Money, Politics, Submission: Romans 13:1-7

Thoughts from Passage

There are some passages that leave us scratching our heads and there are others that seem so crystal clear. This text is both. In trying to summarize  I would say it this way, “Paul is reminding followers of Jesus that the primary thing for them to worry about is following Jesus!” In other words, the governments of the world are not your concern, but make sure in your dealings of the government that you respond in ways that do not detract from the message of the gospel of Christ. Many of us have heard someone talk so badly about a politician that we are really left not knowing what to say and yet at the same time this same person tells you how great Jesus is. Paul is calling the church to be the church and for Christians to focus on Jesus more than anything else. What Paul is saying and I think we need to hear is that Christians need to be more focused on heart transformation rather than political agendas.

Romans 13:1-7

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 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 you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Paul has been writing about the characteristics and behaviors of God’s people. About how we are called to live and what that looks like in the renewing of our mind, the heart transformation that God does in us. He has been talking about what it looks like to be a follower, a disciple of Jesus. This shift then seems to be an interesting one, but in fact it does fit within the framework of what he is writing about.

Paul believed and the Jews were people that believed that God created order and that chaos was a result of sin and evil in the world. This leads to forms of government, even imperfect governments, fulfilling God’s work in creating order in a chaotic world. I, nor commentators like NT Wright and William Barclay, don’t believe that Paul is trying to say God is handpicking the politicians or the type of governments that exist, because it does not take much effort to see governments that are so corrupt that they offer little to no good. That would fall outside of God’s desire for any people.

Paul turns practical at this point and writes in a way that says, ‘don’t break any laws because then you will get in trouble.’ His advice gets more practical with saying to pay taxes and this is especially hard in the day that Paul wrote as so much of the tax that was paid was unfair. Paul goes on to say that just paying taxes is not the goal, but it must be more than that, it becomes a heart issue.

The heart issue is this, make sure nothing in your life as it relates to the government can give them or anyone else a reason to not listen to the gospel of Jesus. He is imploring the believers in Rome (and he would say the same to us) to make sure that their lives match that of Jesus so that the message of Jesus is not discredited by the way that they live! Paul is reminding them the God’s Kingdom trumps all the kingdoms of the world, but God wants to transform the earthly kingdoms to look more like the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the role of the believer to help participate in this radical transformation of the whole world.

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