Grace For The Journey
The timing of our study of Romans 13:1-7 could hardly be better. Our passage this morning instructs us on the origin and purpose of government. Given the debating that has been going on for quite some time about the role and authority of government in our everyday life, we need to understand what God says about it. It is also always very relevant for us to understand the relationship of the Christian to government, but perhaps even more so when we look at our calendars and see there are only about three weeks left to file your Federal & State income taxes.
Remember that what Paul says here is predicated upon what he has already said in chapter 12. The Christian’s relationship and response to government is based on the fact that we are to be living and holy sacrifices which are acceptable to God and whose lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. We will not have a correct relationship with government if we do not first have correct relationships with one another. We are to love without hypocrisy, abhorring evil while clinging to what is good. That foundation directs our relationships with other Christians and non-Christians alike. We are to even love our enemies and overcome evil with good. As those qualities increase in our life we become more like our Lord Jesus Christ, and the more we are conformed into the image of Christ, the better citizens we will be regardless of what kind of government is over us. Keep in mind that Paul wrote this to a group of Christians that were under the tyrannical rule of Caesar Nero who only a few years later would carry out an horrible persecution of them.
The Authority of Government – Verses1-2.
Command to Submit.
This chapter begins with the statement, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.” Governing authorities are those who hold ruling power and their
representatives. The king is the one who holds the ruling power, and his army represents him in enforcing that rule. In our land . . .
The ruling power is actually supposed to be our laws.
Those laws are then enforced
Through the law’s Representatives
Which include our elected officials,
Military personnel, and law enforcement officers.
Each of these representatives of the law are sworn
To uphold the U.S. Constitution, and depending on
The particular officer, also the Constitution and laws
Of their particular State and local government.
This allegiance to law instead of a person is one of the things
That makes our nation very different from many other types of governments.
This opening statement is given in the command voice, so it is not an option. The word “subjection” is from a military term, meaning “to be under in rank.” Here it is in the passive voice, meaning “to subject oneself to.” This is obedience that is done willingly instead of being forced. In other words, the Christian is commanded to obey government authority willingly instead of being forced to do so by the authority of the government.
This command to submit ourselves to the governing authorities makes the Christian different from the non-Christian in their relationship to government. Both must obey the government, but they do so from very different motivations. It is Paul’s explanation of the origin of authority that gives us our motivation to submit to it.
Origin of Authority – Verse 1.
Verse 1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” Take note here that Paul does not make any exceptions in his statement. Remember too that he said this when Nero was emperor in Rome. Those facts can make this a difficult idea to accept for it means that not only Nero, but other despots that have existed throughout the ages, including those in modern times such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Saddam have had their authority established by God. Even Satan’s authority as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) ultimately comes from God.
Does that mean that God is the author of evil or responsible in some way for what evil beings do? Of course not! God is good and there is no evil in Him or that can come from Him (Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13; James 1:17).
It does mean that God is so powerful
That even the evil that presently exists
Cannot thwart His will.
God can even use that which is evil
To accomplish His holy purposes.
We have already seen this concept in our study of Romans 9:22 that God has, “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in order to, “demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known.” Proverbs 16:4 is succinct in this point stating, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate that it is God who decides who will be in authority and who will not. One of the more dramatic examples of this is Nebuchadnezzar. In Jeremiah 25:9, the Lord calls Nebuchadnezzar, “My servant,” who would bring destruction on Judea and Jerusalem because of their sin. 2 Kings 24,25 and 2 Chronicles 36 records him doing exactly what Jeremiah had foretold. In Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar is warned by Daniel that God would punish him for his pride and wickedness by making him like a beast of the field. A year after that warning, Nebuchadnezzar was boasting about his accomplishments, power, and glory; and while the words were still in his mouth, a voice from heaven pronounced, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place [will be] with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:31,32). Nebuchadnezzar spent the next seven years grazing with the cattle until his reason returned to him and he “blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”
The Christian recognizes this important truth. There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Because of that truth we willingly submit ourselves to that governmental authority because they recognize in so doing they are actually submitting to the authority God has established. That is why Christians should be the best citizens of whatever nation they are in regardless of the form of government in that nation or the personal qualities of the governmental leaders. We will see the exceptions to that submission in a few moments, but understand clearly the principle that is set forward here . . .
Christians willingly submit themselves to governmental authority
Because in doing so they are obeying God.
That does not mean the Christian must agree with
The governmental system, nor does it mean that they cannot work
To change the system or its leaders, but it does mean that
Any efforts toward such changes will be done in
A godly manner as good citizens of their nation.
Consequences of Rebellion – Verse 2.
In verse 2 Paul warns of the consequences of rebellion against governmental authority, “Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” The word for “resists” here, is the exact opposite of “submit” in the previous verse. This is “to be against or oppose authority.” This resistance does not have to be active rebellion, but can also be
the more passive rebellion of refusing to submit. Active and passive resistance to authority are the same in God’s eyes because He looks at the heart which is manifesting itself in the opposition to authority, and that opposition is ultimately against Him. Such rebellion will result in God’s condemnation, and whether the consequences of that occur now or in eternity, you want to avoid it.
The Purpose of Government – Verses 3-4.
What then is the purpose of government? Can governmental authorities freely do whatever they want under the idea that God has given them that right? Western European kings claimed such “divine rights” until modern times. What divine restrictions are placed on governmental authority and is there any manner in which despots can legitimately be removed? Paul does not answer all those questions here, but he does give us a foundation upon which we can find answers to those questions.
Promotion of Good – Verse 3.
In verse 3, Paul shows that one of the purposes of government is the promotion of good, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.” Remember that Paul is writing this while Nero is Caesar. Roman rule could be oppressive and cruel, yet for the most part, Roman rule brought stability and security for those that did what was good. The same is actually true for most governments including some ruled by despotic dictators. The laws that are established by most governments are for the purpose of deterring evil practices while promoting good behavior. To the degree that a government is doing that, it is fulfilling God’s purposes for it. To the degree that a government is not doing that, is the degree that it risks God overthrowing it for one that will carry out His decrees. As Isaiah 5:20 warns, “”Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Most governments will have a mixed record in deterring evil and promoting and protecting what is good because humans are skewed by their sin in understanding what is good and evil. Even our own government is mixed in its record. While for the most part we must conclude that it seeks to promote good and deter evil, there are many areas in which it has become confused about what is good and what is evil because the philosophies of men instead of the revelation of God are being used to determine what is good and evil. Killing unborn children is evil. Advocating adoption is good. Protecting freedom of conscience is good. Requiring homosexuality and other sexual perversions to be accepted as legitimate “alternative lifestyles” is evil. Deterring such unrighteous behaviors as greed, stealing, slander, malice, insolence, murder, lying, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, debauchery, etc., is good. Giving awards to those
who do these things or who promote them through entertainment is evil.
A government that causes those who do good to fear are in direct violation of one of the reasons God has allowed that government to exist. They are in danger of God’s judgement against them. God judged ancient Israel, in part, for this very problem (see Isaiah 5). If He will judge His own people for this failure, then all other nations also need to fear His judgment upon them.
Punishment of Evil – Verse 4.
The other major purpose of governmental authority is in verse 4, “For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” It is not enough to just promote good, but a government has a responsibility to carry out just punishment on those who do evil. Rulers are to be a cause of fear to those who have evil behavior because they will punish such people.
Notice that in bearing the sword and being an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil, the ruler is “a minister of God.” We don’t often think of government officials in that light, but it is true never-the-less. Our President, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governor, State Senators, Assemblymen, Town Supervisor, and Town Councilmen all have a responsibility in making laws that will promote good while deterring evil and punishing those who do evil. Every judge and police officer of every jurisdiction has the responsibility of enforcing those laws. All of them are ministers of God in this respect, regardless of their own personal beliefs about God. Even an atheistic government authority is a minister of God.
Why is that an important point?
Because every government authority
Will have to give an account
Of their stewardship
Of office to God.
What King Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 to the judges he appointed still applies today, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment. Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”
This is a truth we should remind our
Elected officials of constantly.
Too often they think their loyalty
Must be to their constituency
For fear of not being re-elected.
The truth is their loyalty
Needs to be to God,
For He will judge each
Of them by their faithfulness
In being His servants.
No matter who you are, it is a sobering thought to consider having to stand before God and give an account of your actions.
Evil doers should be afraid of rulers because they do not bear the sword in vain. The “sword” here represents the authority of the ruler to punish evil doers even to the extreme of the death penalty. What is true for the most severe penalty is also true for lesser penalties.
Many people are against the death penalty for a variety of reasons. Regardless of those reasons, government authorities must remember that God is the one that established capital punishment for certain crimes, and He has entrusted the exercise of it to the civil authorities. While appropriate procedures must be carefully followed so that the innocent are not unjustly executed, fear of such a tragedy must not result in the failure to carry out God’s commands and execute the guilty. Such injustice brings
tragedy on a nation. The Lord commanded in Genesis 9:6 that, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” Whenever there is a failure to bring a murderer to justice and executing him, the blood of the victim pollutes the land and calls out for God’s wrath upon that nation. This was another one of the reasons for God bringing about the destruction of Ancient Israel and Judea (Numbers 35:33; Psalm 106:38).
America is not innocent in this area, for there are many States that will still not carry out capital punishment for even the most heinous of crimes. And worse than that, we are a nation in which a majority of our elected officials are still protecting the practice of murdering the unborn under the evil delusion that a fictitious right of privacy is superior to the unborn baby’s right to life. The so called “pro-choice” crowd is not concerned about choice or the woman, if they were, they would support informed consent and waiting period laws so that the pregnant woman could make an intelligent decision. They would also support parental notification and medical hygiene laws which apply to every other kind of medical procedure except abortion. The truth is that these people want the power to murder their unborn at will for any reason. They are among those that call evil good, and good evil.
God gives authority to governments so that they will promote good and bring punishment upon evildoers. Those governments that will not fulfill His purposes risk His judgement. We need to thank the Lord for His continuing longsuffering and mercy toward us, for we are deserving of His wrath. The blood of the innocents pollute our land and cry out to Him for justice.
Before I go on to look at what Paul says about the Christians’ duty to government, let me make a couple of brief comments about how God deals with governments that will not fulfill His purposes. We have many Biblical examples of how God has done this in the past.
In some cases, God will raise up a deliverer who will throw off the yoke of a government that is oppressing people over which they have no legitimate claim of authority. Such was the case in the Exodus when God raised up Moses to lead Israel out of its bondage to Pharaoh. In this case, God directly intervened and destroyed Egypt until they sent the Israelites away. In the period of the Judges, God would raise up individuals that would lead a rebellion against a foreign power that was oppressing them. The Israelites belong to God and their proper government authority was the system set up within that Theocracy. Other nations that came in and conquered various areas were usurpers to the legitimate government. The “rebellion” was the legitimate authority re-establishing a proper government.
In other cases, God used one nation to destroy another for various reasons. I have already pointed out that God punished His own people in this manner. Assyria destroyed Israel and Babylon destroyed Judah. Later, the Persian empire, successor to the Babylonians, restored the nation of Judah. God also used Israel to destroy the wicked nations. They destroyed the Canaanite kingdoms first, and then as other nations would attack, they would fight back and destroy them. That includes Moab, Edom, and Ammon.
These same sort of actions still occurs. When one nation oversteps its bounds and threatens or attacks another nation, that other nation has a duty to protect its people, promote good, and punish evil by wielding its own sword. Such was the case with defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and is the case in the current war against Iraq.
We must remember that nations are not the same as individuals. Nations are in themselves governing authorities. There is no God-given command for them to submit to each other. And just to be clear on this in case anyone wonders, the United Nations is not a governmental authority. It is a forum for nations to work together in relationships with one another in solving international problems, and to develop coalitions in dealing with the threats and attacks of belligerent powers against allies. The U.N. holds no “governmental authority” over the United States or any other nation.
Our Duty to Government – Verses 5-7.
In verse 5-7, Paul gives instructions on the Christian’s duty to governmental authority.
Be in Subjection – Verse 5.
He repeats the principle that we are to be in subjection to governing authorities, but he also gives the reason why, “Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.”
Fear of its wrath is the first reason. This is a very practical reason, for the “sword” should be feared. This is the reason people slow down when they see a State Trooper by the side of the road or in their rear-view mirror. This is the reason that just the presence of police at a function keeps a crowd quieted down, and why a visible security guard – or even a camera – reduces shoplifting. People fear the consequences. They don’t want a ticket and they don’t want to go to jail. But this is not the reason that should motivate the mature Christian. We are not to live in fear, for God’s love casts
Conscience sake should be the motivation of the Christian. In Acts 24:16 Paul said that his hope in Christ and the resurrection had caused him to always strive to have a blameless conscience toward God and man. The Apostle Peter was also motivated by his relationship with the Lord and he wanted other Christians to be motivated by the same. In 1 Peter 2:13-17 he commanded that for “the Lord’s sake,” Christians were to “submit themselves to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” That is very similar to what Paul has said here in Romans. Peter added in 1 Peter 3:15-16 that the Christian is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Laws, warning signs, and such are there
To motivate the non-Christian to refrain
From evil by making him fear the consequences.
Christians are to be motivated out of their love
For Christ to do good and flee from evil.
As we mature as Christians, we should be increasingly motivated to submit to the governing authorities out of a conscience transformed by our love for Christ, instead of fear of punishment.
Pay Taxes – Verse 6.
This motivation also causes us to do something else. Verse 6 tells us, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.” No one has ever liked taxes, except those who make their living off them, and even they don’t like paying them. Yet, because the Christian recognizes the origin and purpose of government, out of conscience sake they will pay their taxes so that the government can carry out its God given duties of promoting good and deterring evil because of their punishment of it. Remember once again that Paul is writing this at a time when taxes were not only unjust and oppressive, but often even harsher because of the corruption of the tax collectors who would demand more than the required amount. Remember that even Jesus, who as Son of God owed no taxes, still paid them (Matthew 17:25-27). Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:17-21 to the Pharisees question about paying the hated poll-tax is still the final word on paying taxes, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Taxes belong to the governing authorities. We pay what we owe out of conscience sake because they are servants of God. In this nation we can and should work toward making sure taxes are fair and used properly. But even when they are corrupt and used wrongly, we still do not cheat on our taxes, because that would not only affect ourselves, but also bring shame on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Render Proper Respect – Verse 7.
In verse 7, Paul wraps up the application of this principle of subjecting ourselves to the governing authorities saying, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” To “render” is to “pay” or “give” what belongs to them.
Tax has already been covered, but the fact that Paul mentions it again in this verse and first in this list stresses the importance of it. This is the general income or property tax.
Custom is actually a particular kind of tax on merchandise. We know this as sales tax.
Fear is a word describing emotion, and as used here, it refers to the proper emotions that should be due to someone in authority. It could range from the simple awe that is often present when you meet someone in an important position of power, to the dread you might feel when being questioned by the police or standing before a judge awaiting his verdict.
Honor is proper respect due to a person that is exhibited in following proper decorum and protocol. It includes the proper courtesies such as using formal speech, wearing appropriate clothing and making respectful gestures.
We live in a society that is not only increasingly informal, but also one in which rudeness is replacing courtesy, and authority is not respected. Though a believer in Christ may come from such a society, as they mature, they are to change in this area as well, for that is the example our Lord Jesus and His apostles gave to us whenever they interacted with governmental authorities.
Out of love for God and understanding that He is in control of all things, including government, Christians should be the best citizens of any nation. When people look at your life, would they think that of you?
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”