I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: God, the Source of All Government
Recently I read a letter from a man named Don Genereaux who supposedly wrote to the Federal Government. I'm not sure if this is a real letter or one made up as a satire. It came from an unknown source. However, this is what it said:
My friend, Dan Hansen, over at Honey Creek, Iowa, received a check for $1,000.00 from the government for not raising hogs. So I want to go into the "NOT RAISING HOGS" business next year.
What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on? And what is the best breed of hogs not to raise? I want to be sure that I approach this endeavor in keeping with all government policies.
As I see it, the hardest part of the "NOT RAISING HOGS' program is keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven't raised.
My friend Hansen is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for twenty years or so, and the best he has ever made on them was $422.90 in 1968, until this year when he got your check for the $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs.
If I get $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs, then would I get $2000.00 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself to about 4,000 hogs not raised the first year, which would bring in about $80,000.00; then I can afford an airplane.
Now another thing - these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that the government also pays people not to raise corn and wheat. Would I qualify for payments for not raising these crops not to feed my hogs I will not be raising?
I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of the year for the "NOT RAISING HOGS" and "NOT PLANTING CROPS" business.
Also, I am giving serious consideration to the "NOT MILKING COWS" business and any information you would have on the endeavor would be greatly appreciated.
In view of the fact that I will be totally unemployed, I will be filing for unemployment and food stamps and was wondering how long that process takes.
Be assured, Mr. Secretary, you will have my vote in the upcoming election.
P.S. Would you please notify me when you plan to give out the free cheese again?
Sincerely: Don Genereaux
I believe Mr. Genereaux is pointing out in this letter what we can all agree on. And that is that those whom we elect as our governing officials don't always do what we would consider sane. However, imagine, for a moment, a world without government. Think of your state or our country where everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Consider a world where there is no police force, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard or anyone else that can enforce law and order in the society and in the world. There would be chaos, anarchy and the crushing of the rights of the weakest citizens. The world would not be a very good place in which to live at all. And so we need the government.
And not only that but Scripture is pro-government as well. Also, it is not just a certain type of governmental structure that the Bible promotes. Though most who understand economics would agree that there are certainly better types of government from a practical standpoint, the Bible doesn't distinguish between them. Rather all government is said to be ordained by God.
Because of this, the Christian should be a model-citizen of any place in which they live. Someone has defined this phrase like this:
"A model citizen is someone who obeys the law is good to their community(s) and sets a good example for other citizens. Not only is he to set the example for citizens of a city or country but all citizens everywhere.
Generally speaking, he is the role model of a group that conforms perfectly to the virtues and demands that any given society holds." That is the idea Paul is getting across in the passage at which we are looking today.
In Romans 13:1-7, the Apostle Paul is continuing his instructions on what it means to live a life that is not conformed to this world but is transformed by a renewed mind (Romans 12:1,2).
After spending the first 11 chapters of Romans on the Gospel of the grace of God, received through faith in Jesus Christ, he began to give the practical implications of this. If you are a true Christian then there should be evidence of the fact that you are a new creature and that you are being conformed into Christ's image.
One of the changes that must take place, if we are a child of God, is our view of and our relationship with human government. Our God is a God of order. And even in eternity, there will be a Kingdom government run by Jesus Christ Himself. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11; Romans 14:11).
That is well and good. Jesus will be the best King that has ever sat on a throne. But what about the government that was over Christians when Paul penned Romans. It was the Roman government, with the Caesars who were persecuting Christians.
And what of us today? How are we to interact with the governing authorities? That is what the great Apostle is addressing in this text. He gives reasons that we are to, not only respect but to obey the authorities that are over us.
I. Obedience Because God Ordained Government (13:1-2)
Paul's first reason for Christian obedience to government, as noted earlier, is the fact that God Himself ordained it. It is no coincidence that the coming Anti-Christ, who makes his appearance during the Great Tribulation period spoken of in Scripture, is called the Man of Lawlessness. That is because he will rebel against the laws of man and of God. Law is that which establishes a civilization or civil rule. The Anti-Christ despises law because He hates God and His Law.
When the Lord originally created everything, it was orderly and ran according to His commands. Even the Holy angels have some form of law and order. If we look at the book of Colossians, in the first chapter, we will see Paul telling us this about Christ Jesus:
"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-all things have been created through Him and for Him." (1:16).
The thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities are all categories of angels created by Jesus. This shows a very intricate governmental structure in these beings whom Jesus commands.
For our part, we have been given human authority over us and this passage tells us that we are to be in "subjection" under them. Here are Paul's words:
"Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves." (1-2).
The Greek word translated "be in subjection" was a term that was used of soldiers and their absolute obedience to their superior officer. Although not mentioned in this passage, the Bible gives one exception to this command. That is when obedience to civil authority would require disobedience to God's Word.
There are several examples of such civil disobedience in Scripture, including Exodus 1:15-21 where the Hebrew midwives were commanded to kill the boy babies of the Hebrews that were born. They didn't do it and were rewarded by God with families of their own.
Another example is found in Daniel 3 where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were miraculously saved by God after being thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing to an image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Daniel, in chapter 6, was later thrown into a lion's den for continuing to bow down in prayer before the Lord, even though a decree was made by King Darius that, for thirty days, no one could pray to any god but Darius himself. God saved Daniel's life as well.
In the New Testament, when Peter and the other apostles were commanded to stop preaching in the name of Jesus they famously replied:
"We must obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29).
So, if it comes down to obedience to God or the government, God is to be followed every time. Sadly, we see that choice between the two having to be made over and over again in the places in our world where it is illegal to preach the gospel. And many of our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord are being forced to give up their freedom, their property, their families and many times their very lives for refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. We need to pray for these men, women, and children that God will protect them and allow them to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the lands that hate His name.
And if opportunities come to help them in any way, it would be our duty to do so. I think of organizations that smuggle Bibles to countries like this. One way we can help is by giving money to such organizations to aid them in their efforts. And if a persecuted family has any way of getting out of such a horrible existence and immigrating to America or another place of asylum, then we can do all in our power to make sure they can do this within the boundaries of our own immigration laws.
Paul goes on to tell us that "there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God." (2). God has instituted 5 authorities in the world. They are:
- The government that is over all their citizens.
- The Church that is over all believers.
- The husband who is servant-head over his wife.
- The parents who are over all their children.
- The master/employer who is over all their slaves/employees.
These have all been established by God and they derive their authority from Him. They also answer to Him for any abuses of authority that they may commit. The world is full of tyrants. Those in the family of God are to be much different. They must treat those in submission with love and respect.
Of course, the Roman government was far from Christian at the time of Paul's writings. And our government, though it has been influenced by Judeo-Christian values is not Christian either. Still, besides the one exception which we just mentioned, we are to do what they say. If we don't, Paul says that we can expect condemnation. This is not God's judgment here but punishment from the government for breaking the law.
This leads us to the second reason that Paul gives for following governmental authority. They are put here for our good.
II. Obedience Because Government is for Our Good (13:3-4)
Ideally, the government is not a cause of fear for those who practice good behavior. Peaceful, law-abiding citizens usually have nothing to be concerned about from those in authority. But look out if you practice evil.
The truth is that even the most wicked and godless government will be a deterrent to those who commit crimes. And, with rare exceptions, most governments, godless or not, won't punish those who obey them. Rather they will praise them for doing what they say to do.
The job of authorities is to restrain evil and to protect those who do good. They are called God's ministers here. In other words, they act on His behalf. Those persons who do evil are warned by God that they should be afraid. That is because the government doesn't carry the sword for nothing. They are allowed to use it. The sword symbolizes the government's right to inflict punishment upon the evildoer. This would include capital punishment. The sword ultimately restrains by killing the evil-doer under certain circumstances. This idea goes all the way back to Genesis 9:6 which talks about someone who kills another man created in God's image. Moses says this:
"Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man."
It is the government which carries out this sentence upon the killer. Just a little earlier, in Romans 12:19, Paul was saying to individuals:
"Never take your own revenge beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. For it is written: 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay', says the Lord.'
However, what the individual is not allowed to do, the government is commanded to carry out. They take out God's vengeance and His wrath.
So we obey the government because it was established by God and because it is there for our good. But there is one other reason given by this Scripture.
III. Obedience to Government for Conscience Sake (5-7)
If we are truly God's children, we will want to please Him and not cause the Lord sorrow. So Paul says that we should want to obey government for conscience sake. It is not just an obligation or a means of not being punished by the civil authorities. It is done out of love for the Lord and to keep a clear conscience before our God and Father.
Not only that but it is a good testimony to those who don't know the Lord as well. They definitely are watching and paying attention to what the Christian does and doesn't do. And they will call you out on what you do wrong, even if they do the same things.
So we must always be the one to set the example of obeying the government. Paul gives the illustration of paying taxes because the rulers are servants that give their full time to governing. And the taxes help pay their salaries.
The Greek word translated "render" in verse 7 translates a term signifying the payment for something owed. This is not a voluntary contribution. Rather, it is something due to the government and those who serve in it.
And as a way of testimony, when we render to all what is due them, whether it be taxes, customs, fear or respect, and honor, we are showing them and the rest of the world that we are different and that we have a higher allegiance to God.
I'd like to close with a story about a teacher who asks her class about who is the 'best girl in school' The story is entitled 'Obedience.' It goes like this:
"Who is the best girl in your school?"
I asked a group of schoolgirls.
"Lucy Jones," was the quick reply.
"What makes her the best?" I asked.
"She recites the best," answered one.
"She is always ready and never keeps the class waiting," said another.
"She never gets excused," said a third.
"She's never late," said a fourth.
"She keeps all the rules," said a fifth.
"And something else," said one who had not spoken before.
"Ah, what is that?" I asked. "Mother says she loves and willingly obeys God and her parents," she answered.
Yes, that's it. Lucy was working for Jesus by setting a good example
When all is said and done, all of us who love Jesus are doing the same thing by obeying the government. We are setting a good example for those who don't know Him as we do. We serve a King who said that His government isn't of this world. And Paul, in Philippians 3:20, tells us:
"For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
It is my prayer that we all take this command of obedience to government very seriously. And because we live in a Republic in which we can make a difference by voting for those people who more closely represent the values of our Lord, let us take our right to vote seriously as well. It is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. May we the people give God His rightful place as Sovereign over all, including the land in which we are privileged to live and the government by which we are favored by God to be governed.
God has ordained this government that we live under. He has given it to us for our good and He expects us to show forth His glory by being the best citizens that we can be. God help us to follow this command and to encourage others who love the Lord to do the same.
© 2019 Jeff Shirley
Jeff Shirley (author) from Kentwood, Michigan on September 24, 2019:
Thanks Bill: And yes the letter was amusing. God bless!!
William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on September 24, 2019:
As always, Jeff, a lot of good, practical stuff, but I have to admit, I loved the opening letter.