Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wes Olson Sermon 1 on Romans 13


I wanted to share what Wes Olson has been preaching on the same subject as my previous post.  Wes is an elder at His Grace Fellowship that meets at the ALACCA campgrounds in Harpster, ID.  This is the sermon he preached last Sunday and the first part of 3 that I think should be well worth the read.


Romans 13:1-6



1. Introduction

In the Book of Romans, Paul has just spent 11 chapters talking about some of the foundational doctrines of the Christian Faith. Most of which is laying the foundation of how we are to restore a right relationship with God. Then starting in chapter 12 he begins laying the foundations of how we are to have right relationships with one another.



We tend to think “There is the doctrinal section and now here is the practical section.” There is the head section and the heart section. That is a somewhat irritating division in my mind. That gives you the idea that somehow, doctrine is not practical. But really, it’s all doctrine.

1) Three favorite words

I’ll remind you again about three of my favorite words: doctrine, dogma and orthodoxy. They are three of my favorite words because they are words loaded with strong emotional overtones that are meant to evoke a negative reaction beyond what the words actually mean. That being the case, I tend to embrace them for their original and literal meaning to use them in order to rescue them from the clutches of those who would deny us the words that are rightly ours.

• Doctrine: literally means teaching…a body of information or teaching. It is related to the word “doctor” one who teaches.

• Orthodoxy: literally straight teaching related to the word orthodontics

• Dogma- literally “that which seems good” or “that which one thinks is true” related to the word “decent”. Literally “decent thinking”.



THUS: Maybe instead of making the false divisions of doctrinal and practical we should have the division of “Doctrine expounded and doctrine applied.”

2. Read Rom 13:1-6

My objective

My objective here is not to persuade anyone here about one side or the other. Really that is not what our congregation is about. Most families come here not with a blank slate in their hands hoping that the man from the pulpit will write something on it and straighten their lives out and tell them what the Bible says. Most families here are led by very strong men with strong convictions about these and other issues and take their relationship with God, their family and one another very seriously.



There is no way to convince this diverse of a people in this congregation or in this nation as a whole, to think uniformly on a topic this powerful. You couldn’t get Jefferson and Adams to agree completely and you aren’t going to get us to agree completely either. Those who hold to my view will be shaking their heads. Those who disagree with my view will be shaking their heads.

My primary objective is for us to get through Romans 13 in 3 weeks with the congregation intact. My secondary objective is to get through Romans 13 in some coherent fashion…rightly dividing the word as best as I am able. My third objective is to get through Romans 13 in some coherent fashion representing not only my beliefs on the topic but also giving some time to the view that opposes mine, both of which are well represented in this congregation.



The text directly raises some thorny issues:

What is civil government and why is it here?

What is our relationship to civil government?

What is the responsibility of civil government?

Is it ever appropriate to resist an evil civil magistrate and is there Biblical precedent for this? Is there historical precedence in the church for this?

If so, to what extent does God allow us or even require us to resist an evil magistrate if at all?



The text indirectly raises some additional issues:

How do we interpret scripture? What hermeneutic do we and should we use?

How are we to interpret Paul in general and this passage in particular?

What else does the scripture say on this subject?



In the three days I have I want to talk about several issues:

1. Why politics and religion are such volatile subjects.

2. Three areas of politics/religion that Romans confronts us with.

3. What Romans 13 is specifically, overtly saying to us.

4. What Romans 13 is not specifically saying but certainly implying

5. How are we to interpret scripture – buy what rules do we interpret

6. How do we govern ourselves as a society – by what rules do we govern?



1. Politics and Religion

Among the categories that cause the greatest division among people are religion and politics. We often hear that at dinner parties and gatherings, places there two topics in particular should be scrupulously avoided because they stir such great emotions.

I have a theory as to why they cause such great emotion. Here it is: Politics and religion hit at the core of one of the most important issues of our being human: our freedom.

Not just freedom to do what we want but also these issues more than any other, call us out of ourselves to a life of self-sacrifice even to the point of death. When it comes to that level of commitment – the ideas and ideals that we are willing to die for and ask others to die for – well that is a step beyond our mere personal freedom, well it’s no wonder why these two issues become so potentially volatile.

• Politics

Politics is ultimately about the governing, the control, the boundaries that men voluntarily and non-voluntarily put on one another so we can have an ordered society. Politics directly influences the degree of freedom we have as individuals. In other words, politics is about giving up something for something else. We give up a degree of individual freedom so that we can have a right relationship with one another in society.

• Religion

Religion is an explanation of the cause, nature and purpose of human life AND that involves accountability to a supreme being. It answers the questions why we are here and what you’re supposed to be doing and who we are ultimately accountable to.

Ironically, religion also is about the governing, the control and the boundaries put on mankind, in this case, from the Creator himself. Once again, religion deals with our freedom as individuals. In other words, religion is about giving up something for something else. We give up a degree of individual freedom so that we can have a right relationship with the creator in eternity.

• The result

We do not like constraint. The opening chapters in the book of Genesis are an illustration of how madly devoted and compelled we are to have complete freedom. In a narrative describing probably the mildest form of restraint ever placed on mankind, God tells the first man and woman they have complete freedom. EXCEPT, don’t eat this one fruit and that one constraint was too much for them. As a result we lost nearly every freedom we had or hoped to have.



Religion and politics are ultimately about the rules on how mankind can live in right relationship with one another and with God.



Romans and Relationships

In fact, if you think about it, so much of the Bible is about relationships. One could say the entire Bible is about God restoring a right relationship between man and God, between man and other men and between man and himself. That’s what the story of redemption is about



Romans politics and religion

In the book of Romans the tension of religion and politics can, I think, be sharply seen in the clash of at least 3 political kingdoms mentioned in Romans and where we traditionally feel the conflict of those ideas.



1. The Christian’s relationship to the Kingdom of God. Specifically the mechanics of how we are saved and maintain our salvation. Specifically the debate known as the Calvanist/Armenianism debate. We see this particularly in Romans



2. The Christian’s relationship to the Kingdom of Israel. Specifically, does God have a future in mind for national Israel and what should be our response to that?



3. The Christian’s relationship to the kingdoms of this world. That is apparently the question the Romans were asking Paul, “Now that we are part of God’s kingdom, what should be our response to our former earthly allegiances?”



It is to that third kingdom and the resulting clash that Paul addresses in Romans 13 and to which we now turn our attention.



2. What the text is plainly saying

I some ways this section is the most important of the three kingdoms. It’s because we read this section and start coming up with all the “yeah but what abouts” and we miss the real point of what is being said. And that’s probably because what is being said is potentially unpleasant and tends to strike at the core of our flesh: we kick against the authorities that are over us.



Nobody in this room I think, would have written Romans 13, certainly not in the fashion we have it here. In the time remaining today, I want to set forth to us plainly what Paul is saying in this text. Next week, I want to talk about rules of interpretation as to how I arrive at a position of Christian Resistance against evil or illegal magistrates. I want to talk about the hermeneutical principles that got me there and a bit on the historical differences between the two camps



Now all of that is important and so is the plain text before us.

• V1.

Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.



The first observation is that which is most obvious. Paul is telling the Christian in Rome that when it comes to their relationship to civil authorities, they are to be subject to them. Now that is not all he says and I do not believe that is all means and I do not believe he means it in an unqualified fashion. But one thing for sure - what he does mean is that Christians are to live lives that are not characterized as rebellious or constantly in a state of fighting and kicking against the authorities but are characterized as people of submission to authority.



1 Peter 2:11-17

Peter tells us similarly in 1 Peter 2:11-17. The objective is to bring glory to God that no one can justly speak evil of (though he specifically says they will speak evil of us). He says we are to have behavior that is honorable. Honorable behavior is one that, on the whole, is submissive to authority, and, as Peter defines it here in 16, as free people who do not use their liberty as a cloak for vice. That is what submission and honorable behavior looks like.



Back to Romans 13

The context of this is in service to God as pointed out in Romans 12:1. This is our minimal or reasonable service or worship to God. We are a people who submit to the authority.





I am going to tip a bit of my hand here and let you in early on a little secret that I think is going on here behind the text.



• A possible Political move

At the end of this letter, Paul specifically says hello to the longest list of people he mentions in any of his letters and most of them appear to be Roman citizens Andronicus, Junia, Apelles, Herodian, Olympas etc.



In addition when Paul was at Rome writing his letter to the Philippians, he specifically mentions that all the saints here greet you but especially those who are of Caesar’s household.



Further, it is clear that Paul is concerned for how the message is being presented especially in Rome as he states as much at the end of Acts when he arrives in Rome he stats explaining himself and the message to the leaders of the Jews in Rome but they say, “No we haven’t heard any bad report about you or of this message at all.”



Therefore, it is my suspicion, and it’s only a suspicion based on the internal evidence I just presented and of how Romans 13 presents itself to me, that Paul wrote this letter with the clear understanding that its contents would find its way to the governing authorities, in Rome, to those who were over all those saints listed in the end of the epistle and even to the household of Caesar himself. That is why here, more than any other epistle, he mentions how a Christian is to behave himself in front of the civil authorities. I see Paul has at least three reasons for doing so.



1. He wants to instruct the Christians in the big picture idea, of how they are to behave in front of civil authorities. They are to submit. They are to submit because they want to please God and not bring judgment on themselves and because they are to submit to all of God’s ministers.



2. Second Paul has always wanted to preach the gospel in Rome and I think he is preparing the way before him so there will be as little resistance and trouble as possible when he ultimately arrives. He is saying, “You have no reason to suspect us Christians as we are people who understand authority, know the source of authority and submit to authority. You’ll get no trouble from us.” And he just leaves it there.



3. Third and in someway the most important is that Paul, I think, is sending a message to the civil authorities themselves. I find this section of the epistle to be a little over-the-top in defining what the role of a civil authority is if this is merely going to those who are under the authority. This section sounds more like a job description than it does an employee manual. I think he is telling the civil authorities: “Look, we are called to submit to you, but here’s why:

1. You are appointed into your position by God.

2. You would have no authority unless God had given it to you.

3. You represent the ordinances of God. Your job is to reflect those ordinances.

4. Your job is to punish evil works and reward good workers.

5. Your job is to carry out God’s justice in such a way that those who do good can live in peace and those who do evil are afraid of you AND God.

6. You work for God. You are God’s minister to do good. Literally, you are God’s diakanos His deacon…his servant to do the tasks appointed to you.

7. You have been given the power of life and death but not to wield this vainly or carelessly or without a cause. You have been given this sword to carry out the will of God, to avenge His justice, His will, to execute His wrath, not yours.

8. You collect taxes because you are God’s deacon and you are to be attentive, earnest and diligent to this very thing.

2. Ultimately this can be seen in the opening three words Paul states… “Let every soul…” I think Paul would contend that this means the Christian, the non-Christians, those under authority and those who represent authority. Every soul must be subject to authority



And I believe that it is important that we teach these principles to our children. We are really good on the “yeah buts” but we are real weak on the issue of honor to whom honor.



In summary what did we look at:

The ideas or doctrine orthodoxy and dogma

We should understand that issues of politics and religion hit at the core of our freedom and our responsibilities as people

Romans talks about many of these political/religious issues



Most importantly, Paul laid out for us that we have a duty and a responsibility to God and every duty and responsibility flows from that. And this includes civil authority. That all authority comes from God, that we need to submit to it.



Next week I hope to

Cover a brief history of Christian nonresistance

A brief history of Christian resistance

Some of the rules by which we interpret scripture

Summarize my interpretation of this first part of Romans 13.

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