Paul knew a lot about the Law of Moses and he knew a lot about the teachings of Christ and the New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. As a Roman subject Paul was also familiar with the Roman law and knew when to evoke his rights as a Roman citizen. One of the often neglected teachings of Paul is from the book of Romans concerning civil obedience. So often we Americans think of our rights under the law of our land. We fight for our right to live as free men and women and we often take this right to the extreme in getting our own way in how we choose to live our lives. But is that really the way a Christian is supposed to live? Let’s look at the teaching Paul gives us from Romans.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 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. Romans 13:1-7, (New International Version or NIV).
Paul isn’t suggesting that Christians be good citizens in the land of their residence he is commanding us to be good citizens. Why? Wasn’t the whole point of Jesus coming to earth to set up a new kingdom, a spiritual kingdom that will eventually rule as the supreme civil government? Yes, that is part of the plans for the future but it isn’t the plan for today. Rather Paul urges Christians to be good citizens and to pay our taxes when owed. He goes so far as to say that God has designed the government system that you are living under and if you rebel against that system then you are rebelling against God! This is hard for an American to hear because we have a fundamental belief that every person should stand up and fight for their right to live freely. We think that the American way is the best and we want everyone in the world to have the same freedoms that we enjoy. Paul says to live peacefully (Romans 12:18) wherever you find yourself and in whatever situation you are born into. If you are a slave, then be the best slave for your master, if the master then be the best master for your slaves (Colossians 3:22, Ephesians 6:5-6). Why is Paul so concerned about our citizenship here on earth? I think we can find the answer to that in another epistle of Paul’s.
Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body, Philippians 3:16-21, (NIV).
Because our citizenship is in heaven we know what our purpose here on earth is to be. We are to get along with other people and live within the laws of our society because God gave that government style to our country. We also are to have an eternal perspective to our life here on earth which helps us to think differently than our unsaved neighbors. We are not to spend our time with the unsaved to plot against our government; rather we are to spend our time-sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the nations. We are to be carrying out what has become known as the great commission given to the eleven disciples when Jesus left this world,(Matthew 28:16-20). That is our purpose here on earth and not the things that those who are unsaved get tangled up in. Living at peace with everyone including your government is rather practical advice if your mission is to spread the gospel in this world because people can’t hear you or see how loving you are and want the peace you have in your own life if you are rioting and plotting against your government authority, can they? What else can we learn from Paul?
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh, Romans 13:8-14, (NIV).
Not only are we to pay our taxes but we are also to pay any outstanding debts because when we are in debt we are not free to go and do the work of the Kingdom of God. We must spend our time with the concerns of this world, shelter, automobiles, food, clothing, and so forth. If, however we are debt free then we will have money to spend for the Kingdom and help spread the good news to far-reaching places. Paul reminds us that time is short until Christ returns to earth and we need to make preparations in our hearts and minds and neighborhoods to bring as many as we can the opportunity to hear about Jesus and let the Holy Spirit work through us to the lost of this world. I can certainly understand that I am closer to death today than I was yesterday and so are you. We need to be ready to go be with God and the only way to be sure that we are ready to see God’s face is if we are living for Jesus today. Oh but it is so easy to get wrapped up in the things of this world. It is so easy to think that we have plenty of time to get ourselves ready to meet our maker some other time. It is so easy to think that our home and our car are more important to our comfort than anything else. It is so easy to buy into the idea that we deserve to have the very best this world has to offer. But when we step back and evaluate what this world is really offering and compare it to what Christ is offering, is there really any comparison? Isn’t being with Jesus throughout eternity so much better than that new car or house or wardrobe? So when we really look at the scriptures I have presented to you, what we see is that living in this world for Jesus means living a life of civil obedience and peace. Doing so allows us the opportunity to talk about Jesus and what He has done for us, to give our testimony to our friends and neighbors. That is our mission, isn’t it?