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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. – Romans 13:1-7
Paul says that everyone should be subject to the governing authorities. That is, the human government set before them. In this time, it was Caesar and the Roman Empire.
And he says that the reason is there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Having a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God would lead the Christian to conclude that Caesar wasn’t Caesar by accident or coincidence; no, for God’s purposes, he was ordained to be Caesar.
The logical conclusion to that then is that anyone who opposes the authorities resists God Himself. For example, if the parents leave the oldest child in charge, and the younger disobeys the oldest child, they disrespect the parents. And Paul says that those who do this will incur judgment.
Paul goes on to say that these governmental authorities are there not to be a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Now, this seems strange. After all, it was a Roman Proconsul who turned Jesus over to the Roman soldiers to be mocked, scourged, and crucified. It was Nero who blamed the great fire on the Christians and persecuted them. The point here is that while they might be wicked themselves, they are the means by which God provides the common grace to keep evil in check.
So, if a person didn’t want to have fear of the one who is in authority, then what they needed to do was do what is good, and they would receive his approval.
The one who is in authority is God’s servant for the Christian’s good. Again, he is God’s means of establishing law and order in the world.
But if you do wrong, then you should be afraid, for the one in authority does not bear the sword in vain. In other words, he is established there to punish evil. He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Again, they are far from perfect in their roles. Sometimes, they fail to punish wrongdoing and sometimes, they punish good. But generally speaking, they are there to curb the wickedness of man.
So, what should the Christian conclude? One must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but for the sake of conscience. In other words, submitting to authorities is not just about avoiding punishment, but it’s just the right thing to do in Christ.
And this is the reason why the Christian pays taxes. The authorities are ministers of God. Just as the church uses offerings to do God’s work, so does the government use taxes to do His work, even if they don’t realize it.
So, the Christian is to pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. And mind you, it’s not owed to them because they inherently deserve it. Remember that a government crucified the Lord. It’s owed to them, because God says so.
So, how does this apply today? Wherever you live, if you are to worship Christ, you will submit to the governing authorities in your context, wicked as they are. Most of the readers are in the United States, and our governing authority is one that continues to promote the murder of countless babies. Our governing authority is one who will investigate the whistleblower instead of Planned Parenthood. And this may make us question how we are to submit to our authorities.
Again, it was the Roman Empire who crucified our Lord and persecuted our brothers. Nonetheless, the governing authorities are placed there by God. President Obama is God’s divine appointee. So is Congress. So, we are to give them due honor and due submission, not for their sake, but for Christ’s.
Of course, there are exceptions. If they tell us that we need to join them in murdering babies or try to force us to sin in any other way, we will obey God rather than man. But this, sheep, is the exception. Normally speaking, we are to submit to our God-appointed authorities. And may it be a testimony to Jesus Christ, who will subject these authorities under His feet.