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TEXT: Romans 13:1
SUBJECT: God is Sovereign #3: Over Civil Rulers
All Christians believe in the sovereignty of God. Reformed or Calvinistic Christians believe in the sovereignty of God over everything, from ants to empire, the movement of planets to the exercise of human wills. God is in control of all things without exception. This is what the Reformed Faith affirms-and what the Bible teaches, Psalm 103:19-
The Lord has prepared His throne in Heaven,
And His Kingdom rules over all.
Knowing this doesn't answer every question about the sovereignty of God, but it frames every question. A man once asked RC Sproul, 'If God is sovereign, how do you explain' something or other, and Sproul answered-
Not if, but since God is sovereign.
Dr. Sproul was right: God is sovereign over everyone, everything, everywhere, at all times. Since this is true, you'd think the people who affirm God's sovereignty would enjoy a peace of mind unlike any other people. This would be a fair inference, but it's not true. Calvinists are often the most worried of people.
I myself am a worrier, mostly worried about my health, and other Calvinists worry about other things, from money to children, healthcare, and today's topic: Civil Governments.
What a strange incongruity this presents: the people who praise God for His sovereignty on Sunday morning, come home in the afternoon, turn on the television, and wring their hands about President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or whomever they happen to loathe and fear at the moment.
Over the last sixteen years, almost every Christian I know either slept well because of President Obama and tossed and turned because of President Bush-or the other way around! When our man (or woman) is in office, we thank God for putting him (or her) there, but when the person we don't like takes office we wonder what dark powers rigged the election!
The fact is, dark powers are involved in all political parties and all candidates, including the ones you like best or hate the most, from Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela to Adolf Hitler, and the little man in charge of North Korea.
But, having 'given the devil his due' (you might say), we come back to today's text, Romans 13:1, and affirm its truthfulness-
The powers that be are ordained of God.
The Sovereignty of God extends to civil rulers: good, bad, and everywhere-in-between.
IS GOD SOVEREIGN OVER CIVIL RULERS?
This seems to be what Romans 13:1 teaches, but it's not wise to build a heavy doctrine on a one-verse foundation. So, let's take a quick look at the context of the verse, both before and after.
The last part of Romans deals with living the Christian life. Since we are chosen, justified, adopted, and sanctified by grace, we will-and ought to-live a certain way. We ought to lay down our lives in the service of Christ and do that by shaping our minds by the Word of God and not the words of men.
Later in chapter 12, we learn what the life looks like, personally, in church, and in the neighborhood. When Paul comes to chapter 13, he extends his teaching to our civil or political lives. What sort of citizens should we be?
He tells us: We're to be citizens who are subject to the powers that be. The powers he had in mind, of course, are Roman powers, for the most part, that is human power concentrated in a man who claims to be divine! In the Empire, 'Caesar is Lord' was more like a confession of faith than the pledge of allegiance. It was distinctly religious, as the coins at the time often referred to him as 'The Savior of the World'.
Paul tells his Christian readers to submit to Caesar's government. Paul was a savvy man and was under no illusions about Caesar's unworthiness. And, as a Jew and a Christian, his stomach was turned by the man's pretensions. But, for all that intellectual and emotional disapproval, he said-
Be subject to him.
The reason they're to submit to the disgusting man is not because 'if they don't they'll get in trouble' (which they would have), but-Paul says-because his authority-and all human authority, for that matter, is-
Appointed by God.
The submission he urges on us is not absolute (for only God deserves that!), but it is real and substantial. No doubt Caesar had many policies the Christians disliked, hated, were disgusted by, but unless those policies forced them to deny the Lord or sin in some other way, they were to submit to them.
As we read other parts of the Bible, we see that the submission includes a level of respect and honor (cf. I Peter 2:17).
This doesn't mean you have to vote for the incumbent or agree with Obamacare or support the war in the Middle East or any other discrete policy, but you have to recognize that whether you like our leaders or not, it was God who put them there!
GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY SEEN IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Compared to the Old Testament, the New Testament says very little about civil rulers. A handful are portrayed in its pages, some very bad (such as the Herods, Annas, and Caiaphas) and others relatively good (Gamaliel and Gallio, for example). But, since the Kingdom of God in the New Testament is entirely spiritual, it's no wonder the Greek Bible has so little about civil rulers-and where they got their power.
The Old Testament, on the other hands, has quite a lot on this topic. Some rulers were very good, Joseph, for example. How did he come to power in Egypt? Genesis 45:8 leaves no doubt-
God has made me a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
The same goes for David, Solomon, and other good men whom God put in places of political power.
But what about the bad kings-the rulers bent on doing evil and persecuting the innocent? Did they come to power against God's wishes? Or, if not 'against' His power, without it? Nebuchadnezzar was certainly one of the bad guys in the Old Testament, burning the Temple to the ground and commanding Jews to worship images. How did he get to the throne? He tells us in Daniel 4:17-
The Most High rules over the kingdom of men, and sets over it the basest of men.
Nebuchadnezzar did not always believe this. As a young king, he thought his god, Bel, had put him in power and given him victory over the God of Israel. But, after being humbled by the Lord-and when his mind was given back to him-he knew better. He knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob ruled Heaven and Earth.
Nebuchadnezzar had his civil power because God gave it to him. This is true of other bad kings as well. Israel's first king, Saul, for example. It was God who gave him the office-and then took it away from him! The Lord called Cyrus the Persian-
Not because he was a saved man, but because he regathered God's flock in Israel.
Go through the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, and you'll see that good rulers, bad rulers, and rulers-in-between have one thing in common: They were appointed by God.
Why the Lord would appoint good rulers is easy enough to explain-
You are good and do good!
But what about the bad ones? Not the compromised, but the truly wicked leaders like Ahab, Annas, or Adolf?
Only God knows the full answer to this-and we'd do well to speculate as little as possible. But, we can say this much for sure: His appointments are made in wisdom, holiness, and justice. The rulers may be fools, perverts and oppressors, but the Lord who put them in the place is-
The same yesterday, today, and forever.
Giving David to Israel was a wise, holy and just thing for God to do. And so was giving them Manasseh, Psalm 18:30-
As for my God, His way is perfect.
How should the sovereignty of God affect our politics? Does it mean we should not vote-as though our votes might thwart the will of God? No. Does it mean we should approve of everything our leaders do, such as legalizing same-sex 'marriage'? No. Does it mean we cannot criticize the President or the Congress or the Courts or the candidates? It doesn't mean this either.
What it means is: We're to accept our leaders (whether we voted for them or not), show them their due respect, speak as well of them as we can (or not at all), pay taxes for programs we don't like, and pray for God to give us-not the leaders we deserve-but the leaders we need, the men and women who will restrain evil, promote good citizenship, and allow the church to-
Live peaceably in godly fear.
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