October 30, 2022, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville
Good morning. Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Romans, chapter 13. I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through Romans as much as I have.
We’re in Romans chapter 13. And once again, God’s timing is just so perfect. Remember how it “just so happened” that we talked about Romans 8:28 on 8/28? Here we are again with another coincidence that isn’t really a coincidence. We hit Romans 13, about how believers are to relate to the governing authorities, and in a few days we get to vote on our governing authorities.
This is a great reminder to you to vote on November 8. We have a privilege that Paul and the believers in Rome didn’t have. We have a say in who our governing authorities will be. It is an unbelievable privilege to cast your vote. So don’t blow it off. Thank God for the privilege, and then exercise your right to vote.
Also, remember that our church is a polling place. On Election Day, our entire fellowship hall will be used for voting. So teachers and Awana leaders who use the fellowship hall, please make sure we clear away any personal items or clutter or stuff that needs to be thrown away before next Tuesday. We want to be good hosts.
So. We participate in our democracy. We cast our vote. And if our chosen candidates win, we clap each other on the back and do a little happy dance and go to bed on election night believing that better days are ahead. And what Romans 13 says about being subject to the governing authorities comes easy. If someone else is critical of the person we voted for, we might remind them what the Bible says in Romans 13, and that we are commanded to pray for our government leaders, and that you show respect for the office even if you don’t agree with the person that is holding that office. We are quick to correct anyone who says, “He’s not my President.”
Again, these are all the things we do when the guy we voted for won. But what happens when our guy loses? What happens if our preferred political party is not in power? Romans 13:1 says we are to be subject to the governing authorities. Does that change? It’s amazing to me that conservative evangelical Christians, who maintain that every word of the Bible is inspired and inerrant can spend long stretches of time—often either four or eight years—acting like Romans 13 doesn’t really mean what it says.
So what does Romans 13 actually say? Let’s look at it together. If you are physically able, please stand as we honor the reading of God’s word:
13 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 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
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. You may be seated. Let’s pray.
Now, I know you’ve got a LOT of blanks on your listening guide. And for the sake of all the people that will get really bent out of shape if we don’t fill in all the blanks, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way first. So, first things first. The blanks.
What is our Responsibility to Government (What we Do)?
First, be subject to the governing authorities. (v. 1). Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”
The word translated person is a little surprising. It’s not Anthropos, “man.” The word is psuche, which is usually translated “life” or soul. So I think Paul is saying this isn’t just superficial submission. You don’t just “do the right thing.” This is subjection at the soul level. We submit with our attitudes, not just our actions.
Just in case we miss it in verse 1, Paul says it again in verse 5: We must be in subjection to the governing authorities. Your translation might say, “submit” to the governing authorities. That Greek word is hupotasso and it literally means to line up under. It was used in a military sense to arrange troops in formation under a leader. It’s the same word Paul uses to describe husbands and wives submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21, and wives submitting to their husbands in Ephesians 5:24 and Colossians 3:18.
Now we could spend all of our time just on verse 1, and it could be our guide for everything else. Because this is a categorical imperative. There’s no qualifiers or conditions on either side of this statement. Who is to be subject to the governing authorities?
Every soul. Every person. Every man, woman, and child…
Is to be subject to: Submit. Line up under. At the soul level, not just superficially.
To the governing authorities: Which governing authorities? All of them. You can fill in the blank with any world leader, past, present, or future, and it’s going to be the same answer. Paul was writing to believers living under Emperor Nero. Be subject to Emperor Nero. The next generation of Christians would suffer horrific persecution under Domitian. The book of Revelation was written during Domitian’s reign, and much of what we read as end-times prophecy, the Christians of the day were reading as what was happening to them. Be subject to Domitian. Well what about Stalin? What about Hitler? What about Xi Jinping, or Kim Jong Un, or Bashar Al-Assad in Syria or Erdogan in Turkey. What do you say to Christians in those countries?
You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.
Well, what about our local school board? What about my AP Us History teacher? What about the woman that runs our HOA and sends me a nasty letter whenever I don’t edge my sidewalk?
You say Romans 13:1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.
Second, we obey them, for the sake of the conscience. Verse 5: everyone must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. God commands that we be subject to the governing authorities? Do submit and obey always mean the same thing? Not necessarily, and we will get to that, but after this Paul does gives some specific points in which we are to obey. For example:
Third, We are to pay our taxes: It’s right here, in verse 6. We don’t pick and choose which taxes to pay. Verse 7 says “Pay to all what is owed them.”
How many of you hate that this is in the Bible? This week I heard a story about a man who had cheated on his taxes, and for weeks after April 15, he had been unable to sleep. Finally, it became too much for him, so he wrote out a check to the IRS, along with a note that said, “Dear IRS: I haven’t been able to sleep ever since I failed to pay you the full amount I owed on last years taxes. So please accept this check, and I apologize for it being late.
P.S.: If I am still unable to sleep, I will send you another check for the rest of the amount I owe.”
The truth is, the believers in Paul’s day had a much, much more oppressive tax system than we do. Here are all the taxes a citizen of Rome was required to pay, according to a Wikipedia articie:
- Every citizen paid what it’s called the poll tax. This wasn’t a tax to vote. Pol is from the Latin polis, which means people. It was a tax simply for being a person. So you were taxed for every person in your household. Every male, aged 14 to age 65, every female aged 12 to age 65, just for being alive.
- If you were an unmarried man or a woman of childbearing age who wasn’t married, you paid a marriage tax.
- If you owned slaves, you paid a tax. If you sold slaves, you paid a tax on the sale. If you freed slaves, you paid 5% the value of each slave you freed.
- If you were Jewish, you paid a tax just for being a Jew.
- Widows and orphans paid a tax specifically to care for the horses of the military.
- If you received an inheritance, you were taxed 5% the value of the inheritance.
- There were sales taxes, trade taxes, and land taxes. There was a flat 10% tax for income. There were taxes for roads and harbors. 10% of your grain sales if you were a farmer. 20% of your wine sales if you had a vineyard.
- Then there was the fish tax. You were taxed on how many nets you would throw out into the lake or into the sea. You were then taxed on every single fish that your net caught.
- There was a wheel tax. If you had a cart, you were taxed on the number of wheels you had on your cart. Wheelbarrows were crazy popular.
The Roman government had the simplest 1040 ever. [show slide Two lines: How much money did you make? Send it in.]
But Paul didn’t spend time breaking down the tax code and trying to give the believers guidelines for which taxes to pay. Neither did Jesus. One time, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Do you remember Jesus’ answer?
19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.[c] 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus was brilliant here. The money has Ceasar’s image on it, so give it to Ceasar. But guess what, Christian: You have God’s image stamped on you. So you give yourself to God.
Fourth: We are responsible for honoring and respecting our governing authorities. Verse 7: respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Now, sometimes we attempt to do an end-run around this for politicians we don’t like by saying, “Well, so and so isn’t worthy of my respect.” She’s a godless pagan who is pro abortion and anti Second Amendment. She doesn’t deserve my respect.
My only question is, can you prove that from Scripture? Can you point to a place in Scripture where an authority figure was mocked or disKeep in mind that Paul is writing this to Christians who were living under Nero. Can you show me where Daniel ever dissed Darius? Or Jesus disrespected Pilate? Paul would say that they are owed respect and honor because of verse one. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Now, they may not be owed respect because they are good leaders, but we owe them respect if we are to be good followers. So, not to keep beating a dead horse, but this should eliminate about 98% of all memes that you see on social media during an election year.
- Fifth, and most important, we are to pray for our leaders. This one is not specifically in Romans, but Paul will say it to Timothy a few years after writing this:
2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)
Can I ask everyone to do this this week? Make a list of every politician that represents you. Barry Moore, second district of Alabama. Tommy Tuberville and Richard Shelby, our two senators. Kay Ivey, our governor. Maybe you like them, maybe you can’t stand them. Maybe you voted for them, maybe you can’t wait to vote against them. Doesn’t matter.
Add to the list politicians that are in leadership: Mitch McConnell. Kevin McCarthy. Chuck Shumer. Nancy Pelosi. Joe Biden. Kamala Harris. You may like them, you may loathe them. Doesn’t matter. Scripture says we are to make supplication, prayer, intercession, AND THANKSGIVING for them. That may be really hard for you. You may choke on those words. Doesn’t matter. The goal is that we live peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way (verse 3), and that all may be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (verse 4).
Listen, you may think a certain politician is the most godless, reprehensible person on the face of the earth. Every time you see his or her picture on the TV, you just want to throw something. You know what you do? You pray harder: “Lord, you desire all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Please… start with him!”
I’ll say this, too: there is a 100% chance that if you are praying for someone, you are not going to break into her home and attack her husband with a hammer.
So this is our responsibility to government. This is what we are to do. Now let’s talk about Why we do it. What is the reach of government? Or maybe this would have been better for your listening guide: What is the rationale for government?
First, let’s all agree that no government is perfect. Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” No government is perfect. Government has actually been around ever since Genesis 1, when God gave Adam dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28). Then family was introduced in Genesis 2. Woman was formed from man, so man is the head, and man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. That’s order. That’s a system of government.
But as Albert Mohler has pointed out, there’s no time at all between the establishment of order and government in Genesis 2 and the fall in Genesis 3. So we have no record of how government is supposed to function in a perfect world.
But second, we can all agree that any government is better than no government? The absolute most horrific statement in the Old Testament is Judges 21:25: In those days, Israel had no king, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. So no government is perfect, but anarchy is horrible. So God gave Israel kings. Most of them were bad. Ultimately Israel and Judah were overthrown, the people went into exile. You get the stories of foreign kings like Nebuchadnezzar, and Xerxes, Cyrus the Persian and Darius the Mede. None of them were perfect. But here’s what Romans 13 teaches:
The source of their authority is God. There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Period. Full stop. Questions? None.
Do you remember when Jesus stood before Pilate? Pilate was astonished that Jesus wouldn’t answer him. He looks at Jesus and says,
10 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?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.
Daniel 2:21 says that God is the one who removes kings and establishes kings. So even the Roman governor who signed Jesus’ death warrant was put there by God.
Now, in a weird way, our very system of government makes it easy for us to forget this. We get to vote for the people who represent us. So when someone says, “Well, who put so and so in office,” we either say, “I did,” or we say, “It wasn’t me. It was those idiot [fill in the blank with whichever political party you oppose].” So listen: Even though “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is politically correct, it isn’t theologically correct. We might pull the lever for this or that candidate, but God, in his sovereignty, is pulling the strings.
There is a twofold reason Paul says government exists. Paul says government is to be God’s servant on earth for two reasons, to protect and to punish. Government is the servant for our good (verses 4 and 6), and the administrator of God’s wrath (verses 3 and 5) To protect the community and to punish the criminal.
By the way, if you are looking for scriptural support for capital punishment, here it is. The government bears the sword as an avenger of God’s wrath against the wrongdoer. Police officers are the government officials who fulfill these roles the most. And notice how Paul describes them: Twice he calls them servants. You’ll recognize that Greek word—its diakonos, where we get our word deacon.
TR, Josh, Mike, did you know you were deacons of the City of Prattville?
When is the last time you got pulled over by a police officer, and thought, this is a servant of God. [CH Spurgeon story?]
But Paul is intentional with his language here. Governing authorities occupy a divinely appointed office. We should thank them for enforcing the law. But I now make it my point, whenever I see a police officer, somebody in government, to thank them for their service.
So we’ve talked about our responsibility to government: what we do. We’ve talked about government’s responsibility to us, which helps us understand why we are to be subject to them. But now, let’s turn to the key question for our time: Is it ever appropriate to resist the government?
Resistance to Government: (Should We Ever Not Do It?)
Remember I asked you earlier if “being subject to” meant the same thing as obey? Well, it actually doesn’t. Martyn Lloyd Jones pointed out that there are other words in the New Testament that mean obey. The most common is hupakouo, which means “to hear under.” This is what was used when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still, or demons to leave. That’s different from our word in Romans 13:1, hupotasso, which is line up under.
So it is possible to be lined up under the authority of the government, or under the authority of a ruler without obeying that authority. This means you acknowledge their right to punish you for breaking the law, and you are willing to accept those consequences. This is what you see throughout Scripture. Shiphrah and Puah were the two Hebrew midwives who refused to follow Pharaoh’s order to kill all the male Hebrew babies. It’s what you see all through the book of Daniel, in all the stories of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t dispute the king’s authority to throw them into the fiery furnace .
This isn’t in your notes, but you see it in Esther, when she dared to come into the king’s presence without an invitation. What did she tell Mordecai? If I perish, I perish.
Peter and John, when they were told to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. “We must obey God, rather than men.”
You see it outside the pages of Scripture as well. There have been numerous times throughout history that Christians have opposed the state, knowing the consequences of doing so.
Do you remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was signing the Declaration of Independence? “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” He was acknowledging that Great Britain had the right to hang them as traitors. All of the civil rights protestors in the Sixties recognized that the State had the right to take them to jail for sitting at a whites only lunch counter. They expected to get arrested, and they were arrested.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s who dared to speak out against Adolf Hitler. Ironically, the majority of churches in Germany fell in line with Hitler’s policies, and used Romans 13:1 to justify it. So when the cross was replaced with the swastika in their churches, they went along with it, saying, “Well, we must be subject to the governing authorities.” Bonhoeffer said no. And in April, 1945, less than a month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged in a concentration camp.
So there are times when it is appropriate for a Christian to resist the state. Not just appropriate, but necessary. Christians can’t give up their voice in the public square. We vote. We speak out. We write our leaders. We educate ourselves on the issues so we can advocate where we need to advocate and oppose where we need to oppose. We accept that the state has the authority to punish, but we are willing to accept the punishment.
And as we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, we recognize that this will become more and more necessary. Here’s some homework for you. Go home and take your listening guide, where you have Romans 13 printed. But open your Bible to Revelation 13, and read them side by side. You’ll read in Revelation 13 that the Beast was given authority for 42 months to utter blasphemy. Romans 13 tells you who gave him that authority. You’ll read in Romans 13 that the state wields the sword. Then you’ll read in Revelation 13 that
If anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword he must be slain.
So how do you know when it is right to oppose the state. When are you required to obey God rather than men? Here are some questions to ask:
Questions to ask:
- Will obeying the government disobey a commandment of God?
- Am I being asked to do something immoral?
- Will obedience violate my conscience?
- Will my disobedience be consistent with my Christian witness (Can I disobey like a Christian?)
A good Christian is to be a good citizen until being a good citizen means being a bad Christian.