Romans 13:1-14- Submission to Authorities
Explanation- In chapter 13, Paul focuses on the Christian’s relationship to the governing authorities that exist in the world. This is a subject that has been highly debated among Christians, and Paul by no means gives an exhaustive theology but provides the framework by which we should view such governing agencies.
There is a call to be subject to such authorities. This term ‘subject’ is a term that implies obedience. We are to obey authorities as they seek to enforce what they believe to be the best policies and laws to govern a people. Paul reinforces this by reminding us that all authorities that exist do so under the umbrella of God’s authority. There are no rulers appointed who have not been sovereignly chosen by God, and He has His purposes in choosing them. Even those who act wickedly and abuse their authority. Paul also reminds us, in a general sense, that rulers are not a problem to those who are law-abiding but are established to be a threat to those who practice wickedness. There are many times where this is exactly the case. A citizen who is law-abiding and under willful subjection to the authority of his land is on that, on average, lives in peace. But the man who is a rebel and knowingly disobeys the law of the land will find himself in the government’s crosshairs. This man has reason to fear, for he knows that if he encounters the law, then there will be a case against him, and he will face punishment for his deeds. We must come to terms with this fact, namely that, unless governing agencies make laws that are clearly forbidden by God’s law, we are called to obey. In doing so, we are thus obeying God. Paul gives the example of paying taxes to reinforce this point. This was a touchy subject during both Christ’s and Paul’s ministry and remains so to this day. We are to pay taxes, show respect, and give honor to those whom God calls to such positions as something owed and as service to God.
This principle should apply to all men, specifically that we should show honor to them. We are not to be indebted to men in the areas that the world finds themselves indebted, but we offer love to all as something that is owed. All of the horizontal commandments (concerning adultery, murder, theft, covetousness, etc.) are fulfilled when we have love for one another. For how can any of these sins exist toward another man when I have a heart of love for him? How can I steal from someone I am seeking to build up? How can I covet when I know that God has freely offered me all things? How can I commit murder against a man when I am willing to lay my life down for him? Therefore, love fulfills the law. When I am walking in love, I will not be living in sin against my neighbor. Paul furthers this argument by reminding us that the time is short and that the coming of Christ is at hand. We can no longer pay any mind to the flesh and its desires because we are waiting in great expectation for the coming of our Lord, and when He returns, He will put away all such acts of darkness and usher in the purity of light in the glory of His presence.
Application- It is good for us to remember the audience to whom Paul is writing his epistle. His audience, the church at Rome, was surrounded by one of the most wicked, tyrannical governments that this world has ever seen. A quick history lesson will testify to this. Nevertheless, Paul reminds them to be in subjection to their rulers. He calls this church to show honor and respect to those in authority, and to ensure that their taxes are honestly paid. How can this be? The complaint has been asked in our day, as I am sure it was asked in Paul’s, that we cannot comply with a government when it conducts itself so wickedly. Certainly, there are times when we must, in submission to God’s word, disobey the law of the land for the sake of conscience, but I would argue that, especially in America, this is often not the case. Surely when a country makes a law against sharing/reading God’s word, or seeks to enforce a law where we become active participants in evil, then we are obligated to disobey these laws. We see this in the book of Daniel when the King is tricked into enforcing a law that men can only pray to the King for an allotted time. Daniel does not protest or seek to rise up in mutiny, but he simply continues to pray. He saw that God’s law, in this respect, trumped the law of man and chose to obey God rather than man. This should be our response, as well. There very well may come a day where we will have to take such a stand, but as of now, let us seek to live at peace and show honor to those who have been placed in the seats of authority in our country. In doing so, we are doing our service to God.