World English Bible translation
13:1Let every soul be in subjection to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those who be are ordained by God. 13:2 Therefore he who resists the authority, withstands the ordinance of God; and those who withstand will receive to themselves judgment. 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Do you desire to have no fear of the authority? Do that which is good, and you will have praise from the same, 13:4 for he is a servant of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid, for he doesn’t bear the sword in vain; for he is a minister of God, an avenger for wrath to him who does evil. 13:5 Therefore you need to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. 13:6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for they are ministers of God’s service, attending continually on this very thing. 13:7 Give therefore to everyone what you owe: taxes to whom taxes are due; customs to whom customs; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.
In Today's Scripture, Paul deals with the believer's relationship to civil authorities. At the end of chapter 12 Paul had written, "Respect what is honorable in the sight of men." Paul believed that our conduct should bring honor and respect to the name of Christ. We are to be models of human behavior that is above reproach. Our relationship to civil authority is just one element of our outward conduct.
What should motivate us to obey the civil authority? Once again it is our relationship to God. Paul writes that God has placed rulers and authorities in their positions of power. We are to obey them because we honor God. Paul admonishes the Romans who first received this epistle to pay their taxes and do good. Give honor and respect to the civil authorities when honor and respect are due them from their positions given them by God.
And these teachings have stood the church well over the years. There were many years of persecutions and there are some persecutions even today in certain countries and situations. But, more often than not, the church has thrived under a plethora of governments and styles of governments. Christians have been known, as a group, as being law-abiding citizens of these various countries and a group known for benevolence and good works.
Not that the outward church has always followed Paul's words. There have been times when the institutional church has handled authority well. These occasions have usually come when the institutional church has been given power within the civil government. The power of government has tended to corrupt the institutional church. I will not catalog the sins that the outward church has been involved in over the years. I will only say, to conclude this issue, that where individual Christians have followed the words of Paul in this passage the abuses and sins associated with the authority of the church have been dealt with and rectified.
What of the governments and civil authorities founded on violence and repression? Does Paul ask us to not fear the thug and the dictator who comes to power through intimidation and coercion? I believe that there are times when Christians must confront tyranny and evil in civil authorities. But Paul, and Christ before him, has set the bar very high. There was great evil in the world while Jesus taught in Galilee and Jerusalem. But the message of Christ was the gospel of God, not social reform. The work of the Spirit in the church does indeed reform society, but that is not the ultimate goal of Christianity. Human society outside of Christ is doomed to fail.
Even the Roman government that Paul speaks of in these scriptures was enormously evil. The depravity and wickedness of the Caesars had already reared its head by the time that Paul wrote these words. The church would suffer immense persecution all while following the teachings of Paul and those who followed him. I will not say that God never calls us to oppose our government. When it is within God's purpose that a government falls, it will fall. Sometimes He will use the members of the church to initiate this change. I will only say that the vast majority of times when we feel a desire to stand up and oppose the civil authority that we are in error and not following the guidance of the Spirit of God.
We are called to live at peace, to pay our taxes and to work in harmony with civil authority. When we do this, the Spirit works through the church to affect society. God works in His own fashion. And, it is His church. If we work in God's way, we will achieve God's ends. If we do not, we will achieve nothing.
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