Well, they say one should never discuss politics nor religion in polite company. We will strain that conventional wisdom this Sunday, as we look at Romans 13 in our continued study of that book. Paul will see to it that religion and civic authority collide in no uncertain terms.
v 1-7 have been a source of consternation and sometimes abuse throughout the history of the church. Paul clearly asserts that civil governments have been appointed by God, and because of that, Christians should submit to the laws of the government. He makes it clear that human government is appointed to keep order, so that the evil of this fallen world isn’t left to run unchecked. All of this, according to Paul, has to be paid for somehow, so we should pay the taxes the government requires of us.
Obviously, this can give us pause. It would be a reasonable question to ask if this meant someone like Hitler was appointed by God…and if so, to what extent was a Christian to be in submission to that government? We know that despots have appealed to this passage to intimidate citizens into subjection, leveraging religious fear. Can this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote this?
How do you understand Paul’s instructions? Do you believe he is saying that God approves of all leaders or that all governments represent his values and will? As we consider our own American government by the people, how do you understand Paul’s statements? Do you believe there is room for lawful dissent or peaceful protest within these instructions?
How would you summarize Paul’s overarching point in chapter 13, in light of his instructions given in chapter 12:9-21?
In what way does his following statement, to owe nothing but love for our fellow human, inform your understanding of how the gospel is advanced in this world?
Paul wraps his thoughts up by pointing out the lateness of the hour, and the fast approaching revelation of God’s healing kingdom. How can our understanding of God’s kingdom help us to better understand and respond to human governments?
This section is going to be one in which we’ll need to be careful and clear in our thinking, as we process through Paul’s words. We’ll be taking a good long look at the historical context – the rise of Nero and the shape of the world in which Paul wrote these words. It should be enlightening, challenging and encouraging!