Titus 3:1-2 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
This morning we’re in the second of a two-part sermon series on the Church and the State. Last week we saw the first three of six biblical principles which flow from Titus 3, Genesis 9, Matthew 22, Romans 13, and 1 Timothy 2. Specifically, we saw that God established civil government and reigns over it, that for his glory and the good of His people God established government to punish evil and promote good, and that God granted the use of physical force (the sword) to the government to carry out its purpose. This means, of course, that we have three more principles to look at this morning.
Before I pray and before we get to the remaining principles I want to remind you of something that I hope I don’t need to remind you of: God is not just the God of Sunday morning worship services, or of your “spiritual life,” or of the times you are consciously thinking of God, or of the areas of your life you have chosen to submit to God. He is certainly the God of those things but he is also the God of everything else in your life, in the lives of your family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, of the living and the dead, of angels and demons, or plants and animals, of everything on the earth and in the heavens, of all time and space, or all relationships and orientations, of all organizations and institutions; indeed, God is the God of all things. Therefore, God is the God of government. Government too belongs to God.
I say all of this here because I’ve seen too many Christians live and think and feel as if God were (at best) in charge of a sliver of their lives (or even a larger chunk), rather than all of it and everything else. People like that (which is all of us to one degree or another at different times) tend think of God a lot when they are sick or needy or hurting and in overtly spiritual matters, but not so much when things are going well or when things are less obviously spiritual in nature.
One of my favorite church mission statements is: All of Christ for All of Life for All the World. I like it because it captures so well the true heartbeat of Christianity. Jesus Christ is glorious beyond measure. His glory is to be found and delighted in and praised and shared in every area of life (in art and grasshoppers and math and lawn-mowing and shopping and athletics and reading and government). And the good news of the gospel is the fact that God has given us new life and new eyes and new appetites to see and delight in all of Christ in all of life along with all the world.
My point in all of this…don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a sermon on biblical principles of government is any less “Christian” or significant or important, and therefore any less worship-producing, than a sermon on the glory of God or the gospel of Jesus. Rightly preached, a sermon on what God’s Word has to say about the government is a sermon about the glory of God (as a manifestation of God’s creativity and love and wisdom) and about the gospel of Jesus (as an expression of the gospel’s effects and primacy in every realm).
With that, let’s pray. Father, to whom all things belong and for whom all things exist, renew our minds. God, the earth yours and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for You have founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Grant that we might see you in all your glory and the glory of your Son, Jesus in all of life. Grant us trust in your wisdom and love and promises. Let us be a people of your Word and a people of your gospel. In Jesus’ name we pray these things, amen.
Biblical Principles concerning the state
Again, keep in mind the first three biblical principles concerning the State (which we saw last week):
1. God established civil government and reigns over it.
2. God assigned the government a particular purpose.
3. God assigned the government a particular authority.
This leads us to the forth principle…
4. The State’s purpose and authority are distinct from that of the Church. Just like the State, God established and reigns over the Church, assigned the Church a particular purpose, and assigned the Church a particular authority. Specifically, the church has been assigned the purpose of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the entire world. And the Church has been assigned the authority to administer the Word, sacraments, and church discipline.
Again, the State is to keep people safe and let goodness flourish through physical power, while the Church is to spread the gospel and make disciples through spiritual power. Rightly understood, then, though distinct, the Church and the State are not in conflict or competition with one another. In God’s design, rather, they are complimentary and supportive.
And in this sense, then, there is both a biblical unity and separation of Church and State. The unity comes in that are both tools of God, instituted by God for the glory of God and the good of God’s people. And the separation comes in that they have different God-given purposes and different God-given authority to carry out their purposes
Or, as R.C. Sproul says, “The church was called to pray for the state and to be supportive of the state. The state is called to guarantee the liberty of the church and protect the church from those that would seek to destroy it…The [church and the state, then] are to remain distinct and to respect each other’s jurisdictions” (WIRBCS, 27, 28).
To be clear, the State must never be in the business of advancing the gospel or making disciples and the Church must never see itself as the primary physical protector of mankind. And further, the Church does not have the authority to wield the sword and the state doesn’t have the authority to administer the Word, sacraments, or church discipline.
Let’s step back for one moment and consider something. The primary duties of the State are to keep us safe and allow us to live quiet, peaceful, godly, and dignified lives. The simple fact is, for most of us there’s our government has done that extremely well. Don’t get me wrong, our government has failed many people in tragic ways throughout its history (the African slave trade and the cause of the unborn being among the most horrific failures); and yet, as a whole, most of the citizens of the United States have been protected well and free to live in a manner consistent with God’s Word. Again, then, though there have been significant failures in the past and our current trajectory isn’t nearly as promising as it once was, we are, by and large, a safe nation and as citizens we are free to worship God in quietness, dignity, peace, and godliness. Thank God for that, Grace. Our government is and has done pretty well at its God-assigned tasks.
However, our government has not always done a good job at restricting itself to the duties assigned to it by God. As we’ve seen, the purpose and authority of both the Church and State are limited. Great evils happen when those in the Church or government seek to ignore or exceed their God-assigned purpose or authority. Indeed, most of the problems we now face are not owing to our government neglecting the things it should do, but to presuming upon itself many, many things it was never designed by God to do.
Of course the Church has made tragic mistakes through the years in overstepping its purpose and authority as well.
There are countless practical implications of this point to be sure. Chief among them is the need for us to stop wanting the State to do for us what God has assigned to the Church (addressing the heart of people, serving the poor and needy, caring for orphans and widows, etc.).
One more extremely significant practical implication of this point is the need to be clear on our role as members of a local church, which is a part of the universal Church. Because the purpose of the Church is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples, this certainly means that each individual Christian must engage in evangelism and discipleship. Let’s joyfully and earnestly give ourselves to these things.
5. Our primary disposition is to be one of submission to the government. God commanded us to do this even though he knew that all governments are inherently flawed. That is, God repeatedly commands his people to submit to the governing authorities even though, from the beginning, they have been limited and even sinful because they have all been made up of sinful people. In fact, government only exists because of sin—because people need to be restrained from their sinful tendencies.
Nevertheless, because no government exists except that which has been ordained by God, our primary disposition toward government is to be one of submission to the government as an expression of our submission to the God who ordained it. That’s the point of the first few words of Titus 3:1.
Titus 3:1-2 Remind [Christians] to be submissive to rulers and authorities…
That’s the point of the first half of Romans 13:1.
Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…
And that’s the point of 1 Peter 13-14.
1 Peter 2:13-14 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors…
To fail to do so, to fail to make obedience to the civil government our primary and default disposition, Romans 13:2 says, means bringing God’s judgment upon us (“whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment”). God gave us government, God expects us to submit ourselves to it and when we don’t it’s the same as disobeying God himself. The bible isn’t clear on the nature of that judgment, but the implication is that it is not a good thing.
Practically speaking, let’s start praying whenever we would otherwise grumble. Speak well of your government if for no other reason than that it is ordained by God and is an instrument of God.
Practically speaking, let’s joyfully obey…go the speed limit, pay the right amount on your taxes, pay your tickets, have the right insurance, etc. Let’s recognize the need to do this even though we’re not always going to love every law that’s past. On a related note, parents, we need to use our obedience to the government (and to the church and to our boss—even if we don’t love their commands) to teach our kids what it means to be under authority (even when they don’t love our commands). In other words, let’s obey our government in the same way we want our kids to obey us.
And practically speaking, we need to recognize that there are times when we ought to disobey the civil government. Because God’s authority and law are always higher than that of the civil governments he established, we must step out from under the authority of the government when it charges us to do something that would be sin. We must only do so, however in the area it’s commanding us to sin and only for the amount of time it’s commanding us to sin and all while grieving over its rebellion and longing to return to submission—this is in keeping the spirit of the passages I just read even when the State makes it impossible to keep the letter.
6. Our hope is not ultimately to be in the goodness or effectiveness of the government, but in God who governs all. It is not the government but the gospel that was meant to carry the weight of our hope and peace. Indeed, here we have the principle that if even if you’re overwhelmed by all of this, there’s sweet rest in the fact that God is the Governor of governors and governments. Though God has assigned responsibility to government to keep us safe and allow us to live godly lives, it is God himself who makes sure that his will is done. God is not dependant on the competency or obedience of any of his means to accomplish his purposes. Even if the government were to fail completely, God remains on His throne.
The collapse of everything around us just means that we have an even greater opportunity to love sacrificially and to show the reality of our hope in God through Christ. No government failing or falling will stop God’s kingdom from coming one inch or his will from being done for one second.
Practically, trust. Trust in the certain victory of God over all sin and death because of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Practically, rest. Rest in the knowledge that the protection and provision of our souls is certain in Jesus.
Practically, work. Though God is sovereign over all things, he has called us to work even as he works in us. Pray for the government (particularly according to 1 Timothy 1:2). Participate in government (especially on the local level). Let your voice be heard in love and light and charity. And, perhaps, run for office. Armed with the principles of God’s Word, consider seeking to honor God by working to reorient civil government according to God’s word from the inside.
There you have it. Six biblical principles on government given by God for his glory and our good.
- God established civil government and reigns over it.
- God assigned the government a particular purpose.
- God assigned the government a particular authority.
- The State’s purpose and authority are distinct from that of the Church.
- Our primary disposition is to be one of submission to the government.
- Our hope is not in the goodness or effectiveness of the government, but in God who governs all.
It’s so easy to see the goodness and wisdom and love of God in all of this. Praise him, Grace Church.
Who you should vote for
I want to conclude, then, by telling you who to vote for in the coming election. We do not live in a perfect world. We cannot vote for Jesus. Often times there may not be an ideal candidate who has perfectly aligned himself or herself with God’s designed role for them. Indeed, often times there may not even a good candidate. Although many like to treat elections in black and white terms, as if there is God’s candidate and then everyone else, this simply isn’t the case. Every candidate has strengths and weaknesses.
Let me suggest, then, in light of these six principles, five questions that I think the Bible would have us ask when considering who to vote for.
- Does the candidate demonstrate a mature understanding of the biblical principles of government? Do they genuinely understand the things we’ve just looked at?
- Does the candidate demonstrate a genuine commitment to the biblical principles of government? It’s one thing to understand them. It’s another thing to truly believe them and accept them.
- Has the candidate consistently demonstrated sufficient competency in instituting and applying the biblical principles of government? Do you have any good reason to believe they can cast vision, effect change, and get the job done. There are many people with solid beliefs and convictions that lack the competence to do anything about them.
- Has the candidate consistently demonstrated sufficient character to give you confidence that they will remain true to their convictions once in office? Contrary to current popular sentiment, a person’s character (as demonstrated in their private and public life) really does matter. Apart from genuine strength of will flowing from genuine character people are free to believe whatever the current cultural winds tell them they should believe.
- Where the candidate falls short in his or her understanding, commitment, competency, or character, how serious are the areas in which they fall short (abortion vs. high taxes; never had a bill pass vs. smaller record; adulterer vs. speeding ticket; etc.)?
In the end, then, Christians should vote for whichever candidate they think best understands the six principles we’ve considered over the past two weeks, intends to apply them in his or her office, has demonstrated enough competency to give you confidence that they’ll be able to make that happen, enough character to believe they’ll remain true to their convictions, and all with an attempt to appropriately weight their shortcomings.
Grace, this too is the gospel in effect. That is, we can be confident that all things—including this year’s presidential election—will work out for our good because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Notice the connection between the cross and God’s sovereignty over all rulers (in heaven and on earth; physical and spiritual) in Colossians 2:13-15 “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
To God be the glory. Amen.