Why Guys Like Shoot-Em Ups: A Sermon on Romans 13.1-5

19 Jun

This just in from the Department of the Completely Obvious: men and women like different kinds of movies. I will give you a few moments for the shock to wear off. Movies are basically animated stories, and the stories that charge up the heart of a man are quite different than the stories that bring a woman’s soul to life. Men’s Journal once asked their readers to identify the Top 50 movies of all time, and the top ten movies were (in order): Dirty Harry, Godfather, Scarface, Die Hard, Terminator, Road Warrior, Dirty Dozen, Matrix, Caddyshack, and Rocky. MSN produced a list of Top Ten Oscar wining movies for guys, and their list included Braveheart, Gladiator, Platoon, and Patton.

Creating a list like this is totally subjective, so the scientific-ness of the poll could definitely be questioned, but I found it interesting that in every “Top Ten” list I could find of guy movies and girl movies, there was not one movie that made both lists. Men and women did not agree on a single movie as a “Top Ten” in any list I could find. The stories that grab our hearts as men are much different than the stories that grab their hearts as women.

Looking at the list of “movies for guys who like movies,” there does seem to be a unified story that most grabs the heart of men. Even among a fallen culture where movies with gratuitous violence and immorality are quite popular in the box office, the Top Ten list did not have much gratuitous violence but movies where violence served a purpose. Think about it, what do Dirty Harry, Die Hard, Dirty Dozen, Braveheart, and Patton all have in common? They are stories about the struggle to bring about justice through the use of force because all other means have failed.

World War II movies (Patton, Dirty Dozen, Platoon, Bridge On the River Kwai) make the list because the men of the United States joined the men of other nations in using force to halt the spread of Nazism and Japanese aggression and to end Hitler’s attempt to exterminate a whole people group. Westerns make the list because they tell the story of a Sheriff bringing justice against cattle thieves or bank robbers. Cop movies are popular among men because it is the pursuit of justice where force has become necessary because all other means have failed.

This is why when men of a certain age hear the William Tell Overture, they don’t think of Rossinni’s opera. It has often been said that the test of maturity is whether or not you can hear the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger is the ultimate guy’s hero, fighting injustice in the American West.

So why is it that the stories of fighting injustice stir the hearts of men? While there is surely come cultural reasons for this, I believe that there is some theological foundation for it, too. God has imprinted the desire for justice on the hearts of men, and one of the places in Scripture that we see this most clearly is in Romans 13. Consider the words of the apostle Paul,

1Let 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. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For 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, 4for 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. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13.1-5 ESV)

Romans 13 and Authority

There is so much to learn from Romans 13 that we cannot possible deal with it all in one sermon. There are some natural questions that simply must be asked. For instance, the Bible says that God has appointed all authorities, but what about evil rulers like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Stalin, Hitler, or Saddam Hussein? Does the Bible really teach us that we are to submit to their authority and not resist? Are we to never resist authority?

Another question is how Romans 13 relates to Romans 12. Romans 12 tells us that we are not to take God’s place of vengeance, but Romans 13 says that those in authority are servants of God and “avengers who carry out God’s wrath.” How can we not take vengeance (Romans 12.19) and be avengers (Romans 13.4) at the same time?

If possible, I would like to save these questions for next week and hear the text with a more streamlined approach. Since today is Father’s Day, I want us to focus on what the truth of Romans 13 says to men who like stories about fighting injustice. God has placed a desire for justice in the heart of men, so how do we live as faithful followers of Christ? How does Romans 13 inform our passion for justice and guide us in our desire to bring about justice? Let’s make a few observations from Romans 13.1-5.

Authority is God’s Design in Creation

First, we should notice that God has embedded the idea of authority in all of creation. According to the dictionary, authority is the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior.[1] Authority as a concept was God’s design for creation. In all areas of life, there is a need by design for someone or some group to have the position of authority to lead, to make decisions, to command certain behavior, and to be held accountable by a higher authority.

For example, in the family, which is the most basic unit of God’s creation, God has put authority in place. The husband is the head of the wife, and children are to obey their parents. Consider,

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5.22-24)

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6.1)

There is an authority established by God in the home.

Likewise, in the church, there is an authority established by God. And even though we Baptists who are committed to congregational governance, we cannot ignore the biblical teachings that there is an authority established by God in the church that is not to be taken lightly. Consider the following,

17Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13.17 ESV)

17Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5.17)

12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5.12-13)

So, there is an authority established by God in the church.

In civil life, there is an authority established by God, which seems to be the primary point of Romans 13. God knew that a community of people would need a government, and the idea of a legitimate source of authority is essential to proper communal living. Consider the words of Peter,

13Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2.13-17)

1First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2.1-4)

Government has a crucial role in protecting its citizens from all enemies, both foreign and domestic. They are charged with keeping the peace so that the citizenry might live peaceful and quiet lives, and Christian are to submit to their authority and to pray for them.[2]

In the world of business, there is an authority established by God. The organizational flow chart is a necessity because we all need to know who is in the place of authority. Who is the manager of this team? Who is the lead teacher of this grade? Who has authority in this organization to make what decision?

In fact, every time there is a gathering of more than one person, the question of authority naturally comes into play. When you form a baseball team, we all want to know who is going to be the coach? Our local schools have PTAs, but we all need to know who is going to be the President? Boy Scout groups needs a Pack Leader. Swim teams need a captain. The idea of authority has been instituted by God.

Authority is Delegated by God

Second, we should notice that the type of authority instituted by God is delegated authority. There are two words for authority in the Greek language. The first word is kratos, a word which means “strength, power, or might.” The second word is exousia which speaks of a delegated power. This type of authority is given to one person by a person of higher authority. The best way to see this is in Jesus’ exchange with Pilate during His trials.

8When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. (John 19.8-11)

The only reason that Pilate had any authority over the Son of God at that moment was because it had been delegated to him.

The kind of authority spoken of in Romans 13 is exousia authority. Those in positions of authority have been given that authority by God. God has delegated that authority to them, which means that authority is a trust. Anyone who is placed in a position of authority is carrying out a trust given to them by God Himself. Those who manage a trust are held accountable by the owner of the trust to manage it as the owner wishes. Whether that is the authority as a husband, parent, elder in the church, leader in civil government, or a manager in the workplace, all authority is from God, delegated by God, which makes one a steward of what is entrusted to them by God.

Of course, not all in positions of authority exercise their authority in such a way as to be pleasing to the Lord. We only have to think of Pharaoh in the exodus story, or Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel, or Herod in the gospels. But those who forsake this trust do not negate the reality of the trust: all of those in authority will give an account to God for how they managed their position of authority. This is why James wrote about those who would seek leadership positions in the church, “Not many of you should become teachers…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3.1). There is a divine accountability that comes with authority that is not to be taken lightly. Authority is to be exercised with fear and trembling.

Two Primary Roles of Authority

Third, there are two primary roles of those in authority. First, they are to approve what is good (see Romans 13.3 and 1 Peter 2.14). By both their words and actions, those in authority validate for those under their authority what is good and noble and right. Unfortunately, there are so many in places of authority who do not get this at all. We only have to open the daily newspaper to read about the latest scandal about a Politian caught in some misdeed to realize that not all in authority understand this essential element of authority.

Those in authority approve what is good first by embracing what is good in their own life. Their example approves what is good. Then, they approve what is good by elevating that good to those they lead by word, or by deed, or by leadership, or by influence. This is the first role of authority in God’s creation, to approve what is good.

The second primary role of authority is to punish those who do evil. Paul states this in a very emphatic way when he wrote that those in authority are the servants of God, avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (see Romans 13.4). Peter echoed this by saying that those in authority are to punish those who do evil (see 1 Peter 2.14). Understanding the role of authority helps us to understand the connection between Romans 12 and Romans 13. In Romans 12, we were encouraged not to take revenge on those who do evil but to give place to the wrath of God. Romans 13 teaches us that those vested with authority by God are His servants to carry out this wrath. Romans 12 speaks to us about interpersonal conflict, but Romans 13 speaks to those in positions of authority. A father, who is in a position of authority over his children, cannot simply give place to the wrath of God because he is the servant of God to carry out God’s wrath. A police officer cannot simply give place to the wrath of God because he or she is a servant of God to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. But, a friend who is in conflict with another friend is not in a position of authority to carry out God’s wrath on another friend who has wronged them, and so they must give place to God’s wrath. The crucial difference is whether or not a person has a God ordained position of authority.

This is exactly why we live movies, or stories, where those with God ordained positions of authority take whatever steps necessary to fight injustice. Governments are the God ordained authority to punish the wrong doers of other nations who attack and invade, so men like World War II movies. Sheriffs are God ordained authorities who punish the wrong doers and cattle thieves, so we like Westerns. Police officers are God ordained authorities who punish the wrong doers, so we like cop movies. And when the evil gets too big for the God ordained authority to bring it under control, we rejoice when the Lone Ranger or Superman comes sweeping in to save the day. But notice that the stories we like are those where after peace has been restored, these outside heroes hand the authority back over to the God ordained authority.

Violating the Trust of Authority

Obviously, there are so many ways in which the God ordained authorities violate the trust given to them by God. First, some violate this trust by not approving what is good. Some use the position of authority to live as if the law no longer applies to them or that they are above the law. Some live as if there was a separate law for the underlings, and that somehow those in authority are held to a lesser law. So while some things might be immoral for the followers, they are moral for the leaders. Every human on the planet knows this is wrong, and yet almost every person in a position of authority seems to fall to this temptation. We see this failure over and over again. So many leaders simply fail to embrace their calling to approve what is good by their life and words.

Second, those in authority violate this trust by abusing our authority for selfish gain. These kinds of leaders don’t approve what is good; they approve what is good for them. They don’t punish the wrong doers; they punish those who have done them wrong. These authorities seem to think that God has given to them a position of authority for their benefit and not for the benefit of those whom they lead. The authority they have has been given to them by God and they will give an accounting for that by the One who gave them their authority.

Third, those in authority violate their God ordained authority by refusing to punish the wrong doer. Some avoid this role because they are afraid of conflict. Others avoid it because they want to give grace instead. But the truth of Romans 13 is quite clear: those in authority are the servants of God to punish the evil doers. To fail to be God’s servant of wrath is no different than to fail to be God’s agent of grace.

A Word for Men on Father’s Day

So what do we do with this word on Father’s Day weekend. Let me speak a word to our men, the men among us who love shoot-em ups and who are now familiar with the teachings of Romans 13.

First, I want to encourage our men to take some time this week and list all of the positions of authority that God has entrusted you with. Are you a husband? Are you a father? Do you have a position of authority in our church? Do you have a position of authority in the civil government? Do you have a position of authority at the workplace? Do you have a position of authority in some community group? List them all on a sheet of paper and identify them all as trusts given to you by God. God has delegated that authority to you for a reason.

Second, in each position of authority, do you approve what is good? Is your life a living example of that which is pure, true, honorable, just, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise? Can you say to those who are under your authority, “be imitators of me”? (see 1 Corinthians 11.1). Do you commend what is good by the values you teach?

Third, consider how the Lord might use you as His servant to punish the wrongdoer. Most of us are not police offices, nor work in the criminal justice system or serve on the front lines in the military, but every position of authority is a servant of God to punish the wrong doer. The most obvious way to see this in our lives is as fathers who discipline our children, but it applies to more situations than just that. Anytime we have the position of authority where it is our role to identify the wrong and require a change is a place where we can be God’s agents of wrath. Every position of authority as the role of saying, “That is not right and it needs to change.” If you are a manager of a team at Lockheed, it might be your role to say, “That behavior is wrong, and as your manager, I am going to require you to change that behavior.” And in that situation, when a manager fails to do that, he or she fails the trust given to them by God. So this week ask the question, “In my places of authority, am I faithfully administering God’s grace, even the grace of wrath?”

[2] Some have rightfully pointed out that Paul’s words to the Roman church and Peter’s words to a Roman audience were most likely written on the heels of the Jews being expelled from Rome by the emperor Cladius. Though they may have been teaching the Christians not to make the same mistakes as the Jews, the principles regarding the governing authorities are quite clear.

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Posted by on June 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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