Should we always obey?
Romans 13 has incredible relevance for today considering the levels of quarantine, social isolation and enforced inactivity of businesses as governments around the world grapple with how to slow the spread of the coronavirus and exert more authority into our daily lives than we are used to!
In fact, most of us are increasingly uncomfortable at best, enraged at worst by these new rules. COVID 19 aside, many around the world are unhappy with their leaders. And for very good reasons.
Interestingly, I am speaking to you from the Czech Republic, a post-communist country where there has been a lot of misuses of power and CONSEQUENTLY distrust of authority figures, understandably. And although I am American, I hear a lot of talk here against the current President and Prime Minister of this country, including from Christians. I can’t vote here, and my message today is not about politics. But these situations beg the question that Paul addresses in the first section of Romans 13 about how the Christian is to relate to their civil authorities.
Think About This, First
But first I want you to do a little exercise with me. You’ll have to use your imagination, so you may want to close your eyes for this. I’m going to ask you 4 questions.
Imagine yourself, not physically but spiritually.
- What do you look like?
- What is your place in the Kingdom of God?
- What are you wearing?
- Where are you in relation to the Father, God?
Romans 13, Part 1
We’ll COME BACK to that later. First, here is Romans 13:1-7;
Let everyone be subject 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, whoever 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 you will be commended.
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents 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 as a matter 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 to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Let’s discuss about what this passage is NOT talking about…
- It’s not a discussion about church vs. state
- It’s not written to political leaders
- It’s not about how we should not pollute ourselves by pagan politics Paul is giving instructions to the individual Christian about their personal citizenship.
- And it’s not about blind obedience.
John Stout, a theologian, give 4 main models of the relationship between the church and state in Tim Keller’s book, Romans 8-16 for You;
- The state controls the church-Erastianism.
- The church controls the state- theocracy.
- The state favors the church and the church makes accommodations with the state to keep a favored status- Constantinianism.
- Church and state recognize each other. Each has God-given responsibilities and they collaborate with each other to fulfill their roles and bring about a positive impact in society-PARTNERSHIP.
The 4th scenario is the closest to what Paul mentions in this chapter.
How is the Christian to live as a citizen of their country?
What is the opposite? Rebellion which leads to chaos and anarchy. Paul describes how subjecting yourself to governing authorities is right, its’ wise and it’s fair (ideally). Does it mean that God approves of all ungodly officials and governments? No. Sometimes because of sin in the world God allows evil leaders to have authority for a time.
But this isn’t the perfect will of God (for example, evil rulers bringing terror on the earth as did Hitler. Yes, God will use it when the church rises up and prays in the midst of evil. We know it’s not God’s will because when Jesus taught the disciples to pray He said, “thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In Heaven there are no evil authority structures, corruption, terror, etc.
God grants authority to serve good ends (vv. 3,4)
How that authority is exercised
will be the accounting of each
to whom it has been given.
Is Paul saying that we are to submit to everything?
At first glance, it looks like yes. And imagine, he’s writing as a believing Jew in an Israel which was being occupied by the pagan Roman Empire that was very unfriendly towards the church.
We may very well be headed in the same direction as western society becomes increasingly hostile to the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ.
In verse 7 Paul writes the Romans about paying taxes. He surely had in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 17 and Matthew 22:21. Jesus’ words must have also influenced Peter when he wrote 1 Peter 2:17.
Matthew 17:24-27, “However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself [for taxes].” Jesus
Matthew 22:21, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus
I Peter 2:17, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” Peter
What are some examples in scripture where godly men obeyed ungodly leaders? How about;
- Joseph in relation to serving the Pharaoh of Egypt, full of idolatry, and
- Jeremiah in relation to King Nebuchadnezzar.
Are there times when we should NOT obey?
Look at the whole scope of scripture. Although this passage in Romans 13 seems to be saying we are to obey all leaders no matter what, we are called to know the whole counsel of God by studying the entire Bible for a balanced answer.
Yes, there are plenty of scriptures where men courageously stood up against unrighteousness and disobeyed! I don’t have time to tell you all the stories, but look for yourself at the Old Testament stories of Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego, and the Hebrew midwives who disobeyed the orders of the Pharaoh and saved the lives of baby boys because of the sanctity of life.
In the New Testament, read the accounts of men like Peter in Acts 5 when he told the authorities, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
When a leader asks us to do something which is clearly against God’s law, we disobey. And, be ready to face the consequences like the author Romans 13 did!
But here’s the thing.
We do it with dignity, honor and respect for the leader. Not because they deserve it, but because that is WHO we are because of WHO God is.
I want to say something ABOUT IDENTITY. We are royalty because we are adopted by the King of the Universe. True humility and honor are vital attributes for carrying God’s glory properly in the world as well as action rather than passivity.
My mother used to say, “Don’t stoop to their level.” And “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
In the Supernatural Ways of Royalty by Kris Vallatton and Bill Johnson, Kris writes,
Most people know the difference between right and wrong. But royal people have a powerful sense of justice in the depths of their souls that drives them to act when they see something wrong… the sons and daughters of the king are driven to right injustice, destroy evil, and see righteousness prevail in the world.
Paul is saying in Romans13 that when we submit, we do it
- according to our conscience,
- out of obedience to God (not just because we’re afraid of being caught and punished). And when we disobey,
- we do it in a respectful, calm and honoring manner.
Social media has unleashed a nastiness which is very disturbing considering it reveals what is really in the hearts of men and women.
I’m especially shocked by the nasty and accusing tone of many Christians online. We are too awesome for this!
We are not of this world. Let us put away unloving comments, foul language and disrespect for leaders!
First, we PRAY. This battle is not against flesh and blood. It is easy to hate leaders and jump on the bandwagon of bashing.
It is hard to get on your knees for someone you don’t like or even hate. It’s hard to bless that person and pray that they’ll succeed. But when our leaders succeed, it is success for us, too. Please understand that all our world leaders are under such incredible stress and pressure right now as they struggle with life and death decisions. Pray for them to be surrounded by good, sound counsel.
This leads us to this TobyMac meme and our next section of scripture.
Romans, Part 2
Romans 13: 8-10 says;
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Why is love considered something we owe to others?
We are permanently indebted to Christ for the love He poured out on us. The only we can even begin to repay that love and sacrifice is to love others in turn.
We’re often gotten the idea in our heads that self-love is wrong. Think about it this way. Even though we all may have low self-esteem, think of all the things we do for ourselves. We eat food, we make sure there’s a roof over our heads. We try to dress reasonably well and educate ourselves. We feel angry if someone tries to steal from us or ruin our marriages. We feel a sense of injustice if we are mistreated or cheated. Feel the same for others!
In other words, the law of love supersedes all religious and civil laws.
Jesus left no loopholes in the law of law. Some people are always looking for loopholes, so they can get out of their duty. We met an American guy one time in our town who had an elaborate scheme to avoid paying taxes which involved working online, shifting around to different countries rapidly and not putting down roots anywhere. It was his life goal. He wants to enjoy the beautiful benefits of the countries where he lives like paved roads and trash disposal systems, but he doesn’t want any responsibility or any cost to himself. One might call this plain selfish. He found loopholes wherever he could.
But Jesus leaves no loophole in the law of love.
There is such a lack of love in world today. I might be tempted to say we love ourselves too much, but I feel that actually, we’ve never despised ourselves so much as people do today.
Paul is calling us to not simply participate in the activities of the state as good citizens, but in public and civic life we are called to be great doers of GOOD.
Can you think of some examples of the church or Christians being great doers of GOOD in the world? Of course, there are so many.
Please watch the YouTube video HERE which includes the perfect example of this. It’s about Samaritan’s purse, Franklin Graham in Central Park field hospital. Notice how the reporter tries to trigger him about paying his taxes. Her has the most awesome, perfect reaction. Hat’s off to Franklin!
Romans, Part 3
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already 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 carousing 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 flesh.
It is time for us to wake up! This quarantine has caused many of us to fall into a spiritual slumber.
What is the most startling way you ever been awoken?
I remember one time one of my children would not wake up for school. I was getting exasperated. I finally warned them that if they didn’t get up, I was going to drop them in the bathtub fully clothed to wake them up. No movement. So, I ran water in the tub (which they could hear), and I picked them up dropped them right in. I warned them. I followed through.
Wake Up, Church!
God is warning us, too! Be alert. Wake up. Time is short.
God’s eternal Kingdom is breaking into this physical world (including governments) and this physical world will not last forever. We’re called to understand the times.
The night in verse 12 refers to the evil, present times and the day mentioned refers to the time of Christ’s return.
We are to build our lives on eternal things. Our attitudes are more important than our actions. But we have wonderful news in vs. 11- our salvation, (being saved from this world, our physical bodies, etc.) is nearer than when first believed. Jesus is coming back soon.
Knowing this helps us to behave decently and put on “the armor of light” mentioned in verse 12.
To revisit the questions, I asked in the beginning of this article when you closed your eyes.
- What do you look like? I hope you see yourself as royalty, a prince or princess.
- What is your place in the Kingdom of God? Our prayer that you know you are valuable to the Kingdom, know your spiritual gifts and you’re seeking to use those gifts within the Church to bless our societies and governments.
- What are you wearing? We see in vs.14, “cloth yourself in Christ.” Imagine wearing a Jesus-suit. Wouldn’t that be weird and inappropriate to see Jesus partying, getting drunk, having sex with whoever, gossiping and causing all kinds of problems. Yes! We are wearing a Jesus-suit if we profess to follow Jesus. Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh!
- Where are you in relation to the Father, God? I hope when you closed your eyes, you saw yourself spiritually close the Father, even if you don’t FEEL like it. I hope you saw the Father looking at you with eyes of love.
In summary, we need to wake up to these things and live as honorable citizens and godly influencers in this evil world.
You’ll act humbly, calmly and respectfully when it’s time to obey.
You’ll act courageously and honorably when it’s time to disobey.
Please watch the YouTube video HERE.
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