Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
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; 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. Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 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.
This is one of the most timely passages I can remember teaching. Today our nation seems to be headed for a state of near-anarchy. As I write this today’s news is fresh and shocking in my mind. A crazed man with a gun has just opened fire on a Republican leader and many others at a baseball field close to Washington D.C. He asked if Republicans or Democrats were playing the game. Once he learned it was Republicans he opened fire for 10 minutes before he was killed by police.
At the same time, in N.Y., a play modernizing “Julius Caesar” portrays president Trump being assassinated! This is unconscionable! Is the world going mad?
None of us can forget the recent terror attacks in London and France and other locales as well. Whether in the U.S. or abroad, people no longer seem to feel the need to subject themselves to any governmental authority. The seeds of anarchy and extreme social unrest are everywhere.
So where does the Christian fit in to this malaise? What is our responsibility and who is it to. As we go through the thirteenth chapter of Romans it is my hope that Paul’s writing will give us clarity and a new urgency to make disciples of every nation.
I’m going to be drawing from the well of John MacArthur’s many years of experience on this subject, and my thanks goes to his God-given wisdom. We’ll also be looking at the remarks of commentators from both this century and the last to round out our thinking. So let’s begin.
“These seven verses,” says MacArthur, “contain the clearest and most specific New Testament teaching on the Christian’s responsibility to civil authority. Every Christian, no matter what form of government he lives under, is under command from the Lord to maintain proper and useful submission to that government for the sake of leading a peaceful life and having an effective witness. This recurring theme of submission to society’s controlling power is nowhere more forcefully dealt with than here,” (Mac commentary on Romans p. 205-206).
The first eleven chapters of Romans, especially 1-8, talk of Man’s lost-ness and show us how to be saved. The power of this wisdom is summed up beautifully by Paul here: But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, (3:21-24).
In Romans 12 we saw how the monumental miracle of salvation impacted our relationships, first with God (vs. 1-2); then with believers (vs. 3-16); and finally with non-Christians, including our enemies (vs. 17-21). In 13:1-7 we will learn how this new creation, the saved man or woman, is to have a right relationship with the human governments under which we live.
Historically, Christians have been involved in the forceful overthrow of repressive or despotic governments. This is frequently done in the name of their faith. But is it right in light of the above passage? It is possible to do the right thing but for the reasons. Did God call us to swoop in to make bad governments good, or to simply preach and live the gospel as shining lights? There is much confusion in Christian ranks over this. “For such reasons it is difficult for many Christians to be clear, or even objective and honest, about a passage so unambiguously restrictive as Romans 13:1-7,” (Mac)
Many evangelicals believe that the American Revolution was wholly justified, both politically and biblically. They would argue that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not only endowed by God, but that their defense and attainment are somehow “Christian” and thus justified at whatever cost.
John MacArthur: “Obviously, such action is forbidden by God, and, judged in the light of the present text, it is equally obvious that the United States was born out of violation of Scripture,” (Mac p. 207). This may hit our patriotic funny bone in a not-so-funny way, but it is true.
It is, of course, just as obvious that God has greatly blessed our nation far above, in many ways, any nation on earth. His blessings have been in spite of disobedience to His Word through the revolution. Before now I had never seen it this way. I had been raised to think we Americans were the good guys.
This feeling of the end justifying the means carries over today. Many evangelicals engage in nonviolent civil disobedience, Mac explains, when a cause such as opposition to abortion has a biblical basis. Some will even refuse to pay taxes because some of the money will be used for causes that are unjust or immoral.
Mac further gives a warning: “Many evangelicals believe that Christians should become active in political causes, relying on social action and pressure tactics to change laws and government policies…that are plainly evil and to protect cherished religious rights that are being encroached upon. This zeal for preservation of the Christian faith…often gets blended in with strong views about economics, taxation, social issues, and partisanship, so that the Bible gets wrapped in the flag.” Mac p. 207)
MacArthur continues: “Even social and political activites that are perfectly worthwhile can deplete the amount of a believer’s time, energy, and money that is available for the central work of the gospel. The focus is shifted from the call to build the spiritual kingdom through the gospel to efforts to moralize culture—trying to change society from the outside rather than individuals from the inside. (underline added)
“When the church is politicized,” Mac continues, “even in support of good causes, its spiritual power is vitiated and its moral influence diluted. And when such causes are supported in worldly ways and by worldly means, the tragedy is compounded. We are to be the conscience of the nation through faithful preaching and godly living, confronting it not with the political pressure of man’s wisdom- including our own- but with the spiritual power of God’s Word. Using legislation, adjudication, or intimidation to achieve a superficial, temporal ‘Christian morality’ is not our calling—and has no eternal value,” (Mac p. 207).
These opening remarks should give pause to think and a sense of what’s coming. I think that readers who are sensitive to Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s leading will begin to align our thinking more closely with the truths of God’s Word. Until next time, God’s blessings on you…mike.