God’s Governing Servants

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Romans 13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God… Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. 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.

The Lord called a friend of mine to teach at a Lutheran seminary in the Ukraine. One of the most difficult adjustments he had to make was getting used to the way government works in this formerly communist country. Just to get his car registered, he had to go through these steps:

1) He drove to the customs department on the other side of town.

2) After waiting for half an hour, he was sent to a second office in another part of town.

3) There he waited another 45 minutes while his application was being typed and he paid a fee.

4) He was sent across town again to have the car’s value professionally estimated.

5) The people in that office sent him to another office.

6) He waited 45 minutes for another application to be typed and paid a fee.

7) By now it was closing time. He had to wait until the next day to continue his quest.

8) When he went back to the customs office the next morning, he was told he needed a form from the police department.

9) When he reached the police department, they had no idea what form was needed.

10) He went back to the customs office, where the man in charge learned he was a religious worker. As a result, he sent him to the Dept. of Religious Affairs for a work permit, then to the police to get a special stamp for his passport.

11) In order to make sure that the man at the customs department would follow through with this the next day, he had to pay a “token of gratitude” (a bribe).

12) The next day he was told he would need to have a full medical examination and submit the medical records before the car could be registered.

13) Finally he phoned a high ranking friend, who simply gave the order, “Just give them the sticker.”

And we sometimes complain about the way our government works.

So long as our government provides peace and order, it is a blessing of God for which we ought to give our thanks. The Lord has established two great kingdoms on earth to take care of us. One watches over our bodies, the other watches over our souls. He places his representatives in each of them to work for our good.

For our souls God gives us the church with its pastors and teachers. Here the emphasis is not so much on what we do for him, but what he did for us to save us. Here God leaves no role for us to play in our own salvation, whether big or small. He simply points us to Jesus who has done it all. Here we find full forgiveness for our failure to submit to God’s commands and those who enforce them. Here God rules us not by force but by faith, not by guns but by grace, not by laws but by his love that captivates our hearts and makes us want to follow him wherever he leads us to go.

Those who govern us work in the other great kingdom God has established. They take care of our bodies, and they do so in a particular way. “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.” In general, we might say that the purpose of government and those who govern is to protect the weak from the strong. In a world where not everyone trusts God or willingly follows his ways, God has given those who govern weapons of force and punishment. If the policeman cannot use his sidearm, if the soldier cannot fire his rifle, if the judge cannot sentence people to jail or even to death, then the government cannot keep us safe.

But so long as the government has the power to punish, God can use it to protect us from those who want to take our property, our freedom, and even our lives. When we are submitting to the government ourselves, they are in a better position to protect us, and that is all for our personal benefit.

Perhaps no one on earth is better protected by their government than we Americans. As we celebrate our nation’s anniversary, let’s be thankful for the blessing of peace and order it provides.

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