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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
In light of the recent events that have occurred in Oklahoma City, I believe it would be fitting for us to take a fresh look at what the Bible teaches on Christian citizenship. Those responsible for the tragic bombing and the murder of innocent lives have been supposedly linked to a radical militia group that are anti-government. Therefore they have been labeled as anarchists.
Anarchy may be defined as the complete absence of government and law; political disorder and violence; lawlessness. We must keep in mind there is a difference in being anti-government and in favor of less government. I, for one, am not completely against paying taxes but I wouldn't mind paying less of it! Let’s not forget those men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and sacred honor on producing this country, who were willing to sacrifice everything.
Many gave their lives that we might enjoy the freedoms and the blessings of this nation, but we are letting it slip through our fingers. Somebody once said there is a difference between being a politician and a patriot. A politician says: "What’s in it for me?" the patriot says: "What good will it do for the country?" May God give us more Christian patriots and faithful citizens who will pray for a godly America, so we can once more say, "God bless America, land of the free."
The Christian’s relationship to civil government is a life and death issue in many parts of the world, especially where people live under totalitarian and openly anti-Christian regimes. Therefore the teaching of Romans 13 is relevant to our age for it is concerned with problems encountered by both the early Christians and believers today. Some believers assumed that because their citizenship was in Heaven they were free from obligation to their government.
Those Christians mistreated by civil authorities might have been inclined to feel that these injustices disqualified the state from the right of demanding respect and submission. Many believed it was okay to disobey the law and rebel against the authorities "in the name of Christ." But Paul refutes this position by explaining why the Christian must be in subjection to the laws of the land. Part of being a good Christian is being a good citizen. In Romans 13 there are four principles concerning the Christian’s relationship to government.
I. Human government is a divine institution. (vs. 1-2)
Civil government has its source in God and all constituted power is appointed and ordained by Him. "Let every should be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." (Romans 13:1) When Paul says that the powers that be, the existing government agents, are "of God," he reveals to us that they derive their origin, right, and power from God. In enforcing the duty of submission, Paul clearly asserts a divine right of civil government, as derived from God, the source of all authority and power. "For there is no power but of God." The authority to govern and the subjection demanded of the governed reside wholly in the fact of civil government being a divine institution.
"Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." (Romans 13:2) Those who resisted the authority of human government brought on themselves "damnation" (judgment, condemnation, punishment). Resistance to the powers that God put in place was the same as rebellion against Him for government is not of man but of God. The word "ordinance" means institution. We must remember that even though we cannot always respect the man in office, we must respect the office, for government was ordained by God.
It should be pointed out that when there is a conflict between the requirements of men and the commandments of God, then Acts 5:29 must take effect: "We ought to obey God rather than men." If the civil power commands us to violate the law of God, we must always obey God before men. This was Peter’s conviction and belief when he said: "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20) In other words, obedience to God always takes priority over obedience to the state.
II. There is a binding Christian responsibility toward the authority of the governing rulers.
The phrase "every soul" (v.1) refers to all men. No person was exempt or enjoyed special privileges by which they could ignore or feel free to violate the laws of the land. Let’s not forget that there was in Paul’s day considerable hostility between Rome and the Jews (Acts 18:2). Many disputed the authority of Rome and resisted the Roman yoke, arguing that since they were Christians they were directly responsible to God alone. Basically the king’s authority was looked upon as a form of enslavement and dictatorship.
The word "be subject" (v.1) means to obey, submit, placing yourself under someone’s authority. "Higher powers" refers to the civil governmental authorities. "Ordained" carries the idea of appointed, set, determined, assigned a certain place or order. Titus 3:1 tells us: "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work."
In the Bible there are five areas of authority requiring Christian obedience: 1) in marriage - the wife is to submit to the husband; 2) in the home - children are to obey their parents; 3) in the workplace - servants are to be obedient to their masters; 4) in society - every citizen is to be subject to the higher powers; 5) in the church - each member is to follow those who have the rule over them. In each of these areas God expects you to obey those in authority just as you would with the same attitude to God Himself.
Yet, it is in each of these areas we find the most rebellion today: bossy, domineering wives, rampant, bratty children, militant unions, anarchists, and church members who continually buck the pastor. If the one in authority is failing to give leadership or be responsible, don’t take matters in your own hands for God will deal with that person accordingly. Leave these things to God and don’t try to rectify the situation by usurping the authority.
It is amazing that Paul wrote these words on obedience to government after himself being recently mistreated by the Roman authorities at Philippi (Acts 16:37). At the time of Paul’s writing Nero was emperor of Rome and he was known to be extremely cruel and murderously vicious. It’s important to realize that Paul is not demanding for a blind servitude to the state but is appealing for a submission to the authority ordained of God that preserves and orders society.
III. The purpose of government is two-fold:
To protect and promote the good in society and to restrain and punish criminals. (vs. 3-4)
Government must not destroy or subvert the good of society but protect and promote it. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:" (Romans 13:3) The word "rulers" refers to authorities in power, an expression which embraces every form of governing power.
Every Christian in his life should be praiseworthy in the eyes of rulers. Look at I Tim. 2:1-2, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." The "terror" which rulers are to the evil is the fear of punishment invoked in the hearts of men by reason of the authority vested in rulers to execute this punishment. If Christians do that which is good, then they will have no reason to fear the ruling authority.
The term "praise" signifies and implies approval. Evil doers receive their punitive reward but those who do well do not receive any meritorious award. This praise could be expressed by saying that good behavior secures a good standing in the state, a status to be cherished and cultivated by all people, especially Christians. This verse shows why judgment will overtake those who resist.
It is because the office of the civil power is not to subvert or overthrow but to maintain that moral order for which it had been divinely originated. Paul was not oblivious to the possibility of injustice in government because he had personally experienced mistreatment from authorities. But the grounds for his optimistic view of rulers is found in the first phrase of verse 4.
"For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. (Romans 13:4)
Civil power must deter crime and bring to punishment those who foster evil in society. The titles given to the civil ruler, "minister of God" and "revenger," refer to the discharge of God’s appointed civil authority, both in preserving good and executing "wrath" (punishment). The "sword" refers to more than a mere symbol of authority but also suggests the right to enforce justice and inflict death. Those who advocate the abolition of the death penalty forget that the state has divine authority for bearing the sword and using it. Such passages like Gen. 9:5-6 and Ex. 21:12 give Scriptural grounds for the death penalty being enforced.
IV. Loyalty in general to the government and support of its needs should be the correct attitude of every Christian. (vs. 5-7)
Any citizen can obey the law because of the fear of punishment, but a Christian ought to obey because of a loving conscience toward God, knowing that in being submissive they are doing right as well as avoiding trouble. "Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake." (Romans 13:5) Christians should submit to the state not only out of expedience, avoiding wrath, but also out of propriety, "for conscience sake."
We are not only to be subject because insubordination brings upon us penal judgment but also because there is an obligation to God’s will. The Christian motivation to good citizenship transcends the fear of reprisal but we also must recognize that the government ruler has authority from God to promote the good and punish the evil as God’s own servant in civil matters.
But the Bible does not teach passive obedience or non-resistance when the Word of God is at stake. Remember Daniel 6:10? "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."
Romans 13:6-7 says, "For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour."
Regardless of the government under which God had placed them under, the Christians are instructed to pay what they owe: taxes, revenue, respect, honor. The word "tribute" is in reference to direct taxation for the expense of the state. If we do not pay our taxes, we show disrespect to the law, the officials, and the Lord. The Christian should participate in the government’s continued existence by supporting its various needs. Even Jesus Himself taught the need of paying taxes in such passages as Matthew 17:24-27 and Matthew 22:15-22. He simply declared: "...Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s." (Matthew 22:21)
We may see many imperfections in our governmental leaders, but we must recognize that ultimately the men in power occupy their respective offices because God has willed them there. We may not agree with their politics or their practices, but we must respect their position.
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." (1 Peter 2:13-17)
As much as possible we should seek to cooperate with the government and obey the law but we must never allow the law to make us disobey God’s Word. When we do something in "the will of God" (v.15) and as "servants of God" (v.16), then we are doing it "for the Lord’s sake" (v.13). God has willed that we silence the critics by doing good, not by opposing authority. A true Christian submits himself to authority because he is first of all submitted to Christ. If we are sincerely submitted to authority for the Lord's sake, then we will show honor to all who deserve it.
One way Christians have failed to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens in this country is by not letting their voices be heard thought the voting booth. A latest study estimated that over 18 million so-called evangelical Christians are not even registered to vote. Half of those who are registered never vote and a good number of those don’t even know what they are voting for because they are not informed. That is a shame and a disgrace. It’s been said that voting, for non-Christian Americans, is a privilege and a responsibility; voting, for Christians, is a duty demanded by God. We should vote not only in the national elections but also in the primaries as well.
We need to remember that as Christians we are citizens of another world. Consequently we are passing as strangers through the enemy's territory. Satan is the arch-enemy of our souls and he is the god of this world. We must walk circumspectly. In order that we may know what our conduct should be, Paul, by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote Romans 13:1-7.
Therefore as Christian obedient citizens we should pay our taxes, willingly obey the laws of our land, and maintain a respectful spirit toward men who are in authority, realizing "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will." (Proverbs 21:1)
May we fervently pray for our nation and her leaders that indeed the United States would be "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."