Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Owe No One Anything Except to Love - September 7, 2014 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18) - Text: Romans 13:1-10
Last week we began listening to Paul give us some instructions in living lives of faith. We call this sanctification. We also made note of the difference between justification and sanctification and we want to do that again this morning to make sure we hear Paul correctly. Justification is what God has done for us. It is a completed act. Justification is that by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus we are declared innocent in God’s eyes, that is we are declared just and right. We are declared just and right because Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and by grace through faith we have what He earned, forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Sanctification, on the other hand, is defined as a response to justification. Yet, sanctification also has its beginning with God. We are sanctified, that is we respond to our justification, by doing the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, but we do them only as we are motivated by the Holy Spirit; as they are worked in and through us by the Holy Spirit; and as they are done to the glory of God. This distinction is important, because this morning Paul encourages us again in our sanctified lives to be subject to those in authority over us as well as he encourages us to live lives of faith by loving one another.
Paul begins with authority and the purpose of government. We begin at verse one, “1Let 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. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (v. 1-7). The purpose of government is simply to maintain order and I would add so that we might rightly worship God. God is the ruler behind every government, whether that government be good, bad or indifferent. But please do not misunderstand, although God is the ruler behind every government that does not mean that He approves of corrupt governments. Just as a bad marriage in no way takes away from God’s good gift of marriage and just as a bad church (a Christian church gone bad) in no way takes away from God’s good gift of a Christian congregation, so a bad government in no way takes away from God’s good gift of government.
Because government is from God, when we disobey the government we disobey God. The only exception would be when the government would tell us to do something contrary to God’s Word, then and only then are we permitted to disobey the government, but we must also then be prepared to suffer whatever punishment may be meted out for such disobedience. This is what is often referred to as being persecuted.
So it makes sense that when we are doing what is right, according to the law of the land, we do not need to be afraid of the government. It is only as we disobey the law of the land that we need to be afraid. When we drive according to the speed limit we do not need to be afraid of getting a ticket. When we go beyond the speed limit and disobey the law, then we do need to be afraid of getting caught and getting a ticket. When we respect others life, property, possessions, family and the like then we do not need to be afraid of the government. When we take another’s life, property, possessions or family, then we are disobeying the law and we do need to be afraid of the government.
God is the ruler behind every government, thus one purpose of government is to mete out judgement and punishment on behalf of God. Here we see how God does not rule us directly, but indirectly, through other persons, institutions and agencies. In the Fourth Commandment we are reminded that this is how God rules us as we are reminded that this commandment is the basis for all authority. God rules us not directly as a theocracy, but indirectly, through governments, through our parents, teachers, pastor, employers, police departments and the like.
Because God rules us indirectly through these other agencies, especially through government agencies, it is important that we support these agencies especially that we support them as we pay our taxes. Our taxes are what make it possible to have the protection we need so we are to support our government by paying our taxes.
Yet, not only are we to support our government financially, we are also to support those in authority by giving honor to them. We are to be respectful to those who serve in the various law enforcement fields as well as to our elected representatives, all the way up to our president. We are to be respectful to those who serve in authority over us in various other places, including our employers, our teachers, and so forth. And even if we may not agree with certain persons in authority, we are still to respect the position of authority, in other words, I may not like the mayor as a person, but I must still respect him because of the office of authority in which he resides. From time to time some of us may disagree with the president of the United States and that is okay, yet we must still respect him because of his office of authority. In giving such respect, to all those in authority, we obey God.
What gives us the ability to respect government? Paul goes on to remind us of love. Love is the summary of the commandments. We pick up at verse eight, “8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (v. 8-10). Very often we think of the commandments as legalistic rules, yet even Jesus reminds us that the summary of the commandments is love. The first three commandments, which deal with our relationship with God can be summarized as, “love God.” If we could love God, then we would never break any of the other commandments. Of course we know, because of our nature, we are unable to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” and so because we fail at this starting point, we fail with the other commandments as well.
The last seven commandments, which deal with our relationships with each other, can be summarized as, “love your neighbor.” If we could love our neighbor as ourselves, we would not disobey those in authority over us, we would not kill, nor would we in any way hurt nor harm our neighbor, we would not lust after our neighbor’s spouse, we would not try to steal anything from our neighbor, nor begrudge them of any of their possessions, we would not speak evil of our neighbor nor covet anything that was our neighbors. Rather, if we could love our neighbor as ourselves we would seek to help our neighbor in any and every way to protect their life, their family, their possessions and their reputation.
Again, love is the fulfilling of the law. If we could love, that is if we could love as God loves us, we could fulfill all the law. The problem is that we cannot love as God loves us. God has shown His love for us in the giving of His Son and the life of His Son for us. Jesus shows His love for us in that He gave up the glory that was His in heaven and took on human flesh and blood to do for us what we are unable to do. Jesus subjected Himself completely to all authority even and including the death penalty although He was without sin. Thus, Jesus lived for us, doing for us what is demanded of us yet what we are unable to do and Jesus died for us, paying the price, the spiritual death penalty for us in our place.
What does this mean? This means that we are reminded once again that the beginning is God. God does, God gives, and we are done to and given to. God gives us life at conception. God gives new life, eternal life through faith and the waters of Holy Baptism. And God gives and cares for us while we live in this world. God gives government for the sake of order, to keep the peace. With order and peace we are able to live without fear, as long as we obey the laws of the land.
God has given us here in America a place where we may worship as we see fit to worship. We have the freedom of religion, which for too many has translated not in freedom of worship, but in freedom from worship. Yet, we do have the freedom to gather and to worship as we see fit.
Our freedom also affords us the opportunity to practice our faith. Although we may be persecuted somewhat subtly in our land, our persecution is nothing compared to the overt persecution of Christians in other countries where they are punished, maimed and even killed for being Christians.
God has provided for us, here in America, many good things. He has provide a place for us to live and worship in freedom; to be able to worship as we see fit to worship; to be able to share our faith with others without fear of reprisal. And so we will, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, be respectful and supportive of those in authority over us. We will seek not only to love God above all things, but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are able to keep the paradox in tension, that is we are able to pay off our debts, yet, at the same time we are able to continue owing this, that we love one another.
Please continue to keep in mind the order of Paul’s words. First, as always, is what God gives and does. God gives, God does and we are given to and done to. Justification is completed. Christ has taken care of everything. Sanctification is our response to justification and yet the beginning of sanctification is also God. The Holy Spirit working through the means of grace moves in us to do the good works which God has for us to do, He works these good works in and through us and they are done to His glory. Thus, with the help and by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to love one another and to be subject to the governing authorities. And living lives in such a way says, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.