In Chapter 12, following 11 chapters on salvation being a result of God’s grace and doing, Paul delved into living the Christian life. He described how one Christian responds to another in the Church but also life with the non-Christian. As individuals, we “do not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:23). Romans now moves beyond individual relations to how one the Christian understands and relates to authorities.
Relating to Authorities Above You
Read Romans 13:1a
“be subject”: Greek, hupotasso, a passive command. The idea is to be properly ordered, recognizing one’s position and place under (hupo) another. This does not come with any connation of inferiority but simply serving in one’s sphere and not another’s.
“governmental authorities”: The Greek says “authority having power over you,” which includes but is not limited to governmental authorities.
- What does Paul command of the Christian? Discuss his use of the passive voice?
Read Romans 13:1b
“no authority except from God”: no authority if not under (hupo) God. Paul uses “word play” to emphasize the order: hupotasso (ordered under), hupo Theos (under God).
Paul brings out two points, of which our translation only brings out one.
- All authority derives from whom?
- What implication can (not must) exist by “if”: There is no authority if not under God?
Read Romans 13:2
- If a Christian resists the authorities above him, whom does he really resist?
- What is the result of such unauthorized resistance?
“judgment”: Greek, krima, a verdict of judgment, condemnation. “Will incur judgment” was a Jewish expression meaning “damnation.”
After establishing the Christian understanding of authority, Paul switches to governing, earthly authorities.
Read Romans 3a
“a terror”: Greek, phobos, a fear.
- What is the purpose of governmental authority?
- How can a Christian get a sense if a governmental authority is under, or not under, God?
Wisdom 6:1-3 (From the Greek-language Old Testament, the Septuagint):
Listen, therefore, rulers and understand. Learn, you who judge the far reaches of the earth. Give ear, those who have authority over multitudes and power over many peoples. The Lord gave you authority to rule and your lordship is from the Most High, who will probe your works and scrutinize your counsels!
Read Romans 13: 3b-4
“God’s servant”: Literally, “God’s deacon.” With the New Testament use of words, “deacon” (servant, assistant, one who serves at table) was an assistant of the pastor and was only authorized to do what the pastor gave him to do. In the same way, a governmental authority who oversteps his bounds is the same as a deacon overstepping his authority and is not doing what God gives him to do.
- When all functions as God set up, what behavior is rewarded and what behavior is punished?
- What is the Government authorized to do in punishing evildoers (but only under whose authority), which Christian as individual may not (Romans 12:19)?
Read Romans 13:5
“therefore”: Greek, dio, for this reason.
“in subjection”: Greek, hupotasso, properly ordered under. Unlike Romans 13:1, this is not a passive but a middle voice, which can have characteristics of both passive and active. We still must do this (the “must” comes from another word), but Paul is expecting the Christian to take a more active role in being properly ordered under authorities, realizing it is only possible with God’s help.
- What is the purpose of Paul’s use of “therefore”?
- If the “therefore” is true (the governmental authority rewards the good and punishes evil), what must the Christian do?
- What if the “therefore” is not true (the government authority doesn’t reward the good and doesn’t punish evil), what may the Christian do?
Excursus: The Christian’s Disobedience to Governmental Authorities
To an assembly of secular rulers at the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther spoke out despite his fear. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God, so I cannot and will not recant. To do so is not safe or right, to go against one’s conscience. May God help me. Amen.” In those words, Luther embodied, not only the noble spirit of Lutheranism but Christianity throughout the ages.
The Apostle Peter, under threat of imprisonment and death, rang out, “We must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29). What does this mean? Though we honor those in authority, our first loyalty is to our Creator, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Luke 20:25).
The authorities are a gift from God, “Let every person be ordered under a higher authority. For no authority exists if not under God, and those authorities exist, ordered under by God” (Romans 13:1). The Lord Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom but a heavenly one. Though the government bears the sword, our only weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Armed with the life-creating Word of the Gospel, we live our lives. Yes, the Gospel does “create a disturbance all over the world,” but our purpose is not to foment revolution (Acts 17:6). No, we come with a message of forgiveness, a crucified and risen Savior, for only He earned and gives us our salvation. Thus, as Christians and according to Scripture, we pray for those in authority.
For this gift of government, we are thankful, which God set up to reward what is worthwhile and punish the harmful. In everything, we strive to act according to the laws of our land, seeking to be model citizens as we fulfill our civic duties. Still, we must also assert to our leaders, “We are also subject to another Law and answer to a higher court.”
So, what can we, as Christians, do? Within our nation, we only go against governmental authority when forced to choose between God and our government. Listen to our Lutheran Confessions:
In every way, we can without sin, Christians are obliged to be subject to civil authority and obey its commands and laws. Only when the commands of civil authority cannot be obeyed without sin, must we obey God rather than people (Acts 5:29). [refer to Augsburg Confession XVI, 7]
Civil disobedience is not a matter of what we like or don’t like. No, God’s will for our lives governs all, revealed to us in His Word. In our lives, the Lord sets our agenda, not us. In this way, we are not “God-within-ers.” For we don’t allow what we think to change the meaning of what God gives to us in His Word (using “God within us” to override “God for us”). The Lord gives us His say so, and we trust He will bless us through His Word.
Forced to choose between God or people, we must be willing to stand forth and endure the cost of our convictions. In our acts of civil disobedience, we will still try to be first-class citizens, continue in acts of mercy, and offer prayers for our nation and its leaders. So, we say with St. Paul, may we “strive always to keep [our] conscience clear before God and people” (Acts 24:16).
Read Romans 13:6
- Why do Christian pay taxes?
“ministers for God”: literally, “liturgists for God.” Discuss.
“attending to this very thing”: literally, “into this he is continuing.” What is the “this” in which the “liturgist” is continuing?
Read Romans 13:7
As Paul started this section dealing with all authorities (not only governmental authorities), he now finishes, dealing with all authorities. Here, Paul finishes with a couplet, two lines of a verse with a repeating pattern so we don’t miss the point.
- To whom do we owe what?
- Are we to fear governmental authorities? (Romans 13:3)
- If not, then to whom is the Christian to honor and fear?