74: The Powers That Be (Pt 2)

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

September 3, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

There’s a phrase in Scripture used for men who “had understanding of the times,” to know what ought to be done, especially in political affairs and intrigue (see 1 Chronicles 12:32, Esther 1:13). I’ve seen it going around the last few weeks, and, while I don’t claim to be one of those guys, I do try to pay attention. I think that it’s timely that we’re here in Romans 13, and we do have application questions that are provoked *by* our current times.

And also, application is third; it comes after observation and interpretation. What does the text say, what does the text mean, then what do we do in light of the text. Our situation might enable us to observe things from different angles, but Paul meant what God moved him to write apart from our problem politics. While it is important to know the times, it is actually of first importance to know what God has revealed for *all times*. The quickest way to become irrelevant is to seek to be relevant, and the easiest way to be useless in our times is to be stuck in them. Before we appeal to the Constitution (which *is* part of the application for us), we need to understand the Bible.

Scripture teaches the good of submission for Joe Christian Citizen. Wives submit, children submit, slaves submit, citizens submit, and there is even a mutual submission. What governs all those is submission to God. So husbands, fathers, masters, and governors must submit to God, so submission to those men can never be absolute. God is the origin of earthly authorities, God determines the purposes for those authorities, and God has established boundaries for those authorities. Paying attention to the boundaries, or pushing them, is a lot of life.

In Romans 13:1-2 we considered God as the origin of civil authorities, and how *every* person—Christian and non—is called to recognize that *every* (civic) authority has been instituted by God. So those who resist face the result of judgment, which is probably judgment through the exercise of power by the human authority. This morning we’ll see the purposes of government (in verses 3-4). That’ll leave us at least one more message about our consciences and paying taxes.

# The Delegated Purposes of Government (verses 3-4)

Ruling is a lawful vocation, as in, God calls some men to wield authority over other men as a job. What is the job description? These verses provide it in *very* broad terms.

> For 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, for 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. (Romans 13:3–4 ESV)

That first line is *oddly* positioned and *historically* questionable. **For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.** Knowing what we know, a *bunch* of questions come to mind.

Who in the world is Paul talking about? *Actual* people, Gentile/pagan/polytheistic men like Nero?! Before or after Nero blamed the burning of Rome on Christians and used them as human candles, and does that matter? How do these rulers identify good and bad; what is their standard? And what about *all* the times when rulers *are* a terror to good conduct, for one example, when they killed Jesus? And why does Paul feel the need to start with this “comfort”?

It is a surprisingly positive, if not romantic, presentation. It’s easy to imagine, but has it not been more frustrating than factual? Paul’s angle seems to assume that Christians in particular were suspicious of government. We would assume that they had good reason for suspicion, if not for **fear**. But still Paul says here that there is no reason to fear if you do what is good. Let’s keep working with that first.

This gets us to the two broad purposes of government: *approve/praise the good* and *avenge/punish the bad/wrong*. For what it’s worth, Peter makes the same two points in 1 Peter 2:14 while calling believers to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.”

Paul assumes that rulers can know and distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. Paul does not say how they know. At the least he must have included the conscience, as he described in Romans 2:15. But for all he’s written about the law in Romans (even though we can’t be saved by works of the law) he doesn’t use the word law once in this paragraph. Yet he encourages Christians to keep doing good because the rulers will approve the good, and that implies that good is not subjective, that it can be recognized and agreed upon, even with ungodly authorities.

When the ruler acts according to true good and true bad, **he is God’s servant for your good**. Skip a sentence and Paul repeats: **he is the servant of God**. The word **servant** is *diakonos*, an intermediary, an agent working on behalf of, with an emphasis on ministry. So “public servants.”

So also, Paul doubles-up on the punishment of wrong. **If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain**, he is **an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer**. To “bear the sword” is a threat of force up to execution and capital punishment, the death penalty. This servant is *armed* and dangerous. However, authorities who truly knew good and wrong would not execute every misdemeanor to death, so this represents the most extreme form of judgment (verse 2), implying that lesser levels such as prison, beating, fines were part of the toolkit.

These are *not* (necessarily) Christian rulers, but they are ruling in a way (mostly) consistent with Christian definitions of good and bad. Christians can explain the origin of the morals and the origin of offices, but they can also be thankful to God for rulers who may not know either, *while* also praying/seeking for the confession of the authorities that Christ is Lord. That would be better blessing, but it is not the only blessing level.

BUT. What if the rulers praise the *wrong* wrongdoer, as in Romans 1:32:

> Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)

Now we’re talking about not just neighbors, but legislators. “Can destructive rulers join You / And by law disorder build?” (Psalm 94:20)? “Those who frame injustice by statute…they band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (94:20-21, ESV).

Really big question: do we have to obey *those* rulers?

I’m obviously building up some tension, even possible conflict. But the Big E on the eye chart is not hard to see, understand. We already know the answer to this Yes/No question. The answer is obvious. Let’s set it up again.

Verse 1 says every person must be subject to governing authorities because God appointed those authorities, and there are no qualifications. Verse 3 explains the purpose of governing authorities regarding good and bad, and does not offer qualifications either. But I think that’s because the answer is clear.

*We must **not** obey wicked rulers when they prohibit good conduct or require bad conduct*.

It is simple, in principle. You must not obey man rather than God (see Acts 5:29). So you must not obey a governor who requires you to kill your neighbor. No earthly authority has absolute authority, so because we know God and His law is above all, we *must* not violate what we know God says is good/evil. We cannot be in subjection “for the sake of conscience” to God (verse 4) and go against our informed consciences, no matter how Constitutional, how majority voted, how procedurally correct the legislation was written, or how loudly pressured or physically/financially threatened.

So I am arguing that all Christians agree that there are qualifications on being subject to the governing authorities. Of course we disagree about where the line is on the spectrum, from a law requiring us to kill someone (obvious wickedness) to a code prohibiting us from watering our yards more than two days a week (because of climate change concerns)(less obvious).

That said, here is a different challenge: why would be need to submit if we already only wanted to do good and that’s all the government wanted from us? We would be the governments’ favorites, but we’d be *agreeing* more than submitting. It can’t be that we submit only to the things we agree to call good, and yet, our submission cannot be to things we know are not good.

# Conclusion

Human authorities/the officers of civil rule are:

- *Delegated by God, not absolute*. To be respected, followed, but not devotionally. Rulers are servants of God, and will give account to God. We cannot submit to a ruler instead of God, but as part of our submission to God.

- *Delimited by God, not unlimited*. To be acknowledged, followed, but not uncritically. Rulers are not infallible, and their power is not unbridled; God has set down boundaries. It is not weak to submit, it is wicked not to. That said, sometimes rulers are the revolutionaries, and must be resisted.

We are in times of trouble. It seems that the majority of our seated authorities are committed to their revolution of good and evil. It is nowhere near the first time men have called evil good and visa versa. But it requires us to be ruthlessly submitted to God, not cowards, wise as serpents, and looking to the LORD as our stronghold, to God as our rock of refuge (Psalm 94:22). More still to come in the paragraph.


## Charge

Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Oh, how tempted to be troubled we are, how often we are burdened by anxiety, especially when the wicked exalt and pour out their arrogant words (Psalm 94:3-4). Listen to Jesus, trust the Lord, let His comforts cheer your soul, live in His grace.

## Benediction:

> The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20, 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)