Romans 13:5–7 (NIV)
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the 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 honor, then honor.
No government is perfect, least of all the first century Roman government. Yet Christians are called to submit to the authorities, not just out of fear, but to have a clear conscience.
Yeah, but what do you do about a law that violates your conscience? With some laws, disobeying them seems like the right thing to do. What then?
This passage isn’t about unusual special cases. Numerous Old and New Testament references speak to refusing to obey wrong laws, even under pain of death.
Then the men went as a group to King Darius and said to him, “Remember, Your Majesty, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.” So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. — Daniel 6:15-16a (NIV)
Then they … commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” — Acts 4:18-20 (NIV)
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. — Acts 16:22-23 (NIV)
Paul couldn’t possibly have intended to contradict these examples; he lived them. No, this passage is about general respect for the rule of law. The prime example, which is perfectly relevant today, is to pay taxes.
Every Christian is duty bound to pay their taxes and to be as pure as the driven snow about doing it honestly. You never know how this will play out. Doing your taxes honorably glorifies God. Doing your taxes wrong is an opportunity to embarrass Christ.
Your attitude towards getting audited by the IRS should be, “Go ahead. Make my day.”
Compared to loving your enemies, this is a piece of cake. Yet, we fall short. The problem is how the passage ends. Give to everyone what you owe them: … if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
We struggle with the respect and honor bits. Our pride gets in the way. This has gotten particularly nasty in politics. People can’t just agree to disagree anymore. Some folks even take pride in their hatred.
We should be more relaxed about these things. We know who controls the future.
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