One of the patterns in Paul’s letters is that he always starts with who we are in Christ, then brings some doctrine, usually about grace, before moving on to how to live in the good of it. We need truth that will empower behaviour. In Romans, Paul takes 11 chapters to outline grace and then the last 5 chapters are on how to live grace-filled lives.
This chapter is tough reading if you are a Christian in a nation where the leadership is pretty evil. It’s tough reading for the old man too – to be subject to civil authority and pay your taxes! Because we are under a higher authority, Paul exhorts Christians to submit to the lower authority of our nation states – submit, don’t resist, do what is good, avoid what is bad. He gives four reasons why…
- Their authority is delegated from God, v.1
- For our own good, v.4
- Because they bear the sword, or gun or baton, v.4
- Governments are an expression of right and wrong, v.4-5.
Paul is writing this knowing that Caesar is an evil emperor and that his friends Aquila and Priscilla had been booted out of Rome five years previously.
John Piper argues that Paul wrote these verses for two reasons. “First, that he wanted Caesar to get the message that God is over him and that there is a God-given moral law above the laws of the state, and states ARE to act this way.” And secondly, “he wants us to know that the danger to our soul from unjust governments is nowhere near as great as the danger to our soul from the pride that kicks against submission. No mistreatment or unjust law has ever sent anyone to hell. But pride and rebellion is what sends everyone to hell who doesn’t have a Saviour.”
For some reasons why civil disobedience can be okay see https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/subjection-to-god-and-subjection-to-the-state-part-3.
Love trumps everything – Paul wants us to love each other. That, incidentally, fulfils the law anyway.
Wake up – don’t live in darkness. Put off the evil deeds that like the dark –
i) sex outside of marriage (which now needs defining more than it used to, as a husband and wife)
Don’t gratify the flesh – your spirit is new because you are born again. Your mind is being renewed by grasping truth, worship, prayer and making good choices. So don’t let your body do what it wants! Live in practice in accordance with your spirit.