The first seven verses of Romans 13 never make it into the lectionary, which means that we miss hearing St. Paul's advice on living as Christians under the rule of a government. St Paul writes while living under the Roman Empire, and although he was a citizen, he still held very little control in the government of the day. Those of us who live in a representative democracy like the United States may have to modify his advice or hear it slightly differently in our own day, but it is still rich stuff:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due to them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.
Some highlights from the text:
- The government is appointed by God for our welfare
- The government is to be a terror to bad conduct so not to good (therefore the corollary doctrine
that a government that is a terror to good conduct must not be the one appointed by God!)
- Taxes are to be paid not just because we would incur punishment for not paying them but
because our conscience shows us that the government is busy caring for matters entrusted to it
- The government has the right to use force. Christians may be required by their reading of
Scripture not to use force; Mennonites and other peace churches have ample evidence for their
strict pacifism. But this pacifism should never be assumed to be a value of the state. Those
who are not members of peace churches must weigh carefully how they will participate or not in
the government's use of the sword.