Romans is a very exciting book in its structure. Throughout the book, Paul is making a case (argument), gives proofs (reasons) and then goes on to point us to a conclusion, often a very practical application. From the beginning of chapter 12 to the end, Paul is making a case for right living as a believer – since you have been saved and you have been given gifts now live rightly with God and others. Now, present your bodies as living sacrifices – in other words, offer yourself up to God, not conformed any longer to the patters of this world but rather transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you many know and do the good, acceptable and perfect will of God. To such a transformed people, Paul will go on to say…
“Let love be genuine, Abhor (hate) what is evil. Hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
Romans 12: 9-13
Now all these and more might sound like moral platitudes and they are exactly that because a call to Christ is a call to obedience. We obey not in order to be saved but because we have already been saved from disobedience and rebellion to reverent obedience and submission. If the call in 12: 9 -21 is for Christian living within the body of believers in a more personal way, then the verses we are looking at today call the believer to live rightly as citizens in a more public sense. The big idea is to see God calling us to gospel-driven responsible citizenship in the country that he has ordained for us. We will see this argument laid out in three simple questions – what, why and how.
- What: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” Romans 13:1a
Civic responsibility means the patriotic and ethical duties of all citizens to take an active role in society and to consider the interests and concerns of other individuals in the community.
The apostle Paul makes an important call – that every person whoever they are and wherever they may be, whatever their circumstances they are to be in subject to the governing authorities. To be subject to means to be submissive under the rule/authority of another. For example, a student ought to be subjected to his/her school – meaning willingly obeying the instructions/expectations or rules and regulations of their school. Paul is saying that all who call on the name of the Lord, be obedient to those who rule over them. It is worth noting that Paul is writing to Christians living in Rome at a time when the Roman empire was quite hostile to the Christian faith. In less than 10 years from the writing of the letter, Paul himself will be martyred for his faith by Emperor Nero, yet here he is calling believers to obey their governments. Please notice he does not qualify the statement with additions such as ‘democratically elected government’ or ‘when the policies are favorable to the church’ or ‘when the laws are serving your interest’ No – he calls believers to be subject to their governing authorities.
- Why: “For there is no authority except from God” Romans13: 1b.
Paul makes it very clear why Christians should submit to their governments – they are instituted by God (13:1c). Theirs is a delegated authority – given by God for the right ordering and flourishing of human life and good living with others. He will give a reason (for) at least five time in 6 verses … look with me in verse 1 – For there is no authority except from God, for rulers are not a terror (v3) for he is God’s servant for your good (v4), 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. This is all very striking description when you think of government officials – police, county government revenue officers, judges and magistrates or ministry of lands officers. They are servants of God! It is no wonder then, Paul will give this very firm warning: Whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment (v2). The government official, says Paul, is a servant of God who is there for your good (repeated in v4 and v6). Therefore, one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
In these verses, Paul also shows us the role of government: To serve God by maintaining of law and order – punishing wrongdoing rewarding right conduct (v3) now, that can only be done if good and evil has been defined. Moral good is already defined by the word of God and legal/societal and economic good is to be defined by the government. The government then, bears a sword of authority given by God. (v4) and will be held to account. We see plenty of that in the scriptures. Now, Paul does not tell us how such government will come to be in office or for how long. That will be left for different societies. The call for the believer in whichever society, is to honour and obey its government. However, when a government loses its calling to justice, law and order then the Christian duty is to call it out. It is one of the founding fathers of the American society Thomas Jefferson who once said: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” Christians then, are not to obey blindly the edicts of their government but actually have a duty to hold it to account to the higher authority – God.
We see plenty of examples of that in the OT where the prophets are calling out kings for their excesses and reminding them that they hold office on behalf of God. Perhaps a memorable example of that is in the book we have just been preaching from 1 Samuel 15 where prophet Samuel announces to King Saul “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being King”
- How: By Obedience, Honour and Love (Verse 6 – 10)
Paul’s case for civic duty is settled but the question lingers how do Christians in Rome, and those in Kenya today obey these words? He gives us three ways in which this truth can be applied in the lives of Christians
- By Obeying the law. A clear way to be a responsible citizen of your country is to obey the law. This will include paying taxes and revenues (v7), following the regulations of your county government, obeying traffic rules and reporting offences. In context, this would also include making the law – by participating in elections (Vox Populi, Vox Deo), public discussions and legislative processes. Luke 2 gives us an insight into Joseph and Mary when their colonial government ordered a census. They went to their home-town to be registered. No one among us should be indifferent – we are to participate in putting into office the right people. It is often said that evil triumphs when good men and women do nothing. I get upset to hear of people who were too lazy to register as voters or to change their polling stations. Yet they will be complaining of bad roads, uncollected garbage or unsafe boda bodas for the next five years. Dear saint – repent of your indifference!
- By Honoring/Respecting those in Office. Paul uses the word fear in verse 3 to mean hold in reverence. He also used the words ‘Respect’ and ‘Honour’ in verse 7. We are to hold in high esteem those in authority. We are to be careful in how we address those to whom responsibility is given. An unhelpful culture of disrespect is sweeping through our times where everyone is addressed on first name basis. Soon we devalue those we disrespect, despise and afterwards we disobey. Dear saint – watch your words. Outdo one another in showing honour (12:10). One way to honour your leaders is by praying for them. In 1 Timothy 2: 1-4 Paul calls believers to pray for those in authority, especially that they may come to the knowledge of the truth;
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- By loving our neighbour. Paul uses the golden commandment of love as the motivation for responsible gospel driven citizenship. He calls us to love one another for love is in indeed the fulfilment of the law (v10). If we love one another – there would be no adultery, theft, corruption, love will give way in traffic, love will not move boundaries in your plot, workers will be paid a fair wage, we would care for the environment – for love does no wrong to the neighbour (v10b). The opposite is true – when we don’t love we engage in all kinds of greed: MPs award themselves huge salaries to the detriment of the economy, corruption will mean means there are no public spaces, public transport becomes chaotic etc. Dear saint be a good law abiding citizen by loving your neighbour. As we were reminded last week – you are the salt of the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. Let your good deed so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13)
Conclusion: The Gospel Motivation – Put on the Lord Jesus (Verse 11 -14)
Brothers and sisters, all this can be a heavy burden, if we don’t remember our source of strength. Paul reminds us of the time we are living in – that the night is far gone and the dawn is at hand. So then, let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 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. The only we can hold up in true gospel-driven responsible citizenship is by putting on Christ who humbled himself and became obedient, even to the cross. Run to him today.