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.
Obviously I haven’t planned very well, for we have arrived at these verses at a moment in time where many of us don’t really want to hear this, at least many of us in the US. Like many of you, I am not terribly pleased with my government right now; I am looking forward to the next election, and I’ll just leave it at that.
Yet, here we are and I’m not going to just skip the section because I’m not pleased.
Paul’s message, simply stated, is that human government is ordained by God, and that’s all I should have to say about it. Yet even though human government is ordained by God, human government exists in a corrupted world environment, and we should not pretend to be shocked when it turns out to be corrupt: It happens. What is really instructive in this teaching is that the government Paul was referring to had a nasty habit of persecuting Paul and his readers; yes, maybe we should reflect on that for a while.
If I had been Paul, I might want to write something quite different on this topic, but if I had, or if he had, then a great disservice would have been done to the Gospel. God did not call us to serve His kingdom so that we could engage in political action, for His Kingdom is not of this world. Instead, He has called us to share the Gospel, to share His love with those who have not yet heard it, to nurture and mentor other, younger Christians to maturity in the faith, not to protest stupid court decisions or corruption in Congress or the White House… or wherever it may exist in your location. I will add that if we did a better job of serving His purpose in a free society, it is quite likely that a very different group of people would be elected to represent us, without our ever needing to bring up politics.
By the way, when I teach such self explanatory texts as this one, this is often where I toss out a question, a rhetorical one of course: When you are driving your car around town, do you observe the speed limit, or do behave as the pagans do?
That one gets a groan from the group every time… 🙂
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.
Taxes: Nobody likes taxes, except the ones somebody else must pay. Here in America, we have a horrible tax system, and I will boldly declare that if the entire Tax Code went up for a vote as is, and if it didn’t already exist, no one would vote for it; no one has even read the whole thing, and the people who enforce it don’t even understand it, and if you don’t believe me, ask a tax lawyer!
Now ask yourself, how was the tax system Paul lived under? Well… it was horrible as well! Money is not supposed to be our primary concern in this life; our priority is supposed to be on things that are above, so why should the inequities of the tax system be our priority? Paul’s message is pay them what they want and get on with serving our Lord in peace and love, for that is what we are here for.
Yes, I know… I’m gritting my teeth too, but that only goes to show that we have a long way to go to attain maturity in the faith.