In this sermon Tim speaks to the current day pandemic, the lockdowns, the vaccines, what does it mean to be a good neighbour and to be a good citizen? Tim looks at Romans 13:1-10 and why studying this has led to him to conclude that getting the vaccine and following the health orders is part of being a good neighbour! He also shares that no matter the disagreements that arise from this issue, our ultimate and overriding unity is in Jesus Christ!
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Sermon preached by Tim Giovanelli on Sunday August 22, 2021.
Well, lets get into it today, I want to speak to you about being good citizens, concerns around vaccines and in general how do we love our neighbour.
– I’ll mainly be speaking from Romans 13:1-10, which I think is the most definitive passage on scripture on the responsibilities of Christians towards governing authorities and being good neighbours.
– And it comes in response to a number of you asking me about how do we respond as followers of Jesus to this public health crisis?
For some there are concerns about freedoms and restrictions, about government over reach, and some even about end times prophecies.
– And if you are like me you get sent lots of articles and videos on vaccines and vaccine passports and questions around the mark of the beast and who can we trust. – So I’ll try and address what I think the bible tells us, and also how I have come to my conclusions about getting vaccinated and so on.
You see, I want us as a church to be able to navigate some of the landscape that we find ourselves in as Christians.
– Because we want to think theologically through the issues we face and not just pragmatically or according to our political leanings.
– We need to think Christianly… and that always has a certain shape!
– And we need to have mature conversations. Not just stating our views and blocking our ears to differing opinions or facts that don’t suit our narrative.
– And even if we disagree, we should be able to stay in community and love one another. – Remember what Jesus said about the world knowing us because of our unity and love for one another.
It reminds me of the old joke about the two Baptists from Texas and Arizona – They were at a national conference. They were both out walking when they ran into each other on a bridge.
– And seeing they were from the same conference they hugged.
– The Texan Baptist asked the Arizona Baptist if he was a reformed conservative Baptist, and he said he was… and they hugged.
– Then the Texas Baptist asked the Arizona Baptist if he was a cessationist, predestinarian, reformed, conservative Baptist, and he said he was and they hugged.
– Then the Texas Baptist asked the Arizona Baptist if he was a pre-millenial, cessationist, pre destinarian, reformed, conservative Baptist.
– And the Arizona Baptist said no, I am an amillenial, cessationist, predestinarian, reformed, conservative Baptist.
– And the Texan Baptist said, “You heretic!” and he threw him off the bridge. – OK? So remember our witness to the world stems from our unity and love for one another!
And why talk on this?
– Well I believe that not addressing hot issues is potentially more damaging than addressing hot issues and having people disagree.
– A void always gets filled, and my concern is that it can get filled with misinformation or the loudest voices.
– I sometimes joke that we need to be careful that we aren’t getting our theology and public health advice from some guy in a basement in rural Tasmania who has a diploma from the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse Bible College.
– Right? Not all sources are equal, not all opinions are to be trusted and not all the information that is out there has equal weight.
So let’s have a look at Romans 13…
This is really the definitive text on a Christian’s posture towards governing authorities… the Apostle Paul says;
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul has two interrelated points here.
1. Be a good citizen by being subject to the governing authorities
2. Love your neighbour as the fulfilment of the law.
The point here is that Paul cares about followers of Jesus being good citizens… because he cares about the plausibility of the Gospel.
– I really believe Christians should make the best citizens. Do you agree with that? – Afterall Jesus calls us the light of the world. Our good deeds are meant to glorify our Father in Heaven.
– Right? Jesus expects his people to shine brightly in a dark world.
– And if as Ephesians says we are created for good works, then surely those outside the church should be grateful for us do good-ers?
Neighbourhoods, culture, society should be much worse off without churches, and ordinary Christians like you and me in them.
– Christians should lead the charge in modelling compassion, and hospitality and concern for the poor.
– And it is in this context of transformed, generous, loving our neighbour lives… that the gospel is plausible.
– Afterall, Jesus himself did not leave a book, he left a community. And we as a Christian community want to be set apart for all the right reasons.
My parents were chatting with a couple at the park who were admiring our dog Teddy. – The conversation was progressing generally, and then people asked my parents “are you vaccinated?”
– My parents said Yes, and they said “we are too…”
– But then suddenly the woman said “our neighbours are this Christian couple and they refuse to get vaccinated because they think God will just heal them anyhow.”
– It was definitely meant in a derogative way that implied her attitude towards these Christians…
– So in that example you can see that the plausibility of the Gospel has been diminished in that woman’s eyes by her neighbours.
– And by the way, yes we believe God heals us and I have seen it happen… but we also take Panadol and other vaccines and get surgery when needed!
But I think I see elements within the Christian church, particularly those with strong views against government and health professional advice in this hour, who end up with a persecution complex.
– Now look at Afghanistan – that is what persecution looks like.
– And in our case with churches being closed and so on… some see it as an apocalyptical sign of government control.
– But, if it was just churches getting shut down and not theatres and sporting events and concerts, then I would have concerns…
– But we are in the midst of a once in a 100 years global public health crisis. – I really don’t think we are being persecuted, we are being asked to do our part in the overall communities response to staying safe.
So what does the Paul say about being a good citizen and neighbour?
Firstly, it is the Christian’s moral duty to be subject to the governing authorities, as they are established by God. That is what the bible says.
– The word subject in Greek is Hupotasso which means a voluntary attitude of co-operating, and being under the authority of something.
– So to be subject is about voluntary submission to the directions given by those in authority over you.
– And this was something that the early church Fathers like Irenaeus continued to uphold and practice, even as the persecution of Christians intensified.
And the gist of Romans 13 is do what is right, and (verse 3), you will be commended. – In other words you will have nothing to fear, instead you will be looked upon favourably! – Verse 5 telling us to submit to the authorities, not just because of fear of punishment, but also as a matter of conscience.
– Because in the Jewish mindset, government is something that brings order (which is a good thing), we should out of conscience be looking to being good citizens.
– That is why we pay our taxes, and show government respect (verse 7) and honour. – It’s in that context that we can preach the gospel and have freedom as God’s church to be the visible manifestation of his kingdom.
Now of course that raises questions doesn’t it? When should we refuse to be subject to the governing authorities?
– Right when do we go all Daniel and refuse the edicts of the King!
– And I would suggest that there are rare but real times when Christians of conscience cannot obey the laws of the land.
– And this would broadly fall into two categories.
First, being restricted or banned from preaching the Gospel.
– So the amazing, brave underground church in Iran or China who disobey their governments and preach the gospel.
– Secondly, where you are being forced to disobey God’s moral law such as impositions to kill or steal or deny your faith.
– And Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to obey the Nazi government of Germany and ultimately paid with his own life.
But in general, we need to follow Paul’s exhortation to be subject to the government, and not just when it’s the political party of your choice in power.
– Remember elsewhere in 1 Timothy we are told to pray for the King and in 1 Peter to honour the Emperor.
– And Jesus tells us to render unto Caesar what is Caesars.
– Why? Because while we belong to the Kingdom of God and are ultimately citizens now of heaven… we are still sojourners in this world, subject to the civic authorities placed over us.
Just a side note on this, you may know that at the time of Jesus there were other messianic movements and leaders who rebelled against the government
– Indeed on the cross, Jesus is placed between insurrectionists.
– These being those who would overthrow the ruling authorities through force and violence. – And it never ended well. Maybe a few short term victories before being absolutely crushed by the Roman empire.
– But note that Jesus kingdom is non-violent. It is upside down. And it progresses through love of God and love of neighbour, by service and not through power!
– It comes not through being served but by being subject, by being hupotasso to all!
So the next bit of Romans 13:8-10
Paul continues this theme of being a good citizen as he considers the law! 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Here once again, we see that Paul sums up being a follower of Jesus and a keeper of the law through the lens of loving our neighbour.
– Again our decisions on how to live our lives, just as we are to submit to the governing authorities, finds a second lens.
– As Christians what we are to do in making decisions, is through the lens of loving our neighbour as ourselves.
– Love we are told does no harm to a neighbour and love we are told is the fulfilment of the law.
– So in thinking about being a good citizen and giving the gospel credibility…. – We are to put off pure self interest, and to think through ethically, what does loving our neighbour look like? What does doing no harm to neighbour look like?
So this week I got the vaccine and I want to take you through my reasoning… particularly in light of Romans 13. Is that ok?
– You may disagree and that is fine, but I appreciate the courtesy of listening as I am happy to listen to you.
– So taking the principles of being subject to the governing authorities, of loving our neighbour and wanting to be good citizens for the plausibility of the gospel. – I have come to the place where I think it is the right thing to do.
The latest statistics show that in places like the US and the UK, the ICU wards are once again filling up with patients who are severely ill and dying from Covid.
– But they are finding that 95% of such cases are amongst the unvaccinated. – And while the vaccines don’t completely stop transition of this deadly virus, clearly it does help with lowering transmission rates, and it certainly is very effective at stopping severe cases and death.
– So in a place like the UK, what is clear, is that despite a large surge or wave of infections over the last 2 months, hospitalisations and deaths are dramatically down.
– And amongst those who are severely ill and dying, it is primarily those who have chosen not to get vaccinated.
So the government, I note, has not forced but asked its citizens to get vaccinated as a response and way out of this public health crisis.
– And remember, it is a tragedy what has happened globally.
– We of course think of our own Janna and Anne who last their dad and husband John to Covid in the Philippines
– Just this week I found out from our denomination that 221 Baptist pastors have died across the Asia pacific region of Covid. 221 Baptist Pastors!
– And all my friends in the US, Kenya and elsewhere who have had Covid describe it in awful terms.
– So we take this seriously and we listen to the advice of our government as to how to respond.
And just another aside, I think as Christians we need to be careful about constant suspicion towards science, government and the media.
– Obviously we are to be a prophetic voice to the world and to hold all institutions to account when they are unfairly biased, or immoral or lying.
– But this idea that you can’t trust the mainstream media, government or science really troubles me.
– Yes they should be held to high account… but you are not routinely being lied to. – And all this kind of thinking really leads to is fear and sets us up in constant opposition to the authorities. That’s exhausting.
– And tell me which of these are Christian virtues? Fear, suspicion, anxiety or faith, generosity and peace?
So, the government who I broadly trust has asked us to respond by getting vaccinated. – And then of course we must ask ourselves what does it mean to love our neighbour? – Assuming we can keep ourselves and our neighbours safe by getting a vaccine. – As a fulfilment of the law Christians are asked to keep, what does it mean to love the elderly, and the vulnerable and the people who live around us?
And again this leads me to want to do the right thing for our community! – And for me any concerns that get raised about vaccines, is outweighed by my desire to love my neighbours and keep them safe.
– And let’s face it, while that might sound pretty high and mighty… there’s a fair bit of self interest mixed in too, knowing I am protecting myself from severe Covid and death.
So that’s where I have landed and I would encourage you to also consider taking the same course of action.
– Be subject to government, honouring our leaders placed over us by God. – Loving our neighbours and doing them no harm as a fulfilment of the law. – And using our God given minds to see that vaccines are extremely effective against severe Covid, death and lowering transmission.
– And remember, if you disagree with me, reach out and I’d love to chat. Afterall the greatest thing we have in common is we are following Jesus.