Summary: Paul teaches that we have responsibilities as Christians to the State.


Today we continue our study in Romans. Let’s read Romans 13:1-14:

1Let 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. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For 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, 4for 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. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay 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.

8Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:1-14)


The careful and attentive reader of the Epistle to the Romans notices something of a tension between the opening and closing words of the apostle Paul in the thirteenth chapter of this letter.

In Romans 13:1 he writes, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” while in verse 12 he exclaims, “The night (in the context a reference to the present age) is far gone; the day is at hand.”

Speaking of this Walter Luthi writes,

This brings to my mind a certain house on the road from Adelboden to Frutigen; from some distance away you can see written on it in bold letters: “Time flies, the end is near; soon the Lord shall appear. Hallelujah!” but strangely enough the house and the rhyme have been newly painted. Evidently the owner is expecting the return of Christ and is waiting for the end, and yet—how illogical and inconsistent!—instead of letting his house fall to pieces, he keeps it in immaculate order and even gives it a new coat of paint. But that is in keeping with God’s logic and it is just what the apostle means when he speaks of “reasonable worship” (12:1). The divine logic that paints a perishable house afresh although “the day is at hand” becomes strikingly evident in this thirteenth chapter of the Letter to the Romans. To put it in a nutshell, we can say that the apostle might have lived in the house between Adelboden and Frutigen.

There is a problem here, if we remember Paul’s words in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world [literally, “age”].” If we are not to be conformed to this age, should we, then, pay our income taxes to the Internal Revenue Service? Should we vote? Did not Paul write that we were citizens of another land? What does he mean in Philippians 3:20, where he said, “But our citizenship is in heaven”? And did not the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews say much the same thing in Hebrews 12:22, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem”?

It may be helpful to remember that Christians live in many spheres of existence. In the first place, there is the personal sphere, that sphere of life encompassed by the Lord and the Christian only. In this sphere we are to live according to the preceptive will of God, which are the commands of God expressed in the word of God. Here it is a matter of submission to the Lord in view of the fact that one day we must appear before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ and give an account of our lives and service.

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