A Modern Woman's Perspective On The Kingdom of God on Earth

May 5, 2024

Today's Christian and the Quandary Over Romans 13

It goes without saying that Romans 13:1-7 has been a subject of debate among Christians since it was written nearly 2000 years ago. But as with any critical consideration or interpretation of Biblical text, one must evaluate this passage within the context of what Paul is experiencing in his environment, and what God wants him to teach readers. I will admit that it is difficult to do that in the midst of our own experiences and environment; we are always wanting to contrast the two.

But this isn't about explaining our own biases in interpreting Romans 13. We must comprehend what Paul is explaining to the First Century Believers, with the clear understanding that God intends for us to take this teaching and apply the same Godly principles, not substituting our own prejudices. It's not an easy thing to do, and can lead to false justifications for our actions. So, let's dive in and see what we can discern.

It's important that we understand what has led Paul to this point in his letter to the believers in Rome. Remember, all the chapters prior to this one have related to instructing the Jewish and Gentile believers that God has a had a plan to reconcile [and bring into unity] all those who will believe in Jesus as His Son and the Redeemer of the world. God sees no difference between a Jewish believer and a Gentile one. In Chapter 12, Paul's letter brings everything from the previous chapters into focus to reveal that God demands our action [towards each other] as well as our believing and thinking, which leads to faith that expresses itself in obedience. 

All that coalesces into the instruction in Chapter 13 to "Submit to Authorities" or "Be Subject to the Government", depending on your translation. But here is what is not made clear in this short chapter. At the time, the Roman government imposed a hefty tax burden upon its subjects [which included the Jews], and those taxes had to be paid in coins [called a denarius] that portrayed the image of Caesar with an inscription calling him "divine". In addition, the Jewish people had a temple tax, which was required of Jewish males over age 20, and the money was used for the upkeep and maintenance of the temple. In this case taxes were paid in shekels.   

This information brings Romans 13:1 clearly into focus ... Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. Here, I believe, knowing the context of the culture Paul was writing from, he is saying, "Whether it be Caesar, or the Temple authorities, we are to render ourselves as subjects". Why, you may ask? Verse 2 tells us ... For there is no authority except from God [granted by His permission and sanction], and those which exist have been put in place by God. These authorities, whether a nation's leaders or church/synagogue leaders have been appointed by God to serve a purpose in His plan. The problem is that citizens, whether in Paul's time or our own, are short-sighted. We have only looked at these leaders as to how they have served or affected us, instead of understanding and honoring that God appointed them for HIS purpose.

So, here is what we need to come to terms with: God has not always appointed them to bless the people. Sometimes He puts them in place to judge the people or to ripen the nation for His coming judgment [bring His judgment to maturity]. If we would rightly discern the Word, we would see that neither the Lord nor Paul disputed or denied the authority of either the Roman Emperor or the Pharisee priests. In fact, both Jesus and Paul would suffer and be killed by the Roman authorities, having been targeted by plots of religious Jews. 

Just as Jesus did, we are not to resist [governmental] authority because to do so is to resist the decree of God. [NOTE: The exception to that is if authorities order us to do something in contradiction to God's law. We see that instruction in Acts 4:19, when Peter and John told the Sanhedrin that God's law superseded the laws of men, including the Sanhedrin's]. Back to Romans, Paul teaches that those who resist governmental authority will bring civil judgment and penalties on themselves. This should be a warning to all the people... if you do what is good, according to the law, then you have nothing to fear from the civil authorities, because they are God's servant to you for good. And in contrast, if you do wrong, then you should expect to be punished for going against God's protectors of society and social order. 

The mention that the civil authorities carry a sword of punishment and law and order seems to imply that force may be used, when necessary, to maintain order. If the authorities are acting in accordance to God's mandate to them, and the citizens comply with ethical and principled laws, then society operates in unity, everyone knowing what is right before God. It is through just punishment that government serves God's plan to hold man's sinful tendencies in check. IF a government fails to carry out this mandate from God, then it will find itself subject to God's own judgment and correction. This should be a stern warning to all the DA's who are not upholding our laws as we see crime escalating at extreme rates.

Then comes the verses that are most problematic for American Christians. Romans 13:6-7 says, For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending 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. From our cultural context, these verses rub us the wrong way. Having been birthed in rebellion to governmental authority, our national inclination is to object to an overlord that taxes our own hard work that has made us prosperous. But remember, Paul is writing to the First Century believers in Rome; both Jew and Gentile. We are to give to the state the money, honor and respect which is due them, while also giving to God for the work He desires to do. 

But it must be made clear [and understood] that these verses are implying that the taxes collected are for the purpose of restraining evil and keeping an orderly society -- not to line the pockets of the government officials. Paul leaves a lot of questions unanswered at this point in his letter. So, here we are in the 21st Century wondering how God wants us to respond to government authorities whom it is clearly discerned are not acting as righteous servants or ministers in accordance with His governmental "plan and purpose". At what point do we take a stand as Peter and John did? When and how do we justify actions to resist these ungodly authorities? We must remember that they are sometimes put in place [by God] to render judgment, not blessings, to a nation that has fallen far from Him. We must all be seeking God for these particular answers. We do not want to interfere with His purpose, but we want to do His will.

At this point in the chapter, Paul switches to the only "debt" we are to carry: Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. Yes, we are instructed that we have an obligation to pay our taxes and follow the laws our government has put in place. That is all the responsibility we have to our society. But Loving our Neighbor is a "forever" obligation and a debt that is never released. You can be religious and do all the "works of man", but to love like God loves is true obedience to our Lord and Master. 

Then we come to verse 11, which speaks so deeply to my spirit ... Do this, knowing that this is a critical time. It is already the hour for you to awaken from your sleep [of spiritual complacency]; for our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed [in Christ]. This verse reminds me of the parable of the Ten Virgins, five of whom were asleep in their spiritual contentment and slackness; unprepared for the hour that would divide those invited to enter and receive their kingdom inheritance from those whom the wedding feast was withheld. We cannot sleepwalk into the Kingdom! We must be wide awake, clothed in righteousness and in Christ, with our armor on and ready to defend our faith in the Name of Christ, as well as attack the forces of Evil that are readying for the return of our Lord! 

Romans 13 is a call to spiritual arms for every Believer in Jesus Christ, the Messiah! We must be discerning of both our government and church authorities. We must do right by God and His appointed authorities, trusting that whether they have been appointed to bless us or judge us, God will be with us and for us. And so, we look forward to that day we hear the trumpet blast that announces His return. It can't come soon enough for me!

Proverbs 21:1    The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.

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