Romans 13

Greetings!

Submission to the Authorities

13     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. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God delegates some of his authority to governments.  I wrote about (somewhat) effective and ineffective Biblical arguments against capital punishment on my other blog.  People often ignore that the Bible says that the government “does not bear the sword for nothing.”  I don’t point that out as a blanket endorsement of capital punishment under any circumstances, but just to say that the Bible does not prohibit it. 

Of course, there are corrupt governments.  I won’t expand on the Biblical view of the concept of civil disobedience other than to say that if God’s laws conflict with man’s laws we need to obey God.  Otherwise, we need to obey the laws even if we think they are unfair.  Christians should pay taxes, obey traffic laws, etc. 

God has set up an authority structure and we all benefit when it runs better and people use it properly.  If your neighbor is beating his wife, I think the Biblical model is to bring in the authorities (the police, in this case).  To overlook the crime is to put ourselves in the place of God’s designated authority.  The church leaders are the authorities for many issues, and we need them to do their jobs as well.

Love, for the Day Is Near

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

This is another way of stating how Jesus summarized the Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

But the summaries of Jesus and Paul don’t make the law easier to follow, as Jesus’ questioner had apparently hoped. 

What are practical applications of “love your neighbor as yourself?”  I don’t like people stealing from me, telling lies about me, distorting my views, being jealous of me, killing me in my mother’s womb, encouraging me to commit sinful acts, etc., so I ought not do that to others. 

11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

We quickly and properly seize on the commands against the “big” sins like orgies and drunkenness.  No problem there.  But these lists usually include “lesser” sins like jealousy.  What are we to make of that? 

If I covet what other people have – and I often do – what message am I sending to God?  I’m indirectly saying that He didn’t order the universe properly and that someone else has something I should have.  When I put it in that perspective it works as a reset button for me, because I really don’t want to send him that message.

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9 Responses

  1. The civil rulers during the time of Paul’s writing were all probably pagans. Christians may have been tempted to not submit to them and to claim allegiance only to Christ. Even the possibility of a persecuting state would not shake Paul’s conviction that civil government is ordained by God. But Paul wrote these words in A.D. 56-57, when the Roman government during Nero’s first five years as Emperor (A.D. 54-59) was rated by later historians as one of the best periods of Roman rule, as Nero was influenced by two Stoic philosophers: Seneca (brother of Gallio; Acts 18:12-17) and Burrus (commander of the Praetorian Guard).

    v. 14 – Galatians 3:27 “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Paul exhorts believers to display outwardly what has already taken place inwardly – including practicing all the virtues associated with Christ.

  2. Hi Rebecca – it is informative that Paul wrote this about a pagan and dominant structure so that people would have great difficulty twisting it later.

  3. In regards to what you said about “big” sins and “lesser” sins – I think that’s a big problem in the church today – people think of things like murder, rape, etc. as being so much worse than lying, coveting, etc. when in actuality they are all sins. From a legal standpoint (and human) they are obviously different but to God a sin is a sin and it doesn’t matter if we’ve murdered someone or lied to someone – we’ve sinned.

    I had an entire conversation about this with someone once which I won’t go into here but she seemed rather appalled when I applied this situation to two different people saying that one was no better than the other. I think she’s of the opinion that there are different levels of sin and that we can somehow earn God’s favor if we’re “good enough.” I don’t know why else she would think one of them would be better than the other.

    I think we need to work on that in the church – making sure we all realize that we are ALL sinners in need of God’s grace!

  4. Hi MLBH – I hear that “good enough” theme a lot. I think some people use because they worry about loved ones. It helps them rationalize their unsaved state.

  5. Neil, have you ever read the book “How good is good enough?” I think it’s by Andy Stanley but I can’t remember for sure. The book was really good and had some great analogies and examples to explain why we can never be “good enough.” It’s a really small, little book so it’s an easy read too. It’s a great book that I would recommend~

  6. Hi MLBH – thanks for the recommendation. One of the key points to share in explaining the Gospel is that we can’t be good enough. Here are a few questions I like to ask if people thing that “good people” go to Heaven:

    Can you define “good” for me?

    Whose gets to define it – you, me, someone else, God?

    Is that 51% good? Or 50.001%?

    Are sins done on a weighted average, or just raw numbers? Where is the scale?

    Do you have a spreadsheet to keep track of yours?
    What if you missed some?

    If you have no hope of getting to 51%, should you give up and just be evil?

    If you are at 70%, is it OK to sin on purpose?

    Where is your assurance?!

    What does the Bible say?

  7. Great questions, Neil! Some of that is what he addresses in the book. I think it’s common sense questions like that that help people realize what they’re actually saying by saying that you go to heaven by “being good.” Like you said – what is “good”?

  8. […] Romans 13 and other passages point out, we are to be obedient to our governments, but only to the extent that […]

  9. […] Romans 13 and other passages point out, we are to be obedient to our governments, but only to the extent that […]

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