We have been studying our response to the gospel. In Romans 10 we confess and believe; in Romans 11 we trust in the sovereign calling of election; in Romans 12 we begin to worship by serving God especially in church, being living examples of renewal, and trusting in the justice of God.
If you thought it was hard trusting God with justice, you might find this week even harder. Today we look at civil authority and how God's redeemed are commanded to respond to authority.
Definition of Authority
Though this passage is directly linked to what authority is, a proper definition of authority needs to be understood for your class lest confusion set in because of preconceived notions of authority. Random House defines authority as:
au·thor·i·ty [uh-thawr-i-tee, uh-thor-]noun, plural au·thor·i·ties.
1. The power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
2. A power or right delegated or given; authorization: Who has the authority to grant permission?
3. A person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.
4. An accepted source of information, advice, etc.
1 Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.
This word subject means under control, or in submission; our example in submission is marriage. 1 Peter 3 says wives should be subject to their own husbands, not because he's always right, but as an act of faith, realizing that we all are given a part of God's plan to fulfill, and we each will give account of how we do it.
Primary to all authority is God's authority. "There is no authority except from God." Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 28, "all authority has been given to me." In the complexities of the Trinity one finds the granting of Authority from the Father to the Son. We must understand God as the Source of Authority.
From this we also see in verse one that other forms of authority only exist because God allows them to exist. This is a very important point to make. From the beginning of the discussion on authority Paul is stating that however you feel about those in authority over you, your choice to be compliant or rebellious are not primarily directed at them but God: God is the Source of all Granted Authority.
2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
If you resist authorities you resist God and will incur His wrath. Often we do not think about the affront to God that our tiny revolts have, but according to this verse they can and will incur judgment.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
Why do authorities exist? Authority exists for Order. God allows governing authorities to have power so that God can do His will on the Earth. The ruler who must judge only applies that judgment to the one who is in need of it: the bad person. Those who are good should have no problems with government or any authority over them since that authority exists to make life ordered for the individuals that make up that particular community.
What about corrupt authorities? This is an excellent question and shows the nature of the flesh coming out. Please note that even though this rationally seems to be a good question it has already been covered in verse 1. Since God grants authority then authorities are accountable to God. Now for us it gets tricky since our government puts the authority into the law and grants men only a temporary right of enforcement. But we still must submit to authorities except for the specific case when obedience to God requires us to be disobedient to men.
In Exodus 1 midwives defied the Egyptian order to kill infant boys because they feared God. The circumcision of Jewish male children was a sign of them being separated to God, meaning that they belonged to God
In Daniel 3 Shadrach Meshach and Abednego break the law in refusing to worship idols . And in Acts 5 the apostles defy the Sanhedrin Council when they order them not to preach in the name of Jesus, and they famously refuse saying "we ought to obey God rather than men". So that is our line in the sand, we only rebel against authorities when required to obey a direct commandment of God.
Effects of Authority
Continuing on, Paul shows us what are the benefits of submitting to authorities. First, when we do what is right We receive Approval, and avoid wrath.
4 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 words here are a strong admonition: Be afraid. The divine nature of authority comes with the divine mandate to punish. When Paul says, "He does not bear the sword in vain," he is referring to the ability of rulers to inflict punishment.
In both of these cases we must note that The Authorities are Servants. They are servants of God to provide order or to punish chaos. In the latter case the authority is an avenger of God and is granted such only from God. Once again our ability to submit to authorities is our ability to submit to God, which is our spiritual act of worship.
5 Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake.
Verse 5 makes it clears that we should ever be trying to submit, not just for the sake of avoiding punishment, but also for having a clean conscience. There are many issues in this life in which we subvert authority and are not always caught, however in our conscious we know if we are righteous or not. Our example of marriage in 1 Peter 3 concludes with the warning "that your prayers be not hindered". So we see that our submission to authorities is our submission to God.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
As the saying goes there is nothing certain except death and taxes, so too in Paul's day. Perhaps you are reminded of Jesus' saying to render to Caesar what is Caesar's. This is the same sentiment here. We pay taxes in subjection to authorities for two reasons: one, because God has granted them that authority, and two, because they deserve it as the servants of God.
In verse 7 the taxes or tribute was the property tax or head-count tax due to live under the protection of a government. Customs is that which is paid to enter or leave a territory under authority. Fear is the respect paid to the controlling force. Honor is the value, the set price or rate of exchange, you understand that when you see a price in the store that is what you will owe to take that item home.
Practice of Authority
In conclusion, Paul sums up the command to submit to authority by saying, "do what your authorities tell you to do."
- How are we revolting against authority in our lives?
- In practice, do we deal with authority as a spiritual matter?
- What are the limits of opposing authority?
- If you do not like a ruler, such as a Bush or an Obama, are you still righteous in your attitudes and actions to them?
- At work, have you considered your boss as a servant of God in your life? What are the implications of the work environment in which the boss is seen as a servant of God for you?