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Paul clearly has a different perspective on government and politics than we do. Paul says, “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.” Paul thinks that God is in control, and whoever is in government has been appointed by God. Whoever is in government is the one God has chosen.
We see it differently. We may think that our party is instituted by God. But the party that opposes us is only out to derail God’s plans and purposes. It can’t be that God wants the other side to be in office. It can’t be that God can use the other party for his purposes. We think our party stands for what’s good and right, and the other party stands for what’s wrong. And so, if the other party wins, then God loses! If the other party wins, then God’s will is being thwarted.
This is how both sides are describing the upcoming election. Time and time again I’ve heard it said that this is the most important election in the history of our country, and if the other side is elected, the country will change forever—for the worse. The country and the world are headed in the wrong direction, and if you let the other side win this election, then you’re handing the world and our future over to evil and destruction. We stand for what’s right and they stand for what’s wrong, so it’s all or nothing.
And so we’re quick to demonize the other side, as if they’re bad, and stupid, and evil. This is why there is so much slander and gossip and anger and strife and hate tied up in politics right now. We imagine that our party alone has the answers and no good could possibly come from the other side. And so rather than talk through issues, we do politics by throwing personal attacks at each other.
And since it doesn’t occur to us that no matter who wins, God is still in control, since it doesn’t occur to us that God can work his will whether Republicans or Democrats are in office, we’re quick to join in and give ourselves over to the works of the flesh. Morning coffee at the café becomes a time to say slanderous things about the other party, to spread gossip and make fun of the people on the other side. We treat people on the other side like they’re stupid and less than human, not worthy of common decency. We give ourselves over to the works of the flesh. Listen to what Paul says are the works of the flesh. Enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy. Or listen to the way Paul describes those who have given up on God and practice unrighteousness. He says that they are gossips, slanderers, insolent, haughty, boastful. Isn’t that just a perfect description of our political climate? Isn’t that a perfect description of what happens to us when we’re swept up into the political hysteria? We give ourselves over to the works of the flesh! We give ourselves over to unrighteousness! We become the evil doers!
Thank God for Paul, because Paul reminds us that no matter who is in office, God is in control. “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” God is the creator, after all. Everything that exists constantly depends on God for its existence. The only reason the sun rises, the rain falls, our hearts beat and our brains think, the only reason there is anything at all is because God constantly—moment by moment—gives it life. And if God didn’t give it life, it wouldn’t exist for a second. To say that God is the creator isn’t to say that God is like a watch-maker, who built this really complex machine, wound it up, walked away, and let it go on its own: “Good luck, I hope it all works out for you!” No, God is the source of life, apart from whose constant provision, there is nothing at all. So, it’s not like God can fall asleep at the wheel and let the Democrats or the Republicans take over while he’s not looking, or something like that. It doesn’t work that way with God. God is the source of all life apart from whose constant provision nothing would exist.
That’s why Paul says simply and confidently that “there is no authority expect from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Whoever is in office, it is God who is in control.
Now we may not be able to understand why God has put this person or that person in office. We may be completely baffled how God is going to use this person or that party to fulfill his purposes. But we can trust that God is in control and will be sure to give us what’s good in the way and at the time that God determines is best.
We think this way about God when we get sick or when we struggle financially, don’t we? We may not be able to see how God is working this illness or that financial struggle for our good, but we trust that God is our Father. As Paul says in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things.” God gave his Son to die for us. God gave us the best he had—he gave of his own self. Why should we doubt that God will give us what’s good in the way and at the time that God determines is best?
We think this way about God when we get sick or when we struggle financially. Why wouldn’t we think this way about God when it comes to government and politics? “There is no authority except from God ,and those that exist have been instituted by God.” That’s a great reminder that no matter who is in office, God is in control.
And so we don’t have to worry that if “our party” doesn’t win the election, then all is lost. God is in control, no matter who wins the election. All we have to worry about is doing good. As Paul says, “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you will receive his approval.” All we have to worry about is loving one another. As Paul says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” This doesn’t mean that we don’t get involved in politics. As a citizen, you’re called by God to serve your neighbor to the best of your ability. So do your best to discern what would be good for your neighbor, and vote. But then leave the rest to God.
And if you don’t want to leave the rest to God, if you want to say slanderous things about people on the other side, spread gossip, and hate others rather than love others, then just know that YOU are the evil doer. You can be on the right or left, republican or democrat, whatever side you think is best and still be full of anger, malice, gossip, and slander. You can be on the right or the left and be consumed by the works of the flesh.
And really, that helps us see where the true battle lines are drawn in all of this. We think that the battle lines are between the left and the right, as if there were no God but only Republicans or Democrats. But the battle is between the flesh and the Spirit. And you can be a Republican or a Democrat, whichever side you think is in the right, and still be full of anger, pride, enmity and strife. But God didn’t send his Son to die a sinners death, God didn’t claim you as his own in baptism, so you could go on as if God didn’t exist! God sent his Son to die for you, God claimed you as his own in baptism, so that you could know his love for you and trust that no matter what happens, God is your heavenly Father. God sent his Son to die for you, and God claimed you in the waters of baptism, so that you could bear the fruit of faith, the fruits of the Spirit, the first fruits of the new creation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
So remember your baptism. Remember whose you are. Put to death the works of the flesh and live in the Spirit, knowing that no matter who is elected God is in control, your heavenly Father, who gave his Son to die for you and made you his own in the waters of baptism.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 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. 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.