Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Heaven's Citizens and Human Government

Part 5 of Love in Action

Text: Romans 13:1-7




Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (v. 1). 


Submit to the Governing Authorities

When Christians come to this passage in Romans, more time is usually spent talking about what it doesn’t mean. But let’s start by talking about what it does mean.

The apostle Paul writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” (v. 1). Who are “the governing authorities”? The government—the people who make our laws.

Paul says, “Be subject [i.e., submit] to the governing authorities.” We might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trudeau would be our Prime Minister!” Or Americans might say, “But Paul didn’t know that Trump would be our President!” That’s true, of course. But let’s talk about who was in power when Paul wrote these words.

Paul probably wrote his letter to the Romans in A.D. 57. Do you know who the Emperor of Rome was in A.D. 57. It was Nero. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather live under the rule of Trudeau or Trump than Nero!


Why?

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Someone might say, “If I’m a citizen of heaven, then I don’t need to submit to ‘governing authorities.’” But Paul says, “You’re wrong. ‘Every person’ must submit to their governing authorities.

Why? Why should we “be subject to the governing authorities”? Paul gives two reasons. First, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because God has appointed them. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (v. 1b).

Daniel 4:17 says, “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” This was a lesson that King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way.

The Roman governor Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” (John 19:10). How did Jesus reply? “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (v. 11).

Paul adds, “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (v. 2). If you refuse to pay your taxes, you’re resisting God!

Second, we should “be subject to the governing authorities” because they maintain order in society. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (vv. 3-4a).

Do we submit to the governing authorities just to avoid punishment? No, we “must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” (v. 5). We do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Always Obey?

Do we always have to obey the governing authorities? Paul says, “Be subject to the governing authorities.” To “be subject” (i.e., submit) is “to recognize one’s subordinate place in a hierarchy, to acknowledge as a general rule that certain people or institutions have ‘authority’ over us” (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, p. 797)  But this doesn’t mean that we should always obey people who are in authority over us.

Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s [i.e. taxes, etc.], and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). To God belongs our unqualified obedience. “If the state commands what God forbids, or if the state forbids what God commands, then civil disobedience is a Christian duty" (Timothy J. Keller, Romans 8-16 for You, p. 123). Peter said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).


Be Transformed

Let’s go back to 12:1-2. Paul says, “Present your bodies [i.e., yourselves] as a living sacrifice.” What’s our motivation? “The mercies of God.”

How does God want us to live? “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Be transformed by the gospel. Be different!

How should a Christian interact with a person with different political views? “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

[Read 1 Peter 2:13-17.] God “is more concerned with our humility and self-denial and trust in Christ, than he is about our civil liberties" (John Piper, "Subjection to God and Subjection to the State").

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