By Ronny Milliner
There are many different relationships we hold in this life. One may be a husband, wife, or child in the family relationship. One may be a student, employee, or employer. And one is a citizen of some country. Paul deals with the Christian’s duty to civil government in Romans 13:1-7.
The Charge Of The Exhortation
One of the Christian’s obligations to his government is to relinquish to it. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities,” writes Paul (13:1 a). He had further intructed Titus, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Tit. 3:1). Peter also instructed, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). The Christian is not to try to overthrow the government or rebel against it. The only exception to this rule is when the government would have us do something contrary to God’s law (Acts 5:29). Then we must obey God rather than the government. So, in spite of whether I might like or agree with the government’s rules, I must submit to them.
Paul says a Christian should also remit taxes to the government. In verses 6-7a he writes, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs.” It is a legitimate right of a government to tax its citizens. We may not like the amount of taxes we pay, and we may not like how the government uses the funds it collects, but we still have the obligation to pay those taxes. One may take advantage of the tax breaks the government provides for him, but he has no right to cheat the government out of what belongs to it. Jesus taught that we should render “to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mt. 22:15-22).
One other responsibility the Christian has to the civil authorities is to respect them. Paul continues, “fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (13:7b). The Roman Caesars were some of the most immoral and cruel people who have ever lived. Yet they were due respect because of the position they held. So today, a civic leader’s conduct may not be respectable, but we can and should still respect the position of authority which he holds. “Honor the king,” Peter says (1 Pet. 2:17).
The Cause Of The Exhortation
Why must we submit to the civil government? Paul gives three reasons in our text. The first reason is because of the control of God. Paul affirms, “For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (13:1b-2). The Bible teaches that God is in control of the nations (Psa. 22:28; Acts 17:26; Rev. 1:5). He rules them with principles of righteousness (Psa. 9:17; Prov. 14:34). When one resists the established authorities, it is the same as resisting God, for He established those authorities. Such becomes a serious charge.
We should also submit to the civil forces because of the true charge of civil government. Verses three and four read:
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of their authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
The basic function of government is twofold: “for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good” (1 Pet. 2:14). In the exercise of its duty to punish the evildoers, the government has the right to use capital punishment. Paul realized this fact when he said concerning himself, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying” (Acts 25:11). In such cases the government is only acting as a minister of God to punish the evildoer.
The third reason given is because of conscience’s sake. “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’s sake” (13:5). To violate our conscience is sin (Rom. 14:23). The conscience is not a perfect guide as one can readily observe from the life of Paul (Acts 23:1). But to constantly go against it will defeat the purpose it has of pricking us when we do wrong. So for this reason we should obey the civil government.
As citizens, let us live so as to receive praise from our government. When we do have complaints against the laws of our land, let us use the proper channels to express those grievances and not be found in rebellion against the authorities appointed by God.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 16, p. 502
August 15, 1985