Romans 13.1-7 – Government and Authority

In the mouth of the opposition to the current president-elect are the words ‘don’t trust the government’, but the bible is clear – the Government is God’s minister. People who would label themselves Christian have taken up with the spirit of fear, and have insisted that we must not trust nor should we place our hope in the Government. Does the bible, which many claim to base their Christianity on, permit a general mistrust, fear, or even rebellion against the Government?

Let every man be subject to the high power — for there is no authority but from God; the authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Accordingly, he that opposes the authority opposes the command of God, and they that oppose it shall receive unto themselves the judgment. For those that rule are not terrors to good works, but to those who do evil. Do you then want to stop being afraid of the authority? Work that which is good and you will have the praise from him. For he is the servant of God to you for the good; however, if you continue to do that which is evil, be afraid — for he wears not the sword in vain, for he is a servant of God, an executor of justice, to visit wrath to the evil doer. For this reason, there is a necessity to be subject, not for the wrath, but also because of your conscience. Then, for this reason, pay your taxes also. For they are ministers of God’s service, and on this very thing, they continue steadfastly. Therefore, render to all that is their due — taxes to whom taxes is due, revenues to whom revenues, fear to whom fear, and honor to who honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7 CTV-NT)

This is not just a mere passing thought of the Apostle Paul in hopes of securing from Rome some measure of peace, but indeed, this commandment runs throughout the New Testament and may be found in 1st Timothy 2.1-2; Titus 3.1; and 1st Peter 2.13-17. By the mouths of those that had held the name, we hear,

Justin Martyr (Apology 1:17) writes, “Everywhere, we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes, both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Jesus. We worship only God, but in other things we will gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that, with your kingly power, you may be found to possess also sound judgment.”

Athenagoras, pleading for peace for the Christians, writes (chapter 37): “We deserve favour because we pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, until all men become subject to your sway.”

Tertullian (Apology 30) writes at length: “We offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all other things, they must themselves desire…. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection for the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest–whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish.” He goes on to say that the Christian cannot but look up to the emperor because he “is called by our Lord to his office.” And he ends by saying that “Caesar is more ours than yours because our God appointed him.” (Barclay’s DSB)

We must be reminded that the governments of this world are not their own, but ours – as Tertullian – because just as we are of God, they are appointed by God to carry out His plan and His will. It is not that we have a confident expectation in the Government or even faith that they will do what is morally and scripturally right, but we must hope, trust, and know that the same God that we serve has appointed these governments for a specific purpose, and if He has done so, then we can trust that they will serve us in the manner that we need them to do so.

Does this mean that we accept what governments do, or will there come a time in which civil disobedience becomes the order of the day? I believe that when the government interferes with the Church, then it must be resisted. We can find such an example in Daniel, who served the King, but resisted his command to cease the worship of the God of the Jews. Again, the Three Young men, who had served the King up until the time it came to worship a false god.

Then we have the much heralded example of Polycarp (chapter 9 and 10), who led no political rebellion against Rome, but insisted on his service to the Christian King and Savior,

Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, the proconsul sought to persuade him to deny Christ, saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, such as, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer an account of my faith; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.”

Therefore we see that the proper examples of Christian men who would rebel rebel only against the infringements of the Government upon the Church. What does this mean for the founding of the American Republic who, in mob rule fashion, decided that representation in Parliament was a suiting reason for open and armed rebellion against the King of England, claiming God for their banner?  Can an open rebellion, not only against the King of England, but against the very word of God, be considered a Christian act especially if that rebellion was held on the issue of taxes?

What then of God’s sovereignty? Might, and victory, does not make right. I am reminded that Nero fiddled while Rome burned and the Christian’s were blamed or that Christ suffered and died while the nations rejoiced. The Death of Christ was indeed the righteous thing, for all of us, but how many of us would have participated in the murder of the Righteous Man?

The idea that we cannot trust the government is foreign both to the Scriptures and Tradition, and should be foreign from our pulpits. In a government that we feel stands in opposition to our morality, we must consider what Paul tell us, that is to work good things, to earn praise instead of delve into fear. Do not read into this as that we hold the government as we would God, but instead, understand that a basic fear of government is not necessary.

Post By Joel L. Watts (10,153 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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8 thoughts on “Romans 13.1-7 – Government and Authority

  1. The American Revolution was about far more than “taxes”, and was certainly intellectually and morally superior to “mob rule fashion”.

    You’re reciting a comic book version of American history. I believe a reading of the Declaration of Independence would increase your understanding.

    America’s founders, through acts of courage and faith, founded a nation that freed Europe (including England) in the 20th century, by resisting the evil empires of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

    That’s right – America has not only stood down its own government, but has challenged the authority of other nations’ morally bankrupt regimes.

    God has indeed blessed America like he has no other country on earth, save perhaps, Israel. And during the revolution, even the British recognized God’s hand of providence in the cause of the colonies.

    To compare America’s founders to Nero – a psychopathic tyrant – is not only inflammatory, but morally problematic. I don’t believe you grasp the obligation we Christians have to fight evil – not only through prayer, but by force, if need be.

    You’ve opined that the founding of America was an un-Christian act – and many good Christians would agree with you.

    So, don’t you all consider it hypocritical to remain on America’s tainted soil for even another minute? After all, isn’t it akin to accepting stolen property?

  2. I think America has been blessed too long, and Our Abba God is very tired of the falling away, the moral standards we have here, and we are seeing his Wrath.. and it is only going to get worse,Unless America comes back and repents!

  3. I believe that it was Solomon who states that “there is a time and a place for everything including (war”. My biblical stance would be to “follow after anything that upholds biblical morality and does not threaten the liberty of conscience.” I believe in giving “honor where it is do” only to the extent of crossing the biblical model for morality 10 commandments and such supporting Love modules. I believe historically if there was no breaking away from the english government or the monarchy,(which was tainted by roman influence) then America would not have the position of freedom of religion and such. No, the invisible church is not governed by governments that are spiritually rogue, but we are to stand in the areas that are needful and abstain even if it means unpopularity….From the historical standpoint our democratic society was founded on the premise of being able to be free in conscience choice. While the monarchy that we came from was leaning toward the influence of one church (rome). America only stands to be this land of freedoms because at a certain time in a certain place the time that Solomon spoke of came and we were in desperate need of breaking away. Our leaving(monarchy) was God provoked so the continuance of the visible church could be set free and the undefiled gospel could be spread and maintained. Thanks for your time reading…God Bless America and Everywhere else!!!!

  4. Actually, I have done my fair share of historical research, since that whole history major thing. I note two or three things
    1.) You never provide any counter arguments, just that I was wrong
    2.) You compare American to Israel, which tells me that you are one of ‘those.’
    3.) You believe everything you read or see with the flag behind it.

    This world is not my home – whether I am here or Russia or Nuie. All are stolen property because we have all stolen God’s creation.

    Tell me, show me, where in Scripture are we required to fight by force the evil which lies before us?

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