Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 13:1-7

Submission to the Authorities

13 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. 7 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.

——————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post largely concluded Romans 11, in which Paul wrote that God will one day lift his judgement against Israel for unbelief in His Son and bring His people into the Church in great numbers. As such, Gentiles are not to become boastful about their position in the Church. Nor are they to hate the Jews, God’s rightful heirs of His covenants, Old and New.

That is a hard truth for some to accept. However, it is what Paul tells us will happen.

In the first half of Romans 13, Paul tells us what our relationship as Christians is to society at large.

These are among the most important verses in the New Testament, but, for whatever reason, the Lectionary compilers omitted them from readings used in public worship.

These days, one must offer an apology for a long post. My advice here is to grab a cuppa and a snack.

John MacArthur explains why Paul moved from the spiritual to the temporal (emphases mine):

If all Paul wanted to focus on was the matter of justification, he could have ended the epistle in chapter 11, but he doesn’t. He goes on to deal with the implications of the doctrines, which have been laid down in the first 11 chapters, which implications we are now looking at. And so it is essential that a Christian understand that his relationship to authority, his relationship to government, and those who are over him is dramatically impacted by his salvation. We are called to live as model citizens, that we may reach the world around us with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ

In other words, how you behave under the authorities in your country, your nation, your city, whatever it is, will demonstrate your faith, the legitimacy of your faith, to that society. And so we are to submit then to the king, to the governor, to anyone who is over us in authority.

We’ve had more than two months of ‘protests’ and, dare one say it, outright insurrection in Seattle and Portland.

Some might empathise with the destruction of public property and general anarchy.

However, Christians are not called on to participate in or to support lawlessness that results in chaos, loss of life and destruction of property, including businesses.

We know that insurrections have taken place throughout history. The United States was created on the back of insurrection. MacArthur thinks that was unbiblical; elsewhere, he said that some of his ancestors were Canadian. Through that filter, one can see his point. He says:

The truth of the matter is, and you need to think about this – the truth of the matter is that our own nation was borne out of a violation of this biblical text. Now that may throw you for a loss, but that’s the fact. Our nation was borne out of a violation of this text, in the name of Christian freedom.

That does not mean that God doesn’t overrule such violations and bring about good, which He did in this case, but that doesn’t justify the means.

Yet, for just over 200 years, America was the beacon of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For millions of people around the world, it still is.

For that reason, one can say, rightly, that the Revolutionary War gave birth to the Great Republic.

The French also had a revolution, within two decades of America’s. The principal French players in this and a few American Founding Fathers travelled back and forth to exchange ideas. General Lafayette helped America’s Revolutionary troops greatly.

The difference between America’s and France’s respective revolutions lies in the content of their constitutions, which largely say the same thing with a few exceptions. The French constitution separates church and state. America’s guarantees freedom of worship. The American Declaration of Independence clearly states that powers to the citizen come from ‘Nature’s God’, ‘their Creator’. America had deist leaders. For the most part, France had atheists at the top at that time.

But I digress.

Some of the Western world has been riven by urban uprisings this year, 2020, protesting against the brutal death of a man who had a police record and, for one conviction, served five years in prison.

The colour of this man’s skin has revived the awareness of blots on Western history: slavery, colonialism and police brutality.

MacArthur wrote the sermons I’m citing here in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was president.

Yet, much of what he says still holds true today.

This is what he says about injustice and what should be the Christian response, according to Paul’s words:

We are to be – and listen carefully, this is an important thought – we are to be the conscience of the nation by godly living and faithful preaching. We confront the nation, not through political pressure, but through the word of God. That’s how we confront the nation. We preach against sin. We preach against the evils of our time. But it is preaching and godly living that is our calling.

For some, that will be insufficient.

MacArthur goes on to define the society in which Jesus and St Paul lived:

Look at Christ for just a moment as we build a foundation for this passage. Look at Christ. He came into a very interesting world. He came into a Roman Empire where slavery flourished. Slavery. You understand that. Slavery. There were three slaves – approximately three slaves — to every free man. He also came into a world that was dominated by absolutism in terms of rulership. Men were absolutely monarchs, absolute rulers. After the end of the Roman republic, when the Caesars came in and took power, they ruled with absolute authority. And although Julius Caesar was murdered in the Roman Senate in 44 BC, this only accelerated the centralization of power. The Roman Senate declared Augustus proconsul and tribune of Rome for life, and he had absolute and total power. He was commander-in-chief of all soldiers, he stood above the senate, and he controlled all civil affairs.

So Jesus came into a world dominated by slavery and by one man rule, the absolute antithesis of democracy, which we believe to be so dear. All the power of the state was in one man’s hands.

You had the same thing in Palestine, where the ruler of Palestine, who was placed there as sort of a puppet king under Rome was a man by the name of Herod. Herod was an Edomite. Herod was not a Jew. That Edomite ruler of Palestine, the king with great power, had the single authority to demand that every single baby in a certain region be massacred, and nobody could stay his hand. He had absolute authority over life and death. He murdered his whole family, his mother, his wife, his sons, and no one held him accountable.

In the time that Jesus came into the world taxes were exorbitant, and those who worked in the taxing process who sold themselves to Rome for money, exacted exorbitant taxes out of the people, overcharged them. In fact, you remember don’t you, that Zacchaeus when he was converted, immediately said I’ll do what? I’ll pay back everything I’ve extorted how many times? Fourfold. Which was rather typical of the kind of thing that went on, tax collectors were extortioners. So there were unjust taxes. There was unjust rule that heard nothing from the people. In fact, Caesar August[us] decreed that all the world should be taxed, and tried to collect … from everyone.

Furthermore, Jesus came to His people, the Jews, in a very unique situation for them. They were chattel for the Romans. They were an underprivileged and oppressed minority. They had no voice in Roman government, they had to pay heavy taxes to their Roman taskmasters. Now that’s the world Jesus came into. They didn’t even know anything about democracy, about voting, about certain quote-unquote “freedoms” that we enjoy.

And what did Jesus say? He said this. “Render to Caesar” what? “The things that are Caesar’s.” You give the government its due. And to God, what? The things that are God’s.

He did not come with power and force to overthrow the Roman tyranny. He did not seek social change. He did not attempt to eliminate slavery. He did not come with political or economic issues at stake. They were not the concern of his life and ministry. He did not come to bring new government, to bring democracy, to wave the flag of Judaism, even. His appeal was ever and always to the hearts of individual men and women, not their political freedoms, not their rights under government.

He did not participate in civil rights. He did not crusade to abolish injustice. He preached a saving gospel, so that once a man’s soul or a woman’s soul is right with God, it matters very little what the externals are. He was not interested in a new social order, but in a new spiritual order, the church. And he mandated the church to carry on the same kind of ministry.

And listen, their problems in those days were far more severe than ours, far more severe. Even people living on relief today have cars, TVs and modern conveniences.

Uprisings were not allowed in that era. The Romans relied strongly on maintaining order. Any Roman governor who allowed uprisings was called back to Rome from his post. He might have gone on trial. He risked imprisonment. In some cases, he could be put to death. In any event, he spent the rest of his days as a social and political outcast.

Moving on to today’s passage, Paul makes it clear that we must be subject to our governing authorities, because God has given them to us to maintain order (verse 1).

Naturally, the first question most of us have upon reading that is about totalitarian dictatorships. MacArthur has an answer:

You say, “What about the cruel governments? How can you say that about communist governments? How can you say that about Adolf Hitler? How can you say that about abusive kinds of government? How can you say that those are ordained of God?” Well let me answer it by saying this. I didn’t say it. I just read it. The Bible said it. So I’m off the hook, folks. This is not my problem. There is no power but of God.

And then the other side of it is, the power that is, is ordained by God. “You mean in our nation that’s what it says?” If it is a power, it’s ordained by God. Well you say, “What about the cruel abuses?” Listen, the cruel abuses and the injustices and the wrongs of governments are no reflection of God’s holy nature, and no reflection of God’s holy will, any more than divorce in a marriage is a reflection of God’s holy will. But marriage is no less an institution of God. And though there is apostasy in the church, the church is still an institution ordained of God. But the apostasy is no reflection of the nature of God.

No, abuses do not deny the sacredness nor the divine trust and authority in any of God’s institutions, be it the home, the church, or the government. Frankly, men abuse all God’s gifts, don’t they? And wicked rulers are part of God’s plan to punish wicked nations, and to allow evil to run its course toward destruction. If the truth were known, and perhaps someday in heaven, God has designed by His sovereign purpose and will a reason for every government that exists on the face of the earth. Some are for the benefit of those who have done well. Some are for the punishment of those peoples who have done evil. We cannot second-guess why God institutes a certain kind of government in a certain place.

God has ordained government to protect and preserve men, to protect their life and their property. To do that, there must be the role of government to repress evil, to repress crime, and to hold up and honor those who are virtuous and good. So Paul says, “The powers that be are ordained by God.” The powers that be are not — I hope you know this — the will of the majority. The majority only reflects the sovereign purpose of God. The powers that be are God’s design. And that means any governmental power in any form.

So here, beloved, is reason number one why we submit to the government, because the government is in place by the decree of God. It is the time for God to do in a nation what He chooses to do. It is expressive of the divine will. Sometimes He wants to punish a nation. Sometimes He wants to prosper a nation. Sometimes He wants to bless a people. Sometimes He chooses to judge a people. But government in all its form is by divine decree.

Therefore, those who resist authority — be it good or bad — are going against God’s will. As such, those people will fall under His judgement (verse 2).

MacArthur referred to a Russian emigré, Georgy Vinz, who had spoken at his church. This was the faithful Christian response during the repressive days of the former Soviet Union:

Way back in 1839, Robert Haldane, writing in his wonderful commentary on Romans wrote, “The people of God, then, ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime, even as resistance to God, Himself,” end quote. It’s quite a remarkable statement, and one which I mentioned to you last week, is whole-heartedly ascribed to by Georgy Vinz and those who have come out of Russia to tell us that the dear Christian brothers and sisters in Russia will make no resistance against their government. And if they are imprisoned, it will be simply and only because of their love and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wow. That is quite something.

MacArthur had this to say on judgement in verse 2:

So government is divinely decreed, and to resist it is to resist God. Now I want to take you to a third thought as we wrap up. Those who resist will be punished. Look at verse 2, again. “They that resist shall receive to themselves judgment.” If you resist the government, you’re going to be punished. That’s the way it is. The word is krima. It’s a word that means judgment.

It’s used in 1 Corinthians 11:29, of the judgment of God. But here it’s used, I think, primarily in reference to the punishment that comes from God through civil authorities, through civil authorities. God has ordained government to punish evildoers. And if you resist the government, you’re going to get punished. Now, if like Daniel, you have to because you have a higher command, then you accept the punishment. But if it’s not in that situation, if it’s just a choice you make to resist, of course, you’re going to receive the punishment. Now that was true in the Old Testament economy.

There is a fine line here between obeying and disobeying those in authority.

MacArthur spoke of Daniel. This is what happened when Daniel disobeyed the king’s orders to eat the finest food and enjoy the finest wine:

Look for a moment in your Bible to Daniel’s prophe[c]y. And here you have a very clear, precise illustration of a man who refused to do what the king said, because it would be in violation of what God had said. And you remember in Daniel chapter 1 that Daniel was taken into Babylon captive with other of the young princes of Israel, and several of them are named in verse 7. Their real Hebrew names are in verse 6, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And it says in verse 8 that Daniel purposed in his heart he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s food, nor the wine which he drank. Now here you have the occasion where Daniel is instructed by the Babylonian monarch to take the food of Babylon and eat it. To do that would have been to violate that which he knew to be laws revealed by God, for the Jews had very circumspect dietary laws, and he would not defile himself with food that was not prescribed by God. And yet, in all of Daniel’s attitude there’s a spirit of submission.

“He requested,” verse 8 says, “of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” He asks permission. He goes to the one who is over him, under the king, and over him, and he seeks permission. And he gets into a little dialogue. He says, “Let’s try a test. I’ll commit myself to eating what I would prefer to eat, and after a period of certain days, you come back. We’ll look at everybody, those who’ve eaten the king’s meat, and myself having eaten just these vegetables. Ten days will go by and we’ll see who looks the best.”

And this was a wonderful and conciliating way for Daniel to seek to obey God without becoming abusive of this man who was carrying out orders from his king. And so in verse 14, the man consented and ten days passed. And, of course, you know the story. When the ten days were ended and the man came into to check everybody out, Daniel and his friends far and away surpassed all the others and rose to place of prominence.

Now Daniel could have protested. He could have revolted. He could have been disrespectful to the one over him. He could have badmouthed the king. He could have done all kinds of things. But he sought a conciliating means to obey God in the midst of a difficult situation. But he would not compromise. Later on, as you follow through for a moment in the book of Daniel, you’ll remember that three of his friends, of course, in chapter 3, refused to bow down to the idol image. And as a result of that, they had disobeyed the king. They were told to bow down. They would not, because they couldn’t bow down to the king when God had told them to bow only to Him. And so they were caught in the same crux of the same dilemma. And they were true to God and they said, “If you want to throw us in the fire, throw us in the fire. If God wants to deliver us, He’ll deliver us. And if He doesn’t want to deliver us, we still won’t bow down.”

And so there was a no-compromise attitude. But there was a sense of respect in what they said in verse 17. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace. And He will deliver us out of thine hand, oh king. But if not, be it known unto thee, oh king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” They did not speak any evil words against him. They were not disrespectful. They called him by his proper title. And they simply said, “We will not do this. But we are more than happy to suffer whatever consequences you feel are just for our seeming [m]isbehavior.” And, again, their attitude is remarkably conciliating and gracious in the light of what they might have said. As a result of it, chapter 3, verse 30 says, “The king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” They got a promotion because the king surely appreciated men with great conviction. He also wouldn’t mind having people on his team who could walk through fiery furnaces.

And then in chapter 6, we find, of course, that very familiar account of Daniel in the lion’s den. And now it’s moved out of the Babylonian setting, and we’re in the Medeo-Persian kingdom. And by the way, I want to say as a footnote here, there is absolutely nothing wrong for anyone serving in a government position. There’s nothing wrong with serving in a civil government role or a state government, or any other kind of leadership. That is an honored position. And Daniel is the single best example of that in the Scripture. And every time he was uncompromising, he got a greater reputation.

And because of his uncompromising spirit, he was constantly promoted till he finally became the prime minister of the whole nation, the whole kingdom. It is an honorable thing to serve in government. It is not a dishonorable thing. Daniel is an illustration of that. But it was Daniel’s wonderfully conciliating, and yet non-compromising attitude that caused him to prosper. You remember that Daniel prayed. And so those princes that wanted to get rid of Daniel got the king to sign an edict that no one was to pray to anybody, no one was to give obeisance to any other god.

And, of course, Daniel went on with his prayers. He went on with doing what he knew was right before God. And so he was thrown into the den of lions. But he was not at all disrespectful, as you know. And God…verse 21, rather, just before God protected him, “Then said Daniel to the king,” verse 21, “‘Oh, king,'” what? “‘Live forever.’” Long live the king. This seems a strange thing for a man about to be thrown in a den of … lions by this king. But he understands that the powers that be are ordained of God. And he is submissive in a unique sense, and very trustful that no matter what that king does to him, he’s in the hands of God.

God delivered him. At the end of chapter 6, verse 28 says, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Daniel’s no-compromise approach, along with his friends, meant disobeying the government. But his attitude is a model for all those who come to that…that crossroads of having to face the reality that you can’t do what the government says, or you can’t not do what they say to stop doing. He never wavered from honoring the king, and neither did his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were never disrespectful.

In fact, just let me give you a little bit of a pattern that I see flowing out of the experience of Daniel. First of all, normally we obey, respect, and do everything in response to and to please those in authority. We are to be model citizens, obedient not only outwardly, but obedient in spirit. Secondly, we resist and disobey only when we are commanded to do something the Word of God forbids, or are forbidden to do something the Word of God commands. And those two things are illustrated in Daniel’s prophecy. He would not do what the Word of God forbid, that is, eat a certain [type] of food. And he would not stop doing what God commanded him to do, and that was pray.

The third princip[le] that flows out of it: Even when government and the Word of God conflict, we should not disobey overtly until we have done all we can to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. Did you get that? To try to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Returning to Paul, he writes to the Romans that rulers are not a threat to good judgement but to bad (verse 3). Do what is good and you will meet well with God’s earthly authority, because He will act only against the wrongdoer through earthly authority (verse 4).

These days, in 2020, it seems local authorities can not even accomplish a prosecution of the wrongdoer, whether in Seattle, Portland or London.

Yet, according to Scripture and to history — excepting some of our most recent events — judges, among them magistrates, are tasked with upholding the law. Admittedly, magistrates by name are much more a feature in English law than elsewhere. However, they are in place in other nations, e.g. those such as Judge Judy who hear cases or night court judges. That is not to demean the magistrates’ significance at all. Those are the lawgivers you fear the most — much more so than a high court or superior court judge.

Matthew Henry explains:

Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil, &c. Magistracy was designed to be,

[1.] A terror to evil works and evil workers. They bear the sword; not only the sword of war, but the sword of justice. They are heirs of restraint, to put offenders to shame; Laish wanted such, Judges 18:7. Such is the power of sin and corruption that many will not be restrained from the greatest enormities, and such as are most pernicious to human society, by any regard to the law of God and nature or the wrath to come; but only by the fear of temporal punishments, which the wilfulness and perverseness of degenerate mankind have made necessary. Hence it appears that laws with penalties for the lawless and disobedient (1 Timothy 1:9) must be constituted in Christian nations, and are agreeable with, and not contradictory to, the gospel. When men are become such beasts, such ravenous beasts, one to another, they must be dealt with accordingly, taken and destroyed in terrorem–to deter others. The horse and the mule must thus be held in with bit and bridle. In this work the magistrate is the minister of God, Romans 13:4. He acts as God’s agent, to whom vengeance belongs; and therefore must take heed of infusing into his judgments any private personal resentments of his own.–To execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. In this the judicial processes of the most vigilant faithful magistrates, though some faint resemblance and prelude of the judgments of the great day, yet come far short of the judgment of God: they reach only to the evil act, can execute wrath only on him that doeth evil: but God’s judgment extends to the evil thought, and is a discerner of the intents of the heart.–He beareth not the sword in vain. It is not for nothing that God hath put such a power into the magistrate’s hand; but it is intended for the restraining and suppressing of disorders. And therefore, “If thou do that which is evil, which falls under the cognizance and censure of the civil magistrate, be afraid; for civil powers have quick eyes and long arms.” It is a good thing when the punishment of malefactors is managed as an ordinance of God, instituted and appointed by him. First, As a holy God, that hates sin, against which, as it appears and puts up its head, a public testimony is thus borne. Secondly, As King of nations, and the God of peace and order, which are hereby preserved. Thirdly, As the protector of the good, whose persons, families, estates, and names, are by this means hedged about. Fourthly, As one that desires not the eternal ruin of sinners, but by the punishment of some would terrify others, and so prevent the like wickedness, that others may hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. Nay, it is intended for a kindness to those that are punished, that by the destruction of the flesh the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

[2.] A praise to those that do well. Those that keep in the way of their duty shall have the commendation and protection of the civil powers, to their credit and comfort. “Do that which is good (Romans 13:3), and thou needest not be afraid of the power, which, though terrible, reaches none but those that by their own sin make themselves obnoxious to it; the fire burns only that which is combustible: nay, thou shalt have praise of it.” This is the intention of magistracy, and therefore we must, for conscience’ sake, be subject to it, as a constitution designed for the public good, to which all private interests must give way.

That explanation ties in well with Paul’s next verse about avoiding God’s wrath for the sake of conscience (verse 5).

Then we enter into Paul’s dictum on taxes, none of which we like and all of which keep increasing year after year. Paul says we must continue paying them, because the authorities in charge are ordained by God (verse 6).

These are hard verses to swallow, especially the one on taxes, particularly these days when it seems we are paying for everyone but ourselves. Aargh!

Henry’s explanation appears quaint today, even if there was no welfare/dole in his time:

He does not say, “You give it as an alms,” but, “You pay it as a just debt, or lend it to be repaid in all the blessings and advantages of public government, of which you reap the benefit.” This is the lesson the apostle teaches, and it becomes all Christians to learn and practise it, that the godly in the land may be found (whatever others are) the quiet and the peaceable in the land.

I suppose we reap it universally in the UK in some way, but, from what many of us can see tangibly, we do not do so broadly these days.

I would elaborate, but will refrain from doing so under our extraordinary circumstances in 2020.

Paul continues about taxes and other payments due (verse 7), however, we see in our time that little has changed — and not for the better, in terms of tax.

Tax aside, Paul sends an important message: pay as you owe without undue delay, showing honour and respect to those with whom you have dealt in business.

Paul was not the only one in the New Testament besides Jesus to advocate obeying the law. James and Peter also did the same in their letters to their converts.

Peaceful assembly can take place, but violence and destruction are unbiblical. Paying taxes is essential as is giving our neighbour and our businessmen their due.

Do unto others as you would be done by is the rule.

Next time — Romans 14:13-19