Christian Conduct Toward the Government: A Study of Romans 13:1-7 Part 1

aaron-burden-143103-unsplashRight in the middle of what is perhaps the Apostle Paul’s most highly regarded book of the Bible, he offers what might be the most ignored passage in all of Scripture:

“13 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” Romans 13:1-7. 

When read from an American’s point of view, this passage might be somewhat easy to digest. While we may disagree on the particulars, most of the time, our government considers itself to be a positive force in the world and civic pride convinces us we are the side of right, even when we’re wrong. Consider, however, that Paul wrote this passage while living under the reign of Nero. Nero is historically considered somewhat unstable. He is the ruler who pinned the great Roman fire of AD 64 on the Christians in order to avoid blame. He was by all accounts a ruthless and oppressive ruler. One might expect Paul to encourage believer to rise up and revolt against such authority, but he says the exact opposite. Paul actually tells Christians to be in subjection to governing authorities. Paul explains that when we resist the government, we are opposing the ordinance of God.

I thought of this passage this week while watching the video footage of protestors storming state houses in opposition to various COVID-19 stay at home orders. I personally think our governments reaction to the virus has been heavy handed. I also suspect many of our leaders are making decisions in regards to COVID-19 for political purposes … but how is a Christian to respond when they disagree with their rulers? What if their government is evil? What if their rulers are ungodly? This passage raises a lot of questions … and I think, for the most part, most of us ignore those questions. Heck, just a cursory review of trending tweets tell me that. So, how are we supposed to apply this passage to our lives? 

The first question we need to answer is, “Are we supposed to apply it to our lives?” Context suggest we are. Beginning in Chapter 12 of Romans, Paul begins giving Christians guidelines for living in light of God’s grace. He passes on such wisdom as avoided pride, blessing those who persecute you, and conquering evil with good. But in Chapter 13, he gets personal by suggesting the gospel should govern the way we live in relation to the government – he knows we’re Americans, right? 

As I write this, it occurs to me that this will probably be a deeper dive than one post will allow. So I will take these questions one at time and write a series of posts.

First, what if I don’t agree with my government? 

I think it is worth pointing out that no where in this passage does Paul suggest we have to agree with our government. I don’t think his intention is to turn us into citizen cloned automatons. Rather, Pauls says we should live in subjection to our government authorities. Scripture’s use of the word submit has been hotly debated in terms of a husband and wife relationship, but here, Paul uses it to describe our relationship with government. In his commentary, Dr. Thomas Constable describes subjection as an attitude of deference or support. In the marriage relationship, I often define submission as voluntarily placing another’s needs above your own. I think the same is true in this passage. When I submit to the governing authorities, I am placing the needs of the many, above my own. As a rule of thumb, when I disagree with the government, I should ask ourselves, what’s best for the majority of the people? Is this an issue that allows me to place the needs of the many above my own? Does doing so violate my faith or religious conscience? 

In most cases, I think we’ll find we can submit to our government authorities (at least in America) with relative ease on most issues. I can remember when the laws changes requiring automobile passengers to where a seat belt. I hated it! Seatbelts aren’t comfortable and I felt like like I had the right to ignore the law. Guess what, I was wrong. The same is true with speed limits and even our current social distancing guidelines. I can stay 6 feet away from most people without violating my conscience. It’s just a rule of thumb, but in most cases, I think we can submit to the government.

But what about when their laws violate my faith? I’ll look at that matter in the next installment.

 

The Answer to Our National Heartache

Public debate always deepens after horrific events like the one that happened in Florida on February 14. After a shooter tragically took the lives of 17 individuals inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, much of the debate has revolved around gun control. Well-intended people on both sides of the debate argue over the means and methods necessary to save future lives and I fervently believe it is a debate that we must have in our country. Our children’s live are very much at stake and I believe we should explore every possibility to save them. However, it is not the gun debate that I woke up thinking about this morning.

This morning, as our country tries to understand and make sense out of events such as Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, Florida, God is often at the center of discussion. The memes and comments I see most often on social media flow as follows:

“God, how could you let this happen in my school?”

“Child, I am not allowed in schools.”

The point is easily derived. In a country where God has been outlawed in our schools, we should expect horrific events to occur. Right? I fear, however, that the culture shift we have seen in the United States goes even deeper.

Consider, if you will, the very notion of outlawing God? How can we outlaw the Divine  Supreme being? The Almighty God is omnipresent. He exists in every time and every space at once. God can be manifest to every person and every situation as He sees fit (Isaiah 57:15, Psalm 33:13-14). We cannot control where and when God decides to make Himself known. He is God and we aren’t. In the early sixties, the Supreme Court made decisions that removed forced prayer and Bible readings from our school systems across the country. Prior to that time, communal prayers and Bible readings were common place in our schools. However, removing those prayers and those studies did not remove God. Why? Because the Supreme Court has no power over the Supreme Father. You cannot simply remove Him with the pounding of a gavel. Our God doesn’t change (James 1:17) and He has not changed since the sixties.

However, something has changed dramatically in the short 50+ years since the Supreme Court first ruled on prayer in schools. We have changed. Prior to the sixties, students in the public schools grew up watching their teachers and school leaders pay reverence to God. Even if they weren’t believers, they were exposed to people who were. Students were exposed to Scripture and were allowed to consider the truth of God’s Word without facing ridicule or derision. Such lessons left a mark on their personas and when they faced heartache, angst, and confusion they knew where to turn for answers. That influence has been removed from our school systems and what we now see is a troubled generation at a loss for what to do and where to turn. In two short generations we have begun to reap what we’ve sown.

The answer to our national heartache is not more or less guns. The solution is more Christ. Undoubtedly, some will read my words and call me a zealot or a “Bible thumper.” I’m okay with that. But mark my words, if we don’t figure out a way to bridge the divide between the secular and the sacred in our school systems we will continue to suffer heartache after heartache.

Know that I am not advocating “forced” prayer or “forced” Bible studies. I am convinced by God’s Word that He values the freedom of choice. However, we need to create environments where our young people are able to consider the Truth of God’s Word free from ridicule and mockery. These environments need to be fostered primarily in our homes and in our churches, but also in our schools.

Christians, please join me in praying for our young people. Pray for our school leaders. Pray for our political leaders. Pray for the brave men and women in law enforcement who have accepted the call to protect our children. Know that what happened in Florida can happen in any school district in any town in America. I believe we need to tighten our security wherever able and protect our kids as much as possible, however, we also need to arm our youth with something far more powerful than any weapon. We need to arm them with the truth of God’s Word.

“7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” Galatians 6:7 (NASB). 

 

 

The Erosion of Our Worth and Dignity

upmisxb0wd0-srikanta-h-uIn his proclamation declaring January 22, 1984, the National Sanctity of Human Rights Day, President Ronald Reagan wrote the following about abortion on demand:

“We are poorer not simply for lives not led and for contributions not made, but also for the erosion of our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual.”

In his proclamation, Reagan claims that abortion has made this country poorer because it had eroded “our sense of the worth and dignity of every individual“. When the President wrote these words, 15 million babies had been aborted due to the ROE v. WADE decision. Today, that number stands at nearly 60 million babies. Sixty million lives lost due to abortion on demand. As a nation, we have been forced to develop a pretty thick callous over our hearts to ignore such a loss of life. There is even a huge segment of our population that justifies and defends abortion as a basic human right. President Reagan was correct — this callousness is beginning to permeate our culture in the way we treat all life.

Nearly every crime and injustice committed in this country can be attributed to a lack of respect for human life. Murder, discrimination, racism, hate crimes, rape, schoolyard, and cyber-bullying are all birthed amid this lack of respect for one another. It is a lack of respect that has existed since Cain first killed Abel but never had it been legitimized more than it was in 1973 when the United States legalized discrimination against its weakest citizens in the form of ROE v. WADE. And now, 44 years removed from that moment, respect for all human life is at an all-time low. Our hypocrisy is inescapable when we scream about the injustices so evident in our world yet encourage the murder of innocent babies. If we can’t defend the weakest among us, who is worth defending? 

The truth is, all lives matter in the sight of God and all lives are worth defending. However, the erosion President Reagan wrote of is a real thing. If our country doesn’t stand up and defend the rights of the unborn now, our culture’s respect for human life will continue to decline. Where will we be twenty years from now? What will be the state of crime in our country? Will we justify ending the lives of the elderly, sick, disabled, and obese prematurely? Heck, just look at the political landscape today. Ask yourselves, do the liberals in this country respect the conservatives and vice versa? If the lack of respect we’ve witnessed during our recent political season is any indication,  I have my doubts that our government will even be standing in its current form twenty years from now.

And it all started because we failed to protect the innocent.

God’s Word challenges us to defend those who can’t defend themselves:

“Rescue those being taken off to death, and save those stumbling toward slaughter” (Proverbs 24:11, HCSB).

If we fail to do live up to this responsibility, Scripture makes it clear that we will someday answer to a God Who will “weigh our hearts” and “repay [us] according to [our] works” (Proverbs 24:12).

As difficult as it may be to put a cork back in the bottle that is ROE v. WADE, now is the time to do it. I call on our government to take every opportunity and every possible step needed to end abortion on demand in this country. If that means defunding Planned Parenthood, defund it. If it means stacking the deck on the Supreme Court than stack it.

We have reached a breaking point in this country and we can afford no further erosion to the dignity of our lives.