This week, I would like for us to pick up where we left off last week by looking at the next section of this letter. And it is in this next section that we see revealed for us another timeless practice that followers of Jesus should put into practice in their lives. And that timeless practice is this: Followers of Jesus practice a lifestyle of submission. When Paul uses the word submission, this word, in the language that this letter was originally written in, literally means to willingly place ourselves under others by placing others first. And in Romans 13:1-14, we see Paul reveal three areas where followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission. So let’s discover these areas together, beginning in Romans 13:1:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever 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 on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience' sake.
Paul begins this section of his letter to the members of the church at Rome by introducing the first area where followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission that willingly places ourselves under others by placing others first. And that first area is that followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission to government. In Romans 13:1-7 we see three reasons why followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission to government. First, we see that we must submit to government because God designed government as an authority over us. In verse 1 and 2, we see Paul reveal to us the reality that government has its ultimate design and establishment by God. The word establish, in the language this letter was originally written in, literally means to put into place. Paul is explaining to the Roman church and us today, that government derives its authority because of the fact that it is established and put into place by the Lord Himself. Paul also states in these verses that the very act of opposing government is to place ourselves in opposition to God. And when we choose to oppose the government that choice places us in a position to be punished and judged by government as God’s instrument of justice on earth.
Second, we see that we must submit to government because God designed government to punish evil. In verse 3, Paul reveals for us the reality that government’s divine design is to punish evil and promote justice on earth. Government was put into place by God as an intermediary, or representative, of God to promote justice for those who do well and to punish evil by responding with righteousness and justice to wrongdoing. Now, a natural question that arises here is “But what about governments who do not do operate according to God’s design? What about governments who fail to punish evil and promote justice?” In Romans 13:5, we see Paul explain to us that we are to submit to government even if government is either unwilling or unable to punish evil and promote justice. Paul states that we are to submit to government not only because it is designed to punish evil; we are also to submit to government because of conscience’s sake. Now our conscience is one’s inward faculty for determining right and wrong. What Paul is communicating by this phrase is that we are to submit to government, whether good or bad, because ultimately, all governments are placed into authority by God as His representative on earth.
Now some of you may be thinking, “But what about evil governments? What about the Nazi’s in WW II or China or Iran today? Are we, as followers of Jesus, supposed to obey evil governments?” This morning, it is important to understand that God designs and establishes all governments, even though some governments do not follow His commands or desires. So, if it is the case that some governments do not follow His commands or desires, is it ever o.k. to disobey government? We believe that the Bible teaches that followers of Jesus can express direct civil disobedience, which is when a government attempts to force us to disobey God’s clear commands. When government attempts to force us to disobey God we are to choose to disobey government and obey God.
And our attitude in expressing civil disobedience is just as important as the act of disobedience itself. If we refuse to obey government for religious reasons, we should not be rebellious in our attitude and be prepared to accept whatever consequences that the government imposes. We see this in the Old Testament story of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3. We also see this in Acts 5:27-29 when the Apostles were told to quit spreading the gospel message. However, we believe that the Bible does not condone indirect civil disobedience, which is when we choose to disobey government to protest government violations against someone else.
To illustrate and apply this principle, let’s take the issue of abortion. Currently in America it is legal to get an abortion. And while it is legal to get an abortion, as Christians we believe that abortion violates God’s moral law. And, in America, Americans are not compelled, or forced, to get abortions as a result of being pregnant. In China, however, with its one child policy, Chinese citizens are compelled to receive abortions. So, from a Biblical perspective, Chinese Christians are permitted to express civil disobedience due to the fact that they are being compelled or forced to violate God’s clear command to not murder by getting an abortion. In America, however, civil disobedience regarding abortion would not be permissible as it would be indirect civil disobedience.
As followers of Jesus, we can express a Christian worldview and promote policies that would change the law regarding abortion, but we are not permitted to violate the laws of the land to do so. It is against Biblical principles to blow up abortion clinics, refuse to pay taxes, or violate any other government law in order to protest government policy. We are permitted to express direct civil disobedience only against a law that compels or forces us to disobey God’s clear commands. Paul then provides us a third reason why followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission to government in that we must submit to government by fulfilling our responsibilities. We see this revealed for us in Romans 13:6-7. Let’s look at it together:
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.
In these verses, we see Paul reveal for us four different ways that we as followers of Jesus are to fulfill our responsibilities to government. First, we are to pay our taxes. We are to pay our taxes to whom it is due; local, state, and federal. Jesus Himself conveyed our responsibility to pay taxes when questioned by the religious leaders of the day in Matthew 22:17-21. Second, we are to pay customs to whom it is due. An example of a custom would be the fees at an airport that are charged by the government; or a fishing or hunting license.
But notice that Paul calls us to fulfill our responsibilities to the government not only with our finances. We are also to fulfill our responsibilities to our government with a proper attitude. Paul states that we are to have an attitude of healthy fear toward our government. What Paul is conveying by this phrase is that we are to recognize and follow in submission and obedience the authority that God has placed over us in government. And Paul continues by stating that we are to do so in a way that honors and respects those in authority over us in government.
While we may not agree with those in authority over us in terms of their policy positions or stands on different social, political, and moral issues, we are to treat them with the respect and honor that their position of authority deserves. This includes those in politics; law enforcement, such as police officers; or public safety, such as fireman.
So here is a question for us to consider: do we practice a lifestyle of submission to our government? Do we willingly place ourselves under the authority of our government? Do we fulfill our responsibilities, both financially and when it comes to our attitude towards, our government?
Tomorrow, we will look at a second area where followers of Jesus are to practice a lifestyle of submission that willingly places ourselves under others by placing others first.