As I have been working on this week’s message for FPC Lakeland’s “Family Matters” series I have come to the Ephesians 5 passage… This is a chapter that trips up modern readers more often than not, because it talks about wives “submitting” to their husbands in “everything.” (Ephesians 5:22, 24) Even as you sit there reading that you may have a visceral reaction that tells you such a notion is antiquated, out-dated, and just plain dumb. The reason that’s the case is because there have been situations in which husbands have used those verses to lord strength, power, and dominance over their wives. They have been used in the same way Satan used Psalm 91:11-12 to tempt Jesus in the wilderness… they have been perverted. Paul in no way casts a sense of superiority of men over women, but instead says in Ephesians 5:21 that we are “[to submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And that husbands are to act sacrificially toward their wives as Christ sacrificed himself for the church (vs 25). At the center of the idea of submission in the Christian home is the notion that the one to whom we are submitting is worthy of that submission.
Now, I say that as a point of introduction, because there is another place where Paul exhorts believers to submit to human beings; Paul tells us to submit to the authority of the government. In Romans 13:1-7…
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.
Reading these verses right now, as the US’s governing authorities are bickering over the ability to accept a budget or decide the immediate funding strategy of the nation thus putting thousands upon thousands of lives in financial peril – well it’s a tough spiritual pill to swallow. It hits my modern ears the way the Ephesians 5 verses do with others… and honestly, I have a bit of a gag reflex… But what does it mean to submit or be subject to (the same Greek root word is used) the governing authorities, and how does that play out in the United States of America? When Paul was writing these words, he was addressing Roman citizens in the 1st century who had to deal with an emperor who was not exactly “pro-Jesus” and regional governors who ruled with varying levels of corruption. So if we think we have a difficult time accepting this statement, imagine being a disenfranchised citizen with a government which had the authority and motivation to crush your beliefs and take your life because of those beliefs, and Paul is saying,”Be subject to that… they are God’s servants.”
Paul understood something though: God puts human governments in place to help exercise his common grace on ALL society regardless of an individual’s profession of faith. The laws of governments are meant to withhold the power of sin in society by punishing atrocities and preventing the destructive tendency of the Fall toward anarchy. Generally speaking, the Bible teaches us that Christians are prohibited from obeying the government where it commands something contrary to God’s rule (i.e. Acts 4:18-31), so what does the submission of Christians to the US government mean?
We must first understand that elected officials are NOT the government rather they are officers of the government which is defined in its most explicit terms in the Constitution. So, the governing authority is a malleable document that outlines a beautiful though sometimes contentious interplay between the citizens of the United States and those who have been elected by those citizens to exercise the will of the citizens in light of that same document. Those who are elected, whether Republican or Democrat, Boehner or Obama, mayors, city commissioners, House Representatives, and governors all need to be reminded, daily, and even hourly, they are servants first acting on behalf of their constituency for the good of the nation as a whole… and citizens, we needed to be reminded that we are indeed subject to the rules and laws laid before us, with the elective power to usher out those who have created laws with which we disagree.
But in this wonderful, reckless, illuminating, maddening, frightful, hopeful, graceful, and spastic dance called the US government we have a responsibility – all of us… elected officials and private citizens alike… we have a responsibility to respect and be worthy of respect; to honor and be worthy of that honor. If you are believer in Jesus Christ as I am, we do not have the luxury of ignoring what goes on around us, or saying it is someone else’s problem, or convincing ourselves that because we are living for a more eternal rather than temporal hope we are exempt from caring about our national movements. Believers should instead submit to the governing authorities – including the very votes we hold – by being in a constant state of prayer for the elected servants in Washington, for our ability to elect those who will act as caretakers of our great society, and for a sense of humility to overwhelm this country that would bring us to the throne of the only authority which will stand the test of eternity: the King of kings, Jesus Christ.