you have a body of
loved ones who have received his Spirit into their lives to run them, it’s really not surprising
that we’re still friends, because here, our task is — “I want to understand this better”, isn’t it?
Our task is not, “I am defending truth.” (Martin) Luther said, “I would as soon defend a roaring
lion as defend the Bible.” We don’t need to defend God’s truth or defend the Bible. We need to try
to find out what it’s saying to us. And that’s what makes these Sundays enjoyable instead of kind
of tense, and I think we all feel that — his truth stands. We may understand it partially, we may
understand it fully, but his truth stands, and we all have to bow down humbly and say, “We see
through a glass darkly, but there’ll come a time when we’ll see face-to-face.”
Nevertheless, it is a delicate task to try to express to one another what the Christian’s attitude
to government and to politics and the civil authorities should be, exactly as the Bible explains it.
Especially a delicate task in our day, when what seems to be said in this chapter of Romans that
we’re reading, appears to run slap up against two tendencies in our present society. One tendency
is the strong, secular tendency to give up on the government; to opt out of the system, to take part
in a bartering system in order to avoid the income taxes, to take part, even, in some parts of the
country, in vigilante activities — because we can no longer depend on the government to protect the
The tendency to think that, “Well, the government isn’t working and we would be better not paying it
the taxes that it thinks is owed.” So you have that strong secular tendency. Then you have another
strong Christian tendency today that feels that you should use the legitimate means of lobbying and
of special interest group pressure on Congressmen, and of block votes to try to get the government
to write into our laws certain Christian values regarding abortion and regarding school prayer in
So you have those two strong tendencies. And they come up against this word that we’ve got from God
in Romans 13 and this word seems to cut across those. If you look at it, you’ll see why I say that;
Romans 13:1-3, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no
authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resist
the authorities resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers
are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?
Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” That seems to us, in our present
atmosphere, a little too passive and submissive.
So I think what we’re facing is a real test of your trust and love and submission to me, as your
Pastor and your guide, in understanding the Bible, and what I am facing is a real desire to express
my love and my submission to the Creator in finding out how to express what God appears to be
saying,in a way that we will all understand.
So as an Irish immigrant — I am a citizen now, but I am still an Irish immigrant — I’ll begin.
Seems to me that the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill
of Rights, are remarkable documents. I think the whole world accepts that. The men that wrote them
seem to be inspired with incredible insight, incredible wisdom and incredible foresight. When you
look at those documents it’s easy to believe what Paul said about rulers; he said, “Rulers are
instituted by God.” When you read those documents, you feel, “These men surely must have been
touched by God as they wrote these documents.” And yet the fact that the 21st amendment repealed
the 18th amendment, suggest that at least the amendments, or the articles, are not infalliable, that
they are not unchanging.
Indeed, when you examine the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution itself, you have to
face the fact that at the end of the day, these are the products of men’s minds — the best products
they could produce — but they are the products of men’s minds. They are designed to enable a group
of people in a certain situation to live together in peace, but they are the product of men’s minds,
many of whom laid no claim to be Christian. Maybe it’s good for us, in our justified admiration for
these incredible documents, to see that these dear men, many of them, did not lay claim to be
Christians. Many of them were deists and theists, but many of them weren’t Christian. Therefore,
the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, must
take second place to this dear book (the Bible) as far as the guidance of our own lives and behavior
In other words, here we must stand with Paul when he said to the people who arrested him, “We must
obey God rather than men.” However great the men are, however enlightened they are, however
inspired they were, “we must obey God rather than men.” In other words loved ones, it’s vital that
you and I, as God’s children, interpret the Constitution of the United States by the spirit of the
Bible, that we interpret the Declaration of Independence by the spirit of the Bible, not — we
interpret the Bible by the Constitution of the United States. It is vital that we must be filled
first with the spirit of the Bible of God’s words and then go to our own Constitution and put that
always second, as far as the guidance for our lives are concerned.
Now, how does that apply to us? Well, just think of the Declaration of Independence; “We hold these
truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed.” Not so as far as God’s word is concerned. Look again at
Romans 13:1, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority
except from God.” We may say they derive their power from the consent of the governed and therefore,
in a way, if you followed it right through, when the governed refused to consent to be governed,
they can no longer be governed. That’s why many of us say right in the heart of the Declaration of
Independence and in the Constitution, anarchy is written, in a sense. We were so anxious to guard
ourselves against the domination that we felt from the King of Great Britain that we felt we must in
some way give the people their rightful power.
So the men wrote in “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
The Bible says, “No, the power does not come from the consent of the governed, the power comes from
God — all authority is from God. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these
ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government.”
Well, not so in Romans 13:1 where it says, “Let every person be subject to the governing
authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted”,
by the people? No, “Those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Now you may say, “Oh you’re quarrelling over words. It’s God behind the people.” No, there is a
difference; the one is a Godly document, the other is primarily a humanist document based on belief
in a god. Now you may say, “Well then is the Constitution wrong?” No, that’s not the issue. The
Constitution was written to govern a group of people in a particular land; the Bible is written to
govern the body of Jesus. But it is true that the Constitution is a tract for the times — a
written product of men’s minds to justify their rejection of the tyranny of the King of Great
Britain and their desire to give to the people the right to overthrow any such tyranny if it ever
occurred. You can understand why they did that, but you can see too, that in a way, there is built
into that an excuse for anarchy — almost an excuse to overthrow any government that you’re not
happy or you’re not satisfied with.
If you and I ever put the people into that position of power in our own minds in regard to our
government, we are deifying people, where the Bible deifies God. In other words, we are not to put
our trust in Princes, and we are not to put our trust even in this dear people that fills our land.
We are to put our trust in our God who has produced these authorities and who will guard us and
protect us, in so far as we respect Him and we respect them.
There is, loved ones, a real difference between the way the Bible looks at government and the way
even our own Declaration looks at it. Now, it is true that the Declaration tried to guard us against
anarchy, because it says that while the people have the right to institute new government, laying
it’s foundation on such principles and organizing it’s power in such form as to them shall seem most
likely to effect their safety and happiness, then it says, “prudence and deed will dictate that
governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
The writers of the Declaration try to guard us against taking to the streets every time we disagree
with the government. But I think you’ll agree, the “light and transient causes”, like so many other
phrases in the Constitution, is open to a lot of interpretation. One group can say, “The fight in
the Vietnam War is not such a light and transient cause” and another group can say, “The ridiculous
taxes that we have are not light and transient causes.”
So there’s every reason for us, as a body of Christians, interpreting the Constitution in the light
of the Bible. Because the Bible, strangely enough, brings in a corrective which makes the
Constitution work. Now which corrective? Well, you’re all familiar with the first article — the
first amendment: “The right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances.” That’s basic, you see. The British parliament can bring down the government
with a vote of no-confidence, we can’t, but we have this “right of the people, peaceably to assemble
and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Presumably that was written because of the King. It says “he has called together legislative bodies
at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of the public records, for the
sole purpose of taking them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved representative
houses repeatedly for opposing with manly firmness his invasion on the right of the people. He has
refused for a long time after such dissolutions to cause others to be elected.”
So in all kinds of ways, the man(the King of England) was making it impossible for us to do anything
here in this country ,so we wrote into the Constitution the right of the people, even in that
situation, “peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The
difficulty is that if that is retained simply to petition the government for the long history of
abuses, and usurpations that they accused the King of England of, then it’s good and it’s right.
But if that right of the people to assemble and to petition government is used for light and
transient causes, then instead of duly elected representatives who vote by their conscience, and
have time and opportunity to consider seriously the decisions that are to be made, instead of that,
if we misuse this right to petition and misuse this right — to pressure by powerful lobbies and by
block votes, even by mass marches and by barricades in the Vietnam days — we then can turn our duly
elected officials into men who are intimidated by our actions, and are pressured into responding to
the loudest voice that calls to them. Instead of a group of men who are able in peace to discuss
things, you have a group of men who are afraid that their job will be taken from them the next
moment. The result is “Pork Barrel” legislation to keep themselves in power.
How does the Bible guard against that? By today’s verse, if you like to look at it. It’s Romans
13:4, “for he is God’s servant for your good.” That’s interesting. Even the order of the Greek
because it emphasizes the predicated; it’s “Theos gar diakonos esti” — “of God, for the servant, or
the minister, he is.” For, “of God, the servant is he.” He is God’s servant. He is God’s minister.
Who is? Nero? Those rulers that are mentioned? You remember in Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a
terror to good conduct.” A man like Nero who burnt the Christians alive? The Sanhedrin who crucified
Jesus and had Steven stoned — are those the servants of God? No, its interesting, if you look at
Romans 13:3, the subject changes.
Romans 13:3, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Would you have no fear of him
who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive”, and actually the word is “outes” in
Greek. It is not “his”, it is “it’s.” “Then do what is good and you will receive it’s approval.” So
that throws you into the next word, not being he but “it”, “For it is God’s servant for your good”
— the authority is.
Paul didn’t know that he would be executed by the Romans but he did know that his Savior was. And
he did not look at Nero or the particular personality that represented the government,he looked
beyond that personality to the authority that God had established there to prevent us falling into
anarchy. He had his faith in that authority and in God’s ability to rule those who were his
servants. Now that transforms our attitude to our own government; no longer do we begin to think
the only way we can change things is by self-willed, self-powered political movement to pressure
them into action. Now we begin to give them the patient trust of voters who voted them into power,
which is a powerful lobby — in fact the most powerful lobby, except one, that you could have — the
patient trust of voters who put them in power and give them peace to do their job for the set amount
of time that they have.
The second is really the greatest lobbyist of all; you exercise faith in the God who established
this authority and is able to restrain and control it according to our prayers and our faith in him.
So loved ones, it takes us out of the streets and takes us away from our own attempts to try to
control the government other than by vote and by our prayers, and it seems that this is part of what
God is saying.
Maybe it would be good just to finish on this; Paul says in Romans 13:4, “For he is God’s servant
for your good.” Who is he speaking to? Is he speaking to all the citizens of the United States? No.
Is he speaking to the United Nations? No. Is he speaking to politicians and rulers? No. Is he
outlining here a plan for some kind of government that will work throughout the world? No, he isn’t.
Is he giving us a plan that will solve all the present political problems that we find in the
diverse governments that exist in the world? No. Paul is talking to a very narrow group of people
–he is talking to the body of Jesus — he is talking to Christians. He is saying, “This is right
for you whose only reason for existence is bringing people into Jesus. This is what you are to do.
You’ve to regard this authority as God’s servant for you. You’ve to pray for them, exercise your
vote, but you’ve to get on with bringing others into the kingdom.”
If you say to me, “Don’t you think then that dictators will spring up everywhere throughout the
world who will depend on this passive submission attitude of people to them, whether they do right
or wrong?” No, it’s not so. For one thing Jesus said only the minority of people will obey this word
— throughout the existence of the world, only the minority will obey this word. For another
reason, God has other plans for restraining the secular authorities and indeed, he specifically
states that the job of the church is not that. The job of the church is to redeem men’s souls
through the power of the Spirit. The job of the civil authorities is to restrain excessive authority
by the power of law. So, no, if every Christian, if every child of God, if every member of the body
of Jesus exercises their vote faithfully, and prays and has faith in God’s ability to restrain and
to govern the authorities and gets on with the main task that he was brought into the world for —
to bring people to Jesus, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the world will become dominated by
tyrants. Because God has all kinds of other powers in the depths of his own secret counsels for
holding back such action.
The fact is, loved ones, that as far as we are concerned, we exist for one purpose as the body of
Jesus; and that is to bring loved ones into a willing submission to Jesus through the power of the
Spirit. And our only responsibility to the government apart from that, is the vote,and the prayer,
or the running for office as God guides us.
Maybe just about three minutes of questions.
A:(cid:9)I agree. I think it’s our responsibility to say what we feel, for instance, about abortion. It
seems to me that’s part of the system and part of the process. We are meant to write too. We are
meant to write to our Senators and write to our Congressmen and make them aware. It seems that when
we go over that tricky line where it begins to be intimidation, that’s where it seems to me, we’re
sowing the seeds of anarchy and beginning to undermine our own democratic system of one-man
one-vote. Even if everybody else is doing it, it seems to me it’s our responsibility to stay within
the spirit of the democratic system. It seems to me to be — vote them in for the period of time,
write letters to them, even call them, that kind of thing. But it’s when it gets into intimidation
or block vote pressure, that it seems to me we’re then taking the sword into our hands.
A:(cid:9)Phyllis is pointing out that isn’t it true that when you sign, for instance, a petition or you
take part in some kind of mass representation like that, isn’t it true that it’s often the other
things that are tacked on that you aren’t really in agreement with, but you sign and appear to
support them because your particular view is expressed also?
I think that’s right, but what I think what is more dangerous is allying ourselves with Egypt. I
think there is no one but Jesus that we follow. And it seems to me that every time we identify with
other issues, or other people besides Jesus, we are in danger of being identified with the world
outside Christ, and with a spirit and methods and a lack of love that do not express Jesus. I have
one great concern in all this present contemporary discussion; I am thinking of the little girl of
13 who doesn’t know nothing about nothing and is having a baby and all the wee soul knows is
abortion. I am against it — I agree with you — but it is vital that whatever we do, we somehow
manage to get our love to that little one. It’s very important that we don’t appear simply as the
self-righteous, religious group that says, “Do what you like, but you have to have it.” Now the wee
soul ought to have the baby, but that has to be ministered from a loving body of Jesus, not hammered
into her by the power of law, and that’s my concern — that we continue to appear as Jesus himself
was; a loving, kindly, gentle person who had strong beliefs about what was right and wrong, but who
above all came over to people as love, and not as the insensitive power of government.
Probably what we’re saying is; how do we get to that — we want to get to that. So I encourage you
to think about these things,and pray about them and see this one thing above all others; this all
will pass away. It’ll all pass and they’ll bring the abortion back in, and they’ll take the abortion
out, just as they brought the alcohol in and took it out. It’ll come and go, that’s all a passing
façade, but Jesus is forever. We have just a few years here on earth to get people to receive
Jesus, and it seems to me we need to seek first his kingdom above everything else, do his will, and
refuse to be sidetracked.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you for your great kind heart. We thank you for this dear word, this dear
Bible. Lord, we thank you that we can go home today, not necessarily feeling the last word has been
said, just feeling we want to know what your word says, Lord. We want to absorb it, we want to
receive its spirit into our hearts. We want to allow its beauty to shine forth in our lives. So
Lord, we thank you for your dear word and we thank you for the Spirit of Jesus who is able to hold
strongly to right, as opposed to wrong, when he told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no
more,” but yet was able to express to her that loving kindness that brought all of us to you when
you said, “Neither do I condemn.” So Lord we pray that you will show us how to be like that and how
to express that.
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.
The Government and Justice - Romans
THE GOVERNMENT AND JUSTICE
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I think one of the facts that makes it enjoyable for us to be a family together in God, is that none
of us here believes we’re party line people. I think God has brought together a bunch of
individualists, and we believe strongly that we each ought to have a relationship with God, and be
guided by his voice in our consciences. And it seems to me my job is to try to express the spirit
of this dear word (the Bible).
Your job is to get from God what each of you are to do in your situations. I say that because we’re
still talking about this question of how we, as God’s children, relate to the political situation
and to the government. And it might interest you to know that there are attorneys here this morning
who are defending people who run their own education for their own children in their homes. There
are others of us here who are, at the moment, involved in legal cases in regard to our right to
witness as we want in our work situation. So loved ones, I’d point out to you that there is a
diverse group of us here, morning by morning. We believe that we’re one in Spirit, but that
finally, you have to obey God rather than men.
So it’s important to see that, otherwise you’ll begin to think everybody takes exactly what I say on
Sunday and lives their lives by it and that would a tragedy, that would be terrible. Because that
brings us under fear of man and under man’s guidance. It seems to be me that we’re a living body of
Jesus. We’re not a bunch of robots. We’re not a group of “following one man” kind of people. We’re a
group of individuals who are guided by God’s Spirit. And yet it seems to me God has given us a
great love for each other, and has given you a great love and prayerfulness for me, so that I’ll try
to get God’s Spirit from this dear book (the Bible). It seems to me that that’s what Jesus wants in
his body. So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to go on a little further this morning.
When the moment eventually comes, as it presumably will, when a group of militant humanists march on
Washington to protest against tax-exemption for churches or to protest against the right even to
have Christian schools, and they pitch their tents in front of the (Lincoln) Memorial there in
Washington, and stop the traffic and begin to operate sit-ins on Capitol Hill, and they do
everything to force the government to bring in bills that will eliminate tax-exemption for churches
and will close all the Christian schools in the nation — what should you and I do? Should we march
on Washington to show our strength? Should we pitch our tents in front of the Memorial? Should we
refuse to pay our taxes in order to bring about what we think is the right solution? Loved ones, the
answer is no. Even when that day comes no, we don’t march on Washington. Children of God don’t
tackle the solution to the problem that way, and the reason is Romans 13:1. “Let every person be
subject to the governing authorities.” We have a one-man, one-vote democracy and the spirit of that
system is to encourage every individual to express his own will as to how he thinks things should be
done. That’s the spirit underlying our one-man, one-vote democratic system; he elects
Representatives so that they will express his opinion as nearly as they can, in order to pass bills
that will run the country the way each individual wants it run.
Now if he finds that his Representative is not voting the way he wants him to on certain bills, or
he finds that his Representative in Congress is not reading his letters, then every two or four
years, he can replace that Representative; he can vote that person out and he can vote another one
in. Anything that gets between the individual voter and his Representative in Congress or in the
Senate begins to destroy that system. That is, anything that begins to exercise pressure on the
Representative, apart from the pressure that he feels in responsibility to the people who have
freely elected him, begins to destroy that system — such as a mass march to Washington. Because
such a march, for one thing, gives a lop-sided presentation of the proportion of people that are
either for Christian schools or against Christian schools.
Why does it give a lop-sided presentation? Because we can’t all leave our jobs and march to
Washington. And in a way forced marches to Washington are rather a clumsy way of exercising the
universal franchise. So forced marches to Washington actually give a wrong picture of the proportion
of people that may feel one way or another, because they contain only the people that can at that
moment, march to Washington. So do sit-ins or anything that stops the traffic, or stops the life of
the nation, because that brings an extra pressure on your Representative in Congress beyond the
pressure of obligation that he feels to all of us who have voted him in.
What pressure does it bring? Oh, it brings upon him the kind of pressure that, “If I don’t do what
these protestors want, they’re going to hang this whole city up. They’re stopping the traffic now,
they’re going to stop the very commerce and the life of the nation if I don’t bow to them, so I’ll
bow to them.” So they are governed by a pressure of fear and intimidation, rather than a by a sense
of responsibility to the many little people out here in the nation who voted them in but who can’t
up and leave their jobs and go off and battle in Washington.
So loved ones when you begin to run your Representatives by intimidation and by fear and by that
kind of emergency pressure instead of by the power of the ballot box, you begin to create all kinds
of fear in our legislature. And instead of legislators voting by their conscience, or voting on
behalf of what they know are your feelings and mine, they begin to vote by fear and by intimidation.
They begin to pass the “Pork Barrel” legislation that satisfies and keeps the people back home
quiet, whether it’s the right legislation or the wrong. So loved ones, that’s why it’s not right
for God’s children to do anything that would destroy the system of democracy that we have —
anything that would encourage the kind of mob-rule pressure, or the anarchy that destroyed Jesus. We
believe that those same pressures will actually destroy the system that he has allowed us to be
Some of us might feel, as we shared last Sunday; “But wait a minute, doesn’t the Constitution,
doesn’t the First Amendment give us the right to assemble? It gives the people the right to assemble
and to petition the government.” We said last Sunday that the Declaration does give that right —
but it says it should not be used for light and transient causes but only for a train or of abuses
and usurpations such as those America had to put up with from the King of Britain over a period of
years. But whenever you use the right to assemble and petition government for something other than
to protect the very fabric of our Constitution, when you use it to pass legislation, right or wrong,
just because you want it, then we’re beginning to abuse the system, and we’re beginning to take away
the freedom that democracy brings to the littlest person in this whole nation — the littlest old
lady, the littlest old gentleman, the weakest little person lying in a hospital bed can still vote
— they can’t exercise pressure and force on their Representatives, that is, physical or emotional
or psychological — but they can vote.
Loved ones, part of our responsibility is to preserve that, and to preserve that atmosphere of
understanding and moderation. There’s a greater reason why we don’t need to march in Washington —
we don’t need to exercise that kind of coercion on our Representatives. Here it is loved ones, if
you look at Romans 13:4a it’s the first part of the verse; “For he is God’s servant for your good.”
Because he is God’s servant for our good. Who? The very moldable freshman Congressman that has just
gone up to Washington? The cynical Senator that has been taking bribes for years? The Supreme Court
Judges who may be Liberal or may be Conservative? No. Romans 13:3, “Then do what is good and you
will receive his approval.” I mentioned to you that the Greek pronoun is “outes”, it really means
“it’s” approval. Who is “it”? Look at the middle of Romans 13:3; “Would you have no fear of him who
is in authority?” That’s the “it” and it’s the “it” that is God’s servant for our good.
In other words, God’s servant for our good is not the freshmen Congressmen. God’s servant for our
good is not the cynical Senator who has been use to taking bribes. God’s servant for our good is
not the President who may be for our cause or not be for our cause. If they were our servants for
our good, then we’re equally at the mercy of the agnostic senator, or the guy who hates Christian
schools, of the President who has no Christianity in him at all. But the fact is loved ones, it’s
the authority that God has set up that is our servant for our good. It’s the whole authority, it’s
everything that is there; it’s the Senators — the good ones and the bad ones, it’s the Congressmen
— the favorable and the unfavorable ones, it’s the Supreme Court Judges — the Liberal and the
Conservative ones, it’s the Presidents — Christian or non-Christian. And then more importantly,
it’s the Senator’s wives and the Congressmen’s children and the Supreme Court Judges’ grandchildren.
Then more importantly than that, it’s all the events in their lives, all the little things that
happened to them and influenced their concentration in their thinking when they’re passing a bill or
they’re opposing a bill. It’s the new suit that some Senator bought, it’s the emergency that another
Congressmen has with his mother in hospital, it’s the battle that another husband and wife are
having who are in the Senate, it’s another financial difficulty that a Supreme Court Judge is having
— it’s all those circumstances and events. It’s the combination of diverse permutations that
combine to enable that whole body politic to operate. That authority is God’s servant for our good,
that’s it. It’s all of that — it’s all of that together.
We’re not dependent on even our Representatives from the State of Minnesota, we’re not dependent on
a President whether he happens to be Christian or non-Christian. This verse is saying, the whole
authority, the whole civil authority is God’s servant for our good, all of it put together. In
other words, this great God of ours works all things according to the counsel of his will. He knows
which Congressman has just had a little baby, and he knows which Senator has not slept too well last
night, and he knows which Supreme Court Judge has met a Christian and has been impressed. And then
he knows all the other myriad events that are taking place in their lives as they head towards the
Senate or Congress to vote on a bill, and our God works all those things according to the counsel of
his will for our good.
Maybe you’d say to me, “All of that is God’s servant for our good, is that all? Is that all that is
God’s servant for our good?” No, because that, even though it seems very important — all those
human factors — strangely enough, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. I’ll show you why — it’s in
Ephesians 6:12; “For we are not contending against flesh and blood”, we’re not contending against
the freshmen Congressmen. We’re not contending against the cynical old Senator. “For we are not
contenting against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the
world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly
places.” That’s what governs those dear ones.
The Senators and the Congressmen and the Judges and all the rest that make up their staff are
sometimes the servants, and sometimes the slaves, and sometimes the dupes of the great world rulers
of darkness; of all kinds of spirit powers, all kinds of psychic forces, all kinds of deceiving
spirits. And half the time they don’t know why they vote a certain way, half the time they don’t
know why they do a certain thing, half the time they don’t know why they act as they do, because in
fact, the great majority of them aren’t free at all. They are being governed by all kinds of
psychological complexes, all kinds of psychic forces, all kinds of deceiving and deceptive spirits.
“Well, surely those work against us.” No, loved ones. Look at Colossians 2:15.
Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them,
triumphing over them in him.” That was Jesus — he has disarmed those powers. He allows them to
continue to strengthen and to prolong free will in the universe, but he has disarmed and destroyed
their power to do anything that was not God’s will for you and me. So all those psychic and
spiritual powers that are operating in the lives of our legislators, all those are God’s servant for
our good, and they are all under his control and under his power. So loved ones, do you see those
dear guys and those women in Congress or in Washington cannot do anything but what God will permit
and can use in your life and mine? They are God’s servant for our good. He will use them for our
good. That’s why we have no need to pervert the democratic system by all kinds of pressure plays.
What do we do? We vote, that’s our right. We write to our Congressmen and to our Senators, that’s
our right — we can write to them every day if we want. We run for local office and we run for
national office as God guides us. But the most important thing we do together with fulfilling those
civil and legal opportunities and obligations that we have is we pray for those people and we
exercise faith in God that he’s got the whole world in his hands — that he is in control — that
we’re not at the mercy of what men do, but that God has the whole thing in control.
Loved ones, that’s the same in regard to the second part of the verse that we’re looking at today,
if you look at Romans 13:4, “For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid,
for he does not bear the sword in vain.” You’re going to Wisconsin, and you’re doing 61 miles an
hour and you know what happens; you hit the local speed trap and the highway patrol man leads you to
the local tavern where the local judge pronounces the fine and you pay your fine in cash.
That is man’s mockery of his fellow citizens. And it is Satan’s attempt to get us all to criticize
and to cease to show respect for the law, and to say that the legal system is a farce — that, what
we often feel is an unfair speed trap, that is setup simply to roll in the money. That, loved ones,
is not God’s servant and it is not that local judge that bears the sword. It is not even the highway
patrol man that bears the sword. It is the authority that lies behind them; it is God’s authority.
It’s God’s use of them in your life — that’s what bears the sword, and that’s why you should
respect and be afraid, — not of them but of God who lies behind them. That’s why it’s important to
respect the law and to respect the legal system, even when men in their foolishness pervert it and
try to make a mockery of it, still loved ones, that is God’s protection for us and he wants us to
look up to it and respect it.
That’s why he has created the speed limits; it brings great good to us. It saves the Jaguars and the
Corvettes that can do 120-140 mph from mowing us down like ninepins. It’s why he has speed limits —
to preserve us from each other’s selfishness. It’s why he has industrial regulations — to preserve
our environment from all kinds of selfishness. It’s why he has regulations that govern factories —
to keep us safe and to protect us. That’s part of God’s sword to protect us and our children, and
it’s something that he wants us to respect and to be thankful for and, in a sense, to be afraid of
disobeying. So there’s every reason to look beyond the guy who takes unfair advantage of you, to
look beyond the legal authority who seems not to be using all the wisdom and balance that he could,
to look behind that and to see in the eyes of faith that God is working beyond their little petty
limitations to protect you and me and to protect us from things that would destroy us.
So loved ones, there are things that we need to be thankful for. We need to be thankful that the
prostitution and pornography is limited as far as it is limited than our city — far beyond what it
is limited in other countries. We need to be thankful to God for the fact that he limits the
drunkenness and the brawling that could take place in our neighborhoods and could destroy any peace
that we have in our homes. We need to see that God, through the power of the sword, has limited the
more widespread use of drugs that could actually take place than occurs now in our society. All
these things are part of the benefit of God’s sword of protection to us and that’s why he wants us
not to have a carping attitude towards our government, but to see that in many ways, it is God’s
sword of protection to us and to our children. That’s why undoubtedly he wants us to bring up our
children to respect it and to love it, rather than to disregard it and despise it because it’s his
way of bringing stability and security into our own lives.
Loved ones, what would it be like if we really all had to carry guns — if our only safety was to
carry them with us wherever we went? In many and miraculous ways, God has brought great protection
to us. It’s the same with our rights, our civil rights, and to the respect people have for our
rights and for our possessions and our property. Think what it would be like if we could not go to
anybody if somebody stole form us — if we had to simply take the law into our own hands and go back
and gather it back ourselves, somehow or other. God’s sword is something that is dear and precious
and brings the peace and stability into our lives that many of us enjoy.
Then, God’s sword brings us religious good and spiritual good too. Every time you see a man like
(Senator) Sam Irwin, a guy that has morals and who has beliefs and convictions and stays with them,
and who together with their civil duties, express the reality of God in their own lives, you begin
to see that, yes, the sword of the civil authority not only protects us, not only brings us moral
good and civil good, not only brings us physical good from the point of view of our own safety, but
even brings us religious and spiritual good.
Then you see why God wants us to thank him for this sword of civil authority that often is a
nuisance to us and often times is not exercised fairly — but it’s not the people that are doing it,
it’s not the policemen, it’s not the judge, it’s not the Senator; it’s the authority behind them
that is God’s sword and God’s servant for our good. And God will always use it for our good, and we
will never obey it, or submit to it, but what God will use it for good in our lives.
So I’d just ask you to think again whenever you tear the whole thing apart and criticize it. I agree
with you — I think there’s a lot to be put right and it’s our job as citizens to put it right, and
to vote so that it will be made right. But we need to be sure that we don’t miss the wood for the
trees; that we don’t see the great blessing it is to us, and the great servant of God it is for us.
And the reason why we need to see that is that every time you fail to exercise faith in that, you
actually undermine the power of government, and the authority that it has. You begin to spread a
little more anarchy, a little more chaos and that will be the anti-Christ’s excuse for coming and
taking over world government eventually.
So there’s every reason every morning we get up to exercise faith in the fact that God controls the
whole thing and works it all for our good. So will you think about it — especially when you’re
going over the speed limit! Think a little about it.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you for making it plain to us that these things are not non-religious things.
Father thank you for showing us that they are not civil things that have nothing to do with you, but
that behind all this civil authority, you are there and you use them in manifold ways to protect us
and to keep us safe, and then to restrain the breaking out of sin and selfishness in our lives.
Lord, we thank you for that.
We would thank you this day for the men and women that are in Washington. We thank you Lord for
Judges that sit in various places in judgment throughout the nation. We thank you Father for lawyers
and attorneys, we thank you Lord for policemen, for all the government officials. Lord, we would
turn away from our carping and our criticizing and our complains and we would begin to exercise
faith for the authority that lies behind them, that you, our Father, would bring it close to your
own heart and close to the mind of Christ that we might be peaceably governed so that your life
might be given to more of our fellow citizens. We ask this for your glory.
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.
Capital Punishment - Romans
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I am going to mention a word, and then would you notice what you think of immediately when you hear
the word — paradise. So what do you think of when you hear the word paradise? Eden?
Certainly a place where you get everything you want — we always think of the skiers as having
miles and miles of beautiful powder snow to ski in, and all the baseball fans having world series
end-to-end with all the big players playing — and so you go, on and on. Yet our initial reaction is
kind of a joke, isn’t it? Because the truth is, when we reflect for a moment, however enthusiastic
you are about anything you do, however enthusiastic you are about baseball, however enthusiastic you
are about skiing, one thing you’re sure of: you couldn’t keep on doing it forever and ever. And
you realize that even you would get fed up with world series end-to-end forever and ever.
Why do we use that imagery then? I think because of the idea we have of Eden; that it’s a place
where all our inner desires are satisfied fully by the surrounding environment. And actually the
moment we try to imagine that, we begin to see that maybe some of the desires we have that we’re
living to fulfill, and that we would want with all our hearts, are pretty immature.
That’s kind of the problem we live with, now, in our own lives. We think to ourselves, “Now, wait a
minute, the things that I am living for and the things that I want above everything else, I don’t
really think I could stand wanting those things and living with those things forever. Even if I had
all the cars in the world, if I had all the motorbikes in the world, if I had all the ski slopes in
the world, if I had all the food in the world, if I had all the money in the world, I still think
that I would get bored after a while.” We might prefer this ever changing kaleidoscope of time and
space and finite life that we have here, to the kind of steady state of eternity that might drive us
crazy. We begin to wonder, “I wonder if I could take eternity?”
Yet loved ones, that is what eternity is; it is an active, satisfying peace, where all our inner
desires are fully satisfied by the environment and the surroundings that we exist in. Part of that
is because our desires are no longer in conflict; they are at last at peace. Because I think you’ll
agree — one of the problems we have is that one moment our desire is one thing, one moment it’s
another; one moment we want peace and satisfaction and rest, and the next moment we want excitement
and stimulation and exhilaration.
It’s true that part of the satisfaction in eternity comes from the fact that our own inner desires
are at peace. For instance, in the paradise, and the word in the Greek is really “parkland” so in
the “parkland” of Eden that God first used as an environment for the first man and the first woman
that he ever made, in that parkland, Adam was at peace.
He loved God his Creator, and he wanted with all his heart to help him to complete the earth that he
had made, through developing and disciplining the natural resources in it, and his own natural
resources. So there was real peace in the valley, there was just great peace.
You know the way you have a relative or a dear friend, and they know you so well that they know what
you’re thinking without you having to tell them? Adam lived each day of his life in that kind of
intuitive closeness with God, so that the moment God decided some seeds should be planted, or some
trees should be pruned, or some iron ore should be mined, that same moment Adam knew it, and he
willingly did what he knew God wanted him to do. So he had a real sense of fulfillment in the
exercise of his own unforced will, and he had real peace as he did that.
Then loved ones, something happened to shatter that harmony. Adam hesitated — just for a second —
in his trust of God. The thought occurred to him, “What will happen after I finish this job? What
will happen to me? What will happen to me after this earth is completed?” He suddenly thought, “I’d
better provide for myself and my wife and my children for when that moment comes.” And at that
moment, his trust in God was shattered. At that very moment the peace disappeared from his heart.
He lost any sense of identity or direction in his life, and he began to preoccupy himself with
mining enough iron and silver and coal to make sure that his wife and his children were provided
Of course, that had real problems. For one thing, he could never mine enough silver or coal or
gather enough corn or enough oranges to secure his wife’s life and his children’s lives against
death. So all the time he was filled with great anger and frustration that it didn’t matter what he
did — here he was; he didn’t know why he was here, didn’t know what he was doing, it didn’t matter
what he did — he felt he couldn’t win.
Then there was another problem. Everybody else was at the same thing. Everybody else in the world
was doing the same thing, because there were other people in the world then. There were other sons
and daughters of His sons and daughters, and they began to populate the world. Everybody else was
at the same thing, so the world became like a great gold rush where everybody was trying to register
their claim to make sure they had enough of the world’s products.
Loved ones, the whole thing became a hell. In fact it’s described in the early chapters of the
Bible in Genesis 6:11-14: “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. Make yourself an
ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” And God in one
stroke wiped that whole spirit off the earth.
Then after about a year, he allowed the flood to subside — and God started again with Noah, and his
three sons and their wives, to populate the earth. But his sons and their wives were tainted with
the same kind of acquisitive desires and greed that Adam originally began to spread throughout the
family of mankind. So the urge to be violent, and to get your own way, and to destroy everybody in
order to obtain it was still inside men. God realized that unless he could change them radically,
the whole thing was going to come to an end again. So he did that great work in eternity. He put us
into his son Jesus, and he destroyed us, and he remade us new, and filled with unselfishness and
And then he gave men the opportunity to realize that, and enter into it by faith. But how on earth
are you going to keep them from slaughtering each other while they have a chance to realize what God
has done? That was the problem that the Father faced. How do you stop men and women destroying each
other, in order to give them enough time to realize that they could be changed by the thing that he
wrought in his son Jesus?
That’s when God established civil authority and political government in order to keep us from
destroying each other so that we, each one, would have a chance to be changed in Jesus. And that’s
when God established the death penalty. You might want to look at it, because you probably have not
been aware exactly where that started. It’s in Genesis 9:6. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man
shall his blood be shed.” So that’s when God established that. It’s actually the third of three
laws of nature, we’ve learned to call them down through the years, that God established then.
One of the things he did, for instance, was he separated the rotation of the earth from its mystical
connection with man’s relationship to God. Do you realize that he had to do that? At the beginning
we all had a mystical connection with the world of nature, so that when we rebelled against God and
did our own thing, the earth began to bring forth thorns and weeds, and earthquakes began to occur
because there was a mystical connection with you and me.
You and I were put here as the rulers of the earth, and we had a mystical, spiritual connection with
the natural world. So when we fell out of relationship with God, the world itself fell away. Now if
God had allowed that mystical connection to continue, then as we went up and down in our
relationship with him, so the world would have gone up and down. So he separated that.
He guaranteed, first of all, the rotation of the earth separate from what men and women did towards
him. After the flood he made this promise in Genesis 8:22: “While the earth remains, seedtime and
harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” In other words, he
determined, “I will give you a stable environment, independent of how you behave towards me.” And
then you realize that we had a mystical authority over the animals. I don’t know how many
pterodactyls there were in those days, but we had a mystical authority over them. We were able to
hold them back from killing us.
Now that was lost when we fell out of God’s fellowship. And he therefore had to replace that with
an authority of fear over the animals. So we once had the kind of relationship with them that St.
Francis supposedly had. That was lost when we rebelled against God so God replaced that, and this
was the second law of nature. It’s in Genesis 9:2, “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be
upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the
ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered.”
That’s one of the reasons why the fish fly so fast from us, while we have to go to all those
complicated techniques to catch them. And it’s why all the birds and the animals and fish, on the
whole, are very naturally afraid of us. That’s a second law of nature that God built in to preserve
us, especially in our childhood, and mankind from being destroyed by the animals.
The third law of nature was this one that we just read, Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of
man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Loved ones, the fact that that is a law of nature, that it’s
built into us, just as really as fear of mankind is built into the birds, or just as really as the
rotation of the earth is a law of nature, this is a law of nature. And it’s evident, isn’t it?
Think of the hideous, unreal, situations that we have watched so often on television. You have all
the humanists and the religious people holding a vigil outside the prison or outside the governor’s
residence, trying to get reprieve for the convicted murderer. And you’ve got the convicted murderer
— it hasn’t been on every occasion, but it has been in an amazing number of occasions — you get
the convicted murderer pleading that he be executed and receive the just return for his crime. It’s
as if nature itself is crying out for the mercy of order and justice. It’s as if somehow the law of
nature is so operating in the dear guy that he feels, “There is some hope for me if I can be allowed
to bear the wrath of God. There is some hope for me.” It’s as if there’s something deep that is
crying out from inside the man.
Lenski, a Lutheran commentator, has put it this way. “Where the consciousness of God is still found
in a criminal, he will realize that the penalty inflicted on him by the state is God’s punishment
for his crime and sin; the evidence of God’s wrath.” In this statement there is an obvious belief
that death is no more the end for a murderer than it need be for us, if our hearts come into
repentance. Wherever consciousness of God is still found in a criminal, he will realize that the
penalty inflicted on him by the state is God’s punishment for his crime and sin — the evidence of
God’s wrath. For those of us who want to be kinder than God in this issue, and that’s often our
situation — we think, “Oh we’re being kinder than God”, (by fighting against the death penalty) God
wrote into the books of history a clear illustration of how redemption can be wrought as a man is
allowed to bear the just punishment for his crime. It’s a very famous instance and it’s in Luke
23:39 — it’s for those of us who tend to say, “Oh, it’s all right for you talking but when a man is
dead, he’s dead.” But there is more than physical life, loved ones.
Luke 23:39, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him saying, ‘Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under
the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our
deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into
your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
Loved ones, it seems to parallel Schaeffer’s point. Those of you who have read Francis Schaeffer
will remember that he says that the old-fashioned method of justice whereby a man or a woman was
given a definite prison sentence that they could serve and pay their debt to society and then be
free and go out and get on with the rest of their life, was far more merciful than our present
practice of referring them to eternal institutionalization in psyche wards from which they can never
get free. In other words, that even in justice there is a power to redeem.
And loved ones, the responsibility of actually executing a human being who had murdered another
human being is given by God to the civil government, to the state, to the political authority and
you find that in Romans 13:4 and it’s the end of the verse that we’re studying today. “For he is
God’s servant for your good”, and then the middle of the verse runs, “But if you do wrong, be
afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the
The sword was denoted by the Greek word “makhaira”. It’s the short Roman sword that was used to
execute Roman citizens, so it’s not just a symbolic thing, but it actually refers to the actual
weapon that was used to execute Roman citizens. It’s the very sword that was used to execute Paul
himself, and yet even he, who suffered that execution, even he, in his defense before Festus said
you ought to bow to that if you justly deserve it. You find that in Acts 25:11, “If then I am a
wrong-doer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death;
but if there is nothing in these charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to
Cesar.” And it’s as if he, and all of them, realized that this death penalty, and the right to
execute justice in regard to all other crimes, is part of God’s common grace that he has given to
all of us in this world, to prevent us from destroying each other and therefore preventing each
other coming into any relationship to Jesus.
Now loved ones you can see then, that kindness for the individual and concern for the individual is
often quoted today as, “a reason for opposing the death penalty”, but do you see that it’s those
same motivations that are at the base of the activation and the practice of the death penalty and of
capital punishment? Except in this case, it’s concerned for the victims of the criminals that have
already been released. And if you read “The Wall Street Journal” or “New York Times” you see the
list of murders committed by dear guys who had been taken in for a murder and released on to the
So it’s concern and kindness for those individuals and then it’s concern and kindness for the many
guys and the many girls who will pick up the “Saturday Night Special” [a gun] and use it quickly
because there is absolutely nothing that deters them from doing that. So it’s kindness and concern
for them. And finally, its kindness and concern for a convicted murderer himself, who has something
inside his conscience that is crying out for the order and justice and the reward and the return for
his crime that God has built into his own heart, and that, if he responds to that, can still be used
to redeem him.
The truth is this. The reason for the capital punishment, or the reason for the death penalty, or
the reason for justice for all other crimes (which in a strange way, are built on that one, do you
realize that? When you give that one up, it’s just a short distance until justice disappears from
the earth completely) — but the reason loved ones, is greater than society’s needs.
And this is where I think we get outside the realm of politics completely. Why did God initiate the
death penalty? Look back to the time when he did it and you’ll see it. It’s Genesis 9:6, “Whoever
sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” In other words, whoever murders — because
that’s the distinction, whoever murders, just because of his own selfish will — “by man shall his
blood be shed.”
He will be executed judicially, and there’s all the world of difference between those two. One is a
selfish desire on your own part, the other is obedience to what God has set down, “Whoever sheds the
blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.” Why? “For God made man in his own image.” That’s
it. And when you destroy a human being, you destroy an image of God. You destroy a person who is
the only expression like that of God on the earth.
Each one of us is different and unique. We are a unique expression of God himself. And when you
destroy another human being, God says, “You destroy an expression of me that cannot be duplicated
and cannot be repeated on this earth. You destroy part of my own nature because in fact, my Spirit
is in that person.” So loved ones, when you cause that expression of God to cease to exist, you are
no longer dealing with human beings, you’re no longer dealing with society, you’re no longer dealing
with laws of this state and that state. You’re dealing with God himself. You’re putting yourself
against the very God of the universe. You’re undoing to his very face what he has done, and from
that moment on, you must deal with God. That’s why the death penalty has to be practiced. Because
you’ll notice in this verse in Romans, you’re expressing — not the wrath of the state — but it
says, “The state or the political authority is God’s servant to execute his wrath against the one
who does wrong,” that is God’s wrath.
In other words, it’s like what was said by Hamlet; “The very stones would weep.” It’s like Jesus
said, the very stones would cry out if you don’t cry out in order to prevent the earth splitting
apart, psychologically, spiritually, morally, and physically, at such an affront to reality as one
little human being destroying what the God-Creator has made. God’s wrath has to be expressed, it
has to be. In other words, God can endure much, but he cannot endure that. He cannot endure one
little man or one little woman wiping His face with his feet. He cannot. And so the reason for the
death penalty is because you’re beginning to tamper with the God-Creator himself, and with an image
of himself that he has lovingly made. You’re pitting yourself directly against him and you’re
Loved ones, if you wonder where we have got off so badly on this issue, the reason is the same as
what is destroying discipline in our own lives, in our homes, in our schools and in our legal and
commercial life. It is a self-deification by which we say that everything can be fixed. We think
everything can be fixed. There’s a good side to that, but when it comes into this realm where
you’re challenging God and saying, “It can be fixed; nothing is so bad that we cannot remedy it here
on this earth.” There’s no question it can be remedied in heaven, but our self-deification is
involved because we say, “There’s nothing so bad — sure murder in the old days — the person had to
be executed, but look, murderers can be redeemed here on this earth.”
God doesn’t challenge that they can be redeemed. He proves it by Jesus’ words to the thief on the
Cross. But what he does challenge is that you can’t redeem murder on this earth. And loved ones,
we’ve got off so badly because we’ve spread our pragmatism so far that we’re convincing each other
that even murder and the murderer can be helped and his crime can be remedied in some way other than
execution. That’s where we have begun to take over God’s place. Wherever we puny men and women are
beginning to take over God’s prerogative and use our silly little judgments to say, “Nothing is so
bad that it cannot be put right here on this earth” — the death penalty is us admitting our
humanism, and saying, “No, there are some things that you cannot remedy here on this earth. You
cannot thrust another human being off this earth and not endure the ultimate punishment for it.
Nobody has that right.”
Nobody here on this earth knows what you’re pushing another human being into, nobody knows. Even
those of us who have been out in space, we don’t know what’s beyond, and none of us have the right
to thrust another human being out of this earthly life, because we can’t tell what he is facing and
therefore we haven’t that right. We have to insist to our other brothers and sisters that if you do
that, then that must be done, judicially, to you. Because at death, your power as a human being
ceases and you move into another realm that is God’s realm, and you dare not touch that.
So loved ones, I know it may seem like hard words but there’s stability in it, there’s security in
it. There’s the final, moral authority that we so desperately need in our schools and our politics.
And you and I know our dear society is falling apart because there are no Martin Luthers left; there
are no men who will nail a thesis to the door and say, “Here I stand. I can do no other.” A few of
us will stand up and say, “This is wrong; this is an absolute.” Do you know that the psyche wards
would empty if we began to stand by even one of God’s absolutes? And see why he made it? He made
it, loved ones, to preserve our sanity and to give even a murderer a chance to be redeemed.
I would ask you not just to think about it, but to ask God yourself, in your own life, is there
anywhere you are deifying yourself — you’re making your own rules, and your own laws, and you’re
trying to prove that you have a way that’s better than God? Loved ones, if you are, you’re heading
towards futility and destruction of yourself.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we have no doubt of your love. When we look at these lakes and flowers, little birds
and rabbits, then we look at little babies and realize you have made them. And we look at smiles on
people’s faces and realize you made the smile, and laughter, and joking and fun. Lord, you even talk
about the great gathering of all of us together at the end of this life as a great marriage feast.
So Father, we have no doubt you are a happy God and you are a dear God and a loving God.
So Father we cannot doubt that. Lord, we bow before you not only in regard to this matter of
capital punishment — but in the matter of justice, and in this matter of seeing that there are
certain things in our own lives that cannot be remedied on this earth, and that there are certain
things that we dare not do, otherwise it will cost us life itself.
Father, we would bow before you and we know that if you have been so loving in so many other ways,
then even your wrath here must be part of your love to keep us on this side of sanity and this side
of the possibility of being redeemed and changed and saved in Jesus. So Father, we would not only
accept your judgment on this civil issue, but Lord we would begin to change our own lives and bring
back the old absolutes, and the old-fashioned principles which kept us sane, and kept us within your
dear reach and the reach of your Holy Spirit.
Lord, we do pray for men and women who may be in death row here in the nation. Lord, we ask
forgiveness for the pain and agony that we commit them to, to spend years in such a situation. And
Lord we pray for them now, that you will move in their dear hearts and convict them deeply of their
sin and enable us, as far as we are able, to continue to mirror to them the kind of God that you
are; just and stern, but loving and forgiving, whenever we repent. Lord we thank you for this day.
We thank you that there is stability in this universe. We thank you Father that you are there and
you will not move. We thank you for that, Lord. We thank you that we can depend upon you.
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.
It’s Only Money - Romans
It’s Only Money
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I was getting gas in the car yesterday, like so many of us do, and I overshot the round figure of
$13.00 by one cent. So I went into the service station and I put down my $13.00 check and I took
out my one cent and put it on the check and the girl said, “Oh we don’t need the one cent and she
put down a dime and said, “There is a dime discount and there’s a card that you can win a car with
as a prize.” So I’ll go back there!
It makes all the difference in the world — something inside you rises to it and says, “Oh, that’s a
great place.” And something inside you kind of shrivels up when they say to you, “That’s thirteen
dollars and one cent” and you have to get your one cent out. It’s interesting, there’s something
inside our own spirits that rises to a spirit of generosity like that. Even though we know they’re
not losing on the deal — and we know that. Even though the financial facts don’t actually justify
the gladness that we feel in our hearts, yet we do rise to that when we find a spirit of generosity,
or magnanimity, or big-heartedness, in somebody — even if it’s in a gas station. We kind of feel,
“Yeah, that’s right, that’s what life is about.”
That’s the kind of spirit that showered us with so much of everything in this world; the Creator
seems to give us loads of snow, loads of rain, and loads of sunshine. He seems to give us loads of
daffodils and thousands of singing birds and thousands of fish. It seems that the whole earth has a
spirit of generosity and magnanimity in its heart, and when somebody else shows us that there’s
something inside us that rises to it.
Now, what is that? It’s our conscience. Our conscience actually doesn’t so much testify to right and
wrong and good and evil — it’s our educated minds that do that. But our conscience attests to that
spirit of generosity and magnanimity and big-heartedness that fills the earth. That spirit that we
sense coming from the Creator who does not deal with us according to our sins, and does not requite
us according to our iniquities, but removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west.
That fills this world with teaming life and seems to continue to give and give and give to us —
whatever our attitude is to him.
Our conscience attests to that, and our conscience lets you know when that kind of spirit is filling
your heart. Your conscience is what let’s you know when the other petty, miserly, mean, legalistic,
cent-counting spirit is filling your heart. Your conscience let’s you know that.
Now, which spirit fills your heart attitude on the 15th of April — [Tax Day in the U.S.] because
that’s the real reason for paying your taxes? The deepest reason of all for paying your taxes is so
that your heart would be filled with that faith attitude; that faith attitude that is filled with
the generous spirit of God, rather than that fear attitude that is filled with anxiety, and
pettiness, and smallness.
You’ll see that if you look at the verse that we’re studying today. It’s Romans 13:6. “For the same
reason you also pay taxes.” Now, what reason? Romans 13:5, “Therefore one must be subject, not only
to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” for that reason. That’s why you should pay
your taxes; for the sake of your conscience which testifies, not first and foremost to “this is
good, this is bad, this is right, this is wrong, this is good, this is evil” but which does a far
more sensitive job than that.
Your conscience testifies to when you are letting that petty, shriveled, mean, miserly, fearful
spirit take hold and get a grip of your heart, or when you are letting that magnificent,
magnanimous, generous, faith believing, trusting attitude of God’s provision to fill your heart.
Your conscience let’s you know that, and actually that’s why we should pay our taxes. Not simply
because it’s legal, not just because the bible enjoins it, but because it’s a faith action that
allows the spirit of God’s generosity and full provision to fill your heart.
What do you feel when you come to your deductions for interest, for medical care, for charitable
contributions, for travel and entertainment? What spirit fills your heart at that moment? Is it a
spirit of fear and anxiety and resentment or is it a spirit of gratitude and generosity and
confidence and faith in the Father?
That’s what’s wrong with giving yourself the benefit of the doubt on the travel expenses or the
medical expenses. It’s not the actual lies, strangely enough, that you tell when your pen makes that
figure on the paper. It’s not the actual lie; it’s the whole miserable spirit of anxiety and fear
and worry and smallness and miserliness that gets hold of your heart — that’s what’s wrong with it
When you do that around the 15th of April, you’re letting a whole spirit of smallness and pettiness
take hold of you, that whole spirit of Satan that offends you when a service station attendant says
$13.01. You’re letting that spirit take hold of your heart at that very moment when you’re doing
that; when you’re writing that figure that you know gives you slightly the benefit of the doubt but
you know fine well nobody is ever going to find out about it.
When you write that figure, Jesus is standing at your right hand saying, “My child, ‘do not be
anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you
shall put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the
air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are
you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of
life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they
neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of
these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown
into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?'[Matthew 6:25-30] Now, put
the right figure down; step out in faith. Believe my Father, trust me.”
And at that moment loved ones, you either do it or you say, “No, I have my own methods of working
out my problems; I figure that if I can manipulate this thing, I’ll just make it by the end of this
year — I’ll just manage it. So okay, that stuff is all right, Lord, for theory, but in practice I
have to manipulate my own way by my own clever strategies.”
Loved ones that’s the tragedy of not paying the taxes; that’s the tragedy of Gordon Kahl. He was
the gentleman from North Dakota who belonged to that group of militant, anti-tax people, and he
refused to pay his taxes. He killed two federal marshals and a sheriff who tried to serve a warrant
on him for not filing an income tax return, and the tragedy is not even the death, though that’s
tragic enough, the tragedy is not even the defiance of law, though that’s tragic enough, the tragedy
is that the dear guy allowed that spirit to flood in upon him and utterly preoccupy him and take
over his whole being, so that that spirit of pettiness, and miserliness, and legalism, and fear, and
anxiety, and “manage it by your own strategy or your own power” took over his heart completely.
I think one of the attorneys said,” What on earth was in a man’s mind to create that kind of havoc
because he didn’t want to pay his taxes?” And it does come home to you, doesn’t it? It makes you
feel whether the guy had some reason for doing it or not, it’s ridiculous that he went to that
length. You remember how the article reads? “The other officers managed to drag Matthews out, the
house went up in flames after a smoke bomb was thrown down the vent and then they went in and there
was a figure, a burnt to death figure, leaning over a lamp.”
Your heart breaks and you think this is tale told by an idiot; there’s no sense in this; this dear
man carried it to that extremity in order to make a point? No; that’s not just man, that’s devilish;
that’s satanic. Some spirit got hold of that guy that drove him beyond the point of reason.
Now, I understand that all of us who lie on the income tax form are not at that point, but you see
what I am saying; it’s only luck that we’re not. It’s just luck — we’re actually touching the same
spirit. We’re touching the same spirit of fear, the same spirit of anxiety, and the same spirit of
feeling that unless we manipulate these taxes according to our own cleverness we’re lost
Loved ones, this man Gordon Kahl’s whole attitude contrasts absolutely and utterly with that of a
poor preacher who had nothing like the resources that Gordon Kahl had; he had no house or roof over
his own head. He had not the kind of government, even, that Gordon Kahl has. He had a government
that was much crueler and much more unsympathetic. But this preacher had an utterly different
attitude towards paying taxes. I’ll show you his own words in Matthew 17:24, “When they came to
Capernaum, the collectors of the half-shekel tax went up to Peter and said, “Does not your teacher
pay the tax? He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, ‘What do you
think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute — from their sons or from
others?’ And when he said,’ From others,’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free.'” So Jesus
was saying if this half-sheckle tax is a civil tax then I am a son of David’s line and so I really
ought not to pay the tax. If it’s a religious tax for the temple, you know I am the Son of the
Creator for whom this tax is collected, so I have no real reason and no right to be asked to pay
this tax. So Jesus was saying, “Really, I am justified in refusing to pay the tax, you know that
Simon.” But then verse 27 says “However, not to give offense to them,” in other words, not to put
anybody else off who is seeking God, “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a
hook, and take the first fish that comes up and when you open it’s mouth you will find a sheckle;
take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”
In other words, Jesus says to each one of us in regard to the taxes, “It’s only money. It’s only
money. Pay it. And if you doubt that my Father can cover that as well as you’re other expenses; if
you doubt that my Father can provide for your taxes as well as for all your other needs, then let me
do it the hard way.” And thereupon, he outgunned all the most sophisticated, electronic
fish-finders that we have invented. He didn’t just find any old fish — and it is amazing isn’t it;
Jesus, the Savior of the world who made every fish in the sea knew where the fish was — not that
have swallowed a sheckle — but the fish that had a sheckle stuck in its throat. Then he guided
that fish over to Peter’s hook, and he did it in such a complex way so that all we skeptics here
this morning would be in no doubt that if Jesus can supply the taxes that way, our Father can surely
supply all our needs. And of course he can loved ones, of course he can.
When you and I fiddle on the taxes, we’re just allowing that spirit of miserliness, that spirit of
meanness, that spirit of fear and anxiety and worry to grip our hearts. That’s why we have
headaches, that’s why we have all that strain and can’t sleep around tax time; because we allow that
spirit of miserliness and fear and anxiety to grip our hearts and we turn away from our mighty God
who is shining the sun on us day-by-day and who is giving us the rain and who has given us all that
we have, the one who keeps us alive, and we turn away from him and we pretend for that moment that
he cannot supply all our needs and loved ones, that’s the tragedy.
Go out — step out — it’s a faith action. Pay the tax, pay more, give them more — give them
whatever they want; the Father will supply our needs. It’s a glory to him and a delight to the
angels in heaven when they look down and see one of us who really trusts our God. God will not
leave you without the wherewithal to obey him, he won’t. He won’t tell you to pay your taxes and
then leave you without the money to do it; he’ll use everything that you come up against in that
regard to bring you closer to him, but he will not leave you alone. He will supply what you need and
he wants us to tackle our taxes in that way.
Now why do you do it? Why does the Holy Spirit attest to that as an exercise of faith? You can see
it if you look back to Romans 13:6b. This is why the Holy Spirit attests to that as a faith action
and therefore fills us with the Spirit of God’s generosity and power. Romans 13:6b, “For the same
reason you also pay taxes”, Why? “for the authorities are ministers of God.” They’re ministers of
God. It’s interesting, the word there is ‘liturgoi’ and it’s the same word that’s used of Jesus in
Hebrews where Jesus is called the minister of God.
Now admittedly these are secular servants of God, but the reason is that the people who run the
civil government are actually God’s secular servants, and despite or through the smoke filled rooms,
despite or through the political caucuses, despite or through the men — dishonest and honest– and
the political deals — done and undone that take place, God somehow gets people into government that
he is able to use as his servants. They’re appointed for a very specific task. You can see it at
the end of this verse, “For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of
God, attending to this very thing.”
Now what very thing? Often we think collecting the taxes but no; go back to Romans 13:3, “For rulers
are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority?
Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But
if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to
execute his wrath on the wrong-doer.” That’s what they do.
I agree with you; they don’t encourage faith in God. They don’t even encourage the spirit of grace
and generosity that flows from that faith, but they do encourage honesty, they do encourage
integrity, they do encourage good behavior. They don’t discourage fear; they don’t discourage
unbelief in God. Admittedly, they don’t discourage, even, the miserliness and the anxiety that flows
from that, but they do discourage murder, they do discourage rape, they do discourage vice and
In other words, these people maybe don’t encourage faith in God or discourage unbelief in God, but
they do encourage the actions and good behavior that flows from faith in God, and they do discourage
the bad behavior that flows from unbelief in God and God’s way of supplying them with money is our
God knew that in some way he had to protect us from the people who don’t trust him; from the people
who would murder us and slaughter us if they got the chance, so he appointed certain people in the
world; policemen, attorneys, government officials, to hold back that anarchic murder and chaos while
we got to know him. He has arranged for taxes to support those people and that’s why the conscience
within us attests to the rightness of paying our taxes because it enables God’s whole economy and
system to work together. It enables the whole thing to operate together, so in a way when you don’t
do that, you actually oppose God, who has arranged for this so that it will operate that way.
That’s why we pay our taxes. You may say, “Then is it wrong to withhold taxes in order to force the
government to do something that we think it ought to do; for instance in abortion? Is it wrong to
withhold our money and to refuse to pay our taxes? Is it wrong to take the attitude that Gordon Kahl
took, which he took presumably not simply because he hadn’t the money, but because he was making a
point, is it wrong to do that?”
Some of us, I know, believe it’s not wrong. I know a brother who is part of this body who runs a
newspaper in a town in South Dakota that is based primarily on not paying taxes — the whole
community. And he is doing that because he believes that, so I know that many of us think that.
But it’s my responsibility to tell you, to the best of my understanding of God’s word, what he is
saying and loved ones; it seems to me it is wrong; it seems to me it’s wrong to refuse to pay your
taxes in order to force the government to do what you think it should do.
First of all it’s wrong because it’s illegal and therefore it’s disobedience to God. I’ll show you
the verse, its Romans 13:2, “Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has
appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” So yes the Bible seems to imply that we should
pay our taxes and if we don’t pay our taxes we’re not only disobeying God’s word, but we’re
disobeying the law and we’re disobeying God himself.
The second reason is it destroys the freedom of will that voting, writing to your representatives
and running for public office preserves. Do you see that? It destroys that freedom of will. It’s
the little guy who owns the only baseball bat in the street — the other guy pitches to the guy that
owns the bat and he is now has three strikes. So you strike him out and he says, “Okay, if you
strike me out, I am taking the bat home.” That’s it — it’s the same spirit, isn’t it; “If you
don’t do what I want you to do with my money, I am not going to give it to you.” It’s that spirit
and it destroys freedom — what can you do [about the owner of the bat] — you have to let the guy
stay in all day. Nobody else gets a turn to bat because you want the game to continue. So it
destroys the free will that everybody else has.
So loved ones it does seem wrong to do. But the most serious reason of all for not withholding your
taxes in order to make the government do what you think is; it allows a whole spirit of fear and
anxiety and self-management to come into your heart and to fill it, instead of that spirit of
generosity and faith in God’s ability to overrule whatever lay there, that’s it.
It brings in that whole dependence on the flesh; that whole dependence on your ability to turn
things round that is absolutely opposed to faith in God’s ability to overrule if you will
concentrate on obeying him and it eventually is what brings you into a great sense of insecurity.
You know that that is what brings insecurity; you either go out in faith in God’s ability to bring
things around, or you sink into your faith in your own ability to change it. And you can’t change
it — you’re not God. So you try to play God in your life, and then you discover you’re not God.
That’s why you’re insecure.
Have you ever thought that that’s actually why people go insane? Do you know that?
C.K. Chesterton is a famous English writer who said, “Many people think insane people are illogical
people and that’s their problem.” He says, “No. The problem with insane people is they’re
absolutely logical; they have no room for anything else but their own thinking and their own method
of doing the thing, and that utterly preoccupies, and then obsesses their mind, and that’s why
they’re insane. They live inside their own plans and their own ideas and they don’t allow the
reality of the rest of the world to break in.”
So loved ones, no, don’t get involved in that. Not because even the Bible says you’re not to, not
even because it’s illegal, but because your conscience testifies to the fact that you’re allowing a
spirit of Satan and selfishness and smallness to come into your life, versus one other big reason
for it. I’ll show you what it is and it applies to a lot of these political issues that we’ve been
discussing; Second Timothy 2:4, “No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since
his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.” For us that’s a civilian pursuit. Any of us who are
soldiers of the Cross are committed to one way to change society; we change human hearts. We allow
that spirit of God’s generosity and faith to fill our hearts, we introduce other people’s hearts to
it and their hearts are filled with it too, and then they vote as they want. That’s how we soldiers
of the Cross change society — we do not get involved in civilian pursuits. For us a civilian
pursuit is the kind of thing that can so often end up in the tragedy of Gordon Kahl’s death.
So loved ones, it’s a glorious calling that God has given us; to move in complete faith that our
Father will supply all our needs, even our income taxes. That’s a good feeling.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we thank you for those dear words that Jesus spoke on that occasion. We know that he
was looking over the disciple’s heads, down through the centuries, and looking straight at us this
morning and saying, “Do not be anxious about your life; what you shall eat or what you shall drink
nor about your body, what you shall put on. Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor
spin and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If your Father, so clothes
the grass of the field which today is and tomorrow is cast into the fire, will he not much more
clothe you, oh you of little faith.”
Father thank you that we have every reason for believing that you will and that we can afford to pay
our taxes and to pay them generously, because the more we give, the more you will give to us. And
the more we put our faith in you, the greater a spirit of magnanimity and generosity will fill our
own lives and hearts.
Lord we thank you for that; to give ourselves today in our relationships with each other; to
rejecting that spirit of legalism and that spirit of counting the cents and the pennies, and we
receive gladly that spirit of generosity and magnanimity which has filled this world with so much
Father we thank you for the Holy Spirit. And dear Holy Spirit, we allow you to fill us with
yourself, and to pour out through us to others.
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.