Reading: Romans 13:1-7
Consider: In Romans 13:1-7 Paul deals with an issue that seems as relevant today as it did when originally written. Throughout this section Paul tells the Christians in Rome that they are to be subject to the governing authorities. This might seem reasonable during a time of peace and stability for the church, but within seven years of writing this letter (57-58AD), the Christians in Rome would be facing severe persecution at the hands of Nero. Following the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD, Christians became the scapegoats for Nero’s anger and many lost their lives. This open persecution took place intermittently until the issuing of the Edict of Milan (313AD), signed by emperors Constantine and Licinius, when Christianity was to be tolerated throughout the Roman Empire.
In Romans 13:1 Paul makes it clear that governing authorities have been established by God (a fact that those in power should be conscious of). He goes on to say: ‘Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted …’ (13:2). Does this mean that Christians can never stand up against those in authority? Clearly, if any government or person in power is asking a Christian to do something immoral, or something that is contrary to what the Bible teaches, then the Christian must take a stand. We have seen this over issues such as abortion, assisted suicide, gender and marriage. This means that Christians may be seen to be ‘out of step’ with society, making them the subject of hostility.
Later in this section of Romans Paul says this: This is why you pay taxes, for the governing authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour (13:6-7). This is also an issue in society today, where it appears to be acceptable to most people (and companies) to reduce their tax liability by whatever means necessary, or not to pay their debts on time or in full.
Where does this leave us? I think the main thrust of what Paul is saying in this passage is that the Christian’s life and witness can be seen in how they regard those in authority, as well as how they accept authority. Additionally, a believer should be scrupulously honest in their dealings with others (including the tax authorities).
Pray: Father, help us to remain subject to those in authority, while being prepared to stand up for what is right. May we be completely honest in our dealings with everyone, including the tax authorities. Amen