Thinking through Romans 13:1-7 in this election season, we are asking how the believer in Jesus is to relate to human authority. Here is what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13:
“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. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 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. 4 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. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 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)
I see this passage breaking down into four sections: I. A Command to Obey (v. 1); II. A Servant to Fear (vv. 2-4); III. A Freedom to Find (vv. 3-4); and IV. A Debt to Pay (vv. 5-7). That’s my sermon outline. Let’s think about this last section —
IV. A Debt to Pay (vv. 5-7)
Here we learn that the believer’s submission to government is not just obedience to a command, but is a debt that is owed. Our consciences ought to bother us when we realize we have an outstanding debt that we could pay but choose not to. Although our conscience is not an infallible guide to life, a conscience shaped by the Word of God can motivate us to respect the authorities which God has established. Four items are mentioned that fit into Paul’s category of a debt to be paid out of a good conscience: taxes (ouch), revenue, respect, and honor. (to be continued)
One takeaway: I don’t like owing a debt to the government, but I do and you do. Respect!