One of the great illustrations in God’s Word about receiving God’s Word is that of milk and meat. When admonishing his readers that they should’ve known better, the author of Hebrews wrote,
> You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14 ESV)
The “word of righteousness” is Scripture, and the basic stuff, the “elementary doctrine” (6:1), is for the immature. There’s nothing wrong with the milk, but the Christian should start to grow some teeth. The solid food, or “strong meat” (KJV), is for the mature. Note that this maturity doesn’t come from time passing, it comes from “constant practice.” It comes from work and “training” one’s “discernment powers.”
Romans 13 has milk and meat applications. There are basics, rudiments, fundamentals of the faith when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to God and government. What does a newer Christian need? He needs milk, and the milk is that earthly authorities are good, they are God appointed, and good citizens submit to those governors.
That said, in the same passage, there are some things that require some chewing. For the Christian whose submission bones have plenty of calcium, he’ll need steak to build up some discernment muscles.
Again, the milk and the meat are both good. The simple answer is submission, but the more you learn the more you realize that not everything is simple. In order not to choke, we’re going to need to up our training and practice in distinguishing good from evil (which is not too different from Romans 12:2 “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”). It’d be worth praying that God would bless our civil authorities to do the same.
So far in verses 1-7 we’ve considered the origin and scope of government (verse 1), namely that God calls every soul to be subject to every civil authority He’s established. The God-makes-governors establishment is so recognized that resistance to the government is actually resisting God and so results in judgment (verse 2). Then Paul provides encouragement with the delegated purposes of government which include promoting the good and punishing the bad (verses 3-4).
To finish the paragraph we’ll see how Paul takes our accountability up another level in verse 5 and then makes it very practical when it comes to how we support the authorities. There will still be more meat on the bone after today, so I’ll see what I can do to “set the record straight” next Sunday.
# The Highest Accountability to Government (verse 5)
This is the second conclusion in the paragraph, the second “therefore.” God established the authorities, therefore resisting the authorities results in judgment (verse 2). Paul repeats the same requirement and the result, but ups the motivation ante.
> Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5 ESV)
The ESV adds “to avoid”; it’s a fine supplement. But in its bare for it is necessary to **be in subjection** “because of the wrath,” which is God’s wrath brought about through the human authority as an avenger in verse 4. Again, that’s a repeat reminder. The new piece is “but also because of the conscience.”
This is *internal* motivation. We submit because of what we know is right, not just in order to evade negative consequences. The **conscience** is God-given, and universal, as in, every soul/person has one. Paul referred to the conscience in earlier in this letter, which was explicitly about *un*believers having a conscience in which their “conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15).
Christians have more than mini George Washington sitting on one shoulder (maybe fighting with mini Napoleon on the other). We have redeemed consciences, and we have God’s Word to inform us about what is right. It is right to do what is right, including when the authorities promote it.
Conscience makes our duties in the civil sphere both higher and also tighter. We answer to God whether or not the governor cares. We answer to God above governor, which also simplifies the pecking order of which we must obey if there’s a conflict between them. For that matter, no governor can make this claim; our consciences are beyond the reach of man. “Be subject *for the Lord’s sake*” (1 Peter 2:13). (For the interested, the Greek phrase in Romans 13:5 is διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν compared to διὰ τὸν κύριον in the 1 Peter passage.)
# Giving Practical Support to Government (verses 6-7)
This final principle of God and government hits deep down into the dark parts of our wallet where dust gathers. For us who have continued to climb out of the hole of dualism, we see that our support of the civil authorities can’t be mental only, it takes our monies.
> For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay 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. (Romans 13:6–7 ESV)
It’s a big **because**, this **this**. The **this** is referred to again at the end of verse 6, pointing back to **this thing**. What is “this”? The “this” is when the authorities follow their delegated purpose as God’s servants, approving do-gooders and bringing judgment on wrong-doers. This is what they are **attending to**, being “busy with, engaged in, devoted to” (BAGD). It’s their lawful vocation to establish a society of justice as **ministers of God**. This is a different word than *deaconos* in verse 4, this official is referred to as a *liturgos*, the one doing work for the public.
Because the authorities are doing divinely-appointed duties they should be financially supported, so we **pay taxes**. It’s not a command in verse 6, it’s a reality, and a reality approved by God. We provide the state with fiscal resources, with the implication that we depend on them to do their job for our good. As with most of the principles in the paragraph Paul provides no explicit qualification regarding percentage, collection methods, or accounting of all expenditures. We pay, even when they might fritter away.
Verse 7 finishes off with a basic code, and these *are* commands. Citizens have obligations; authorities are **owed** certain things, it’s not based on citizen’s discretionary free-will offerings. Paul repeats **taxes**, probably collected based on income and property, and adds the word **revenue**, which could be distinguished as a toll for use or as duties on goods. Perhaps our sales tax has some similarities. Paul says: pay it.
Federal, state, city. We are getting a lot out of our taxes (and so is Zelensky).
We must also pay **respect** and **honor**. Civil authorities at various levels deserve various levels of recognition and deference and esteem. Their roles are subordinate to God, so they must not be deified, but they do have delegated dignity. Our refusal to give honor to whom honor is owed makes *us* dishonorable.
It is well known that Jesus Himself said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). God established the sphere of civil/state authority, and expects that all souls will give practical support for the maintenance of the work. This is a great *blessing* to those who do good, who have their property and profits protected from theft and vandalism. Societies in which justice is sure and sentences against evil deed are executed speedily are a check against evil hearts (unlike the opposite as Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 8:11). Those who fear the LORD and the king wisely avoid those who do otherwise and the disaster that comes on them (Proverbs 24:21-22).
And again we say, *But!*. Must we pay taxes when the authorities are *not* doing their job, especially when they are opposing good and upending justice? Can we honor the office without honoring a dishonorable man holding that office? There is more to say next time.
We do know, though, that private vengeance is out (Romans 12:18), and that prayer for our authorities and paying taxes toward and promoting their judgment on evil is in. Let us do so much good that we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15).
In application from Romans 13:6-7 I particular,
- Milk: pay your taxes, don’t grumble about the reality of taxes, and look for all the ways we can be grateful for what good God gives us through tax-supported infrastructure.
- Meat: as you look at the meat of the instruction, and as you’re able, sharpen up the steak knife to keep as much of your own fat as you can.
Paul told the Thessalonians about a coming great rebellion under the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who will proclaim himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He’ll actually be successful in his deception because men have refused to love the truth (2:10) and have their pleasure in unrighteousness (2:12). That all sounds bad. And in light of all that, he said, “as for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (3:13). Don’t be idle, and don’t be distressed by evil men.
> Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)