"Those in authority" Romans 13:1-7
I don't know what your attitude is to those who govern. The attitude of many people in this country is to criticise them. We live in an age where those in authority are looked down upon and criticised. Generally people reject authority and think themselves as the ultimate reference point.
Let us ask some questions of this passage.
What should our attitude be as Christians to those who govern and have authority?
Verse 1, we must submit to the governing authorities. That is to say, place ourselves under their rule .
Verse 7 list other obligations upon Christians.
Pay taxes, meaning money paid to a ruler, in this case Caesar. This is levied on persons and property. Income tax, estate duty, and council tax are modern examples. custom is indirect taxation on goods. Modern examples include VAT and custom duty.
Fear ,or respect, and honour are to be given, too. This is holding people in public office in high regard, because of the office that they hold. It is the office that receives the respect, rather than the individual who holds that office. So even if we do not like or approve of the person who is holding the office, we are still required to respect the office that they hold.
Therefore there is no room for Christians to adopt the critical spirit that infests some of the press who fail to give the respect due to members of Parliament, government, and the Royal Family. I am not saying that we should support, for example, Prince Charles in his adulterous relationship, yet he still should earn respect as the future King.
Jehovah's witnesses are not allowed to vote because they see politics as evil and something to be avoided. But, as Christians we are called to be salt and light in the world, to influence it for better. One way of doing this is to take an part in politics by voting intelligently in the light of God's revealed will. We can also write to our M.P.'s and government ministers. Some Christians are called to take an active part in politics. My former sociology lecturer at Oak Hill stood against Michael Portillo in North London. Care lobby Parliament on various issues. Christians have been involved in politics in the past. For example Wilberforce and other Christians campaigned for many years before slavery was abolished. Shaftesbury worked to get the Factories Acts passed to stop child labour and make working conditions better. Here in Staffordshire the Primitive Methodists had close connections with the Trade Union movement.
So we are to submit to those in authority, pay taxes and duties, honour those in high office, and take a part in the politics of this country.
There is one other thing that we should do that Paul does not commend here. He does it in his first letter to Timothy, Chapter 2 verses 1-3.
"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and please God our Saviour."
If you are tempted to moan about the government, can I suggest that you pray for them instead. It will do more good ! So we are to intercede for our government, and give thanks to God for them. Even though we may not agree with them about everything. We thank God for what we agree with. And intercede for what we do not !
But why should we give taxes, honour and prayers for those in authority ?
Read verse 1b. Because God, who is sovereign, has put them there. They are actually God's secret agents !
We must never forget that we have an all powerful God who has everything in his control. Even governments. We tend to concentrate on the immediate, the short-term. While this may be difficult at times when we look back we can often wee that God was there with us and that he is in control. God is working throughout human history to bring people to know himself through the Lord Jesus. One day Jesus will return and it will be too late for those who have decided to reject Jesus as Lord of their lives. The only reason that Jesus has not already returned is that God is patient and wants to give more time for people to turn to Christ.
God is in control and has established those in authority. Therefore we should give them taxes, honour, and our prayers.
We can see from verse 3 that the goal of this is that what is right may be upheld, and what is wrong punished. God wants the best for us, and institutes governments to bring that about.
But what should we do if a government does wrong ? we might ask.
In the eighteenth century Jonathan Mayhew wrote, "Rulers have no authority of God to do mischief." repeat.
We have already touched upon the need to pray, and to try and influence by voting, and lobbying. There are Scriptural instances of governing authorities doing wrong and God's people disobeying their orders.
In Acts 5 the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious leaders, who had imprisoned them and ordered them not to preach the gospel. The apostles continued to disobey this and, in verse 29 Peter declared that "We must obey God, rather than men."
Now obviously we have to be sure that any civil disobedience is about an issue where it is clear what is God's will. Preaching the gospel is a clear cut one, but we need to be wary of labelling any disobedience as 'Christian' or in accordance with God's will.
If we rebel for the wrong reasons this can lead to a number of things.
Verse 2 tells us that it will bring the judgement of God. Read verse 2.
We may also run the risk of being punished by those in authority. Read verse 4.
The other thing that may convict us is our conscience, read verse 5.
So before we take it upon ourselves to defy the government we must be very sure that what we are doing is of God, and not ourselves.
To summarise then, we are to :
Pay, taxes, honour and respect to those in authority.
Pray, thanking God and interceding for issues that concern us and, therefore, God. Cf 1 Tim.2:1f
Participate in the political process. Voting, writing to our M.P.'s, perhaps supporting Christian organisations like Care.
And finally, if we have to, Protest. Maybe even disobey the governing authorities if there is no other option. Bearing in mind that we face their judgment, the judgment of God and of our consciences if we are opposing what is right.