SUBMISSION TO GOVERNMENT
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Romans 13:1
It was the famous eighteenth century English poet Alexander Pope who coined the phrase, “Order is heaven’s first law.” There seems to be a great deal of truth in his statement. When the individual life is out of order there is great personal tragedy in store. When a marriage or family is out of order there is a chaotic situation that affects many lives. But when the government is out of order or nonexistent it brings national chaos, disaster and untold suffering for millions of people.
In Romans 12 Paul has just finished developing four of our basic Christian relationships. They are first of all to God (1–2), and afterward to ourselves (3-8), to one another (8-10) and finally to even our enemies (17-21). 1 Now he develops our relationship to the state and shows us how we must function as good citizens in our respective nations.
Moo points out how submission to government makes up an important part of that “good, pleasing and perfect” will of God that Paul mentioned earlier in 12:2. He shows how there was evidence in Paul’s time that some groups in Rome, possibly including Jews, were agitating against paying taxes to the nation. 2 If this were the case it would appear a very unwise and dangerous action on the part of the Jews. Already their ties with Judea were viewed with suspicion by Rome 3 and the seething rebellion against Roman rule was even at this time gaining momentum in that country. It would erupt into the full-blown revolt against Rome beginning in AD 66.
The normal and consistent response of the church from earliest times was to show support for the government and to view government as being established by God (cf. Dan. 4:17). Christians prayed for the emperor and they continued to do so even when that emperor became Nero. 4 There were occasions where Paul actually appealed for protection to the emperor in light of his Roman citizenship. However, we also see from many places in scripture that there is a point at which Christian submission to the emperor and government had to be suspended (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29). That point was reached when the government stepped out of its position and began to interfere in matters of faith. The point came when the Roman emperor proclaimed himself as a deity and demanded worship and sacrifice to himself.
In Matthew 22:15 ff., some of the Pharisees and Herodians tried to test Jesus with a question of whether or not taxes should be paid to Caesar. Jesus gave them his famous answer in Matthew 22:21: “…Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
In his answer Jesus establishes our responsibility to pay taxes to Caesar but at the same time he excludes from Caesar’s realm that express image of God in man. He was no doubt speaking of the matter of worship and service which belongs to God and him only.
The Old Testament gives us great light on God’s establishment of the Gentile governmental order. After the fall of the sovereign government of Israel in 586 BC, God set up a Gentile world governmental system beginning with King Nebuchadnezzar
We see all this detailed for us in Daniel 2:29-45. This system was pictured in King Nebuchadnezzar’s vision as the giant image of a man with the king himself being the “head of gold.” After him came the Media/Persian Empire pictured as the chest and arms made of silver. Then the Greeks were next pictured as the belly and thighs of bronze. Finally there was the Roman Empire pictured with legs of iron and feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. It is clear that the Roman system would last for many hundreds of years and that it would still have influence on us today. Finally the system would be terminated and destroyed in the end-days by the coming of the Messiah (Dan. 2:34). We are told that the ten evil kings pictured by the ten toes of the image will in the end-days unite with the grossly evil world ruler called the “Little Horn,” who is the Beast or Antichrist (Dan. 7:23-27). Obviously the Gentile governmental system was to be in a constant state of degeneration until it would end with the Beast and the worldwide disaster caused by him.
While it is true that the Roman Empire and its train of government has kept the world from anarchy and ruin for these many hundreds of years, it is also true that from Nebuchadnezzar, to the Roman Emperors, to Antichrist, there is a tendency for rulers to try to take the place of God. This requires believers like Daniel of old and believers like us today to be alert and to be as wise as serpents in dealing with governments. It is clear from Daniel that the Messiah will eventually crush the Antichrist and the Gentile world governmental system. At that point in the future the sovereignty under Christ will be handed over to the saints of God (Dan. 7:26-27). Until that time comes we are to submit to these authorities.
“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (13:2). The scripture does not take away our right to demonstrate against unrighteous decrees of government or to refuse to bow to government when it is seeking to take the place of God. We certainly have the responsibility to pray and intercede for governments (1 Tim. 2:1-4). In 1 Peter 2:13-14 we are also commanded: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”
We must submit to authority. Jesus is our example by his submitting to his own death on the cross. In doing so he said to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above…” (Jn. 19:11). So God placed Pilate into office well-knowing the dastardly deed he would perform. Jesus could have called ten thousand angels and could have destroyed Pilate, his whole army and the whole Roman Empire, for that matter, but he instead submitted to a shameful death on the cross.
David teaches us to be very careful in rebelling against authority even when authority seems corrupt, deranged and dangerous. He restrained his men from killing King Saul when they had a perfect opportunity to do so. David said: “… I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed” (1 Sam. 24:10). Later when David’s son, Absalom rebelled against his father it seemed that all nature worked against him. His long hair was caught in an oak tree and while he hung there helplessly javelins were plunged into his heart by the commander Joab. It is good for us to submit to authority, especially family authority. Clarke comments: “It is an awful thing to rebel, and the cases are extremely rare that can justify rebellion against the constituted
“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you” (13:3). Swords were often carried in front of Roman officials indicating that they had full authority of life and death. Those who were evil had much to fear but the righteous had little to fear. Generally the Romans kept the peace, advocated justice and made an orderly life possible in an otherwise vicious and turbulent world.
“For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (13:4). It is interesting in this passage that Paul uses the very word which is used elsewhere in the New Testament designating ministers in the church. The word is diakonoi. 6 It is the same root from which we get our word “deacon.” We see by this that earthly rulers are established by God and are actually servants of God. We remember how God called King Cyrus of Persia his “anointed” and his “shepherd” (Isa. 45:1; 44:28). It was Cyrus who sent the Babylonian captives of Judah back home and ordered that their nation be restored and their temple be rebuilt. Clearly those who resisted Cyrus and his decree were resisting God and their punishment was forthcoming.
Paul brings in another aspect of submission. He says: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience” (13:5). We are told in scripture that faith and a good conscience go together. When we forget the latter we may make a wreck of the former (1 Tim. 1:19).
I am told that the US government maintains what is called a “Conscience Fund.” This fund is kept for those who have a bad conscience and would like to clear up their personal government debts, while at the same time remaining anonymous. There is the old story of the man who wrote to the government’s Internal Revenue Service saying: “A few years ago I cheated on my income taxes. My conscience has been troubling me, and I haven’t been able to sleep. So I enclose a check for fifty dollars. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send you
the rest.” 7
“This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing” (13:6). The complexities of our state infrastructures require that many people be involved in administration. These people spend their whole lives working for us so that our lives can go along smoothly. We should be thankful for these civil servants and we should be careful to pay our taxes, which partly support their work.
We may think our tax load is heavy but it may not compare at all to the taxes in the ancient world. The Roman government levied three standard taxes on all its subject nations. First there was a “ground tax” which amounted to one-tenth of all the grain and one-fifth of all wine and fruit produced on that land. Second there was an “income tax” which amounted to one percent of a person’s income. Last there was a poll tax which had to be paid by all between ages 14 through 65. 8 We can only imagine how much in addition to this that the empire’s religious Jews had to add in their service to God.
Paul admonishes: “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor” (13:7). Some years ago I remember sitting in my office talking with a brother in the Lord. In most all respects this brother was an admirable Christian. But as we talked he informed me that he didn’t agree with the direction that our government was going and because of it he had been refusing to pay taxes for some time. Of course, I pulled out Romans 13 and mentioned some of these verses. They didn’t seem to make any difference in my brother’s thinking. I could not help but feel sorry for this otherwise devout man. He obviously would be facing some problems in the future; problems with his conscience; and problems with tax authorities who might suddenly descend upon him and destroy his way of life. He would then face problems in paying off the vast sums of accumulated taxes, interest and heavy penalties. It seemed to me he was living with something “heavy, heavy, hanging over
We see that along with taxes we must also pay respect and honor. It is interesting that God operates in a sort of chain of command. First there is God himself, who is over all, then there are the designated rulers over the earth, after that there is husband and wife, then there are children. The children are at the end of the chain and their basic job is to obey their parents. When we respect and honor those over us, we can live peacefully and joyfully in the earth. When we fail to respect and honor those set over us our lives can become a nightmare.
The early Christians honored their superiors and their authorities. They paid their taxes. The early church father Tertullian once remarked: “That which the Romans lost by the Christians refusing to bestow gifts on their temples, they gained by their conscientious payment of taxes.”9
THE DEBT OF LOVE
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
There is one debt we can never repay and that is the debt of love. For instance, children could never hope to repay their debt to the faithful parents who have provided for them, protected them and directed them through their young lives. In a very similar sense as children of God we can never hope to repay the Lord’s goodness in providing for us, in protecting us and in directing our lives. All we can do is try to be exceedingly grateful and remember to praise him.
Paul continues: “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (13:9).
Love is the fulfilling of the law. The love of our neighbors is called in James 2:8 the “royal law” (basilikos nomos) and it is echoed in scripture all the way back to Leviticus 19:18. Jesus was once asked what was the greatest commandment of the law. He replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt. 22:37-40).
Let us think of the simplicity of these twin commands of Jesus. If we loved God with all our hearts we would never think of displeasing him or breaking his commands. St. Augustine once said “Love God, and do what you like.”10 Augustine knew that if we really love God we can never do just what we like. Instead, we will want to please him with our every thought and deed.
Paul says: “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (13:10). If we really love our fellow humans we will be constantly thinking of their good and what would please them. If we really love our neighbor we would never dream of stealing from him. We would never dream of committing adultery with his wife. Neither would we covet her or anything else our neighbor has. Thus we can see how love fulfills all commands. We observe how law and love work beautifully together. It has been said that “Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.” 11
When we sincerely love God and our fellow man there is no law of God that will condemn us. We would constantly reflect the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, with such attitudes as love, gentleness, goodness, and we are told that “…Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:23). So the entire law is summed up in Jesus’ command (Gal. 5:14). Indeed, when we think about it we realize that love is the very essence of Christ’s law.
Now let us look at the matter of our other debts and also the borrowing of money mentioned in verse 8. There are several things the Bible condemns. It condemns charging interest to a brother or sister in the faith (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; Deut 23:19; Neh. 5:1-11). However, it does not condemn charging interest on money to others (Deut. 23:20; Matt. 25:27). Through the centuries some of the largest banking houses in the world were run by Jews. The Bible does warn us about charging exorbitant interest to anyone (Prov. 28:8; Psa. 15:5). Some of our credit card companies are certainly breaking this law today.
God’s plan was to bless Israel to such a degree that she would lend to many nations but not borrow from any (Deut. 28:12). Because of Israel’s disobedience this benevolent plan was never completely realized. God’s people found it necessary to borrow at times (Neh. 5:4) and they still do. So the Bible acknowledges that some people will borrow money. It gives us the warning that the borrower is always servant to the lender (Prov. 22:7), and it condemns those who borrow and fail to repay (Psa. 37:21).
Barnes notes how the principles laid down in the Bible should make borrowing unnecessary since the Bible promotes industry, frugality, humbleness in manner of life, a chastened view of the end of life, honesty and many other good qualities. 12
NO TIME FOR SLUMBERING
And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11
It is clear from the New Testament that the people in those times felt themselves living in the last day and even in the last hour of history (1 Jn. 2:18). Now some two thousand years later we must ask, “Were they sadly mistaken or were they truly and biblically correct?”
In order to get an answer to this riddle we must once more go back to Daniel. In Daniel 9:24-27 we have four verses that have mystified people since they were written almost 2500 years ago. We have in these four verses the mystery of the “seventy sevens” or seventy periods of time which likely contain seven years in each time period. These four mysterious verses shed much light on the biblical time frame and the manner in which biblical time is counted. These verses tell us in short that the countdown to the end-day began with a certain decree of Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem. This was probably the decree given in 445 BC. By the time Jesus was crucified, sixty-nine of the seventy time periods had elapsed on the end-day time clock. Shortly after that, both Jerusalem and the Holy Temple were destroyed by Titus (AD 70). Writers in the New Testament era knew they were living in the last period or last hour of history and they were right.
What happened? Almost two thousand years have now elapsed and the end has not come. How do we explain this problem? The secret is that the biblical clock must have stopped, probably at the destruction of Jerusalem or of the Temple. God’s end-day program was thus suspended and the gospel was taken to the Gentiles. We remember that the end-day time clock began running with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Obviously, Jerusalem’s destruction would have had great bearing upon this divine timing mechanism.
Today the clock still indicates seven minutes until midnight, so to speak. We are still very near a new day and we are still living in the last hour of history. The clock still remains stopped. When will it start again? It could start at any moment especially now that Israel and Jerusalem are being restored once more. But the event that will start the clock will likely concern the building of a new Temple. When the clock starts, we could have only a period of about seven years until the end of the age. This period will surely include the time of the Antichrist and the Great Tribulation so we need to be alert (cf. Heb. 10:25;
1 Pet. 4:7).
Paul says: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (13:12). So the darkness of the long Gentile Age is almost over. For at least the last hundred years the mercy of God has been returning to Israel and the nation has been largely restored. It is time to wake up for the rising of a new day. 13 We dare not slumber or carouse in the darkness as Jesus returns. Stott sees that Paul’s purpose here is to lay down an “eschatological foundation for Christian conduct.”14 As we endure the last dark hours of this evil age we must put on the armor of light. This last-day armor is detailed for us in Ephesians 6:10-18. We need to put on this armor as quickly as possible, and my, how we need the helmet of salvation in this day of mind pollution on a massive and unbelievable scale! Paul enumerates some of these evils.
He says: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy” (13:13). Several commentators have attempted to describe the darkness and debauchery of this evil Gentile age. Wuest, citing Thayer, brings out the meanings of some of the words used here. “Revellings” is the Greek word kōmos, with the meaning “to riot” or “to carouse.” He says this was “a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows, who after supper, parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before the houses of their male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking-parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.”15 Wuest speaks of “sexual immorality” (koitē) or sexual intercourse. He speaks of debauchery or wantonness (aselgeia) and describes it as “unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, shamelessness, insolence.” Jealousy (zēlos) he describes as “an envious and contentious rivalry.”16
Barclay says of aselgeia that “it is one of the ugliest words in the Greek language. It describes not only immorality; it describes those who are lost to shame. Most people seek to conceal their evil deeds, but people in whose hearts there is aselgeia are long past that.” 17 Clarke sees all manner of uncleanness and sodomy involved in this word. 18
Paul gives us the antidote for the darkness and evil of the last days. He advises us: “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (13:14). This last-day garment that we are to put on is described in many ways in scripture. In Colossians 3:10 it is called the new self which is renewed and patterned after the image of the Creator. To put on the new self is to clothe ourselves with things like compassion, gentleness, humility, kindness and patience (Col. 3:12). It is called the “full armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It is called a “wedding garment” in the great parable of the wedding banquet of Matthew 22. The poor man without the wedding garment was cast into the outer darkness (22:12-13). After all, the garment was provided freely by the host. All the man had to do was put it on. In the Book of Revelation this garment is described as the “fine linen that is bright and clean,” making up the wondrous attire of the Bride of the Lamb (Rev. 19:8).
All the various descriptions of last-day clothing are summed up in this verse above: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we put on the wedding garment or the armor of God we are putting on Jesus. For instance, the breastplate of righteousness is the Lord himself who is “our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6). We need to hurriedly attire ourselves with end-day clothing.
In the last few years Christians have probably faced some of the most devastating spiritual attacks ever known to history. Millions of “Christians” have fallen and sunk into oblivion as the pressures of this evil age have increased exponentially. But the faithful realize that we are nearing the end of the race. They are making no allowances for flesh but are finishing the race with great patience and endurance. They will be the ones who receive the crown of life.