Following is an English transcript of the message from this morning.
Who are the authorities in your life? Who do you have to answer to? Every person in the world is subject to someone. Generally speaking, we are often under many different people, depending on the circumstances. For example, you may have a boss to answer to, then someone in your family you are under, then the local government or other branches of government, and so on. Even if you were the most powerful leader in the world, you would still be subject to the people you are leading.
Submission is part of everyone’s life. Yet it may be one of the more hated aspects for many people. People want to be free, to choose their own destinies, to be their own masters. Having to submit to someone else is a hated humiliation. This is the evidence of one of man’s greatest weaknesses: Pride.
But God calls us to submit humbly and respectfully to those in power over us. Let’s read from Romans 13 before considering how far our submission to authority should go.
“Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.”
Romans 13:1-7 NLT
Before looking at what these verses mean for us, I want to understand who the leaders were in Paul’s life when he wrote this. We don’t know the exact year this book was written, but it would have been around the time Ananias was High Priest, Gamaliel was head of the Sanhedrin, and Nero was Emperor of Rome.
We know the least about Ananias the High Priest, but we do know he was charged with abuse of power and tried before the Roman court for cruel acts against others. According to some writings, he was acquitted of those charges. We also read of him in Acts 23, when he ordered for someone to strike the Apostle Paul on the mouth for saying he had a clear conscience before God.
Gamaliel was president of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court for the Jewish nation. Paul formerly had been Gamaliel’s personal student, but he and other Apostles were tried by the Sanhedrin he led. Many believers were imprisoned, and some killed, by order of the Sanhedrin. We do read in Acts 5 that Gamaliel suggested to the council that they not execute the Apostles, including Peter, but that they simply beat them and ban them from the temple. Some scholars believe Gamaliel converted to Christianity in later years.
The third authority was the Roman emperor Nero. He is infamous as being the cruelest and most wicked of all emperors in Rome’s history. He is said to have blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians to cover his own crimes. He then had the Christians most cruelly persecuted, tortured, and put to death. Some historians say he would burn Christians in his garden to give him light at night for his parties. They were human torches for the debased tyrant. Other Christians he had fed to dogs while they were still alive; still others he used as entertainment in the Coliseum before they were killed.
Now, let’s consider Romans 13 again. This teaching stands out even more when we know who the rulers of the time were. We are commanded to submit to those in power over us, recognizing that positions of authority are ordained by God. Resisting authority is resisting God. In fact, if we revolt against authority, we will receive damnation.
But what if the one in power is wrong? What if he is disobedient to God’s ways? What if he is cruel or abusive? Do we still have to submit and obey? Think about the rulers in Paul’s life. It is unlikely that we will ever face such a cruel and wicked ruler as Nero. If Scripture was commanding the believers in Rome to submit and to obey such a ruler as Nero, we are without excuse.
Verse five points out that we are obeying not only because we know the ruler has power to punish us, but also because we want to have a clear conscience before God. This is an important concept because it moves the focus off the person in authority and onto ourselves. Our obedience and submission are not dependent on the goodness of the other person. Rather, our submission to authority is our response of obedience to God.
Verse six is a command to pay our taxes, as well. Many people look for ways to avoid paying taxes. Often, I have heard people say they don’t pay their taxes because the government is corrupt. But then I wonder that they don’t realize that they themselves have become corrupt by breaking the law. Corruption always looks worse in others. Another excuse for not paying taxes is because they are either too high, or else they are wasted.
It could very well be that those things are true. What if the government is corrupt, is charging too high of tax, and is wasting the tax money they receive? May we then choose not to pay it? Absolutely not. God’s children obey the law, regardless what others are choosing to do. We maintain a right conscience at all times.
Jesus spoke about this very thing in Matthew 22. There the Pharisees were looking for a way to trick him into saying something wrong so they could accuse Him.
“Then the Pharisees met together to plot how to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. They sent some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to meet with him. “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” His reply amazed them, and they went away.”
Matthew 22:15-22 NLT
The Jewish people of the time had various taxes or tithes they had to pay. Some of those were for their own nation. Some of it went into the temple treasury. This they paid with their own currency, which was marked with their own sigils. The Jews did not put faces on their money because that went against God’s command of making anything with a graven image.
They also had taxes to the Roman government because the Jews had been conquered by the Romans and were now under their rule. One tax the Romans placed on the Jews was a tribute tax. It was not much, maybe only one day’s wages, but the Jews hated it because it reminded them of their oppression under the Romans. However, they could not pay this tax with Jewish money; it had to be paid with Roman money, which held the face of the Caesar. This was a graven image, something more that they hated.
Jesus begins by accusing them of being hypocrites. He was going to show them by this teaching what their hypocrisy was. He asked whose face was on the coin, acknowledging one thing they hated. They said it was the Roman ruler’s face. He then said to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.
This was their hypocrisy. They were withholding God’s things as well as begrudging Caesar his things. What were some of those things? It may have been tithes and such that should go to the temple, but it was certainly that they were not giving God their love and obedience in other areas.
Jesus taught in various other places that His children are not of this world. We are strangers and foreigners. Thus, we do not fight. But we submit ourselves to every law of man. Just as my family and I are foreigners in Peru, yet we must obey the laws of the land and are subject to the local regulations; so God’s people are to obey the rulers of this world until they are taken out of the world to their home with God in heaven.
Going back to Romans 13, we see in verse seven that we are to pay to everyone what they are due. Whether it is taxes or tribute money, we must pay it. But we are also to pay them respect and honor. To respect someone is to hold them in high esteem. To honor someone is to treat them with admiration or special recognition. How did Paul respect and honor Nero or some of the other leaders? It seems like it could have been difficult at times.
I want to save the rest of the chapter for another time, but we will read and consider verse eight yet.
“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.”
Romans 13:8 NLT
We are not to fall behind in our taxes. We must stay current with our bills. We must always show respect and honor to our authorities. The only debt we are to have to others is the debt of love, for we can never love others enough.
And if you love the one you are submitting to, you will find the submission is not that difficult. It does not chafe so much to submit when our heart is filled with love, respect, and honor for the other person. That is our responsibility, and it does not change if the other person is bad, even if he’s as bad as the worst tyrant king in history.
So, if our government asks us to obey quarantine measures, to wear masks, to maintain distance, and so on, we are ready to obey for conscience sake. For we know that to disobey or to disrespect our rulers is to disrespect our own God and Father in heaven.
One important concept here that I will only mention is that Christians are called to be ambassadors. We are no longer part of an earthly kingdom. Our allegiance is solely with our King the Lord Jesus. But He has given us the task of being ambassadors to this world. Therefore, everything we do is a reflection upon our King. Consequently, we obey not for our own reputation’s sake, but for the reputation of our King Jesus.
In all we do, we are seeking to lift His name and to bring Him glory. Were we to be disobedient or disrespectful to our earthly authorities, it would bring disgrace on the name of Jesus, which would be a great shame on us.
One closing thought. I’ve talked much in relation to the authorities in government positions, but this principle applies to other authorities. We will not study into that this morning, but we find teaching in Scripture regarding children submitting to their parents, wives submitting to their husbands, believers submitting to each other, workers submitting to their masters, and on and on.
The child of God mirrors the heart of Jesus. That is a heart of quiet humility and of loving service. Who, when He was falsely accused and cruelly treated, did not open His mouth in His defense, but quietly submitted to the authorities over Him. Though He was Lord of the universe, He humbled Himself and became as a servant and was obedient unto death, even death on the cross.
Dear ones, we are no greater than our Lord. Therefore, put on the spirit of the Lord Jesus and walk in loving humility before all men.