Gospel and Government

If Jesus is the king, how do we live under the authority of human governments? Is there ever a time to choose between obeying them and obeying Jesus?

Andrew Harder on March 15, 2020
Gospel and Government
March 15, 2020

Gospel and Government

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Passage: Titus 2:15-3:2
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This past week I was once again away for a seminary class. The way my schedule worked out this year, these past two classes ended up being very close together.

This class was all about helping us build a carefully thought-out philosophy of ministry. And the most important lesson our professor stressed, again and again, is that what the church is has to come before what the church does. His point is that so many churches are doing so many different things, busy with all kinds of activities, but they haven’t started in the right place. They haven’t carefully thought through, “Who are we? What is the church?”, and then based their activities upon those answers.

This is such a helpful way of approaching ministry in the church, and yet I hope it’s not a brand-new idea to you. Because we’ve just come out of three weeks in Titus chapter 2. And Titus 2 has this same basic idea. In verses 11 to 14, it tells us who we are. And then the rest of the chapter tells us what we must do.

Because we are a saved people, a trained people, a self-controlled, upright and godly people, a waiting people, a people purified for His own possession, a people who are zealous for good works, then we must live in a certain way—the way that has been spelled out for us in the first ten verses of the chapter.

And I hope you’ve seen how important it is for these two sides to go together. You can’t have one without the other.

If we just talk about what we’re supposed to do without remembering who we are because of Jesus, then the Christian life will probably feel like one big struggle. We’ll find ourselves dragging your feet and experiencing very little joy.

But on the other hand, if we just talk about who we are because of Jesus, and don’t ever talk about how we need to live as a result, we’ll also get lop-sided and lazy.

I’ve seen this kind of thing directly. I’ve read books that have suggested that Christians shouldn’t even try to be godly. All we need to do is remember what Jesus did for us, and our behaviour will change by itself.


Exhorting, Rebuking, Commanding

But if that were true, then Titus 2 would be a lot shorter. It would just be some parts of verses 11-14. But that’s not all that’s there. Titus had to teach the people both what God had done and what they needed to do in response.

And that’s where the chapter began: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). And it’s where it ends, here in verse 15: “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

We will not grow in godliness automatically. We will grow in godliness as we respond to God’s word in our lives. And verse 15 reminds us that, very often, that word comes to us through the mouths of others.

Remember Ephesians 4? We grow up in every way into Christ as we speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15).

And verse 15 here reminds us that Titus, as a pastor, had a really important role in speaking God’s truth to people. In his preaching and teaching and all of the many other ways he would speak to people throughout his ministry, was to declare God’s truth to God’s people. He was not just to speak or declare these things, he was also to exhort them. “Exhort” has the sense of "encourage." Not just saying it but really urging and encouraging and helping someone to understand it.

Titus was also to rebuke. This word means “point out fault.” It’s the exact same word that’s translated “tell him his fault” in Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). “Speaking the truth in love” includes telling people their faults when necessary.

And as a pastor, this would have been an important part of Titus’ job, especially with all of the false teaching that we heard about in chapter 1. As godliness was taught, ungodliness needed to be rebuked.

And Titus was not to declare and exhort and rebuke in a half-hearted way. He was to do these things “with all authority.” This word for authority has the sense of issuing a command.

I suspect that the Cretans were probably not all that different from most Canadians in that they didn’t really like commands. 1:10 says that there were many who were insubordinate. They probably preferred suggestions. “Present the option to me, and then I’ll choose to do it.”

I’ve heard some people say that this is how pastors should operate. “Don’t ever tell people to do anything. That will make them not want to do it.”

And my response is that God’s word tells us to do all kinds of things. We are citizens of a kingdom. Kings don’t make suggestions—they issue commands. And the citizens of the kingdom obey without arguing.

And the job of a faithful pastor is to pass those commands on to the people of God, declaring, exhorting and rebuking with all authority, letting to no one disregard them, as verse 15 finishes up.

Ladies, I tried to do this last week. You heard me say that this business of training younger women is not an option. God’s word says that this is what you must do. You must either be doing it, or, if you are not qualified or ready, then you must be actively preparing to do it.

And if someone was to hear that and think, “Don’t tell me what to do. I don’t want to do that now just because you told me to,” then that would be sin that would need to be repented of.

As a pastor, it’s my job to pass on God’s word to you without messing it up. I’m kind of like a waiter in a restaurant, making sure the food gets to you in the way it left the kitchen. And if God’s word gives us a command, it’s my job to pass that command on to you without softening it one bit. If you struggle with that command, that’s between you and Jesus to work out.

The big idea here is that Christians submit to the authority of King Jesus. And that means submitting to His word, especially as it is brought to us by our spiritual leaders as they preach and teach and speak and even rebuke.


Submission to Earthly Leaders

This idea of authority and submission really carries through as chapter 2 finishes and chapter 3 begins. God’s people are under the authority of King Jesus. But Jesus is not the only ruler or authority around, is he? What about the other rulers and authorities, like governors or kings or emperors?

One day, every earthly king will bow their knees to king Jesus (Revelation 11:15, 21:24), but until then, what about those who don’t? If we submit to Jesus, do we even need to worry about submitting to these other rulers?

It’s not a stretch to imagine some Cretans thinking, “Jesus is our king, so we don’t need to listen to the magistrates or the governor or the emperor anymore.” It’s not a stretch to imagine them using their faith in Jesus as a cover for insubordination. Kind of like those Christians you’ve seen in the news who don’t pay income tax because they are “working for God.”

Whether or not that was the case, this issue of authority seems to be the connective tissue between verse 15 and 3:1. And what Paul tells Titus in verse 1 is that submitting to Jesus means submitting to their government rulers.

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient” (Titus 3:1). In other words, they would have heard this before and needed to hear it again. They needed to be reminded that submitting to Jesus means submitting to human government.

This was not a new idea. Jesus Himself told us this. Do you remember the time the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking him if they should pay taxes to Caesar or not (Matthew 22:17)? Jesus asked for a coin, and asked whose face was on it. And when they said “Caesar’s,” Jesus said, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19–21).

What Jesus just did there was masterful, and there’s so much we could unpack. But His basic message is the consistent teaching of the New Testament: Christians obey God by submitting to government and paying our taxes and being good citizens of the earthly kingdoms that we are still a part of.


Why?

But this leads me to a couple of big questions. Two questions that will really take us through the whole rest of the sermon. The first question is my kid’s favourite question. “Why?” Why does obeying God mean obeying our governments? Why does this work this way?

And I see two answers to this question. The first answer comes by looking back at what we’ve seen in Titus 2 so far. Jesus died in our place us and made us His own so that we would bring him glory by being godly and zealous for good works.

And a part of being godly is submitting to the government. One way we do good works is by being good citizens. If we were to rebel against our government and be terrible citizens, that would make Jesus look bad. So, we submit to our governments for the same reason that slaves were to submit to their masters: “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine fo God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10).

And the second answer is that we submit to our governments because, until Jesus comes and reigns on this earth like He promised, God is using earthly governments as a part of His rule over planet earth. Listen to what Romans 13 says about this:

“Let 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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For 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, for 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay 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” (Romans 13:1–7).

Did you catch all of that? The earthly governments are God’s servants. He has set them up and instituted them in order to keep peace and enforce justice on the earth. 1 Peter 2 says the same thing: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:13–14).

When governments use our tax money to pave roads and build hospitals and pay police salaries, those are all good things, things which God is using to restrain wickedness and encourage good. And so we serve God by being good citizens in this system.


What About Bad Governments?

But all of this raises our next really important question, doesn’t it? What about bad governments? Submitting to a perfect government sounds great. Submitting to the government that we voted for sounds great.

But what about the real world? What about when we don’t agree with our government and think they are doing terrible things?

As I look at these passages and elsewhere in Scripture, I see three responses to this question.

1) First response: we submit to governments even when they don’t do everything right. That’s just right there on the surface of these commands. Just like “slaves, submit to your masters.” It doesn’t say, “slaves submit to your masters only if they are great guys.”

Paul was not naive. He knew that the governments of his day were not always great. The Caesars were far from perfect people. When Peter and Paul wrote all these words, Nero was the emperor. Nero was not a great guy. Probably the worst of the bunch. He did terrible things, including persecute Christians.

And the fact that he was Caesar when these things were written shows that we do not obey only good governments. We submit even to leaders who aren’t that great.

2) The second layer of response here is that God will only hold us responsible for our own behaviour. And here’s what I mean. Romans 13 says that Christians are to pay taxes. Paul knew that some of that tax money was going to be used for terrible purposes. It was going to be used to build temples to worship false gods. It was going to be used to pay soldiers who were sometimes going to take innocent lives.

And yet Scripture doesn’t say “withdraw from the system! Don’t let your money be used for bad purposes! Boycott the government until they start acting like Christians!”

God holds us responsible to pay out taxes. He does not hold us morally responsible for what the government does with our taxes. He will hold them responsible for that.

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t care what the government does with our money. Especially for us who live in a democracy: we have much more of a voice then the Cretans would have. And we should use our voice.

But we can’t miss the point here. God does not charge us guilty by association. He told the early Christians to submit and pay their taxes even though the government was using some of that tax money for terrible purposes. And so we see that we are only responsible for our own behaviour.

3) There is a third level of response here. We are responsible for our own behaviour. But that means that when our governments tells us to do something wrong ourselves, when they tell us to disobey God, we cannot obey them.

We see examples of this all over Scripture. When the Apostles were commanded by their authorities to stop preaching about Jesus, what did Peter say? “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

That’s the same Peter who told us to submit to our authorities. We submit as far as we can. But when those authorities command us to disobey God, the choice is obvious. We have to submit to God, first.

And as Peter and the apostles did that, they were following in the footsteps of the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh’s command to kill the Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:17), or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to bow down to the golden image (Daniel 3), or Daniel, who disobeyed the command to stop praying to God (Daniel 6:10).

For you and I today, this gets very real. We live in a country where, up until quite recently, we haven’t really had to choose between obeying God and obeying our government. But that may be changing as it relates to matters of human sexuality. Just this week the federal government tabled a new Bill, C-8, which will ban something called “conversion therapy” in Canada.

“Conversion Therapy,” properly defined, is not something we should support. Properly defined, “Conversion Therapy” is an attempt to forcibly change someone from having homosexual attraction to having heterosexual attraction. And some of the practices that have been employed in that regard have been terrible. We should not support that.

But the government’s definition of “conversion therapy” is very broad. It may end up including simply telling someone that they should not act on their homosexual attraction. It may include trying to help a person who is struggling with gender dysphoria to feel comfortable in their own body.

And according to the government’s definitions, even these activities may soon be considered criminal, especially when they involve someone under 18. In other words, it may soon be illegal for me as a pastor to encourage someone to submit their sexuality to the living God, even if they themselves are seeking help to do so.

This might sound alarming to you, and if you want to explore this more, I encourage you not to just search for it online, but to visit the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada’s website for some very solid and reputable information on this issue, and some tips on what we can do.

But this should really concern us as Christians. We know what God’s word says about these things. We know that God’s grace trains us to renounce worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives (Titus 2:12). And this is true even when those worldly passions feel natural and the rest of the world is telling you to embrace those passions and base your identity on them.

So we may very soon have some choices to make. Will we listen to our obey God or man? When someone comes for help and wants to know what God’s living and active Word has to say about their struggles, will we tell them, or will we act in fear?

I think you know my answer to that question. We will obey God. We will be faithful heralds of what God has spoken. And we will join the millions of our brothers and sisters around the world today who face a daily choice between following Jesus and obeying their governments. Many of them have paid a very high price for their obedience to Jesus. But isn’t that what we signed up for?

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’” (Matthew 16:24). The cross was the government’s tool of torture and death. And millions of Christians around the world throughout history and today have been bearing that cross as they’ve been fired from their jobs or disowned by their families or thrown in jail or tortured or killed.

If we are not willing to die for Jesus, we cannot be followers of Jesus. And so as the day of difficult decisions comes upon us here in Canada, the decisions aren’t really all that difficult, are they? This is just a part of what we signed up for when we said “yes” to Jesus.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:18–21).

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).


What Do We Do?

So, as we end this morning, I think the “what do we do next?” question is really simple. We start by obeying our governments. We are honest with our tax returns. We comply with permit requirements even when they seem silly. We are above-board in every area. We have an attitude of submission and we don’t  complain about our government. We make Jesus look great by being good citizens.

And, if and when we face a choice between obeying our government or obeying God, we choose to respectfully disobey our government and take whatever consequences come. And as we do that, we keep on obeying verse 2. We “speak evil of no one,” “avoid quarrelling,” “be gentle, and” “show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).

Note that this doesn’t say “except on Facebook.” We glorify God by being gentle and showing perfect courtesy toward all people—including the activists and the government officials putting pressure on us—in every circumstance.

Next week’s passage, which Brad is actually going to bring to us, will go on to show us that this gentleness and courtesy flows from a heart that recognizes the mercy of God towards us. Life without Jesus is a miserable mess, and we used to be miserable messes ourselves until God came and saved us.

And that recognition of God’s mercy and grace must produce kindness from us those who have not yet received His mercy. This doesn’t mean agreeing with them. This doesn’t mean saying they are all right. But it means saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Had Jesus not suffered and died in our place on the cross, and sent His Holy Spirit to give us faith and cause us to be born again, we would be completely lost and completely hopeless.

And that perspective should soften our hearts today towards those who need God’s grace so desperately.

So let’s ask the Lord to give us that perspective. Whether it’s Conversion Therapy or COVID-19, 2020 might be a hard year for the church in Canada. But we know who our king is. We know what He’s done in the past and we know that He’s promised to return and make all things new.

The worst thing that can happen to us—death—has been defeated by our king, who has promised to return in glory. So we fix our eyes on those promises and walk today through the wilderness of this world by faith in the God who has promised to be with us.

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