Christianity and Politics
Text: Romans 13:1-7
I’ve decide to take a break from our series on Micah to do a sermon on Christianity and politics. The federal election is on Saturday and I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what the Bible has to say about politics and the particular issues that we are facing us in this election. The Bible talks about how as Christians we are called to be salt and light in the world. As Christians we influence the world at a personal level, as you share your Christian values with others, but in Australia we have the opportunity to use our vote on a political level, as we elect politicians and political parties who stand for Christian values. It’s that opportunity that I want to focus on this morning. On Saturday you get to cast your vote, you have an opportunity to have a say in who runs our country, and I want to encourage you to make your vote count, not just for Australia, but for biblical values. This morning I want to start by looking at a biblical attitude towards politics, before looking at specific issues, and what both the Bible and the politicians have to say about them.
1) A Biblical Attitude
So let’s start with a biblical attitude towards politics. Our text is one of the few places where the Bible deals directly with our attitude towards secular government. And to give you a bit of context the government in Paul’s day was anything but supportive of Christianity. The Romans ruled with an iron fist. We have to remember that it was the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate who ordered Jesus to be crucified, and it wasn’t long before Christianity was outlawed by Roman authorities. And it’s in that hostile environment that Paul writes our text this morning. And he tells us three things about our attitude towards the secular government.
a) Established by God
Firstly, that it is established by God. Verse 1, ‘1 …there is no authority except that which God has established. (Rom 13:1b)’ And if you didn’t get it, he says it again, ‘1 …The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Rom 13:1c)’ Now that might sound weird, don’t we elect our government? Or in Paul’s day, wasn’t Caesar chosen by his heredity, or by popular choice, or military might? From a human perspective that’s certainly the case, but what Paul is saying is that behind everything that happens in this world is the hand of God. That’s the consistent teaching of Scripture. For example, the Prophet Daniel says to the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘17 …the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. (Dan 4:17b)’ Behind all the political manoeuvring is the hand of God. The truth is that our government has been established by God.
b) God’s Servant
The second thing that Paul tells us is that the government is God’s servant. Verse 4, talking about those in authority, Paul says, ‘4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. (Rom 13:4a)’ and again if you didn’t get it Paul says it again, ‘4 …He is God’s servant… (Rom 13:4c)’ Whether they know it or not, the secular authorities serve God. Paul isn’t saying how well they serve God, they may be serving him badly, but the point is they are serving God. So how do they serve God?
Firstly, it needs to be pointed out that often secular rulers serve God unconsciously. God’s ideal is that the government would seek to honour God in their decision making. According to the Bible the king was ‘19 …to read [the Law] all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of [his] law... (Dt 17:19)’ But the truth is that many of our political leaders don’t revere the Lord, yet despite that they still serve the Lord. One of the classic biblical examples of how secular rulers unconsciously serve God is Cyrus, the king of the Medes and Persians. Even though he was a pagan King God choose him to free his people from exile. God says, ‘28 …Cyrus is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please… (Isa 44:28a)’
ii) Rewarding good
Secondly, Paul says that they serve God by rewarding those who do good. Verse 3, ‘3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right… do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good... (Rom 13:3,4a)’ For those who do what is right, the government is meant to be a blessing. I mentioned before that the Roman government was hostile towards Christianity, but one of the benefits of Roman rule was something known as the Pax Romana, ‘Roman Peace.’ Within the Roman Empire there was peace, mainly because everyone in the Roman Empire had been thoroughly defeated. Another benefit was Roman Law, which maintained order and justice. If you did the right things in the eyes of the Roman Government you had nothing to fear, you could live in peace and security. And our government does the same, it maintains order and peace. Actually, because of our Christian heritage, our Government even goes so far as to support those who struggle in our society, those who are unemployed, those who suffer from disabilities and sickness, the elderly and even single parents. Our government serves God by rewarding those who do what is right.
iii) Punishing wrong
The second way our government serves God is by punishing those who do wrong. Paul continues, ‘4 …But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:4b)’ The government exists to punish those who break the law. The government serves God by upholding justice. And the truth is that our law is based on Judeo-Christian principles, like the 10 Commandments. The government has passed laws against stealing and murder and lying because God says that it is wrong to steal, murder and lie. The government serves God when it upholds God’s values, and punishes those who break the law. Whether they realise it or not, or whether they do well at it or not, the government has been established by God and serves God.
And because the government has been established by God and serves God’s purposes, Paul tells us that we must submit ourselves to our government. And that’s really what this whole passage is about. Paul starts, ‘1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities… (Rom 13:1a)’ And he says it again in verse 5, ‘5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities… (Rom 13:5a)’
i) To not submit is to rebel against God
Firstly, to not submit to the government that God has established is the same as rebelling against God. Verse 2, ‘2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Rom 13:2)’ According to Paul, to rebel against the government that God has established is the same as rebelling against God. God is not impressed when we reject what he has established. And we will face his judgement, either in the here and now, through the laws of the land, or in the life here after, when we stand before God himself. We submit to our government because to not do so is an affront to God.
ii) To submit is to act in good conscience
Secondly, Paul tells us that to submit to our government is to act in good conscience. Verse 5, ‘5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Rom 13:5)’ Because we know that God has established our government and that they are his servants, we will submit to them as we submit to God. Peter puts it like this, ‘13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 17 Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. (1 Pet 2:13-14,17)’
Thirdly, such submission is practical in nature. Paul writes, ‘7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Rom 13:7)’ Because the government governs for our good, we are obligated to give what we owe them, taxes, revenue, respect and honour. Paul probably has Jesus’ words in mind, when he said, ‘17 …Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mk 12:17)’ It’s interesting but when Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome there was growing resistance to the payment of ‘indirect taxes’ or revenues, which ended in a tax revolt in 58AD. Paul was actually counselling Christians to be counter-cultural not in resisting the government, but in submitting to it.
iv) Keeping it in context (Acts 4:19; 5:29)
However, it’s important to keep this idea of submission in context. As Christians we acknowledge that government is established by God and are servants of God, and what that means is that we recognize that there is an authority higher than that of secular government, God. Maybe that’s why Paul calls us to submit, rather than to obey the government. Submission implies an understanding of someone’s place in a God ordained hierarchy. We submit to the government in the context of our ultimate submission to God. Just as a wife’s submission to her husband doesn’t mean unquestioned obedience, so our submission to our government doesn’t mean we won’t actively disobey the law when it conflicts with God’s will. Jesus’ disciples told the authorities in their day, ‘29 …We must obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29b)’
Firstly, as Christians we should give thanks for government as an institution of God, establish by him to serve his purposes in our world. Secondly, we should pray regularly for our government, as Paul says to Timothy, ‘1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made… 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Tim 1:1-2)’ And finally we should submit ourselves to our government. But we should also refuse to give the government any absolute rights, rather we should evaluate our government’s decisions in light of God’s word.
2) The Biblical Issues
And that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of this sermon, look at some of the issues that are facing our government from a biblical perspective. Now one of the most important things our government does is allocate our taxes, and the Bible has a lot to say about good economic management, but some of the most significant issues today have less to do with economics and more to do with ethics. So I want to focus on 4 ethical issues – marriage, abortion and euthanasia, religious freedom, and international policies.
So let’s start with marriage. The Biblical teaching is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman for life. The Bible says, ‘24 …a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)’ And Jesus affirms that when he says, ‘4 …at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ (Mt 19:4b-5)’ On the flip side the Bible consistently rejects any other definition of marriage. The Law says, ‘22 Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. (Lev 18:22 cf. 20:13)’ Earlier in Romans Paul calls homosexuality a ‘perversion. (Rom 1:26-27)’ And in 1 Corinthians 6 he includes homosexuality in a list of those who would not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).
Even though the latest figures suggest that less than 1% of couples in Australia are homosexual, it is one of the most controversial issues in Australia politics. In 2004 the government reaffirmed the Marriage Act of 1961 that stated that across cultures and throughout history, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The purpose of marriage is to ensure that wherever possible, children are raised by their biological parents, their mum and dad, in a stable environment. And research shows that the biblical view of marriage is the safest place for children to be raised. We hear so much about the rights of homosexuals to get married, but we don’t hear much about the rights of children to be raised by their biological parents. God’s institution of marriage is under attack in our culture.
b) Abortion and Euthanasia
The second ethical issue facing our country at the moment is abortion and euthanasia. I’ve grouped these two ideas together because they both deal with the same ethical issue, who has the right to terminate life. According to the Bible only God has that right. God says, ‘39 …I put to death and I bring to life. (Dt 32:39c)’ God gives life and God takes it away. And God may give the authority to take life to others, but the government only carries the sword to punish those who do wrong. No person has the right to end another person’s life, the Bible calls that murder. It’s commandment number 6, ‘13 You shall not murder. (Ex 20:13)’ The Bible is opposed to the intentional killing of innocent people, whether that’s an unborn child, the elderly, or the terminally ill.
Unfortunately, abortions have already been legalized in Australia, and over 90,000 babies are aborted every year. The latest issue is that women who have aborted their babies after 20 weeks are encouraged to apply for paid parental leave and the baby bonus, even though they chose to end their baby’s life. The issue of euthanasia also keeps resurfacing. Euthanasia means the intentional killing of a person who is suffering pain or mental distress, instead of providing medical treatment or palliative care. It doesn’t mean ending treatment that isn’t helping or makes life not worth living, since everyone has the right to refuse treatment if they want to. Evidence from the Netherlands, Oregon and the Northern Territory shows that legalised euthanasia has led to the deaths of people who were not terminally ill, or were suffering treatable depression or did not even ask for it. The sanctity of life is being undermined in our society.
c) Religious Freedom
The third issue concerns religious freedom. Apart from a period in our history when the church and state became pretty much the same thing, Christianity has always taught religious freedom. The Bible teaches human free will, that every individual gets to decide what they believe, and how they should live. But at the same time the Bible also critics those choices and either labels them godly or ungodly, as truth or a lie. The Bible doesn’t force us to believe the truth, but it unashamedly proclaims the truth. That freedom, to proclaim biblical truth, is being undermined in our society. Victoria introduced a Racial and Religious Tolerance Act in 2001 and the first case was made against two pastors who preached against Islam in 2002. They were found guilty under the law in 2005, but it was overturned in the following year. However, since then many other states have looked at similar laws that limit free speech and religious liberty. Under such laws it would be illegal to share opinions if they differ from the cultural norm. If religious vilification laws are passed in Australia in the near future it might become illegal to try and convert someone to the Christian faith, or to publically express our biblical views on certain issues such as the ones we’re discussing this morning.
d) International policies
The final issue we’re going to look at are our international policies, particularly foreign aid and refugees. The Bible has always expressed God’s concern for the displaced and the vulnerable, and not just in our society but anywhere in the world. When Cain asked God ‘9 …Am I my brother’s keeper? (Gen 4:9c)’ the Bible has been clear that we are responsible for the welfare of others. The Law states, ‘21 Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him… (Ex 22:21a)’ And elsewhere, ‘34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself… (Lev 19:34a)’ As one of the wealthiest nations on earth we have a responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves. At the moment Australia gives .5% of our gross national income to foreign aid. However, much of that it given to countries in our immediate area, for political purposes, rather than to countries who truly need it. A classic example is PNG which has just been accused of stealing $1.7 billion of our aid and Indonesia which is increasing its military expenditure at about the same rate as our aid. The other issue is how poor we are as a nation in processing refugees. People are left in limbo for years about whether they will be accepted or not. And the reality is in worldly comparisons we hardly get any refugees. In the year 2000 approximately 3,000 boat people arrived in Australia, but Iran and Pakistan each accepted over one million Afghan refugees. In fact, the burden of assisting the world’s asylum seekers mostly falls to some of the poorest countries. And the truth is that in Australia we’re all boat people. The Aboriginals arrived in canoes goodness knows how long ago. The Poms arrived by boat 200 years ago, and many of us arrived by boat 60 years ago. Maybe the reason we never sing the second verse of our national anthem is because the third line goes, ‘For those who've come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share.’ As a country we’re not so good with sharing the wealth, either land or money.
3) The Parties Positions
So what are the political parties’ positions on these issues? Firstly, there are 34 different parties trying to get on the Senate, ranging from the animal justice party, Help End Marijuana Prohibition, the sex party and smokers rights. So I’m just going to compare the major parties: the Greens, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal National Party (LNP) with the views of a few of the other parties in our electorate of Oxley, which includes the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), Rise Up Australia Party, and Family First, which have strong Christian ties.
When asked ‘Would you vote to retain the current definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life?” they responded like this: Labour and the Greens said no, the Liberals as a party said yes, but some of their candidates would change it, but all of the other major parties said they would uphold a biblical view of marriage.
b) Abortion and Euthanasia
When asked if they ‘would amend the paid parental leave laws in order to abolish access to baby payments by women who undergo late abortions.’ neither the ALP nor the LNP felt that the current laws allowed that, while the Greens refused to comment. All the other major parties said they would amend the laws. And when asked ‘would you vote against any proposal to facilitate Territory bills allowing doctors to intentionally kill their patients,’ the Greens said they definitely wouldn’t, the ALP and LNP’s left it up to a conscience vote, while the other major parties all said they would.
c) Religious Freedom
When asked ‘would you vote against any attempt to introduce a “vilification” law that would penalise frank discussion and debate of religious belief or sexuality,’ the Greens said definitely not, the ALP said that it was open to further discussion, while the LNP and all the other major parties said they would reject anything that hindered freedom of speech and religion.
d) International Policies
When asked about recommitting to contributing 0.5% of gross national income to foreign aid and making sure it was used for poverty reduction overseas exclusively’ both the ALP and LNP said they would with some reservations. The other major parties are polarized on this issue: while the Rise Up Australia party said they would cease all foreign aid, while the Greens want to increase it to 0.7% and Family First to 1% of gross national income. And when asked ‘will your party commit to increasing the humanitarian intake to at least 27,000 per year and resetting the criteria to favour people in greatest need, the LNP would agree to only 13,500, while the ALP went to 20,000, and the DLP to 30,000. Again the Greens are very pro-refugee, while the Rise Up Australia Party was very against refugees. If you were scoring parties on how well they held up Christian values, family first and the DLP get top marks, while Labour and the Greens get low marks.
The purpose of this morning was not to tell you which way you should vote on Saturday, but to make you aware of all the issues. I haven’t researched all of our candidates views on these things, and these things aren’t even all the things that you need to consider when choosing who you will vote for. But in the end we need to recognize that our government has been established by God and they serve his purposes, albeit often unconsciously. As a result we ought to submit to our government, we ought to pray for them, and we ought to exercise our right to vote with careful consideration. On Saturday we have a chance to stand up, not just for what we value as a nation, but for the things that God values. When we say ‘I will vote for this person because they honour God’s will!’ it honour’s God. I encourage you this week to pray about who you will vote for on Saturday. And if you want to do some more research I have included some websites you can visit on the back of your sermon outline. Amen.