It was natural when writing to believers who were situated in the capital city of the Roman Empire that Paul should provide practical instruction with regard to the relationships between Christians and the State. This passage has supplied the Church with valuable teaching throughout all ages and cultures because although distinct from society, Christians form a part of society and we must understand our responsibilities both toward God and those who govern society.
The Characteristics of Christian Behaviour
(g) Christian Citizenship
Having expended the content of Chapter 12 explaining how the Christian should behave within the Church and toward his enemies Paul now turns to the subject of Christian Citizenship. It was natural when writing to believers who were situated in the capital city of the Roman Empire that Paul should provide practical instruction with regard to the relationships between Christians and the State. This passage has supplied the Church with valuable teaching throughout all ages and cultures because although distinct from society, Christians form a part of society and we must understand our responsibilities both toward God and those who govern society.
1: The Authority over the Christian Citizen
a The Derivation of Civil Authority
Paul commences this passage by explaining that ultimate power resides with God. He is the highest power. Therefore the authority to govern nations and regulate societies comes from God. Therefore all of the benefits that we derive from the Civil Government is a gift from God.
b The Devolution of Civil Authority
God is his infinite wisdom devolves the power to govern nations to men;
“the powers that be are ordained of God.”
There are several examples of ungodly rulers who were raised up by God for a definite purpose; Nero (Romans 13:1), Pharaoh (Romans 9:17), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:17,25,32) and Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1). Even Pilate’s power was given him by God (John 19:11).
As those in Government have been given their authority by God, the higher power, they are answerable to God for the work that they do. The duties of Government are two fold.
Those who rule must be minsters of God “for good”. They are responsible for upholding God’s righteous standards because this will be for the betterment of their people.
Civil authority must also “execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”.
In both these areas we are witnessing an undermining of biblical values. Liberal legislation is rapidly eroding the biblical basis of the legal framework which underpins our nation. God’s law is not a priority. Reformation of the criminal is now the policy as opposed to retributive justice. For all of this successive governments will be answerable to God.
2: The Attitude of the Christian Citizen
a A Submissive Attitude
As Christian citizens we must be subject to Civil Authority as to God because if we rebel we “resist the ordinance of God.” Therefore rebellion against civil law is a sin that God will hold us accountable for. He teaches us that Christians ought to pay their taxes (dues) both personal and property taxes (tribute) and taxes due on goods (custom). He uses the words fear and honour to emphasise that we must accord the highest of respect to the laws and rulers of our land.
b A Spiritual Attitude
The Apostle also teaches, however, that we are to be subject to civil authority for “conscience sake”. We ought to keep within the law and pay our taxes not simply because we are afraid of fines or imprisonment. We should seek to be submissive subjects because our conscience will not not allow us to do otherwise. Therefore we are good citizens for the sake of God and the Gospel. It is this spiritual attitude which persuades us to be respectful towards governments composed of the most ungodly men.
The phrase “for conscience sake” also helps us understand the circumstances when we cannot be subject to the laws of the realm. If the state forbids evangelism then for conscience sake the Church must continue to reach souls in obedience to the Great Commission, as in the case for Chinese and North Korean Christians. Furthermore if the state enforces legislation that is contrary to the Law of God then we must disobey should we be called upon to do so, as in the case of those who hid Jews from the Nazis or Lillian Laddelle (The Christian Registrar in London) who refused to officiate at a sodomite civil partnership. The words of Peter will forever be a guiding principle which qualifies our obedience to Civil Government,
“We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).