Romans 13:1-7

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College Chapel

February 20, 2020



Our privilege together is to turn to the word of God. I want to invite you to turn with me to Romans chapter 13. Romans chapter 13, in particular, verses 1-7.

Here, the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 is moving briskly into the remainder of the book of Romans in which he is applying the gospel to the lives of Christians. This is extremely helpful for us, as helpful for us as we’re the first chapters of the book of Romans in which we have Paul laying out the gospel in such majestic, comprehensive splendor. What does the gospel require of us then? What does a gospel people look like? How does a gospel people live? Well, here’s a crucial text. Romans chapter 13, beginning in verse one:

“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 and 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.”

So is government a good thing or a bad thing? That’ll open a discussion.

I think for most people, it’s a contextual question. Do we need an army? The government’s a good thing. Do we need confiscatory taxes to bring about an economic revolution? Most Americans think that’s a bad thing, or at least have thought it was a bad thing. Is government a good thing, or a bad thing? When they tear up the road in front of our house, it is a bad thing, bringing to mind the ultimate oxymoron, government efficiency. Re-digging holes in the ground in the road. But when the water comes to us pure and safe, then government’s a good thing. There are parts of the world where you wish the government were so efficient as to deliver unto you water you could drink. Is government a good thing or a bad thing? Well, actually the scripture does speak to this rather comprehensively, but with subtleties that demand our attention. This is a classic text, and as 2020 is rolling along in a presidential campaign now reaching a certain fever pitch, the reality is that most Christians just assume somehow in some way, government is sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing, but they give very little thought to a biblical theology of government.

My purpose today is not going to be to argue about the size of government or the appropriate structure of government. There are some interesting thoughts along a biblical line, as we think about those big questions and in successive opportunities, we’ll talk about some of those things. It’s not about how to vote in the 2020 presidential election. That’s a matter for the Christian conscience, and we’ll be talking more about that in time to come. But this is just about government anywhere, everywhere in this age, what does it mean? And how are Christians to think about it? Rather than just taking the answer for granted, We turn to the scriptures, and this is the locus classicus. This is exactly where we look. Just about every Christian who knows anything about the Bible thinks that if we’re going to talk about government, this is the place to go. Now for one thing, it would seem to be obvious, because this is the text that directly addresses the question. After all, in verse one, “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Well, that’s a pretty clear statement. The governing authorities are mentioned. Every person here is every person when you think about the society, but this is directed to Christians, so it means every Christian, but actually it’s translated. Let every person, or in older translations, let every man, but it could also well be translated “let every soull.” Now that might appear to be a translation issue of no great significance, but let’s think about it for just a moment. We’ll get to what it would mean.

Before we look at Romans 13, perhaps we ought to think about the fact that the government has shown up in the Bible long before we get to Romans 13, and a very different kind of government. But actually, government shows in Genesis One. You don’t have to look to Genesis One because you know it. As you get to Genesis 1:27, you are dealing with the dominion mandate that is given to humanity. And that dominion mandate is a comprehensive mandate that would include government. That would also include economics. It would include agriculture. It would include animal husbandry. It would include just about everything that human beings would do or could do, and rightly do when it comes to exercising that dominion. That dominion implies the coordination of human beings, together image bearers of God, all to accomplish certain purposes that will take a structure that will go beyond say the structure of what is revealed right there in that passage. And again, affirmed in Genesis Two, even beyond the mother and the father and the children in the family and beyond extended kinship, there will be a great human endeavor in this shared dominion, and it’s going to require organization. It’s going to require specialization. It’s going to require compartmentalization and departmentalization. It’s going to require what would eventually be called government.
It’s also interesting that in a biblical worldview, the family itself is a government. It is a structure, not only of a romantic and intimate nature, it’s also a structure of a social nature. As a social nature, it is either rightly or wrongly arranged, just like government is rightly or wrongly directed, But the reality is that the first government is the family. But beyond the family, in keeping with the dominion command and theme and commission, then there is an expansion of government and it will show up. It’ll show up in various ways. In the Old Testament, it will show up in the life of Israel, after all. It will show up in tribal forms. It will show up in national forms. It will show up even in Imperial forms.

We have to remember that Genesis One is followed with haunting speed by Genesis Three. We actually have almost no insight of an Edenic government. All we have are Adam and Eve. There’s no time to find out what government untainted by sin might have looked like. But Genesis Three does follow, and that raises an interesting question. Does human sinfulness then make government less necessary or more necessary? And the answer is it makes government both more necessary, and more dangerous. It’s more necessary, because the Bible makes very clear that the ultimately worst political condition, the absolute worst human social condition is anarchy. But of course, human sin being sin, we also know the government can now be at the hands of rulers who are good or rulers who are evil, those who will dispense justice, or those who will basically subvert or execute the possibility of justice.

Judges 21:25 is a classic text warning about anarchy. “In those days, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own sight.” That’s the horror. That is one of the central terrifying verses of the Old Testament. It is a terrifying verse of human disobedience, of disorder that threatens not only the efficiency and the security and the safety of God’s people, but of course subverts their faithfulness to God. And even that was complicated, because God did not intend for Israel to have a king, but rather for his Lordship over them, his sovereignty over them, to be dispensed and efficiently done through the authorities of Israel without a king, without a mediating king. But Israel demanded a king, because all the peoples around them had Kings, and Kings had armies, and Kings were visible. This turns out to be a part of the logic of the demand for kingship. You can see a king, and you know the king is there, and the king surrounds himself with glory, and he has power, and he can raise an army. Those Kings and their armies were a threat to Israel, who thought they could find security in having their own king. God warned through Samuel. He warned the people what they would have. If they had a king, then guess what? He’s going to take your sons and send them to war. He will take your daughters as wives. He’ll take a lot more, as a matter of fact. The reality of Genesis 3 seen just in the experience of Israel and Judah when it comes to kingship is just easily observed when you just try to get out a sheet of paper and in one column, put the good Kings of Israel, on the other side, the bad Kings of Israel. “And he followed in the way of his father and did evil in the sight of the Lord and was an abomination under the Lord.” That’s a long list.

And the list of the good kings? Short. And of those good kings, not all good, for every one of those kings has major problems. Most famously, the most glorious king of Israel, David, whose throne Israel is promised, will, in the messianic promise, be inhabited forever.

Going back to Genesis for a moment in our imagination, what was government? It’s there, it’s in the dominion mandate, but let’s think about that for a moment. Human beings know, and this is a knowledge we cannot not know. Romans chapter one makes very clear. We cannot not know that we are created beings now. You can try to come up with all kinds of explanations, and modern evolutionary theory is just the more recent, to somehow convince human beings that we are self existent and we stand on our own two feet. But there nonetheless is that knowledge within us, as it has been put for centuries, we are known before we know. But as you think about government, you realize that the temptation is to misunderstand or misidenty the Dominus Dominion, to forget that whatever dominion is assigned to us is after all assigned to us, there is no natural dominion that is given to us. There is no dominion. That is our right in our own stead. There is no rule that we can claim that isn’t a delegated rule. There’s no authority. There’s not a delegated authority. So every single government on earth, even the most righteous, bears only a delegated authority. Now that becomes very clear as we shall see in Romans chapter 13. So let’s look back to the text. First of all, let’s imagine that we did translate that “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.” Again, that would be a very natural translation. Person or man is not wrong. But that would help to remind us of the fact that the Imago Dei is implicated here. The proper subjection that we understand the governing authorities is precisely because we are souls. We have a soul, we are a soul. We’re made in God’s image. May God’s image be subject to the governing authorities.
Now, let’s admit something. We’d like some conditionality in that. It’d be helpful have some limiting word before governing authorities like “most,” or “some,” or “almost all”. It’s a categorical statement. As you’ll see, Romans chapter 13 is categorical in so many ways. let every person– categorical… Be subject to the governing authorities–categorical… and then the ultimate categorical statement: for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. That is one of the most fundamental verses of any Christian worldview. It’s one of those verses that has to carry an enormous amount of freight. It’s a clarifying verse. And in one sense, it’s almost a terrifying verse. We read it as we may read the passage devotionally or we may teach it or preach it, and we can just pass over that quickly, but that’s actually the most important verse of my consideration in this text. It’s a huge statement. For there is no authority, except from God–no authority, except from God. And those that exist have been instituted by God. Xi Jinping? Genghis Khan? Joseph Stalin? George Corley Wallace? Vladimir Putin? This is tough. It could be mayor Clampett, or it could be your second grade teacher. It’s all authority. All authority has been instituted by God. There’s no authority, except from God. Now we have to think carefully here, clearly, because this raises a host of questions, and in those questions are deadly dangers.

So is our responsibility to obey every authority unconditionally? If there is no authority, except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God, well then what follows? Look at verse two. “therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Going back to Genesis, not only One, but Two, and continuing through the Old Testament, the rightful authority is to be obeyed, and a king has to be obeyed. A king has to be paid his due, but at the same time, you don’t bend the knee to Nebuchadnezzar. Are not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego heroes of the faith, for both Israel and the church? Yes. How do you explain this? Well, we do get some help further along in the passage, but this has also required centuries of Christian thinking and sometimes excruciating Christian thinking, sometimes Christian thinking at the point of a sword, sometimes Christian thinking at the end of a noose. Just think of the confessing church in the 20th century in enormous struggle. What does one do as a Christian with an Adolf Hitler? Well, the fact is that the Christian Church in Germany basically watched. The worst was the unfaithfulness of what became known as the German Christians who theologically accommodated to Hitler and to Nazism. And what about those who refuse to accommodate? What was their role? Well, there was an enormous struggle. And as you know, it was very late in that struggle that there were those who were in the confessing church, that is the church that confessed Christ. And in the midst of that horrifying hour, they arose, because as they said, “the gospel is at stake and idolatry is at stake. Adolf Hitler has now made of himself a god, an idol of terror, and a god who is the incarnation of evil. And it is now evil not to resist him.” Of course, there were Christians, major Christians, figures as theologically complex and thoughtful as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who engaged in an attempt to assassinate the fuhrer of the third Reich, Adolf Hitler– he came close, by the way. Was that right? Or was that wrong? Interestingly, there were those in the confessing who still weren’t sure that was right. That’s why the actual assassination group came out of the confessing church. It wasn’t the entirety of the convincing church.

What about those right now under Kim Jong-Un, a regime in which one can be executed merely for possessing a page of a New Testament? The time is short. We don’t have time to go around the globe with a freak show of horrible, malign, evil, political, and government figures. I think we have to look at this verse very carefully. Look at this phrase. “For there is no authority, except from God.” That is extremely helpful. That’s one of the most clarifying texts in all of scripture. This tells us, for instance, that all authority–now, this is not just about what we will call government and rulers–but all authority and whatever it’s form is a delegated and assigned authority, which comes from God and belongs ultimately to God. This is true for the father and the mother in the home. This is true for anyone who is in leadership in the Christian Church. This is true for the principal of the middle school. This is true for the police officer who has pulled you over for exceeding the speed limit. This is true for the guy who comes and tells you that your driveway is six inches too far to the left, and you’re in violation of the zoning codes. Regardless, this is true of the general who commands divisions and armies. It’s a delegated authority. The authority ultimately comes from God. That’s very helpful for us to know, and it’s tied to the Imago Dei, and it is tied to the dominion mandate. It just so happens that most of those people who hold such authority have no idea where that authority came from.
What are the governing principles of the United States and our government system of constitutional democracy? We say it’s a government by the people, for the people, in the name of the people. And there’s a certain sense in which that’s very meaningful, in contrast with other political systems. That’s a language I find morally important, but also theologically wrong, because the government actually is by God’s authority. But nonetheless, this is very important for us to recognize it. This first clarifies so much. “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.” Let’s hold that thought, and continue through the passage a bit, and get some help.

As you see in verse three, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who was 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.” Well, here you have a template for government. And it’s pretty comprehensive when you look at it here, and “rule” is just unashamedly addressed in that kind of language. This is not the most democratic language you might anticipate. Anarchy is the worst possible state. Any kind of government is better than anarchy. When you are looking at those who rue, notice what is said of them theologically. It goes beyond the imagination, I think, of most Christians. This ruler is, as verse four says, “God’s servant for your good,” and that’s repeated later in verse four, “for he is the servant of God” In some cases, that’s fairly easy to imagine, and other cases, it’s almost impossible to imagine with just human cognition. What do we do with this?
On the one hand, this text can be read as an absolute mandate for political quiescence, an absolute mandate that Christians just take the political status quo, whatever that status quo might be, and accept it unconditionally. A bit of historical background about Romans chapter 13 is interesting. And in fact, it helps us to understand not only Romans chapter 13, but other passages, as we shall see in the gospels, the intertestamental period for the Jewish people, especially in Judea was a horrifying period of confusion. There was the political reality that they were now under the dominion of Rome. There was the political and horrifying, embarrassing, humiliating reality for Israel that David’s throne was not occupied. And Rome, of course, was not a politically neutral reality. No empire is. We know that in the time before the birth of Jesus, Rome had experienced several insurrections from bands of Jewish zealots, and others. Judas Iscariot, his name perhaps identifies that he was identified with one of these bands. There were revolts. One of the main ways that the Jewish people sought to have a less armed, but nonetheless, real protest, against the rule of Rome was to refuse to pay taxes. That looms large over the Jewish questions in the first century. It’s one of the reasons why Jesus is asked about paying taxes and why it is addressed in this passage and comes up again, as we shall see, in 1 Peter chapter 2. This is actually a revolution, in a very real way, because even as the Roman church was made up of Jews and Gentile Christians together, the reality is the Jewish background of the habitual attempt not to pay taxes, the non-payment of taxes being seen as a form of resistance–patriotic resistance–against the Imperial regime, an undoubtedly idolatrous regime, the non-payment of taxes is something that Jesus of course addressed directly. This passage addresses it directly.

A part of the background is that there had been by the time of Jesus a Jewish tradition of rejecting the authority of Rome, because Rome was Rome. And thus, Jew Greek, Romans 13 leaps out at us as Paul’s answer saying, “that’s not right.” Now when we bring up Xi Jingping, or Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, sister, let’s remind ourselves that Caesar is the imperial reality, and he is the malign reality in a very real sense. Christians would have much to lament about Caesar and his rule, but at the same time, even as some of the early fathers of the church recognized, the conditions of Rome also helped to explain the conditions of the early Christian missionary movement. Rome facilitated in many ways the spread of the gospel. It did not do so by intention, it did so by construction. It did so by rule. It did so by regularity and roads. It did so by the Pax Romana. It made it possible under the Imperial tyrannical rule of Rome to traverse throughout the Roman empire in a way that was never before, and rarely after, possible. What do we think about this? Well the tax has come up.

One of the questions about government is what do we owe? To whom is a tax due? And here, of course, we think of the gospel of Mark 12:17 where Jesus said, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s.” Now, that’s a crucial distinction. Don’t read Romans 13 without remembering mark 12:17. Let’s think about that for just a moment, because that verse read, as I just read it, could be taken out of context as if it makes obvious sense. It really only makes sense when you consider the entirety of the passage and the context in which Jesus was asked the question. He was asked the question about the payment of taxes and Jesus didn’t say, “you know, this is a great time for a seminar on the Christian worldview on politics and economics.” “I’ll tell you what, after lunch, I’m going to do a seminar on taxation. What should my disciples think?” That’s not what He did. And of course the question was a loaded question in public, considering the political consequences of how Jesus might answer the question. And so instead, Jesus, you’ll recall, said, “Hand me a coin. Here’s your seminar How many sides of the coin have? Two. And whose image is on the coin? Caesar’s. It belongs to him.” He likes this metal so much, he wants to make his ownership of it so clear, that in all humility, he stamped his own image on it. “This coin,” says, Caesar, “It’s mine.” Jesus said, “well, if he likes it so much, he put his picture on it, give it back to him.” But think about this. When he says render under unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s, that second part is more important than the first that. That first part says, “pay your taxes.” The first part says, “yes, the government can come and confiscate your property. It can take away your sons to war and your daughters to marriage.” It can do all kinds of things, because government does all kinds of things. The bigger the government, the bigger the things that government does, and it’s hard to imagine any government in the first century imagination beyond that of Rome. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but unto God the things that are God.” There is that coin, and it has Caesar’s image on it, but every single human being has God’s image on him and on her. And thus, this makes a categorical distinction between the rule that only God can claim, the authority and sovereignty only he can claim, the rights only he can claim, and the rights of Caesar. And in that context, the rights of Caesar turn out to be puny–real, but in the span of eternity, minuscule.

But this is a twin command. And so you’ll notice, Jesus doesn’t say merely “render unto Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s, and remember, God has some things too.” He says, “render unto God the things that are God’s.” In other words, this is everything. This is obedience to God. This is the celebration of God’s rule. This is the reception of God’s son. This is the recognition of the Messiah. This is the response to the gospel in faith and repentance of sin. This is obedience to the command, and this is living as unto Christ. And of course it does mean not bending the knee to Nebuchadnezzar. So the early Christians trying to put all this together understood that even as there is no authority except that which is instituted by God, all authority comes from God, they, following the example of Daniel and others, did not give Caesar their soul. Pay him taxes, be conscripted into his Imperial army, but not bow.

Verse three says why there are rulers in the first place. One way or another, you are going to have to have rulers, if you have a government. “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who’s in authority?” It’s a question asked with the answer implied. “Then do what is good, and you’ll receive his approval, for he is God’s servant.” Again, God’s servant there in verse four shows up again. “For he is the servant of God.” But it’s even beyond that. There’s language here that I think most Christians never really think about. Verse four, just continue it. “For is the servant of God, an Avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

I think two of the theologians in the history of the Christian Church who have given greatest attention to this are first, Augustine, and then John Calvin. What does it mean that the king, the ruler, the emperor is the servant of God? You can think of that in a very wide dispensation. But the notice specifically, “for he’s a servant of God, an Avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the evildoer.” That Avenger language–know your Bible. That Avenger language is very important in the Old Testament. That this is the one who on God’s behalf demonstrates the righteousness of God in pouring out, God’s wrath upon sin. And God’s wrath is in this passage. It doesn’t say it’s the emperor’s wrath or Caesar’s wrath or the president’s wrath or the principal’s wrath. It is God’s wrath.

Every time there is civil order, it’s a testimony to the existence of the one true and living God. Everywhere there is even a vestige of right order, there’s a vestigial testimony to the glory of God. That’s something we need to keep in mind. Every time a family is rightly ordered, even beyond the explicit knowledge of special revelation, God is glorified in the right order of that family, of that community, of that village, of that school, of that company. And of course, of that country, or nation, or empire, and most Christians don’t think about this. And Why are we to obey? The obey language that is used here? We’re to obey precisely because there’s no authority except from God, and every authority has been instituted by God, and here’s the purpose. And there’s a clear moral issue here in terms of how the society is to be ordered. “Don’t break the law. Don’t do evil. If you do evil, God will punish you for doing evil, but before God gets you, Caesar will get you.” And in doing so, Caesar may think he’s Lord, but actually he’s executing the justice of the one true and living, God, who will execute that justice, one day, on Caesar. The “what do we owe language here” is really interesting, of course, because we expect the taxation. We know that already from the gospel. verse five, “therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.” Wow. We’re supposed to want to do what is right, but by our conscience, which again is God’s gift to us, it’s only explained by the fact that we’re made in God’s image. For the sake of conscience, we are to do what is right, because we are to feel self-inflicted, if we do what is wrong.

This conscience also surely applies to the larger picture of, of worship, but look at this. We get to taxes. What do we owe? Verse six. “But because of this, you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God.” There it is again. How dimwitted must we be for Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to have to tell us three times in three, “verses servant of God, servant of God, minister of God?” I think it’s because it’s so illogical. I’m not made to think that way. Here we’re told again, but notice, attending to this very thing, let’s go back to six again with the taxes. “For because of this, you also pay taxes.” You do. And you notice, this is not a, “Hey, I hope you pay taxes,” but, “Hey, I’m writing to Christians. You pay taxes. Christ already commanded it. 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.” What do we do with that? When in verse five, we are told that we are to do these things for the sake of conscience, just put a little footnote here. That is a major Christian innovation. That is a distinction with what have with what would have been the theological logic of Israel in the first century, or of Jews in the intertestamental period. At no point is there any suggestion, in any of that literature, that God’s people should obey secular rulers by conscience. But there is here, and that includes paying taxes.

What about that other passage? Let’s look at 1 Peter 2 very quickly. In this case, we begin at verse 13. “Be subject, for the Lord’s sake, to every human institution…” Different language. Notice the parallel emphasis. “…whether it be to the emperor as Supreme, or to governors as set by him, to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor.” Notice the parallels, not exactly the same. “taxes to whom taxes are owed. revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. “Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor.”

We don’t have time to unpack all this language. There is an honor due to the emperor, but it is not the honor of God. Let’s remind ourselves also of what Peter and John said in Acts 5:24. “We must obey God rather than human beings,” period. And you’ll notice that they don’t just say “rather than Caesar, or the Sanhedrin.” They don’t mention any particular government, because it’s a generally applicable principle reminding ourselves that all human authorities are mere human beings. They are not to be worshiped. There is a limit to what Caesar can demand, and that limit is a distinction between the coin and the human being. The distinction between what Caesar can rightfully claim and what Cesar cannot rightfully claim.
Christians throughout all the centuries has struggled, most excruciatingly in the centuries of greatest political crisis, has struggled with exactly how to understand this. What are those limits? There is no easy way to define this. Augustine spoke to this very clearly in his Commentary on the Romans at point 72. he said, “So if anyone thinks that because he is a Christian, he does not have to pay taxes or tribute, nor show the proper respect to the authorities who take care of these things, he is in very great error. Likewise, if anyone thinks that he ought to submit to the point where he accepts that someone who is his superior in temporal affairs should have authority over his faith, he falls into even greater error, but the balance which the Lord himself prescribed as to be maintained. Render under Caesar, the things that are Caesar, but unto God the things that are God’s.” Thankfully, we have enough here to know the limit language. Caesar has no right to claim her soul. Caesar has no right to claim worship. Caesar has no right to cause us to deny Christ or the rule of Christ, but Caesar can demand almost anything else.
Figuring out the boundary between what is owed Caesar and what is not owed Caesar, figuring out the boundary between worshiping and obeying God by obeying the government, and when one can only disobey God by obeying the government, that’s a hard thing to figure out. It’s much more complex than can be addressed in any message. But we do know this. Government itself is a gift. Anarchy is the curse. There is no authority except that which has been instituted by God, and all authority comes from God. So we’re thankful for authority. We’re thankful for government, in the sense that we’re horrified by the thought of anarchy. We know that government has a proper claim on us. It’s a massive claim, but it’s not a limitless claim. It’s not an eternal claim. It’s not a spiritual claim. Figuring out all of this is not going to be easy, and that’s why we’ll have to return to this again.

But we are left with that very enigmatic statement found in Peter. “Honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the emperor,” and that which is given to us by Paul, “taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” The bottom line I leave you with is this: the Scripture makes very clear that there is a derivative honor that we owe to those who are honorable. But the only ultimate ascription of honor is to God himself. The honorable task for Christians is figuring out to whom honor is due.

Let’s pray.

Father, we’re just so thankful that you’ve given us these passages in your word that are just far more demanding than most of us have ever imagined. Father, help to clarify these issues in our mind, and make us begin a conversation that includes even as we look to subsequent passages and subsequent messages, to think through in these days, what is our responsibility. Not first to honor the government, but first dear Lord to honor you. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.