God At Work In Your Calling As A Citizen (Romans 13:1-7)

Text: Romans 13:1-7                                                                                                               

Several years ago when I was in a former church as an Associate Pastor I came into the sanctuary one Saturday evening and saw two women knelling down by the altar.  I said, “Hey there, what are you up to.”  They jumped up, turned a little red and then proceeded to tell me that they were making adjustments to the flags by the altar.  It turns out that the Senior Pastor of the church was a little concerned with how close the American flag was to the altar.  It was about a foot next to the communion table and thus he wanted to move it a little farther away.  Well, long story short, the Senior Pastor didn’t want to offend anyone so he had asked these two ladies to move it 1-2 inches each week when they came every Saturday night to set up for the Sunday Morning Worship Service.  These two ladies giggled as they shared this and showed me that they had made it about 40 inches over the last 6 months.  You could actually see the mark on the carpet where it used to be and see how far they had moved the flag. 

Well, this is a fun story to think about.  However, it does bring forth the question about why the pastor wanted to move the American flag away from the altar.  Why the concern?  I came later to find out that the pastor was concerned that the American flag was overshadowing the communion table, and from the right side of the church it was actually blocking people’s sight of the communion table.  Furthermore, he wanted the congregation to understand that the church and the state are different realms with different functions that serve God.

So, if we can think about the altar as representing the church and the flag as representing the state, the questions that now arise are, “To what extent are church and state supportive of each other and to what extent do they conflict?”  We can also ask the question, “Where is a Christian’s allegiance, the church or the state?  How shall the Christian function in the church and the state?”  Our text today and our understanding of vocation will help us sort this out. 

Text:  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.

As we can see from our text the Apostle Paul is laying out that we as Christians are to be subject to the governing authorities.  This text does not mention Christ at all, and is referring to what we would understand as government officials.  In other words, from this text we see that God has instituted these governing authorities, authorities that we as Christians are to submit to.  These authorities have been placed by God for the purpose of punishing wrongdoers so that we might have order in our society and nation.  Just like God works through the vocations of farmers and ranchers to feed you and me, God works through judges, police officers, soldiers, presidents, congressmen, as well as national and state laws to keep order. Now, this is all for our good because order is good.  In fact I once heard it rightly said that even a dysfunctional dictatorship is better than complete anarchy because with anarchy everyone turns to their own desires and chaos breaks out. 

As we contemplate this text it becomes very apparent that God has instituted really two realms, or we could say two kingdoms.  He has obviously instituted the church, where the Gospel is preached and proclaimed.  The church is not a manmade invention, but something that is put together by God.  The church is where the Word of God and the Sacraments are present and where people are gathered for that purpose.  On the other hand, from our text we also see that God has instituted governing authorities, authorities that rule with the sword against injustice to keep order.  It makes sense that there are really two realms, two kingdoms when we consider Jesus’ comments in Matthew 22:21 where he says, “Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”  Later on Jesus looks to Pontius Pilate who was ruling the area of Israel at the time of His death and says, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  

For simplicity, both of these two realms can be called the left and the right hand kingdoms.  The left hand kingdom rules to keep order and rules by Laws and the force of the Sword.  The other kingdom is the right hand kingdom and that is the church.  The church rules by proclaiming the message of forgiveness of sin and rules not by the power of the sword but by the Word of the Gospel.  Both the right and the left hand kingdoms work together quite nicely.  The left hand kingdom curbs society and keeps order while the right hand kingdom proclaims the holy Gospel.

Now, as we look more specifically at these two kingdoms the question arises about how they relate to each other.  First and foremost my friends we cannot mix them together or combine them.  This is what happened some 500 years ago when the left hand kingdom was absorbed by the Romans Catholic Church.  History has shown us that when the left hand kingdom gets too close to the right hand kingdom, typically it is the right hand kingdom of the Gospel that suffers, thus this is the reason for the original importance of separation of church and state.  The idea of separation of church and state was originally a good idea, it was meant not to keep the church out of the state, but to keep the state out of the church.  Furthermore, the church has no business conquering nations by the force of the sword.  The church’s power is not raw force, but the sheer Gospel.

But more specifically, what each and every one of us wonders is what does this understanding of these two kingdoms mean for us?  If you can recall from last week, because of Christ’s forgiveness we are masterpieces created in Christ Jesus for good works that have been prepared in advance for us to walk in.  God is the source of all good works and they are prepared for you and me to simply walk in.  And as you can recall we typically walk in these good works through our vocations, our callings.  In addition to our callings in the family, the church and the workplace—we also have a calling to be citizens.  As citizen we recognize that we belong to the right hand kingdom of grace and truth but are also called to obey the laws of our land and be citizens of a community and country.  The old church father Augustine said that, it is kind of like we are citizens of two cities at the same time.  Please keep in mind that as Christians we are not completely removed from the world as some religious groups attempt.  As Christians we do not belong to a church bubble.  No, my friends Jesus prays in his High Priestly prayer that we would not be taken out of the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one in the world.  As redeemed Christians we are in the world, yet not of the world, but for the world. 

What this means is that as we live our lives in relationship to the governing authorities and others in society, but we do so knowing that we have been called to a divine calling of being a citizen.  In this divine calling as a citizen we walk in the knowledge of the Word of God, we walk in our calling as citizens knowing that God has prepared good works in advance for us, works that lift up our fellow citizens.  Example of vocations as citizens in the left hand kingdom are: serving in the armed forces, pledging allegiance to the flag, serving on a local drug and alcohol prevention task force, volunteering your time at the health department, working on the local school board, going to precinct meetings, voting, following speed limits, following our state/national laws, and paying our taxes. 

Now, just because we are called to these divine callings of being citizens, this does not mean that we should turn the church into a political action group or that we should confuse the work of the Gospel with the political realm of the state.  Listen carefully, we don’t need: Christian judges, Christian policemen, Christian congressmen and so forth.  Rather we need judges who are Christians, policemen who are Christian, congressmen who are Christian and so forth.  The church is all about the Gospel and the Word.  The church is not the left hand kingdom.  As Christians we engage our culture and engage the left hand kingdom underneath our vocations as citizens.  As citizens who are Christians, we are called to work in our cultures to make our country a better place, if only in a small way.  As citizens who are Christians, we are continually formed by the Word of God in the church so that we might advocate for what is right and what is true!

Practically speaking, through our vocations as citizens, we go as informed and redeemed Christians to impact our culture.  We don’t vote merely as citizens, we vote as citizens that have been impacted and formed by the Word of God.  Furthermore, when the left hand kingdom violates the Word of God, as citizens we work diligently to correct the problems through running for office, demonstrating, and debating.  When the left hand kingdom enforces laws upon us as citizens that purposely cause us to violate conscious and violate the Word of God, with all tactfulness we obey God rather than man and thus oppose the left hand kingdom.

Practically speaking we have elections coming forth.  As you go to the polls I want you to realize that as you vote, you are walking in a divine calling as citizen.  As you cast your votes, serve your neighbors in this community, and pray for our government officials, you can be assured that this is all good, that you are walking in good works that have been prepared in advance for you to walk in.

God is at work in our lives through the governing authorities to keep order.  God is also at work calling us to our vocations as citizens to serve our neighbor.  God is at working calling us into our vocations so that He might care for and provide for His creation.  Praise God for the high calling of being a citizen.