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. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 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. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Reading passages like this helps me keep things in perspective.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the practice of putting down those whom God has put in office. They are public figures, responsible for the stewardship of our government, and they have gigantic targets on their backs.
As Christians, we are called to something more than gossip about our politicians. What Paul says in this passage above is pretty striking. So many politicians don’t leads though they are following the commands of God. How are we supposed to submit to them?
But think about when and where Paul wrote this. Ancient Rome, almost certainly during the time of Nero, the most notoriously anti-Christian emperor that Rome had ever known! And Paul says that the rulers are servants of God and had been given their authority by God Himself! He tells the Roman Christians that their rulers are divinely appointed to work for the good of the people as an instrument of God’s justice.
Because of this, Paul calls his Roman brothers to submit willingly to the government, paying taxes, seeking to live peaceably among the people.
And He calls us to do the same. Why?
Because when we get caught up in complaining about the government, we lose the message of the gospel. Our leaders and our neighbors need Jesus. They need us to display the type of perfect submission that Jesus modeled in His life and death. When His followers refuse to live within the freedoms we’re afforded by the country we call home, we preach something other than Jesus, and we make Christianity about something less than the Gospel.
But before you punch me, let me ask this:
what does it mean to pay taxes?
Fundamentally, it means to contribute to the system in the way prescribed by the government. For the Romans, paying taxes simply meant that they would be allowed to continue living free in the Roman Empire. For us, it means we have a voice in the political sphere and some means of moving the minds of our leaders.
Therefore, what I’m saying is not that Christians should simply take whatever the government dishes out without question, but that we should exercise our rights as citizens of this country by paying taxes, voting, becoming involved in important issues, all BECAUSE we are citizens of heaven first.
At the core, it’s about remembering that all authority comes from God and His Kingdom. Any power the politicians can wield is given by God. Any freedom we have to influence government is given by God. When we recognize this fact, we will not confuse people about the Gospel, we will preach the gospel IN all our political involvement. We will be the citizens that Paul envisions, praying for our leaders, paying our taxes, participating in the system, and praising the God from Whom all authority comes and in Whom all true justice and grace is found.