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 the same reason 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.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 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." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.(ESV)
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Government, Mind Your Own Business
Monday of Pentecost 26
18 November 2013
We ought to feel compassion for those who must face the wrath of the properly constituted government by being incarcerated or even put to death. Only the most hard-hearted ruffian would not feel a twinge of agony for the criminal who is to be hurled into eternity by lethal injection. However, that sense of compassion must never bind the hands of those who serve in government. It is not President Obama's right or privilege to suspend rightly passed laws, no matter what he thinks about them. The law's penalties must be carried out, despite our own personal compassion for the criminal. The judge must never let his personal passion for compassion keep him from fulfilling his duty. Even while carrying out his duty, the judge and jailer still remain concerned about the criminal. Yet justice must be done. Parents certainly feel this way when they bring discipline into their child's life. We feel for a child who blubbers after being rebuked. But in the world the child must learn to bear the consequences of his own acts.
Generally, compassion is not the business of government. Compassion is the business of God, His church, and His people whom He commands to forgive sins and share His mercy with the world. When government begins doling out mercy, it is no longer bearing the sword that God has conveyed into the hands of government (Rm 13:1). In fact, when government gets into the business of mercy it begins to usurp the place of God in the world, all the while neglecting its divinely instituted function of restraining and punishing evil doers. It would be like an auto mechanic trying his hand at repairing a nuclear submarine. He could make an explosive mistake. He needs to stick to cars. Government must be narrowly about the law's business. Leave mercy to God.
The judge who declines to punish properly a thief is treating my property as though it were his own. He is giving the thief a free pass, while I must pay the price. This is cheap compassion indeed, when it is paid with the coin from someone else's purse. Beside this, the divine commands are at stake. These are God's, not ours. We may not ignore their prohibitions, nor their temporal penalties. For to do so plays fast and loose with God's honor and authority. If He would have compassion, He can certainly take care of it. He sends the government equipped with the sword to avenge Him.
I may play fast and loose with what is mine to give: my love. I may give it profligately. I may put myself last and others first. I may always think of others as better than myself. For these are mine to give; coin taken from my own purse. But when social order, in accordance with the divine commands, is at stake then I must see to the divine honor. And though I may have sympathy for the neighbor caught in some criminal act, I must also support God's justice in the hands of a good government, which is a gift from God. Government should mind its own business and let God and His Church take care of theirs.
"Where there is true meekness the heart feels compassion at every evil which befalls its enemy. The people who feel this are the true children and heirs of God and brethren of Christ, who felt compassion for us on the holy cross. We see that a godly judgepainfully passes sentence upon the criminal, and regrets the death penalty that the law imposes. In this case, the act has every appearance of anger and disfavor. Meekness is so thoroughly good that it remains even in such wrathful works. In fact, the heart is most tormented when it has to be angry and severe.
"But we have to be careful that we are not meek contrary to the honor and command of God. It is written of Moses that he was the meekest man on earth (Eccl 45:4), and yet, when the Jews had worshiped the golden calf and provoked God to anger, he put many of them to death, and thereby made atonement before God (Ex 32:1-33). Likewise, it is not right for the government to take a holiday and let sin rule and for us to say nothing about it. I must not regard my own possessions, my own honor, my own injury, nor get angry on their account; but we must defend God's honor and commandment, as well as prevent injury or injustice to our neighbor. The temporal authorities have the responsibility of doing this with the sword; the rest of us, by reproof and rebuke. But it is to be done with pity for those who have earned the punishment.
"This lofty, noble, satisfying work may be learned very easily, if we do it in faith and bring faith to bear on it. For if faith does not doubt the favor of God, and a man has no doubt that he has a gracious God, it will be quite easy for him to be gracious and favorable to his neighbor, however much the neighbor may have sinned against him. For we have sinned far more against God."
Treatise on Good Works, 5
Lord, keep this nation under Your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve You faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the family and friends of Denis Lusinga, who passed away, that they would grieve with hope and the anticipation of the resurrection of the flesh
For the call committee of Memorial Lutheran Church, as it offers a candidate for the office of Assistant Pastor at Memorial Lutheran Church and School, that God the Holy Spirit would lead His people to make an election
For church musicians as they prepare themselves to lead God's people in song through the dominical cycle of the church year, that they would be strengthened and encouraged in well doing
Art: Eyck, Jan van The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429)
© Scott R. Murray, 2013