How do you relate your faith to your politics? When is civil disobedience justified? Romans Chapter 13 verses 1 to 7 bring us answers to many of the questions that arise here.
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Romans chapter 13:1-7 Faith and Politics
Introduction: Churchill said that democracy was a terrible form of government, it’s just that all the other forms are even worse! Here we consider further ripples that come from following Christ - how do we relate to the Laws of the Land? As v.2 says, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted: Does that make us rebels without a Cause?
1. A Time to Obey
Authority: Why does Paul teach this? There was a tax revolt in Rome in 58 AD. Plus there were Jewish Zealots who formed a wing of Jewish culture who were like a resistance movement to the government. So Paul asks, who are you resisting? God’s Authority v.1 – State authority. There is a play on words between “appointed” and “instituted,” so we might paraphrase, “God has ordained them, so when we rebel against them we are actually rebelling against the ordinances of God. Are all political leaders God’s agents? Remember they very often abuse the calling! But in so far as their calling is for the common good, then yes. In so far as they break with that then they too will face justice- God’s! But don’t get caught up on the exceptions that prove the rule. Paul wrote this around the time when Nero would soon begin to persecute the church - now what did he do with Christians? Lions, and torches for garden parties!
Consequences: v.3 fear- that’s me when I see a police car- an immediate sense of guilt or at least questioning! But of course, crimes can be much worse than going 33 in a 30 zone. This is the power of restraint. Left to ourselves chaos is near – realistic about Human nature! Therefore- v.4 agents of wrath points back to ch.12 and the danger of revenge. God can bring justice this side of eternity or in the next. There is no escape. Carry the sword- symbol of capital punishment = death penalty- Act.25: 1 If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die.” And Gen.8. But even Cain didn’t face it!
Conscience v.5 - Just being caught is not a sufficient motive for being the best kind of citizen you can be. Fear can never lead to a transformation of character just restrain our character. But if your heart is changed, and is conscious of God’s call, that he is your real boss, you do your day job for his glory not just for the money, then your motive for working is much higher and your behavior will be much greater. So when no one is watching you, you still work hard because you are doing it for an audience of One. That is profoundly motivating.
Problems with this “authority” in your life? Threatening? In the Gospel it hands it to us in the shape of a cross- weakness- God himself taking the sword of wrath upon himself in Christ- If God would do that to save us and free us from our deepest tyranny which is not political or social but spiritual then you can learn to trust such authority.
2. A Time to Disobey. Paul is stating the divine ideal, not the human reality. V.3 is a general truth. Begs the question- what about when they are a danger to us? But is rebellion allowed? If a parent became deranged it would be the duty of the children to restrain the parent.
If the state commands what God forbids, or forbids what God commands, then our plain Christian duty is to resist, not to submit, to disobey the state in order to obey God Dan.3 and Act.5 two examples – resisting. Preaching the Gospel – churches closed when nightclubs were open, so some Scottish pastors went to court and won! Or an ethical question e.g. something substantive if you had to provide abortion on the pill- then you may have to take the cost and face the consequences.
If we want to know how to live under an oppressive government then Rev.13 rather than Rom 13 is more helpful. Usually, in many countries, there is a mix- of political and religious alliances that can attack Christians. We’ve seen this for the last 2000 years. Thus Revelation 13 is a satanic parody of Romans 13. Yet both are true. ‘According as the State remains within its limits or transgresses them, the Christian will describe it as the Servant of God or as the instrument of the Devil.’
Yet even the “beast” in Revelation 13:5, 7 “was given” (a divine passive) his authority from God. The message of Revelation is certainly in keeping with Romans 13—God is in charge and will remove unworthy rulers in his own time. He will indeed judge them but will do so at a time of his choosing. The saints are to submit to these authorities and let God take care of the rest (in a persecution setting, note Rev 13:10, “If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go,” a call for passivity). Insurrection- bad idea- Covenanters and the Huguenots- death of the movements. Jesus Mat.10. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.
3. A Time to Pay! - taxes, honor and votes!
Pay Up: v.6 pay your taxes! Even when some of that is invested by government in things you disagree with- well, in the Roman days- probably the State gave support for pagan shrines and temples- yet Paul says- Pay your taxes. Why? The witness of the church – Christians should be the best citizens not the worst. And the philosophers of the day placed a lot of emphasis on how people should obey the State. Sad if the world had higher standards than believers.
So we pay our part towards a common fund for prisons, army, police, etc. Sure, you can debate about how big or small government should be. But we all accept there are basics, there has to be people who give their full time to public service like teachers, police, army, road maintenance, rubbish collectors, and they should be paid. So for example, the value a people put on education one would hope that was reflected in how much they get paid. But Paul is saying, even if you disagree, you still have to pay. You have a vote you can use to say no, but pay you must.
Cast your Vote: Implication- tax was meeting your responsibility in the Roman Empire. But in a democracy that responsibility includes voting. A huge problem in the culture wars in this country is that for decades Christians were told to withdraw from this world- not be involved in government- worldly- education/university/, media- worldly- well then we handed the devil a free pass to get his kids into power! You have a vote- no theocracy- but are allowed by the majority to create rules. That’s a democracy. (learn from the past- don’t legislate against every sin- Blue laws – Old Testament did not have prisons- Restorative Justice compared to the American penal system!)
Live Worthy of Respect: V.7 honor and respect… Commend/praise- means our civic duty should be visible, for you can’t praise someone for their efforts if you can’t see their efforts. We should be seen to be exemplary citizens. Think of public discourse and the internet- no come back on our comments. It says- do not speak badly of your rulers…of course, disagree with policies, etc but remember being a good politician is not an easy job.
Conclusion: Respect- leads us to our conclusion- our lives are to Shine! Neither rebels nor slaves to the system. Do our lives add to the social capital around us sufficiently?
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 344.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 341.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 342.
 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 343.
 Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 343.