The US Government and Romans 13: 1-7

Posted on October 9, 2013 by


How happy are you with the federal government?

  • The government is partially shutdown.
  • If Congress and the President are not able to negotiate a settlement to raise the debt ceiling, greater fiscal problems are on the horizon.
  • The Affordable Care Act is more and more showing its strangling effect on our economy.
  • The Dodd-Frank Act appears not to have solved the “too big to fail problem”.
  • etc.

Our government has given us very significant reasons to be dissatisfied.

Romans 13: 1-7 is perhaps the most pivotal passage in the New Testament detailing the Christian’s attitude to civil government .

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)

Immediately preceding in chapter 12, Paul discusses Christian’s responsibilities to one another – how we are to show our love to one another. In chapter 13 Paul abruptly inserts the seven verses explaining Christian’s responsibilities to the governing authorities. Commentators think this sudden change of topic or shift in emphasis occurs because Paul is addressing a specific issue. Jewish people were known to be notoriously bad citizens. Paul may have written this passage in Romans because there were a significant number of Jewish Christians who had influenced the Gentile believers in Rome to buck government authority. At the time Paul wrote Romans, Nero was the Emperor. Civil government authority would have been difficult to live under.

Paul’s main point in this passage: Christians are to obey the government. Government is instituted by God and divinely sanctioned to create order. The government is appointed as God’s agent to punish bad behavior. In addition, the Roman Christians were to pay their taxes.

I’d like to focus on the phrase in verse four “… he is God’s servant for your good”. The “he” in the passage is the person God has put in civil government authority. In verse four, as in the rest of the passage, the word good (agathon in Greek) means good, benevolent, profitable, and useful. When the word is used to refer a person, an example might be a “fit capable or useful” worker. Agathon might be used to describe fertile soil as “good”, the soil is useful to help others. The word is often means useful for edification – to say a “good” word. So the “good” to which Paul is referring in this passage is not simply intrinsic inner beauty, but encompasses our relationships to others. Is our contact with others beneficial and helpful to them as well as to us? Good government is government that is “good” – it is beneficial and helpful to others.

Paul is teaching us to obey our government. (Although there are many scriptural references to rebellion against bad government – the Exodus being a very good example.) The question I want to ask today: “Is our government “good” in the way Paul describes in Romans 13:4″? How should the government create good? Is the best government a government that sets the foundation enabling its citizens to do the good? How directly involved should the government be in creating good? What is the best form of government to aid the creation of the type of good Paul discusses?

These are the questions that we must answer before we really know what our attitude should be about today’s government.