Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Observation

  • Everyone is to obey the governmental authorities.
  • God has all authority.
  • All authority that exists has been instituted by God.
  • Anyone who has authority has it only because God gave it to them.
  • If you resist the governmental authorities you resist God.
  • God has appointed all of the authorities.
  • Rulers do not terrorize good conduct.
  • Rulers punish bad conduct.
  • Rulers are God’s servants.
  • Rulers are God’s servant for good.
  • If we do wrong we should fear the authorities.
  • If you don’t want to fear the authorities then do good.
  • If we do good we receive the authorities approval.
  • The authorities bear the sword for justice.
  • The authorities bear the sword to carry out God’s wrath on wrong doers.
  • We must be in subjection to the authorities.
  • We are to be in subjection to the authorities to avoid God’s wrath.
  • We are to be in subjection to the authorities for the sake of our conscience.
  • We are to pay our taxes.
  • Governmental authorities are ministers of God.
  • We are to pay everything that is owed to the authorities
  • We are to pay money to whoever we owe money.
  • We are to pay respect to those who are owed respect.
  • We are to pay honor to those who are owed honor.

Interpretation

There have always been those who have tried to stir up trouble by claiming that the kingdom of Christ cannot be raised up unless earthly powers are torn down. This error was made in New Testament times by the Jews who could not understand how they could be submissive to a foreign power after the coming of the Messiah. They had a history of a thriving, independent earthly kingdom in David and Solomon. They could not understand why they should not have an independent kingdom after Israel’s Redeemer came.

Paul expounds here the practical outworking of the doctrine of the providence of God. “Let everyone…” there are no exceptions. We are to honor those appointed by God to maintain the peace and administer justice. The reason we ought to be subject to the governing authorities is, because they are established by God’s ordination.

Without a doubt unjust governments exist. Tyrants exist. An unjust exercise of power is not an ordained government. However, a government which exercises it power justly is ordained by God for the wellbeing of mankind. It is lawful to fight against and seek remedies for other evils of those governments, even so the Apostle command that we are to willingly, cheerfully and respectfully honor the authority of governments. Therefore anyone (no exceptions) who opposes the just government opposes the will of God. And therefore, will suffer the judgment and wrath of God.

If we do not want to fear the authorities then we should do what is right. Our earthly rulers exist to punish evil. The governmental authorities are actually God ministers, but not in an ecclesiastical since. Since God is the ultimate ruler over all the earth He uses governmental authorities to carry out His justice on earth. The ultimate reason God appointed the government was for our protection and good.

Paul concluded this section by introducing the idea of paying tributes. Governments cannot keep the peace and administer justice without sufficient funds. Paul says we are to pay our taxes. As to the proper level of taxation, Paul does not mention that. Nor should we, as a church, attempt say how much the government should tax or how they spend the public money.

But respecting the proportion of taxes or tributes, this is not the place to discuss the subject; nor does it belong to us either to prescribe how much they ought to spend in every affair, or to call them to account.

We ought to obey governmental authorities, whoever they may be, not because we are compelled to do so, but because it is a service to God.

Application

Being sinful creatures we are always trying to find a way around the commandments of God or to bend them to our will. It is tempting here to claim such an exception to submitting ourselves to the governing authorities. The government is to be a just authority. Any time something does not go the way we think it should, we claim it is unjust. We need a more objective way to determine rather a government is unjust than our own personal preference. Augustine had the best approach I have heard. A government is unjust, and can therefore be resisted, if it commands you to do something God forbids or forbids you from doing something God commands. We see examples of this in Act chapters 4&5 when Peter and John are told to no longer preach the name of Jesus by the authorities and yet they continue to do so.

However, because a government is unjust does not permit us to be unjust. Let me give you an example. The government sanctions murder of the unborn and calls it choice. Those who perform such acts are committing murder. The execution of the abortionist by individuals is also murder. Both actions are unjust. The first does not justify the later. While the penalty for the murder of an innocent is death. God has not given the power of the sword to individual Christians or to the Church. He has given the power of the sword to governments. If they fail to use it as they should, we are not to assume a power God has not given us.

 

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