Summary: As Christians many believe government is an evil that should be avoided or opposed. Paul encourages us to be a redemptive force for the gospel by actually getting along with governmental authorities.
As we get into chapter 13, let’s sum up where we’ve been. Chapter 12 marks a big change in Romans—going from the theological to the practical—how do we live out what we’ve learned about God and us and God’s plan?
Chapter 12 could be summed up like this: “The only reasonable thing to do in response to God’s mercy is to make ourselves available to God each day—to become more like Him and less like this age—as part of an organism called the body of Christ, empowered to glorify God and encourage others to experience God’s rescue plan through Jesus. We do this by loving genuinely even and especially to those who do not love us—that we should be an example of God’s love and mercy, even to our own hurt.”
In chapter 13, Paul gives us some concrete ways to put this kind of character into action in our daily lives—through our obedience to criminal and civil laws, and above all to let love be the defining characteristic of our lives, not our rights!
As we begin, remember last time we talked about whether Christians should be doormats? I said no – but the reasoning to decide whether it is better to show love in the face of suffering was whether the situation would encourage or impede my ability to glorify God and spread the gospel. It is in that context that we look at the role of government in the life of the believer.
Submission means loyalty, and cooperation. Paul says this in the context of the mighty and cruel Roman Empire. It wouldn’t have taken much to wipe out the Christians—living as peacefully as possible means having more opportunities to spread the gospel. We don’t become “rebels with a cause”, nor do we withdraw and cloister ourselves away—we live in a war zone, in a hostile environment, but like Jesus we engage and spread God’s love in a peaceful way so that the Holy Spirit virus infects as many as possible!
Despite what we might want to believe, God is not an American, nor is He a Democrat or Republican. But God is over all the nations, and allows them to exist under his constraints and subject to His judgment.
2 Chron 20:6 "O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.” (Jehoshaphat)
Ps 22:28 For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
So how do we reconcile this obedience, what we might call “compliance” with governments and leaders that are clearly bad? Let’s talk about that as we move on.
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By and large, governments exist to keep order and provide services to the general population. We should obey the laws of government because for the most part they actually uphold God’s Law. Most of the laws that exist today can trace their origins back to the Ten Commandments. Some people feel that we should have nothing to do with government and only serve the Lord. Some feel that church and state should be completely separate and never the twain shall meet. Still others act like since they are part of a different kingdom they have no need to follow the laws of this age. Others feel that we have a responsibility to be involved in government, vote, obey its laws, become involved and try to help governments serve the people.
I am of this last opinion. I am not saying that the state can bring about righteousness in people’s lives, but I believe that Christians serving in the government can make the government act more like Christ than the other way around, and that makes for better government and people more likely to come to Jesus.
That being said, there is a time when we should not obey the government—and that is when it tells us to disobey God. If a government law tells you to murder someone, you don’t do it. If a government tells you that you can no longer profess the Lord Jesus then you go right on loving the Lord, no matter the consequences.
In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin told Peter and John to stop preaching the gospel. Peter said “We must obey God rather than men.” Personally, I think we need to make sure we are really unable to preach or worship Jesus, not just be inconvenienced. So know the Scriptures and don’t use your freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey the law!
But aren’t all governments under the control of Satan? In a way, yes. Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of this world if he would bow and worship him (Luke 4:7). But God is in ultimate control. Satan is doing the worst he can all the time, but he can only do as much as God allows, and God always has the bigger and better purposes in mind. Most of the time, God does not step in and wipe out evil. He lets it play itself out and eventually implode. When that happens, God then moves redemptively in the situation. The holocaust, for instance, gave birth to the nation of Israel returning their land and moving God’s prophetic timetable of His return forward.