The Twenty Third Sunday after Trinity 2017

The Epistle – Philippians 3:17-21

The Gospel – St. Matthew 22:15-22

Article 37 – Of the Power of Civil Magistrates

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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Much of what Christians use to back up their understanding of the distinction between Church and State comes from the Scriptures.

 

Not separation, necessarily, but certainly distinction.

 

Jesus today is once again approached by hostiles. Pharisees….and this time Herodians.

 

The Herodians were a small party of men who supported the rule of Herods…kings. They were foreign in that they were not Jewish, but worshiped as the Jews worshiped.

 

Herod the Great …slaughter of the children and Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist.

 

Needless to say the Pharisees did not really get along with the Herodians since they were foreigners but also because they were part of the Roman occupation.

 

Nevertheless, they seemed to be able to lay aside differences this time to team up and once again lay a trap to ensnare Jesus in something He might say or do.

 

They approach with the usual drivel about how they admired Him and how they knew He was a teacher who taught the truth and was not swayed by the opinions of others, etc….

 

They want to know how Jesus will handle this question. 

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or no?”

 

Jesus’ answer… “Why do you put me to the test you hypocrites?”

 

Jesus asks for a coin. They give Him a denarius and He asks them whose likeness and inscription is on this coin?”

 

They answer “Caesar’s.”

 

“Right,” says Jesus…. “then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render to God the things that are God’s.”

 

And as they hear this answer it says, “they marveled and went away.”

 

Humiliated. Confounded. Angered.

 

Moreover, we have this passage from St. Paul on a similar matter.

 

 

 

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.

 

[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.” (ESV)

 

And Peter writes…

 

1 Peter 2:13–17

 

“Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,

[14] or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. [15] For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

 

[16] Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. [17] Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (ESV)

 

Both Paul and Peter have fairly similar injunctions for us to follow.

 

Submit to those in authority over us.

Don't resist them.

Pay taxes to whom we owe.

 

And both agree that those who are in power over us…be it government or in some other capacity; they are in that position as instituted by God.

 

The Article that the Anglican Church is guided by here seems to agree wholeheartedly with these Scripture passages.

 

“The Power of the Civil Magistrate extendeth to all men, as well Clergy as Laity, in all things temporal; but hath no authority in things purely spiritual. And we hold it to be the duty of all men who are professors of the Gospel, to pay respectful obedience to the Civil Authority, regularly and legitimately constituted.”

 

So we are all, clergy and lay alike, to obey our civil authorities. We are to pay our taxes. We are to obey their laws.

 

We are to do all we can as “Professors of the Gospel” to pay respectful obedience…..to those who are regularly and legitimately constituted.

 

Important last words there. Regularly and legitimately.   

 

The brilliance of our own documents as Americans, among other things, was the insertion of wording which told both those who were under authority AND those who were in authority… legitimately constituted….if they were found to be abusing that God-given power and had become tyrants and oppressors they were to forfeit their power and the whole thing would begin over.

 

Their legitimacy would be called into question and action would be taken because by their actions they would be considered to have lost their legitimacy.

 

A healthy warning to sinful men of all stripes, who crave power or become corrupted by power and then abuse their God-given powers and positions to do good

and to maintain justice

and ensure domestic tranquility…

that there was a mechanism in place to remove them as soon as possible.

 

It also reminds those in power that they are appointed by God and not because they have solely run a good campaign and won an election.

 

Their victorious election entails a right use of the new power they have been entrusted with.

 

A reminder to them - you did not get here on our own without the sovereign hand of God at work and that same sovereign hand is watching to see how you use that power.

 

Though the temporal has no authority in things purely spiritual, there is a lot of line crossing and overlapping here…especially on the part of the civil crossing over into the spiritual.

So this constant balancing of powers and back and forth we live in is never going to end until Christ comes again.

 

The Fall of man brought yet another problem. The need for man to be governed.

 

Even at the time of the founding of our country, the understanding of the tendencies of men to abuse power was well understood, acknowledged and addressed.

 

Whether they were Christians, Deists or something else… they seemed to understand the sinful nature of man and what he is capable of.

 

Hence the wording in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

 

Christian and non-Christian alike were well aware of man’s potential to corruption. They were well aware that power corrupts and sinful man craves power.

 

Our founding documents in fact do not assume a separation per se.  But they certainly don't want, as the Article says, to have the civil meddling in things spiritual.

 

Yet the Christian must ask, “where is the line between civil and spiritual in things?”  It's not always clear.

 

Our founders did not want sinful men to be setting up state religions to which all citizens had to adhere.

 

Besides that, there are many other areas in life where decisions and situations are a bit more complex…and intertwined.

 

The civil law permits abortion. We might be honest and say it encourages abortion.

 

Either way, this is a civil law and yet it crosses over well into the spiritual on many levels.

 

Man is spiritual by nature. The state sanctioning the murder of man…unborn man, is a spiritual matter.

 

Here is an example of where we as Christians must be influential in the lives of others ….especially our leaders.

 

Christians should be active in government if they can. Run for office. Fight for laws that cross the line between civil and spiritual.  Pray for leaders to make right decisions.

 

Help people see that spiritual and civil are many times overlapping.

 

Pay respectful obedience to the Civil Authority, but when possible, peacefully, prayerfully work to show the civil authorities that spiritual matters are bigger and more encompassing than they may realize.

 

Neither Jesus, nor Peter, nor Paul were calling for any kind of revolution.

 

Thought arguably not pacifists, they all three teach us that the people of God….Christians …..were to live under authority because Jesus Christ was the final authority.

 

We might tie another Scripture passage here to this to help paint a clearer picture. 

 

In Matthew chapter 10 Jesus is sending out the 12 Apostles to go and preach…not to Gentiles but to the Jews…the lost sheep of Israel, as Jesus calls them.

 

He said to them that He was sending them as sheep among wolves and that persecution would come to them.

 

As He was speaking about persecution, He was not telling them that they would run into a little trouble as they went out and preached the Gospel…though that was certainly the case.

 

The passage seems to stretch the persecution out further to all future Christians and right down to us here today.

Jesus says, Matthew 10:28

 

[28] “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (ESV)

Persecution for the faith can come at a high cost. It might some day cost the Christian his life.   

 

Persecution also comes in various forms. Laws passed by civil governments can infringe upon the Christian in many ways.

 

But the Gospel teaches us here that as Christians we must fear Him and Him alone who has not only the right over our body but our soul as well.

 

Only God can kill both body and soul.


What has kept persecuted Christians strong, steadfast, and courageous in the face of persecution…

even when it comes from the civil authorities is the fact that they cannot do permanent damage to us.

 

They may go so far as to force us or coerce us to do something and we may resist.  But our resistance may be met with a more severe consequence. …our life.

 

But even then…if it comes to that… Jesus says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

 

The THOSE there are anyone (or anything) in all of creation.  They cannot take the Gospel from us. They cannot harm us in the ultimate sense of the word.

 

They can only do physical harm.

 

Paul asks a question,

1 Corinthians 6:15a,19,  –20

 

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?? [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (ESV)

 

That is the command that should guide us as we live in this world, with imperfect government, imperfect leaders and imperfect laws.

 

The powers of those extend out to us and we are under them as God has ordained.

We pay respectful obedience to them.

 

But as Paul also reminds us,

Philippians 3:20–21

 

[20] But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (ESV)

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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