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. Consequently, whoever 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 you will be commended. 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. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Romans 13:1-7
Paul here turns to a topic that has troubled and plagued Christians since the first century AD: how are we to deal with secular governing authorities. We are going to see here that however bad governing authorities may appear to be they are instituted by God (Romans 12:1). The first application Paul draws from this truth is that to rebel against authorities and break the law of the land is rebellion against God. Such action will incur his judgement even if it escapes the notice of law enforcement (Romans 13:2). The second application is a pragmatic one: keeping the law of the state means, we can be free anxiety about punishment (Romans 12:3-4). It is for our good that authority exists, because anarchy is worse than almost any terrible but orderly regime (Romans 12:4). Paul sums up theses applications: we should obey the governing authorities not just for the ordinary pagan reason of avoiding possible punishment from the state but to keep our consciences pure before God (Romans 12:5). The third application is the specific instance of paying taxes: like Christian workers who deserve their wages (1 Timothy 5:18), governors merit payment as well (Romans 13:6). The final application is general: give to all in authority what is due them, whether in money or in attitude (1 Peter 2:17). These attitudes of respect and honor are necessary to follow, but they also express the limits of obedience. Fearing God always has priority over obedience to authority. As a result, when God and government clash, obedience to God has priority (Acts 5:29).
God commands Christians to respect and obey those in government as an institution established by God. He has instituted governments because in an ungodly and disorderly world people need certain restraints to protect them from the chaos and lawlessness that is a natural result of sin. This passage teaches us four things about government and our interaction with it.
- The civil government, just like all of life, is subject to God’s law.
- God has determined that governments should be agents of justice that restrain evil by punishing offenders and protecting the good in society (vv. 3-4).
- Paul is describing government as it should be. However, when it abandons its proper function it ceases to operate according to God’s purpose. For example, when government requires something contrary to God’s Word, Christians must obey God rather than other humans. Yet, even when government officials themselves are not following God, Christians, in most cases, are stilled required to handle themselves graciously and respectfully toward their leaders. Paul himself demonstrated this behavior in many direct encounters with government and religious leaders.
- It is the duty of all Christians to pray for those in authority.
Paul in these seven verses to begin Romans 13 is echoing the very words Jesus spoke when he was questioned about obeying secular authorities in Matthew 22, “But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:18-21) As Christians we are to give back to those who are in authority over us what they are owed. And Paul is going to example in the next section of Romans 13 why we do this, love, which is what we are going to see tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
Jeremiah 6:16-8:7, Colossians 2:8-23, Psalm 78:1-31 and Proverbs 24:26
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