Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Christians and Government: Romans 13 for July 4th

How should Christians view government?  Where do Church and state intersect?  When I think of July 4th, Independence Day, freedom, and all that America is, I am drawn to Scripture. One of my favorite teachings is found in Romans 13.1-7.  I personally like this reading in the New American Standard.  Here is a quick look at the passage and the language that makes it so rich.

Romans 13.1: Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Government is an institution of God, designed for specific purposes.  The governing authorities are those with the authoritative power, the exousia (in the Greek). This word for power is often used in connection with the Kingdom of God.  Furthermore, the authorities are established (or ordained) by God.  He sets them in place. Is it possible He has His way, even in our democratic republic?

Romans 13.2: Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Governments are utilized by God to establish order in the earth.  When a ruler or law is at odds with Scripture, the Christian holds to the Word, even in the face of legal or physical persecution.  In all other cases, the government is to be obeyed. Whoever disobeys, rebels against God and runs the risk of condemnation, or literally damnation.

Romans 13.3: For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4: for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
God ordains the public office.  The public leader is a minister, or diakanos, which is also the same word for deacon (verse 4).  There are a couple of functions of civil office that God requires.

Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good (verses 3-4a).  Authority rewards good behavior, civil servants, and good initiatives.  The Church can better society, and should co-operate with government to do so.

But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil (verse 4b).  Be afraid, evildoer!  Afraid, or phobeo, is the root word for phobia or terror! Authority terrifies the unlawful and is the avenger, or revenger, of evil.  God helps the good guys win (see Andy Griffith Show or Matlock)!  If rebels do not fear authority, they should fear the swordThe sword is understood as the power of physical punishment, the power to go to war, and the power of capital punishment.

Romans 13.5: Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.  6:For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7: Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
We do not obey because we are afraid to get caught.  We submit for conscience’ sake.  We  obey when no one is watching (verse 5).  We pay taxes as we do our tithes, because those in public office are servants of God (verse 6).  We pay our dues and pay our respect to our authorities.  Whether or not we stand on the same political platform, we owe them our honor (verse 7).

We may think that we are having a difficult time with our authorities in America, and so this passage certainly does not apply to us. However, we may want to remember those who were in power in Paul’s time, and all he suffered.

“Authority is the minister of God – so says the apostle, who had had frequent occasion to learn what it meant to be imprisoned by that self-same power without having committed any crime.  On three separate occasions he had endured the cruel punishment of whipping, and he was well aware how the Jews had been banished from Rome under the Emperor Claudius (Acts 18.1 ff)”[1]


If Paul can recognize God’s hand in establishing the Roman government, certainly we can see God at work in America!









[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 237.

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