Our Responsibilities to Human Authority and Government

Nov 1, 2009 - 27 minute read -

Andrew Csillag

November 1, 2009

Our Responsibilities to Human Authority and Government

Romans 13:1-7

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This morning’s sermon is on Romans 13:1-7 and it talks about what our obligations to human authority and government are. I actually got to preach this a few weeks ago at the Avalon Assisted Living Facility, but I wound up having to cut it down a bit as I had a lot of stuff that I couldn’t get into it because of time, so I’m pleased to be able to hopefully do the justice to this text that I was not able to do there.

So, before we get to this morning’s text, it is necessary to back up a tad to set the context in order first.

This section in Romans starts back in chapter 12, verses 1-2, which really are the introduction for chapter 12 all the way through to the beginning of chapter 15, and it is this ” open your bibles if you have them to Romans chapter 12 verses 1 and 2:

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

So what does it mean to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God? How are we to be so that we do not conform ourselves to this world? The short answer is: submitting your own will to that of God. The Bible will often use the illustration of a slave to their master to make the point of what it means when it speaks of this total submission to the will of another. What follows in the text are some nice pithy examples of what it means to be a living sacrifice and how we are to be conformed to the will of God rather than the world. That’s what God writes here by the hand of Paul to us.

To summarize the remainder of chapter 12 a bit, verses 3-8 tell us we should not be puffed up, and we’ve been given gifts by the Holy Spirit, and we ought to use those gifts that God has given us. Verses 9-13 say: love should be genuine, we should hate evil and love good. We should like the brethren, and be diligent in serving the Lord. We should rejoice in hope, patient in adversity, continuing in prayer. We should give to the needs of the Christian brethren, and be given to hospitality. Verses 14-21 mostly tells us how to deal with difficult people.

Now, this morning’s sermon covers what our obligations are to the government. Romans chapter 13, verses 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. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities, resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur punishment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to evil. 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 evil, 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 he who does evil. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only for the sake of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending continually 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.

So let’s work our way through the text. Verse 1:

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.

Or put in layman’s terms: obey the law of the land. Play by the rules.

1 Peter 2:13-14 states it this way:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

You might say “the government makes some really stupid laws, and laws I don’t like.” Well, as it says in the rest of the verse:

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,

I dunno about you, but do you want to resist something that God has appointed? Isn’t that one of the definitions of sin?

So, we ought to submit ourselves to the ordinances and regulations of the laws of the land, local, state and federal. Whether we like them or not. Because God put the leaders there that made the laws and said we are to obey them.

But, what if the governmental law allows you to do things contrary to God’s law? Can we then do things which God has disallowed because the government permits it? Nope. If God’s law says no, then we cannot do that thing, even if the human government allows it. Or conversely, if God’s law says we must do something and human government says we cannot, we still must do what God says anyway. If we are punished for doing what God says in His word that we are to do, then so be it. We would then be in good company with many saints before us who have suffered in like manner.

But in that God’s law overriding man’s law can be seen in that God’s law is over man’s law. Much like state law is over local law. If the local law allows something (or is even silent on the matter), but the state laws do not allow it, you cannot do it without running afoul of the law.

For example, many of you will remember at least part of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego from Daniel chapter 3. Nebuchadnezzar had set up a huge golden idol and whenever certain music was played, all were to fall down and worship the idol, or be cast into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, being proper Jews, when confronted with this, would not worship the idol, because it’s prohibited by the second commandment and they responded in verse 18 of Daniel 3:

O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.

And you know the rest of the story how they were delivered from punishment. But the key thing being here is that they knew that when push came to shove, you obey God, even when it means disobeying the government. No matter what it costs you personally.

Also in Acts 4 Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin, having been brought in for preaching Christ in the temple, and the Sanhedrin told them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.

But Peter and John answered them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

On the other hand, when man’s law does not conflict with God’s law, which is probably just about every instance you will run into (for now), you follow man’s law. Whether it be that you need a permit for this or that, or regulations or taxes or fees, or licenses, or even an absurdly low speed limit, on a steep hill, with no obstructions and a wide road where you could clearly safely do 45 instead of the posted 25 mph, you do what the law says. Even though some seemingly stupid laws are on the books, many times there are truly some good reasons behind the laws that are there, you just may not be privy to the details, just the inconvenience. Either way, you obey the law of the land.

But what about despotic rulers like in dictatorships? Or… how about leaders we really don’t like that are closer to home? For a random example I’ll just pull out of the air here, perhaps you really disagree with the president. He was still instituted or ordained by God to be there. Consider for a moment, when the book of Romans was written, it was during the reign of the notorious Emperor Nero, you know, the fiddling while Rome burned guy? Nero, who would be persecuting Christians in the not too distant future from the time of this writing? Yeah him. Since he was in power when the book of Romans was written, You can assume Paul meant to include even him. So even if the ruler is downright evil, you obey them. Why? Primarily, the Bible says so which in itself is enough. But even if you take a look at it pragmatically, it makes sense. For example, we can look at the time in Iraq after Saddam’s regime was toppled. For a while there was anarchy and warlords until a government was properly established. So while Saddam’s regime was clearly evil, a leadership vacuum can be worse than even evil leadership.

For another example here, Jesus, while on Earth, obeyed the authorities, even when they were unjust to Him. In John 19:10-11 hear how He speaks with Pilate who Jesus knows is about to sentence Him to be crucified.

So Pilate said to him, You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you? Jesus answered him, You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

So here, Jesus who Himself is God, is submitting Himself to the government, which was instituted by God. Given God’s sovereignty, looking at it this way, it really only makes sense that he would submit.

So even an unjust or evil ruler or an unjust situation or a leader you reeeealy dislike, is still no excuse to not submit to the governing authorities. You obey the law. Going back to the verse at hand, verse 2:

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur punishment.

In order to maintain order, any government must punish those that break the law, or anarchy will eventually result, as people will eventually figure out that the law has no teeth, and that they don’t have to pay attention to it. Government, ultimately has the power to take the money, the stuff, the freedom or the lives of those over whom it governs as punishment in order to bring about obedience. So, firstly, resisting a human law risks incurring that punishment that the human law requires for breaking it. But even if you manage to avoid the consequences of breaking man’s law, you must remember who instituted the government that you are disobeying. When it comes to God, He sees everything, and while you may be able to avoid punishment here because perhaps the law didn’t catch you doing it, God will make sure that justice is done in the end. So even though the cop probably won’t pull you over for doing 5 miles over the speed limit, it’s still breaking the law.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to evil. 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.

Some people are afraid of the police. So, if you don’t want to be afraid of the police, don’t be doing the wrong thing and there will be no problem. As a driver, do want to not have your pulse quicken when you see a cop on the side of the road? Then don’t exceed the posted speed limit. Or be talking on your non-hand-free cellphone. Don’t want to be afraid of an IRS audit? Make sure to fully and promptly pay your taxes.

But sometimes, the law isn’t something we’re supposed not to do, but something you are supposed to do. An example: I’ve been convinced, that as annoying as the building code and inspection requirements of the town of Wappingers are, I should follow them. As a result, I have no fear of the building inspector, or my insurance company who could refuse a claim for an improper installation, or running into trouble getting a CO when I eventually go to sell my house, as the previous owner of my house did. So, I don’t see the building department or the inspector as an adversary as some do. It does prevent me, for example, from putting in an electrical socket in my bathroom because I don’t want to have to pay the permit and inspection fees that will run me much more than the parts cost to put in the outlet. And while it’s still frustrating and annoying and [twitch]rrrrrr!, I wait until I can piggy back the addition on some other permit I’ll eventually need, instead of doing it illegally now.

Obeying the law also is a way to not bring shame upon the savior, while in 1 Peter 2 he speaks about submitting to human authority, he continues in verses 15 with:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.

The context surrounding the verse is that the “doing good” here is the submitting to the ordinances of man. We should obey they law because, among other reasons, we don’t want to give people excuses to blaspheme Christ because we got busted breaking the law. How much shame is brought on Christ because preachers and other Christians got caught up in some legal thing or another, whether they didn’t pay their taxes, or defrauded in some business dealings, or other such things. We do not want to bring shame on Christ. So we ought to obey the law.

4 But if you do evil, 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 he who does evil.

This is why, if do things that are illegal, in whatever form, you should be afraid, because if and when the law finds you out, you can be in serious hot water. The government doesn’t have the authority to punish it’s citizens for nothing. It has that authority to exercise it against those who would break it’s laws, much as God has authority to punish those who break His laws. God has given them that authority, believe it or not, as a gift to His creation, to the people He created, so it would help to constrain evil in a world of sinful human beings.

Now, if the government is unjust, on that great day, they will be called to account for the way they have governed, and for their stewardship of the resources entrusted to them. We therefore ought pray for them that they might govern rightly.

5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only for the sake of wrath but also for the sake of conscience.

The word conscience here is a kind of compound word, con means with, science means knowledge. So with-knowledge. Sorta like in Spanish, con-queso, con is with, queso is cheese ” or “with cheese.” So when we do wrong, we do it “with-knowledge” that it was wrong. The conscience is the impartial judge in the mind. It really only speaks to what is right and wrong. It’ll never say things like “you can’t wear those shoes, they don’t match your belt!”, or “you should put mayonnaise on that ham sandwich.” It only speaks to morality. When faced with a moral choice, it will tend to guide you to what is right. Or if you’ve already done wrong, it will let you know it. For one who is trying to live a life pleasing to God, it is a wonderful asset. For those who aren’t, it is a frustrating source of guilt.

So while we obey the law because, let’s face it, we don’t want to pay the worldly consequences of breaking the law, we should also obey because we don’t want to offend our consciences. Why is that? Well, we want our consciences to do the work they were originally designed by God to fulfill, which is to correctly tell us what is right or wrong. The conscience is, as Romans 2:15 explains ” the law of the Lord written on our hearts. If we tell our consciences to shut up long enough about something, it will stop speaking to us about it, and that’s not a good thing. We want to obey God, and a malfunctioning conscience is not as helpful as it could be.

God went to the trouble to put consciences in us so we would understand and be reminded of something really important. We are not good people! We’re not mostly good, or more good than bad, we’re bad people. Jesus when speaking that we should ask God for what we need, Jesus responds starting with “if you then who are evil…” He was speaking to His disciples! He called them evil! And you know what? So are we! We deceive people, and that makes us liars. We lust and it makes us adulterers. We hate and it makes us murderers. We swear and it makes us blasphemers. We [air quotes] borrow/liberate things and it makes us thieves. We don’t help people that God puts in our way and more generally, we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do evil and break God’s law. Even if we are saved, we still do things we know are wrong. We still sin. Evil still remains with us.

Now it’s one thing to know that, but it’s another to understand the consequences. Must as an Earthly ruler bears the responsibility to punish those who break Earthly laws, God also is the one to punish those who violate His laws. His laws are that we shall not lie, murder, blaspheme, adulterate or steal. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. We should love God with all of our being. So the bad news is not only have we done those things God told us not to do, but we also have not done the things He told us to do, and so God is properly in line to punish us for those things that we’ve done, or not done as the case might be.

The Bible says His punishment is an eternity of absolute, total and utter misery and despair. You think it’s bad here? You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. It’s hot. Really hot. There’s fire, lots of fire and it never goes out. No cool water to give relief. There’s pain ” you think your aches and pains are bad? How about incredible pain, and no morphine, Percocet, Vicodin, aspirin, ibuprofen or even children’s Tylenol there. It’s dark, no light at all. And there’s incredible despair ” because as unbearable as it’s been for as long as you have been there, there’s yet an unending supply of more. No hope for relief for the loooong ages of eternity yet to come. Sound like Hell? I hope so, but the thing is: it’s worse than I’ve just described by a country mile. And every last one of us here deserve it because we’ve broken God’s laws. And let’s face it, depending on how long we’ve been saved, for many of the times, we didn’t care, we did it because we wanted to and we. didn’t. care. God rightly has us as guilty lawbreakers in His court. He has plenty of evidence, He saw it all. We have no excuse ” what could we even attempt to reply at the stack of things He’s seen us do? The verdict is guilty and all that would await us at sentencing is the gaping maw of Hell waiting to swallow us up.

See, but this is where what God did still blows my mind even though I’ve been saved now, oh, about six years. Though we have offended Him, and figuratively spit in His face in rebellion against Him, He loved us in that He’s provided a way that we can escape this judgment we deserve. In our court case, we’re guilty dead to rights, and we need someone to take the punishment for us; to pay our fine for our crimes against God, because we cannot. Not even a little. What God did, was to send His son, Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to be born into this world of the Virgin Mary. And unlike what we’ve done, He followed every law of God to the T. He then suffered and died on the cross for us, to take our place, a substitute acceptable to God on our behalf, and rose again on the third day. So on the day of judgment, we can, instead of being thrown into Hell, we can go free and enjoy paradise with God for eternity. So not only do we not get the punishment we deserve, we get an incalculable gift of eternal bliss with God. He could have just said, “you don’t have to go to hell”, and annihilated us, but He’s given us the gift of eternal life with Him! And while we’re still here, He gives us His Holy Spirit, to work in us. To help us be conformed to the image of Christ, and to live a life pleasing to Him.

He has put two conditions on the forgiveness He offers ” which are sorta two sides of the same coin really, but it’s easier to describe as two. First, you must understand that God is right and you are wrong: you’ve done wrong and offended God, and that that’s a bad thing, and you are sorry for doing so. Not sorry because you’d be going to Hell, as criminals are when they are found guilty, but real contrition ” sorry as you would be to a spouse or loved one for doing a bad thing to them. Sorry in a way which will cause you to strive to do the right thing going forward. This is repentance. Second, you must believe in what Christ has done, and who He is. Believing here means trusting in that Christ’s sacrifice for you is sufficient to make you right with God. It means believing that Jesus is the Son of God, and as such He has the authority to command us to do things, and as a result we ought to obey. It means trusting His promises to us ” that He is able to do as He has promised to us ” as to do otherwise would be calling Him a liar. This is the good news. While we were yet God’s enemies, He rescued us and gave us an out; and we get to spend eternity with Him, and have the Holy Spirit in this life.

So God has given us a conscience so that we can understand our own nature ” and so we want to keep the conscience working properly, so we should obey the law to keep it working properly.

5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes [phoron], for the authorities are ministers of God, attending continually to this very thing.

In this and the verse that follows, there are two different words and they’re translated rather inconsistently from translation to translation, and I had to struggle a bit to figure out what was what. I wound up going to the Greek a bit and I apologize in advance if I pronounce these wrong. The Greek word (phor-os) that underlies the word taxes here could also be translated as tribute ” the kind of taxes you’d pay to a foreign leader who had conquered your country. It can also be more of an individual assessment on person or property. It would be comparable to property or income taxes.

In the days when this was written, the Romans were ruling over Judea, and people hated paying a foreign government taxes to keep them under their rule. But, even foreign rulers are due their taxes, and they are the sometimes the hardest to swallow. The US has never had to pay tribute, as our policy has generally been one of Billions for defense, but not a penny for tribute. Anyway, the Pharisees knew that everyone hated paying the taxes to Rome and tried to use this to entrap Jesus over the payment of taxes to Caesar. Luke 20:20-26 says:

So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor.

The idea here is if Jesus said not to pay the taxes, they could haul Him in before to judge.

So they asked him, Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not? But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have? They said, Caesar’s. He said to them, Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. So they tried to trip Him up, and they were made to look foolish.

But the relevant part here is that Jesus said: pay your taxes! It doesn’t matter whether you like the government to which you pay them. Although frankly, I don’t think it really matters, as I don’t think I’ve run into one person who likes to pay taxes. If you do, let me know. I know how I can increase your joy; you can pay mine. But we are to pay our taxes to support the authorities that God has put into place over us. They are God’s ministers to keep things civil.

An application of this is that we shouldn’t be paid under the table, nor should we pay others under the table, because proper taxes would not be paid. Likewise, if we make improvements to our property that affect our taxes, we should report them.

7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes [phoros] to whom taxes are owed, revenue [tel-os] to whom revenue is owed,

Let me clear this up a little, the word taxes here is the same as the one I just described. Revenue, or the greek word that underlies it ” telos, is a general toll on goods or travel ” like sales taxes or import tariffs or tolls. These are the kind of taxes that the apostle Matthew was charged with collecting before Jesus called him.

Like the phoros taxes, we are to pay the telos taxes as well. Jesus did, as an example to us in Matthew 17:24. There, they ask Peter if Jesus paid the half-shekel temple tax, and Peter says “yes.” And later, Peter speaks with Jesus about the tax, at which point Jesus explains in the text that He shouldn’t really have to pay the tax because of who He is. However, as to not cause offense, Jesus has Peter catch a fish in which Jesus told him to pay the tax for the both of them with the coin that would be in the mouth of the fish.

An application of this tax would be to be wary of discounts for paying in cash that you can sometimes get, as it’s usually because they’re not going to report the income, nor pay the proper sales tax. While in that case we might not be directly responsible for the taxes, we might be participating in someone else’s sin, so be careful there.

So really, if there’s a tax or fee or toll, our job as Christians is to pay it if it is required by law.

7b respect [fear – phobos] to whom respect [fear] is owed, honor [timane] to whom honor is owed.

We also give honor and respect to those to whom it is due. Much like I’ve heard about the military, you may not respect the man, but you respect the rank. So if you’re in the military, no matter what the person is like, if rank requires it, it’s “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. Or in court, even if the judge is corrupt, you say “yes, your honor” and “no, your honor”. Talking to a cop it’s “yes officer” and “no officer”. We give proper respect to the office of those we deal with.

In Acts, chapter 23, Paul ran into the wrong end of this before the council to testify of the events when he was almost killed by an angry mob of Jews. Paul had just started his testimony when the high priest commanded one who stood by to strike him on the mouth, to which Paul responds

God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck? Those who stood by said, Would you revile God’s high priest? And Paul said, I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.

So even though Paul initially gets it wrong here (even though he is right about the part about being struck contrary to the law), once he realized who he’s dealing with where he quotes Exodus 22:28, he agrees that he has spoke improperly to the high priest.

So we ought not to speak evil of our leaders either. In fact, 1 Peter 2:17 says we should honor the emperor, or in our case, that would be the President. So again, the quality of the person filling the role here is not the issue ” it’s the position they hold. If they have a position to which they are do honor or fear, we ought to give it to them ” especially if we don’t like them, or vehemently disagree with them.

Not only should we not curse our leaders, we are instead supposed to pray for our leaders too. Even the ones we don’t like. 1 Tim 2:1-2 says:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

However, we are allowed, inasmuch as the law allows it, to question, appeal, protest, or beseech the government for things.

In Acts 25, Paul realizing that the system as it was would not afford him a fair trial in Jerusalem because of the Jews, he appealed to Caesar. Likewise in Daniel chapter 1, Daniel, Hananaiah (aka Shardrach), Mishael (aka Meshach) and Azariah (aka Abed-nego), did not want to eat the Kings food and defile themselves with it, and as such the appealed to the chiefs to allow them to eat vegetables instead.

We should take advantage of the freedoms we do have, town meetings, voting, legal forms of protest, letter writing, communicating with our leaders, and generally whatever legal means we have to participate in government.

People may blaspheme Christ because they don’t like the things you do, but if you are doing what is right according to the man’s law, and more importantly God’s law, if they blaspheme God, that’s on them. If it’s because you aren’t behaving properly, then it’s also on you.

Another way to think of it: at any point in your day, we should be able to credibly witness to whoever it is we’re around (assuming the circumstances permit it). You can’t credibly witness through a car window to a cop who has just pulled you over, nor to your defense attorney or to the jailer or IRS auditor if you are there because you have done wrong.

If we are imprisoned because of our obedience to Christ, then so be it, we are in good company with many saints. But at least in this country, that’s not happening…. yet, and praise God for that for as long as it lasts. But if we are imprisoned due to disobedience, we bring shame upon His name.

Before I finish I’ve spoken a lot about the law today and I realize I might have opened up the question in your mind of: aren’t you being just a tad legalistic here? Am I saying that if you’re a criminal you can’t be a Christian? No. Am I saying that Christians who commit crimes cannot possibly be saved? No. These people might want to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith, yes. But committing a crime doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t saved. So from the aspect of salvation, no, I don’t believe I’m being legalistic at all. However, if God’s word clearly states: we are to obey human law, I think I can proclaim with authority: we are to obey human law.

So to summarize: We ought to, as our reasonable service to God, obey the law of the land, pay our taxes, and give the honor to the persons filling the positions of authority. This way, we don’t have to worry about getting in trouble with the government, we’ll help keep our consciences working properly and by behaving properly, people will have no means to blaspheme Christ because of our behavior with respect to the law of the land.