Chapter 13:1-7 (ESV) - Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 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.
Question to consider: What does it mean to be subject to governing authorities?
Yesterday, Paul wrote about keeping peace within the local congregation of believers as best as we can and leading our relationships with mercy toward one another rather than seeking judgment. Our rebellious nature inherited from Adam tends to want judgment against those who do some kind of wrong to us and mercy from those we have wronged. Given the great mercy we have received from God in accepting the righteousness of Christ on our behalf, we should overflow with it to our neighbor.
Beyond the church and into society, God has established governing authorities to maintain order in our cities and neighborhoods. It is worth noting that Paul wrote this letter during the reign of Caesar Nero. Even if this was in the first part of his reign which had not yet begun the Roman persecution of the church, Paul would have been very familiar with governors and soldiers who ruled wherever Paul went.
Add to this the apostle Peter's instructions in his first epistle toward the end of Nero’s reign, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.” (1 Peter 2:13-15)
All of the apostles knew we would face persecution just because of our association with Christ. In each of the gospel accounts there is a warning from Jesus that the world would hate us because of Him. The gospel is enough of an offense to people. There is no reason to add to the offense by being an unruly citizen unless we are asked to do something that dishonors God. Paul even stresses that as good citizens, we should pay the taxes we owe and give everyone their due honor.
The only caveat I would argue on this subject is that in the United States of America, we are a republic and do not have an emperor or rulers. It is supposed to be a government by the people and for the people so we have a President and representatives who are supposed to be serving the people and not ruling over them. As a nation, we have allowed the public servants to act like rulers and allowed the government to increase in size to the point where it is becoming more and more like a modern-day Roman empire.
As citizens, we still have the ability to restore the balance of power back to the constitution and reduce the infringement of government without going to war. Paul understood his own rights as a Roman citizen and exercised them at the appropriate time in order to bring the gospel to Rome. I believe it is God-honoring to work within our system of rights to hold those to account who have become corrupted in power.
Dear heavenly Father, we live in a time not unlike the early church in regard to ruling authorities. Help us Lord to be good citizens when we can and give us the wisdom to use the means provided to us to root out corruption. We look forward to the return of our true king, Jesus, and long for the day when there will be no more sin and death. Amen.