73: The Powers That Be (Pt 1)

Or, God’s Rules for Submissive and Tax-Paying Citizens

August 27, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

God and government is a huge and tangled subject, and Romans 13:1-7 is a fairly small paragraph comparatively. These verses include some foundational principles, and for Christian citizens in the current (covidian) climate, it has pushed its way into the spotlight.

We desire to understand Romans 13, and to apply it, almost two-thousand years after Paul wrote it. That requires some thoughtfulness. What's also relevant, is that much of (or at least much of the remnants of) our ideas about government in Western Civilization have been built on Romans 13. That requires our thankfulness. Rights as God-givens rather than state-givens, checks-and-balances among men, legislation for maximum liberty, these are not the fruit of idolatry or atheism, humanism or secularism.

Whether you are blue pill, red pill, black pill, white pill, you need God over the system. If all we have is what's under the sun, if there is no God over the state, then the state becomes god.

The eternal God says earthly, temporal government is good, though obviously not every governor governs in a godly or good way. God says authorities, hierarchy, structures, powers, force, and taxes are good. God says individualism, anarchy, rebellion and revolution are bad. God is sovereign over all, God sets up kings and kingdoms and nations and boundaries and God tears them down (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21). God will take account from every official, and every citizen. It is part of the human condition.

I've read men who’ve argued that there would be no need for government apart from the fall (Abraham Kuyper is one example). It's speculation either way, but had mankind not sinned I'm not convinced that some kind of political organization would not have happened. There wouldn't be a need for laws and punishments, but there could have been leaders and followers among fathers, just as there was organization and hierarchy in the household. As they filled the earth, a collection of households might have decided to do things one way in one place, and another collection differently, both good and not resulting in conflict.

I say that to emphasize the fact that authority is *good*. Abuse of authority is obviously not, whether by self-interest or indolence or ignorance, and we have seen that all over. When men have power over men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9), it is a heavy trouble and grievous evil.

But good authorities are like the dawn.

> The God of Israel has spoken;

> the Rock of Israel has said to me:

> When one rules justly over men,

> ruling in the fear of God,

> he dawns on them like the morning light,

> like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning,

> like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth.

> (2 Samuel 23:3–4 ESV)

Righteous rulers are a blessing to a nation and cause the people to rejoice, though they groan when the wicked rule (Proverbs 29:2, see also Proverbs 14:34). Part of how we know that our rulers are bad is not just because of pain we experience, but because our consciences tell us that something else is better. We know there is a better pattern, and that's because God has built it into us.

As I said, there has been renewed interest in Romans 13 since 2020, and these verses are like a step-stool for living sacrifices as they get up on the altar in public. So many sermons, podcasts, books, Twitter threads, memes. Here is another.

A good look at this paragraph will show that "Shut up and submit no matter what" is *not* what Paul required, of the mid-first-century Romans, or of us two millennium later. Paul was arrested/beaten for disobeying the government multiple times. He also avoided death and got to Rome itself on the government dime. But Paul does help us see that our default attitude should be toward law and order, and to see our opportunity to serve God as we submit to our governors.

Sure it's worthwhile to take a couple Sundays to consider this Scripture, unique in the Pauline epistles. Today verses 1-2, digging out the foundation.

# The Origin and Scope of Government (verse 1)

This is an exhaustive-exhaustive, a two-fold fullness.

> Let 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. (Romans 13:1)

We're talking about **every person** and every **authority**, stated as **there is no authority except**, a universal affirmative (All persons are required-to-submit-to-authorities-persons) and a universal negative (No authority-person is a non-God-appointed-person). Put that on your square of opposition.

Let's not let it go without saying that Paul is writing to the Roman *Christians*, those who had been saved by the mercies of God. But let's also observe that Paul doesn't limit his target to living sacrifices, though living sacrifices are included. There aren't any escape clauses. Every *soul*, Christian and non-Christian, means that there is no entirely private person; no one is above the law.

The **governing authorities** are *human* beings in positions of power. There is another use of the word “authorities,” even by Paul, to refer to supernatural, angelic beings “in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, 6:12). But in none of those passages do we *submit* to angels, we submit to men.

That is the command here: **be subject**. It means to submit, follow, do what someone else wills.

The reason is built in: God is the one who put these people in place. “*The powers that be* are ordained of God” (Tyndale/KJV). Paul says it twice, the first that eliminates alternatives and the second that emphasizes God's appointment. Where there is authority, it's **from God**; God **instituted**, He “established” (NASB), put in place, all those powers. This does *not* mean that the authorities realize how they got/hold their seat, and so problems arise when they fail to recognize their authority is only delegated, not absolute. But *we* know the origin of civil authorities-God Himself, and the scope of civil authorities—every person.

# Resistance to Government and Its Result (verse 2)

The reality is so inescapable that God installs government/governors that disobeying the human authority is disobeying God.

> Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:2)

**Therefore**, here's the conclusion based on the divine origin and ordination of authorities. "The one resisting," is the opposite of submitting; there's a play on words, submit is *hupotasso* - get under, and resist is *antitasso* - go against. To **resist** is to go against the force.

Opposition to the authority is opposition to what God ordained. One example, as when Moses told the Israelites in the desert, “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD” (Exodus 16:8).

There is a synonym for the anti-arranging in the last part of verse 2, the anti-stander. The ESV uses **those who resist** again, and it's another way to refer to those who stand-against, who oppose.

What about when the apostles said that they had to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29)? And if Paul wasn’t a hypocrite to his own instruction, why was he in prison so often? These are good questions, but they are good *second* questions, after we acknowledge the default of divine authority in the affairs of nations.

# Conclusion

Verse 5 makes clear that we are to submit not just because we might be punished, "but also for the sake of conscience." This is higher than any human authority can accomplish, even if they do “want to know what we think” and convict us of thoughtcrime. We submit directly to God while we submit indirectly but more intimately to the governing authorities.

What about when those rulers are illegitimate; what if power was seized through a coup, or a stolen election? What about when those rulers are unjust? Do we submit to the powers that be *de facto* (according to what is in fact), or just to those *de jure* (according to what is right by law)? Again, all really relevant questions.

We are commanded to recognize that civil government is God-ordained, even as we would recognize that family/household government and church governments are God-ordained. These are *all* subject to God, whether they realize it or not. As such, each sphere of authority can function as checks-and-balances to each other. But fathers are not the boss of everything, though they are first-responsible at home. Elders/pastors are not presidents, and Health Department directors can't prohibit Christian communion.

Paul himself was imprisoned *wrongly* by the government, he used the government to keep himself from death, and he deliberately disobeyed the government when it came to proclaiming the gospel. Before that, Paul himself had used power to cause the unjust suffering/death of Christians.

Government is given by God, government that does not acknowledge God will give account for that, will inevitably move toward taking on god-like ego, and Christians are *not* allowed to serve two gods. But we also must take care not to qualify ourselves out of anything that looks like submission. The results are never good when every man does what is right in his own eyes, and professing Christians are no less susceptible to that temptation.

And while we pray for kings/presidents/governors and all who are in high positions (1 Timothy 2:2), we also know that apart from repentance (cf. Isaiah 46) and submission to Jesus as Lord, we deserve all the judgment *of* wicked rulers we receive.

There is more in the paragraph, more principles, more unanswered but relevant questions, more about God’s rules for submissive and tax-paying citizens.


## Charge

In _Mere Christianity_ C.S. Lewis noted:

> “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Be occupied with God and presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God. Thank Him for blessing you with fruit here because your hope is in Christ’s forever kingdom.

## Benediction:

> Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV)

More from Romans

78: The Day Is at Hand

October 1, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:11–14

It doesn’t really matter whether you like the term “culture war” or not, God put us in one. A culture has a shared language and lifestyle, some similar loves/values and looks/styles. Christians have a culture that appreciates light and life; we’re united in our belief in Christ and hope in His blessings. We’re trying to cultivate a world-and-life view where the confession “Christ is Lord” means that everything means something. The sons of disobedience also have a culture, where carrying out the desires of the body and mind are foremost. They follow the course of this world, passing their days in malice and envy, hating and being hated. They’re at various levels of intentionally cultivating a place where there are no gods or masters but every man in his own eyes. The two cultures are like night and day. The contrast, which can’t help but involve conflict, has been going on a long time, since Genesis 3:15 when the Lord put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The great Seed was Jesus, and by extension refers to all those who are in Christ. In Christ we stand against the schemes of the evil one, we take up the whole armor of God to be able to withstand in the evil day, we battle against the world, so we must not get stuck in its mold. By faith we resist the serpent and those who are of their father the devil. And we take every thought captive in our fight against our own flesh. We see the enemy every morning, and too often we see him in the mirror. How do we fight in this culture war? It begins locally, with altar-living (Romans 12:1-2). It continues locally as we love our neighbor (who is perhaps an enemy, see also Matthew 5:43-48), which requires wearing the right uniform (of Christ-likeness). And that requires daily vigilance, relentless differentiation, and maintaining our equipment. The very time we live in should rouse us to obedience in following the admonitions here. *It’s time to engage*. Verses 11-12 both argue for being done with the night and darkness. Verses 13-14 both argue for what it looks like to walk in the day and light. # Wake Up (verses 11-12) There’s a sort of faith-alarm going off telling us to wake up. > Besides 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. The 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. (Romans 13:11–12 ESV) The NASB puts it this way, “*Do* this, knowing the time.” The **know** in ESV is fine but it’s really in the form of “knowing,” a modifying action. Paul is backing up our love of neighbor; we love our neighbor because we’re aware of the time. **The hour has come…to wake from sleep**. Get up and get loving. This **sleep** isn’t a metaphor for spiritual or physical death, it’s a metaphor for spiritual passivity. The sleepy are the lazy, the indifferent. It illustrates a failure to use the mind; so lack of care and failure to act. In a first-century society governed by the sun rather than by the convenience of artificial lighting, people rose at dawn because the sun was their life. There’s a similar dawn for Christians. The time for fighting is now, because **salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed**. Scripture refers to all three tenses of salvation: we *have been* (past), we *are being* (present), we *will be* (future), saved. Verse 11 is talking about that final consummation, the glorification as described in Romans 8. History is linear, and each passing day means we’re closer to the finishing of God’s purpose to conform us to Christ for His glory. “The day is near” (NASB). Don’t sleep on it. The reign of evil has almost reached its expiration date. The biblical context on this coming **day** shows that when it finally does arrive evil will be judged and the righteous vindicated (think Psalm 96:13). All of the imperatives in this text flow from the nearness of the end. Because the end is near, the people of God should respond with appropriate behavior. There’s no time to waste. **The night is far gone; the day is at hand.** **Night** and **darkness** go hand in hand, and both are times for sin, for ignorance and futile thinking. The **works of darkness** are the wicked things done driven by the depraved mind. We’re not on that side anymore. The **day** belongs with **light**; **So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light**. Paul enjoys and employs the put on/put off imagery a number of times. We take (dirty) clothes off, we put on new clothes, and Paul applies it to the attire of behavior. Interesting that we take off **works** but put on **armor**. In other letters Paul talks about putting off sin and putting on virtues. The armor here reminds us of the battle. We’re not just waking up to spend some time in the spiritual breakfast nook watching the steam come off our coffee. > Each calendar day brings nearer to us the day of final salvation, and, since it is life in the body that is decisive for eternal issues, the event of death points up for each person how short is “the season” prior to Christ’s advent. —John Murray # Walk Right (verses 13-14) Two cultures on display: > Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:13–14 ESV) How do we behave ourselves? We **walk properly**, or “decently” (NIV), “honestly” (KJV). We walk *right*. We walk **as in the daytime**. There’s a three-fold series of wrongs: - **orgies and drunkenness**. “Orgies” here is Bacchanalian/excessive feasting and partying — a word used for an actual procession in honor of Dionysus/Bacchus (BAGD) with a banquet that featured alcohol (or other drugs) that caused intoxication, people got hammered for their god(s). Other words for it are “carousing” (NASB)/“rioting” (KJV) when applied to a band of friends who accompanied a victor home from the games, singing his praises and celebrating his triumph as he went. So-called “PRIDE” parades are not new under the sun. - **sexual immorality and sensuality**. The NASB translates this as “sexual promiscuity” and Tyndale/KJV as “chambering” in reference to a private place/chamber with a bed; it refers to what happens in a forbidden bed. Sensuality is a “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable, self-abandonment” (BAGD); unrestrained lust. This is a culture of people who can’t keep their pants on. - **quarreling and jealousy**. Quarreling or strife is from a rivalry of positions, and is often caused by jealousy (see James 4:1-2). This is WOKE, Socialistic identity politics before those words were invented. Is it possible that these last couple vices describe our modern life even more than the first four? Instead **put on the Lord Jesus Christ.** “As many of [us] as were baptized into Christ *have* put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). But the indicative doesn’t contradict the imperative. Put on Christ. We are to consciously embrace our union with the Lord Christ in such a way that His character is manifested in all that we do and say. **Make no provision for the flesh**. Let’s say you and your flesh were going out for a picnic, don’t make a sandwich for the flesh; let him starve. Let’s say you were in a war in Afghanistan, don’t leave 7.1 billion dollars worth of your helicopters and air-to-ground munitions and M4s out for the Taliban. Let’s say you don’t like the unrestrained spending of the government who wants to fund abortions and launder money through foreign governments, don’t you pamper your selfishness and pretenses and sin. You are a Christian. # Conclusion Though Augustine had grown up with a Christian mother he was a slave to sin, caught in the lusts of his flesh. When he was 31 years-old Augustine was out in a garden. He heard the voice of children somewhere over the courtyard wall, repeating the phrase “Take up and read, take up and read.” He picked up Paul’s epistle to the Romans and read Romans 13:13-14 and God granted him repentance and faith. Why can’t this paragraph be gospel hope for you? If you are under the weight and burden of sin, *look to Christ* and believe. Jesus can deliver you. There is no neutrality. It is the Lord Jesus Christ or corruption, Christ or chaos, Christ or darkness, Christ or death. The people of the world fight for what they believe in. Right now the people of the world are striving, daring, plotting, planning, scheming, fighting. They get up early. They stay up late. They accept labor and hardship and stress because they believe their pay-off will be worth it. It seems that they never sleep. We are in a war of cultures. The fighting during this dispensation is different than any other time, different than Israel’s theocracy and different than Christ’s millennial reign. Now is the time. Christian, the day is at hand. Pray that you would be “strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Wake up to daily vigilance—the day is near, relentless differentiation—against the darkness, and maintaining your equipment—the armor of light. Keep your altar commitments. Love your neighbor. ---------- ## Charge Christian, salvation is near, put on your clothes. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Encourage one another in this battle and build one another up, just as you are doing (1 Thessalonians 5:11). ## Benediction: > But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:8–10, ESV)

77: Outstanding Love

September 24, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:8–10

When Christians talk about Romans 13 they’re almost always thinking about the God and government part in the first paragraph. It’s a good start to the chapter, about earthly authorities promoting the good, and the good of citizens submitting to do good. But there is more good in Romans 13, in two more paragraphs. Romans 13:8-10 is maybe one of the most underrated three-verse summaries in Scripture. If you like profound truth in pithy form, if you like a paragraph that does the work of many pages, if you like rubber meets the road repetition, it’s all here for you. We learned how to behave as citizens toward the people in charge in verses 1-7, and verses 8-10 show us how to behave toward our fellow citizens. There is certainly application for how we treat one another as Christians, but members of the body of Christ already got explicit instructions in chapter 12. While we would say only Christians have the capability to consistently treat others the way Romans 13:8-10 describes, the picture is what makes our civil lives together *civil*. There’s a summary command, a summary of all the commandments, and a summary clarification. # A Summary Command (verse 8) Paul just commanded citizens: “pay to all what is owed to them” (verse 7). “Paying” had reference to taxes and to honor; we give dollars and deference. These things are “owed”; there is an obligation that some have to taxes, some to revenue, some to respect, some to honor. Their work and their offices/“high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2) are due a certain response. In verse 8 a different group is owed something different. > Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 ESV) If English allowed it, we could double the negatives and say “no one nothing owe” (μηδενὶ μηδὲν). The command **owe** connects with the concept of what is “owed” in verse 7. Be obliged to have no obligations. I’ve heard Romans 13:8 used as an argument for not ever using credit or taking out a loan. There certainly are issues with borrowing; the borrower is slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Depending which family member you borrow from, that can make reunion picnics testy. But the Bible doesn’t prohibit loans (for example, in Matthew 5:42 Jesus teaches His disciples, “do not refuse the one who would borrow from you”). Scripture does prohibit not paying the loan by the borrower (along with excessive interest gathering from the lender). “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Psalm 37:21). To borrow and not return is a form of theft. Do not have ongoing, unpaid (college. car, consumer) bills. Instead, we do all have an ongoing, unfinished responsibility to **love one another** (not sure why the ESV used “each other” instead of the normal “one another”). Love toward one another is *outstanding* in the adjective’s second meaning, “remaining to be paid, done, or dealt with.” Let no debt remain outstanding except the other-loving debt. “The one loving the other” is a substantival participle, stressing the *continuous* loving, and the reason why we keep paying on this debt is because that loving-one **has fulfilled the law**. An interesting switch to a past tense. This fulfillment matters in verse 9 and verse 10 as well. I pointed out that Paul didn’t use the word **law** once in verses 1-7, but law bookends this paragraph, along with the word “commandments” in the middle. He even gives examples of the commandments in verse 9. Since loving is law-fulfilling, then love and law are not opposites, or enemies. It also means love (casually applied as a term for sentiment or feeling or passion) is *not* love. Love is lawful, as in, genuine love loves within standards. So also, the point of law is love, not mere conformity to standards. Similar to Romans 12:9 and love being without hypocrisy, love must be without unrighteousness. How about new t-shirts: “Love is (NOT) love. Love is (God's) law." # A Summary of All Commandments (verse 9) What do we *owe one another in love*? We owe them recognition as separate persons, they are not us, they have their own stuff, and they do not owe us their stuff. > For 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.” (Romans 13:9 ESV) The specifics: **adultery**, **murder**, **steal**, **covet**, are in the second table of the 10 Commandments. They are four of the five “thou shalt *not*”s. Adultery is the taking of another man’s spouse, murder is the taking of another man’s life, stealing is the taking of another man’s stuff, and coveting is a wishing that you could take another man’s life, wife, and/or stuff. Not mentioned are honoring one’s mother and father (5th commandment) or bearing false witness (9th). Also not mentioned are the first table of the 10 Commandments (1st-4th), all those related to God and no other gods or disrespect to God. These commandments relate to others and their households, to the sacredness of human life, the sanctity of the family, the recognition of the right to ownership of private property, and the need to control ones’ desires (against envy and it’s political outcome in Marxism/Communism). Covetousness is the way of selfish-love and selfish-love is opposed to neighbor-love. But note that Paul adds **and any other commandment**. That doesn’t only mean the other six of Decalogue, it includes the other 609 of the 613 in the Mosaic Law. In an amazing, preview/notification-sized text, he says, all the commandments **are summed up in this word**. He got this from Jesus, who also summed up the entire Old Testament in two commandments. Paul is focusing on one of them, the one that matters in the social sphere. **You shall love your neighbor as yourself.** This is *Leviticus* 19:18. Did you realize that the most important thing you needed to know about getting along in local life would be in Leviticus? When you think Leviticus, do you think *love*? This law has been there since about 1444 BC, around for almost 3,500 years. Jesus Himself summarized the 39 books of the Old Testament, > “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40 ESV) The **neighbor** means the *near*, the one *next* to you. Does this mean that the 10 Commandments are still binding on us today? I don’t think that’s the best way to say it, but if someone asked me how to know what *lawful* love is, these would be first principles to measure by. In love all the commandments are summed up. # A Summary Clarification (verse 10) Here’s a review of the summary, saying what’s been said. > Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10 ESV) **Love** is what persons have/share/do, here love is like a person; love works no wrong, does no damage, carries out no evil against the locals. “Love hurteth not” (Tyndale). Do no harm ("First do no harm" is a summary of the original Hippocratic oath, written by Hippocrates circa 400 BC - a vow for any physician in training and also applicable for political and economic philosophy). Compare the “negative” commands in verse 9 to this “negative” summary in verse 10. It highlights the difference between Positive and Negative/liberty rights. A positive right means you have the right to have something given to you (which amounts to an obligation on the part of someone else to provide it, requiring their harm). A negative right means that you have the right to be left alone to have your stuff. In economic terms this is a major dividing basis between Socialism/Communism/“Woke Capitalism” and free-market Capitalism. There are all kinds of ways to *wrong* a neighbor. No lies; so, for example in our day, no so-called Pronoun Hospitality, calling a he a “she” and so forth. There’s no permitted stealing, through sneaking into their house or sneaking into their taxes. # Conclusion Love is not lawless. Specific commands are mentioned in verse 9 so that we will see what love looks like in action. For example, one cannot commit adultery, murder, steal, and covet and claim to be loving. Love is not lawless, but “following” the law is not necessarily love. One can be unloving while giving everything away to the poor as in 1 Corinthians 13:3. So we must love our neighbor, who and how? Great questions! They've been asked before. As verses 8-10 relate to verses 1-7, our system of government depends on a moral people, and fine, but it really depends on a *loving* people. John Adams said, > “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. **Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.** It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” This is true between neighbors, in the don’t bother one another sense, as well as in the blessing through business sense. Consider George Gilder’s argument that in (good) Capitalism giving comes first, considering how to love others in product or services, rather than other approaches which start with taking/redistributing. In all our interactions we must “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” Outstanding love is the way to a fulfilling life. ---------- ## Charge If you can't afford the hospital bill for your hurt neighbor in the ditch like the Good Samaritan, at least don't vote for universal healthcare and let the government steal from other neighbors to cover the cost. If you can't say something nice to your transgender neighbor, at least don't harm them by lying to them with false pronouns. If you can't stand the idea of spending time with your Christian neighbor, at least don't slander them, and also ask God to get your heart right in love. Love one another. ## Benediction: > [M]ay the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13, ESV)

76: The Powers That Be (Pt 4)

September 17, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

It’s time to wrap up our observations on Romans 13:1-7, though we’re in for a lifetime of application. Some of the next few months might feel like a “lifetime.” I don’t really expect to answer *all* the questions about our relationship to civil authorities, partly because it takes a lifetime of “constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). That said, we can keep working to develop our discernment powers. We’ve outlined the whole paragraph over three previous messages. Verse 1 calls every person to submit himself to governing authorities because all governing authority has been instituted by God. Verse 2 concludes that resisting authorities whom God has appointed will result in God-approved judgment. Verses 3-4 profile the purpose of governing authorities, namely that they’ve been delegated to promote good conduct and punish bad conduct, even to the death penalty. Verse 5 clarifies that we ultimately answer to God for our submission or lack of it. And verses 6-7 make clear that our support of the government should be both pecuniary and postural, paying taxes and honor. These verses teach in principle that the sphere of civil authority is God-given, and so to be seen by us as good and supported by us for our own good. In principle we learn that civil authorities are God’s servants, and so our default position should be that of submission. God has given us rulers and rules and we’re to be submissive and tax-paying citizens. And all God’s people said, “But what about…?” Or, all God’s people said, “You and what army?” I am going to attempt to answer, in principle, some of our responsibilities when the governors are *not* fulfilling their delegated responsibilities. This question has been asked before, not just by Junius Brutus, but by the sweet psalmist of Israel (as David is called in 2 Samuel 23:1): > “if the foundations are destroyed, > what can the righteous do?” > (Psalm 11:3 ESV) Seven considerations/consolations to cheer our souls when the cares of our hearts, especially regarding wicked rulers, are many (see Psalm 94:19-10). # There Is a Higher Throne (1) We do not care about governors governing for state/society’s good more, or more carefully, than God Himself. The LORD is God, God is the ultimate authority. He is the only Sovereign who determines the allotted periods and boundaries of every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26). After asking what the righteous can do (Psalm 11:3), the faithful are encouraged that: > “The LORD is in His holy temple; > the LORD’s throne is in heaven; > His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man. > The LORD tests the righteous, > but His soul hates the wicked and the one > who loves violence. > (Psalm 11:4-5) Not only do we not care about earthly authorities as much as God, but not one of us comes close to the LORD’s delight in His Anointed, in His Son, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matthew 28:18). Jesus Christ will be recognized as King of kings and Lord of lords on earth at His second coming (1 Timothy 6:14-15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16). We must learn to laugh along with the Father who holds the rebellious rulers in derision (Psalm 2, see especially verses 4 and 7-8 and 12). “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him,” and this is necessarily true for *all* nations, not just Israel. This means that as Christians we must care about what God cares about, we must honor His highest throne, and we must “fret not…because of evildoers” who “will soon fade like the grass” (Psalm 37:1). This is not a political punt on difficult questions, but it is the necessary perspective of faith. This is a reminder that “our citizenship…in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) colors all our submission on earth. # De Facto or De Jure or De Bate (2) First of all, I was helped to see that I was saying the second option wrong, it should be *day JOOR-ay*. We might not be able to fix the President’s dementia, but I can at least fix my pronunciation. De facto means “of fact” or in fact, whether by right or not. De jure means “of law” or according to rightful entitlement or claim. (De bate is just my playful addition about the debate.) When it comes to the governing authorities in Romans 13, is Paul talking about *rightful* rulers or about *whatever* rulers? Think of an example close to home: if an elected official stole the election, must we submit to that cheater? The text itself answers: “the powers that be” (KJV), “those that exist” (ESV). In Latin law terms, Paul is talking about whatever governing authorities are in place, the de facto ones. But that only helps us so much. Our responsibility is higher than this. It doesn’t matter if the authority got his power through all the right channels if he legislates the doing of evil. We cannot do evil “for sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5). And if the authority got his power illegitimately, we still must do good and not evil, whether or not he inconsistently promotes good law later. That said, doing good might include challenging the de facto’s fraud. Perhaps more difficult is when others *act* as if they are an authority; ruling in rhetoric instead of ruling in reality. Brother doesn’t submit to brother, just because he’s older or bigger does not make him the boss. If you got a bill from the Canadian Prime Minister for using maple syrup, you don’t have to pay it. The Colonists had an agreement with the King George III, not with Parliament, so by *law* Parliament wasn’t their authority. That said, we know that they eventually went to war to be free from the overreach. But on the basic point, the colonists were submitting to what was lawful. Scripture is full of examples of God’s appointment of wicked rulers as a scourge to wicked people. That said, Scripture also provides us with laments over it not silent, “sit there and take it” acquiescence. We pray for judgment on those rulers, and prophets call rulers and the people to repent and fear the Lord. Whether de facto or de jure doesn’t change our responsibility to do good, even if it takes wisdom to know what is the best good to do. # Paper or Persons (3) I’ve mentioned previously the observation that Paul doesn’t use the word “law” even once in this paragraph. He consistently talks about the servant-rulers not about their standard for rules. The Romans were known for establishing a legal system, with a decent set of agreeable, knowable, consistent laws, but whatever might have been on paper had to be enforced by persons. For us, as citizens of the United States, all our laws are on paper…somewhere, probably, if you can find it, or understand it. For us to apply/obey Romans 13:1, we expect the president to fulfill his oath: > "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (From the [Inauguration oath of office](https://www.usa.gov/inauguration#:~:text=the%20u.s.%20constitution%3a-,%22I%20do%20solemnly%20swear%20(or%20affirm)%20that%20I%20will,Constitution%20of%20the%20United%20States.%22)) We say “no one is above the law” in reference to presidents, governors, legislators, judges, and law enforcement persons. We have a national Constitution with Amendments, we have a WA State Constitution, we have RCWs (Revised Code of Washington), along with County and City laws. Who, or what document, do we have to listen to? It’s been said, when everyone is special, then no one is special. Well, when everyone is a lawyer, we all hate one another. Due to the corruption in our day, laws have about the same use as a batting average, interesting to argue about but no guarantee you ever get another hit. In a land where the happiness of the people is promoted, the laws are easy to find, easy to understand, and expected to be upheld. We are not in a happy place, whether men “frame injustice by statute” to “build disorder” (Psalm 94:20), or to provide cover under confusion, or enough people with enough power ignore the laws to make it miserable for everyone. Words have to matter, with definitions for terms that don’t change, even when the words are on paper. Most of the chastisement, though, comes from pietistic, milk-of-the-Word drinkers, who read that submission is right, and are looking for the simplest understanding of that. The aftermath of so many court cases post 2020 has shown that churches that disobeyed the governors/persons were not the ones disobeying the law/papers, and so have won their cases. It’s not surprising when criticisms come from the wanna-be tyrants, that’s to be expected. But a lot of “friendly fire”/accusations were thrown by the stay-at-home Christians at the assembling-for-church Christians who were, turns out, the ones submitting to the law. In all this, Christians need to keep their discernment powers sharpened through mutual discernment, in good working condition. # Many Magistrates (4) What about conflicting (legitimate) authorities, in the same sphere, in layers of authority, let alone conflicting with authorities in other legitimate spheres? This has some similarity to the Paper vs. Persons, Constitution vs. President discussion, but carries over to authorities that are near and far. I’ve learned more about the “doctrine of the lesser magistrates” the last few years. Magistrate is another name for an authority, coming from *magister* in Latin meaning “master.” This “doctrine” is a political expression that recognizes that local authorities—so authorities over smaller areas and numbers of people—have responsibility to resist the higher authorities when the King, the governor, the higher-up has made an unlawful rule. For example, a week ago or so, the Governor of New Mexico banned the right to carry firearms in some public areas for at least 30 days (under a her emergency powers in the aftermath of a shooting), and a County Sheriff said he would not enforce that ban; a federal judge has also now blocked that ban. Good on them. While I appreciate the lesser magistrate piece, what if the lesser magistrate is the problem? What if the Mayor is a mini-despot and the Governor is a freedom-lover? It could look like we’re just picking and choosing according to whatever we like, and, of course, people do that. But if we Christians are constantly distinguishing good from evil, then we would be constantly excited about whatever authority at whatever level is doing the same. The moral responsibility is the same, before God to do good. The strategic opportunity changes, to celebrate or to criticize different levels as necessary. This is not every man doing what is right in his own eyes, this is finding any man that will do what is right in God's eyes. Likewise, the church and the household have their own spheres of authority. A president does not have the authority to tell a pastor how to celebrate communion, and so a pastor *must* resist in that scenario. Pastors must also function as protection to their flocks from overreach. # Restrictions on Rulers (5) Submitting to authorities in the civil sphere does not equal the civil sphere being the “boss” sphere. The State, Church, and Household spheres are a divinely established checks-and-balances on each other. Are there limits on what the civil authority can legislate? How far does his jurisdiction extend? The men at the Kuyperian Camaraderie have been talking about this, and Grant and Philip have written up some of the options. If (righteous) civil life was a fenced in field, can the state roam anywhere he wants inside the fence, or is he on a leash, having access only to a smaller circumference? This is a good discussion, and you can read some of those posts here. Grant has written some about the issue here: https://cgweinberg.com/a-christians-responsibility-to-submit-to-authority and here: https://cgweinberg.com/why-christians-have-a-duty-to-defy-defend-some-governing-authorities And Philip wrote about it here: https://inmirkwood.com/garlic-lemon-butter-trout-is-served-best-in-blue-houses Our national governing documents limit federal government, not just with checks and balances, but specifically Amendment IX and especially Amendment X were meant to clarify that, at least on the national level, if it’s not in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, the power belongs to the State or remains with the people themselves. Again, it’s good and sharpening to discuss these things, for sake of doing good for our neighbors. # Cross-Country Consequences (6) God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). As US citizens we are connected to all the US citizens. And considered as a country, we are guilty of rebellion against and unbelief toward God. We are part of the same body-politic, and it hurts to get out of bed every morning. Most men don't want to be bothered, and it shows. There is some merit in the let your neighbor be, but not when we don’t bother to pray, to pursue office, or to teach their kids lines of authority. Why should the devil have all the good politicians? The bandits and the stupid have a lot of energy, and we’re getting what we deserve as a whole. That said, as Christians, we are also corporately guilty of tolerating junk in the church, among pastors, let alone in ourselves. We see the stream of stupidity in the State, and want it fixed, and fine. It’s not an either/or effort. But the lack of faithfulness among Christians is the first and foremost pain, the mess we have most immediately responsibility for. # No Wasted Disobediences (7) The authorities murdered Jesus due to what they perceived as rival political claims (Luke 23). He was persecuted to death for “disobeying” the rulers. So consistently be on the lookout for the good to do, even when others call that good “disobedience”; your genuine good deeds will not be wasted, or overlooked (Hebrews 6:10). “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV) Be *zealous*, don’t hold back. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) # Conclusion *Jesus is Lord*. We should act like it. Pray like it. Vote like it. Work like it. Be zealous for good like it. We should not be craven, milquetoast, or jello-spined. Do not give way before the wicked. > Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain > is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked. > (Proverbs 25:26 ESV) We also must not qualify ourselves into anarchy; authority is good from God in principle. As we see so much of the foundations destroyed, we should seek a multitude of counselors in order to be as submissive as possible citizens for sake of conscience, with thanksgiving praying for and supplicating for and interceding for those in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2). ---------- ## Charge When we look around, it appears that we live in days of groaning and burden; it’s *bleak*. We are tempted to say “behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” But it is possible to be “always of good courage,” as long as “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7). Beloved, walking and working by faith is never vanity, it is victory. ## Benediction: > But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. > Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57–58, ESV)