Today, we’re going to tackle a topic that most people would rather shy away from.
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
“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 he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4)
“Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13:5-7)
This week, I prayerfully searched through various commentaries and Biblical weblogs, to find the opinions of men who are far more Biblically educated than I. Furthermore, I even sat down with a elder pastor, to pick his brain for information. Well, I found numerous opinions on these verses.
Some of the skeptics say: “These verses just mean the governing authorities in the church. They don’t really mean the government!” However, this holds false because we know that the early church never taxed the members of the body. Yet, Paul speaks of taxation in verses 6 and 7.
Another skeptics’ argument is: “These verses were written and placed into Scripture by the King of England, while the first English translations were coming into existence.” However, this also holds false because scholars have found much earlier manuscripts of this passage.
So, whether we like it or not, Paul is in fact addressing the topic of government in this passage. Though separation of church and state tends to keep heads cool; today God has brought us to the point where we must discuss them together.
Before we examine the text, let’s get some historical context and take a look at the government that Paul and the Christians in Rome were under at the time this was written. A few times throughout this series, we have discussed that the book of Romans was written between 56 and 58 AD.
During this time, the people of Rome were being ruled by the Emperor Nero; who only two years, had been made Emperor at the wise old age of 17. This would make him between the ages of 19 and 21, while God used Paul to write these passages.
A couple interesting side notes about how the young Emperor Nero came to rule the Roman Empire:
1. Nero was not even the son of the previous Emperor, Claudius; but had been adopted after Emperor Claudius married Nero’s mother Agrippina.
2. When it came time to crown the new Emperor; Nero’s mother, Agrippina murdered Emperor Claudius’s first born; which bumped Nero up from second in line to first!
So, how would you like to be ruled not only by a teenager; but a teenager that came into power through that set of circumstances? Sounds pretty corrupt to me!
Now, we have heard many horror stories about how evil the Emperor Nero was to Christians. The fact is that Christians were hated throughout this time period because of Christ’s promise of a glorious return. The Emperor wanted all glory and honor to solely fall on him and Rome. The return of this ‘King of Kings’ did not fit well with the imperial plans for the future.
Moving away from the Emperor somewhat, like the United States, the Romans also had a Senate who were put in place to speak on behalf of the people. However, the Senate was almost as corrupt as Nero himself. All sorts of under-the-table dealings took place in order to pass certain laws and judgments. At the end of the day, the Senate often spoke on behalf of their pocket-books, not the people!
Romans 13:1-7 Explained:
Okay, now that we have set the stage on what kind of government the Christians in Rome were living under, let’s get back into today’s passage. Paul doesn’t ever beat around the bush does he? Paul gets right to the heart of the matter in the first verse: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (13:1)
The what is simple; that we are to submit to the governing authorities in our land. However, the why, is the crux of this opening statement and the remainder of this passage. Throughout the book of Romans, Paul has been reminding us of God’s sovereignty and this passage is no different. We can submit because God is in control. God can make or break a nation; just as easy as he can make or break the ruler of that nation.
As we move on, Paul immediately states what takes place when we rebel against the authorities that God has allowed to govern: “Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 he will commend you.” (13:2-3)
The call here is to be a good citizen and not make unnecessary trouble for oneself. If you do make trouble for yourself, don’t be surprised if you bring judgment on yourself. A good citizen generally does not find themselves being hassled by the governing authorities.
Moving on, we read “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (13:4-5)
As you read through this, I understand that verse 4 must stand out somewhat. It gives us reason to question, “If our government has been established to do me good, why aren’t they doing me good?” Please keep in mind that it is “good” in the eyes of God. The text doesn’t state this, but even in the case where a government has oppressed or persecuted Christians, the Gospel has spread. Sometimes, what is “good” for one’s soul is not so good for one’s freedom or bank account.
This brings us to the final two verses: “This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (13:6-7)
I think our Lord, Jesus Christ showed us the greatest example of this. When it came down to taxation, in the Gospels we read that Jesus chose to pay what was required, even when He knew they were being over-taxed. The Jews of that day wanted Christ to be a political and military juggernaut, that would overthrow the Roman Empire.
Instead, he was a man who stayed away from politics and war, and instead led through love and meeting the needs of the people. Whenever he opposed someone, it wasn’t the government; it was the religious leaders. That’s why many Jews all over the world couldn’t believe that this Christ who came to love was their Messiah. So, they continue to wait for that political and military giant to bring them glory.
What About the United States?
As a Canadian moving to the United States while a Republican held the presidency, I heard many Christians (even some in this room) paraphrase some of the verses found in Romans 13, as President Bush received a barrage of hateful titles like “imbecile” and “warmonger” from the opposing Left.
Following the presidential elections, I heard many of the same Believers call the current president a barrage of titles like “Nazi” or the “anti-Christ”. It’s been an interesting experience, realizing that this amazing country I currently live and serve in is completely divided into two rival groups that can’t stand each other. With no apparent change in sight I am left wondering what the future will hold?
It is very interesting to look at the passage that Paul writes before starting to speak about submission to government. As we look back to Romans 12, remember that Paul has left us with the topic of Love. “Be devoted to one another above yourselves.” “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.” “Do not repay anyone evil for evil.”
Furthermore, the last sentence that we are left with before we are told to submit to government authority is “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Perhaps, the Christians in Rome were as politically divided and dissatisfied with each other and their leadership as our current nation. Yet, we are one up on them, in that we can actually cast a vote for our leadership. They could not.
Whether you have agreed or disagreed with what I have said today makes no difference. The facts are that, it would have been so much easier for us, if God had led Paul to write this passage during a time when the rulers of the land were just and corruption was unheard of. It would have been so much easier for us, if God had led Paul to write this passage during a time when the Christian Faith was the only religion and all citizens followed God’s Word.
But He didn’t. God led Paul to write these words under an illegitimate ruler who came to power through murder. God led Paul to write these words at a time when Christians had far more reason to question government authorities then we do today.
The reason for this is likely because God knows our hearts. He knows that unless we are challenged; we become stagnant and apathetic. Whether Republic, Democrat or can’t seem to choose between the two, I implore you! Instead of filling your hearts with hate for the opposing side, choose to follow Romans 13 and submit to the governing authorities that God has put in place. If you are dissatisfied, then thank God for this test of faith.
If you truly wish to move this country toward God, spend less time arguing over the constitution and spend more time evangelizing to your countrymen. Live out the brotherly love explained in Romans 12 and help your countrymen find God and they will in turn find truth!
Use the fire that it’s inside your guts to thrust you into God’s Word for encouragement and spend your time in prayer. Debate with God over your deep concerns for where your country is headed, because this passage is clear that He is the only One who can truly change this nation!
Before I close in prayer, I would like to leave you with one final passage found in 1 Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 1 through 4:
“I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Originally posted at QuietMorningsWithHim.com by Jeremy Norton.