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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am Service, 2000-03-05

Text: Matthew 22:15-22; Romans 13:1-7

. Citizenship is Always Accompanied by Duties 

There used to be a time when a person could escape from citizenship simply by sailing to some uninhabited part of the world, where he can be free from all law and authority. But today every square inch of this world belongs to a nation or country, which claims jurisdiction over whoever stays on it. Territorial boundaries have been defined even in the oceans. It is impossible to live today without belonging to one of the nations in this world, unless perhaps it becomes possible to live on the moon!

Now, because everyone is a citizen of some country, everyone does enjoy the benefits of citizenship, such as the maintenance of peace, justice, law and order. But citizenship comes with a price, because everyone has duties to fulfill, from the moment of birth and until death. And this is especially so in Singapore: Whenever a child is born, the state requires the child to be issued with a birth certificate and to receive several immunization shots. As the child grows up, he has to learn to abide by the laws of the state - no littering, no jaywalking, and no trespassing in certain areas. At the age of twelve, he has to get his NRIC. When he is in his late teens, he has to go for national service and thereafter continue to go for Reservist training. When he begins to earn an income, he has to pay taxes regularly at this time of the year. If he gets a vehicle, he has to pay COE and road tax. When he buys a house, he has to pay property tax. When he gets married, he has to get registered at ROM. When he goes overseas, he must have an international passport. When he dies, his death must be reported to a police station or post and a death certificate must be obtained before his body can be interred. From birth to death, whether we like it or not, we have to comply meticulously with every regulation, or face the unpleasant prospect of being penalized by the state. 

II. Patriotism Should Motivate Us to Carry Out These Duties 

And these duties can easily become a burden, unless one has cultivated a sense of loyalty or love for the state. Such loyalty or love for the state is known as patriotism. And patriotism goes beyond a mere willing obedience to the nation's laws and regulations. Patriotism supports the very existence of the state, as well as its rights and institutions. It is the sense of belonging to the country of one's birth or naturalization which will make a citizen willing to rise up to defend its existence, its rights and its institutions when these things are endangered or misrepresented.

I learned something about patriotism when I was in the Philippines. There was a period when relations between Singapore and the Philippines were strained. This was over the case of Flor Contemplacion who was sentenced to hang for the murder of a fellow maid called Delia Maga. As the date for her execution drew nearer, there were demonstrators in various parts of the Philippines protesting against Singapore. And some of them went as far as to burn the Singapore flag and threaten to harm Singaporeans. And I remember that that was the first time that I could not help but feel upset as a Singaporean over the unsavoury things that were being said and done against us. But anyway, we are thankful that the case was resolved speedily and amicably, and good relations have been restored between the two countries. 

III. The Scriptures Encourage The Cultivation of Patriotism 

The Bible records some instances of patriotism especially by the Israelites for their own nation. When Saul was just anointed as the first king over Israel, some of the Israelites living east of the Jordan were being severely oppressed by the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:1-15). Nahash, the Ammonite king, would only lift the oppression if all the Israelites there agreed to have their right eyes removed by him. When this news reached king Saul, his feelings were strongly aroused, and he stirred up all the tribes of Israel to battle. The Ammonites were soundly defeated and the patriotic spirit of Israel was kindled.

Another instance of fervent patriotism in the Bible can be seen in the account of David's slaying of the giant, Goliath. Although David was only a shepherd boy then, when he heard all the awful taunts and insults that were hurled daily by this Philistine giant against Israel, his spirit was so fired up with indignation that he said to the Israelites, 'What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the Living God?' (1 Samuel 17:26)

And that is the way we should feel, if one day, some big powerful nation were to pick a quarrel with Singapore, unjustly declare war on us or even attempt to invade our island. Then we as Christians must not shirk our patriotic duty to defend Singapore by taking up arms and fighting for a worthy cause, and if necessary, even to the extent of sacrificing our own lives for it. During the Second World War there were Singaporeans who were patriotic enough to risk their lives against tremendous odds. One of them was the famous Lim Bo Seng, one of the leaders of force 136. Although he was captured and tortured, he refused to give in and died in prison in 1944. And so Lim Bo Seng stands today as an emblem of Singaporean patriotism, just as King David stands as an emblem of Israelite patriotism. 

IV. Patriotism Sometimes Conflicts With Loyalty to God 

However, while the Bible has accounts of heroes like David who were willing to risk life and limb for their country, we must also remember that there is a distinct difference between the patriotism of Israel at that time, and that of any nation in existence today. They were a theocracy ' a nation under God's rule - and we are not. Because of this, anyone who tried to harm or destroy Israel was actually fighting against God's kingdom. And any Israelite who disobeyed the state, was also guilty of disobeying God. Sins against God were offences against the state.

This situation does not exist any more today. There is no nation on earth now that can legitimately claim to be God's kingdom here on earth. The Lord Jesus Christ has already said, 'My kingdom is not of this world' What this means, is that in today's world, patriotism may not always be the binding on God's people, and especially when there is a clear conflict of interests or loyalties between God's kingdom and the state.

Therefore as Christians we should always be patriotic, but never at the expense of our loyalty to God. Let us understand that we all hold two citizenships, not one - citizenship in man�s kingdom on earth, and citizenship in God's heavenly kingdom. Ephesians 2:19 tells us 'Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.' Of these two citizenships we hold, one is temporary and the other is permanent. This world is only our temporary home, and we are actually pilgrims, sojourning for a time as foreigners or expatriates in the world (1 Peter 2:11). Our permanent home is heaven, and that puts our heavenly citizenship above our earthly one, in importance. 

Therefore in any conflict of interests, our loyalty to God must always take priority over loyalty to the state. For Christians who live in a country that is intolerant to Christianity, this may mean breaking the laws of the state that prohibit obedience to God, or that cause disobedience to God. The Bible tells us that believers must be prepared to be accused as traitors before governors and kings for Christ sake (Matthew 10:16-18). The apostle Paul was brought before no less than 2 governors and 2 kings to answer such charges. All believers must be prepared to be charged as 'unpatriotic' or even as traitors, when they take a stand for their heavenly kingdom.

But for us who live in Singapore, where we enjoy freedom of worship, we thank the Lord that this has not happened. In the 50-year history of Life Church there was only one time when the church did not agree with the state. In the 50s a campaign was launched to speed up social amenities for the people by various constructional projects, such as Kallang Park and the Promenade on the sea front along Nicoll Highway.

These projects were to be accomplished however, by volunteer labour on Sundays - 'The question confronting the Church was made the more difficult when the Bishop of Singapore enjoined his parishioners to participate in the Sunday work. The call by the Bishop to his people to volunteer for Sunday work received wide publicity in the Straits Times of Sept 16, 1959'. After much prayer and deliberation, our B-P Churches jointly issued a 'Statement on Volunteering for National Construction on Sunday.' This statement made it clear that while we would gladly volunteer in support of these praiseworthy efforts of the Government, we are anxious, however, that in doing so we do not break God's Commandment to keep Sunday as the Christian Sabbath.

And we proposed that, when called upon to volunteer for national construction on Sunday, we may offer our services on other days of the week, such as Saturday afternoon or any other evening, or on public holidays other than Sunday. Our church was even willing to cancel a Sunday School picnic that was planned for a Saturday in order to allow members to participate and serve the nation in this public project. In response to this, the authorities expressed their respect for our convictions, and thanked us for the proposal, but said that it could not organise the project on another day, so they would call us if there were any projects in future that did not require work on Sunday.

The important principle that was applied in this whole event is: To maintain our loyalty to the Lord, while at the same time being patriotic as far as the Word of God allows. We can call this the principle of Christian Patriotism. It is summarised very wonderfully by our Lord Jesus Christ Himself: 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' (Matthew 12:17) It is restated in Romans 13:7 'Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.' And now we are going to look at the duties required of us in Christian Patriotism. 

V. The Duties of Christian Patriotism 

A. Recognise that State Authority is Ordained By God 

Since Jesus said that we are to Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's that means we must recognise that God has given the state certain rights over our lives. No government can rule on earth unless God permits them to have authority. Romans 13:1 tells us clearly that there is no power but of God and the 'powers that be are ordained of God.' Whether the government takes the form of a representative democracy, a monarchy, or even a dictatorship, is established by God. There is no divinely instituted form of government and God works through all of them. Whether with a little or a lot of power, functioning well or badly, accepted easily or with great difficulty - as long as it is legitimate authority, we must submit to it. Psalm 75:6,7 tells us 'For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.' 

Bible history shows us that even great nations and empires in the past like those of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome were raised up by God to rule and enjoy great power only for a time. When the time comes that God decides that the nation or empire has fulfilled His purpose, they will fall and and be replaced by others. God does not explain why He does these things. We must simply trust that He knows best how to manage all the governments of this world, for His own glory. The second duty required of us in Christian Patriotism is to: 

B. Respect The Right of of the State to Rule 

Romans 13:2 tells us that those who resist government authority or rebel against it 'shall receive to themselves damnation.' Christians should never be involved in strikes, sit-ins, blockades, civil disobedience and similar revolutionary actions. Now this does not mean that we cannot vote a government out of office. Voting during elections is the only legitimate means to terminate authority, and we must certainly make use of these means. But it is still God who works through the collective choice of the people to appoint whoever He wills into authority.

Now, the question may be asked: If a Christian lives under a really tyrannical and corrupt government where there are no elections to remove the government, and the people are suffering, can he take the initiative to deliver the nation from it? The answer is yes, but only if he is qualified and authorised to do so. The Bible does record that God appointed Jehu, a military commander of Israel, to take over the kingdom of Israel and to put an end to the power held by the evil dynasty of Omri and Ahab. A while ago we mentioned that God is the one who promotes people to authority and also brings them down. But He uses means like qualified people to do this. 

However, the right of revolution must be used very cautiously. It does not belong to every citizen, but to those who themselves possess some power. Three conditions must be met: 1. The government brutally and continually violates basic rights belonging to citizens. (e.g. since Rom 13:3 says that rulers are not a terror to good works but to the evil, when the rulers begin to violate their mandate by punishing the good and rewarding evil, then they have no right to rule any more.) 2. The persons who lead the revolution must be considered to represent the people. 3. The probability of success for such a revolution must be reasonably high, so that possible bloodshed remains limited. If any or all of these conditions are not met, then the revolution is illegitimate, and those who revolt would bring themselves under divine condemnation, for not respecting the right of the state to rule. Now besides respecting this right, Christian Patriotism also requires of us the duty of: 

C. Render To The State Whatever It Requires 

V.7 provides a list of things we must render to the state: The first item is tribute or taxes. This was the issue that was brought up to Jesus in Matthew 22:15-22 - whether the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar. Many unsavoury things have been said about taxes. There is a saying that there are two things of which we can be very certain in this life - death and taxes. In the history of mankind, great wars have been fought over the payment of taxes. The United States exists today primarily because of a revolution over unreasonable taxation.

And till today many people still begrudge the payment of taxes, and some take the risk and get charged with tax evasion. They see the government as a huge greedy giant that is out to lay hands on their profits! They see themselves as cunning little characters that must outwit the greedy giant, using all means and ways to keep him from touching their wealth. But the truth is that no government in the world can function without taxes (except in Brunei and a few rich Middle eastern countries). And as Christians, our payment of taxes should be done with the understanding that the government we are paying, is put there by God Himself to serve His purposes on earth. Hence we are obligated to support it.

The second item given in v.7 is custom, or revenue. This is another form of taxation, usually related to purchases, like our Goods and Services Tax (GST), ERP, and public car parking coupons. This is a legitimate way for the Government to get an income. Instead of thinking of how much money we are losing through paying taxes and revenues, let us think positively of how our taxes are being used. A large proportion of it is used to build roads, bridges, MRT lines, water and electric and to maintain our army, our police force, our fire department, our courts of Law, our schools, social institutions, sports facilities, parks and the large cost of maintaining a clean and green environment. We can be thankful that our tax money does not end up in someone's pocket, or to pay some people to remain unemployed as is the case in some other countries. 

The third and fourth items on the list in v.7 are closely related: fear (respect) and honour. Sometimes we begrudge someone in authority the respect or honour he deserves, just because we do not like him. We think that he is not qualified or competent, or lives too lavishly. This is where we must distinguish between the office from the person. 

The person holding office may even be wicked or cruel, but this in no way entitles us to diminish his office. When Jesus took the coin and asked, 'Whose is this image and superscription?' (Matthew 22:20), that coin had the portrait of the Roman emperor Tiberius on one side and a picture of him seated on his throne on the other side. The inscription declared Tiberius Caesar to be Pontifex Maximus (Great Ruler). But if you were to study Roman history you would learn that Tiberius wasn't such a great ruler. His reign is described as cruel and vindictive. And yet Jesus had nothing to say about that. He distinguished the office from the person, and simply said, �Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's 

At the same time Jesus made it clear that we must not render unto Caesar the things that are God's. These things must be rendered to God alone. No man or human authority has the right to require from us anything that is due to Him. And this brings us now to the fourth and final duty required of us in Christian patriotism: 

D. Refuse The State Whatever Belongs to God Alone 

The Roman emperors were known to demand worship from their subjects. Emperor-worship was a cult that Christians in the early church sometimes had to face. Polycarp, the disciple of the apostle John, and the pastor of Smyrna was executed for refusing to worship Caesar. In the same way, if government authorities should demand us to render to them the things that are God's, we must object and bear the penalty for our objection.

The Scriptures tell us that in the Last Days before the return of Christ, the Antichrist will rule the world, and He will be the supreme ruler of the end-time government. And he will demand not just loyalty but worship from all people - worship that should be given to God alone. Those who refuse to worship the beast and receive his mark will not be able to buy or sell. Dearly beloved, if we live to see this happening, we must remember this principle well 'Render only to God the things that are God's!'

What are the things that we should render unto God? God wants our wholehearted worship, love and trust. He wants broken and contrite hearts that grieve over sin and delight to do His will. He wants our time, our talents and our treasures. The Lord rightfully claims us and all that we have for Himself, not only because He is our Creator and Sustainer, but also because He has redeemed us with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

And thus in this morning's message, we have dealt with the question 'Is patriotism a necessary duty of citizenship?' The answer is yes, absolutely! - because God has ordained the powers that be. Therefore we must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. We should love our country and fulfill all our obligations to it - whether it is paying taxes, or going for NS. But we have also seen that we have a far more important citizenship, which is our citizenship in God's kingdom. This means that we must render to God the things that are God's. It also means that our patriotism must not violate our loyalty to God in any way, nor hinder the discharge of our duties in God's Kingdom.

And one of the necessary duties given to us in God's Kingdom is that of being ambassadors to our nation. As ambassadors, we are dutybound to represent God widely and accurately to men on earth. May the Lord help us to carry out this duty well.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25