Thursday, October 20 Romans 13:1-7

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 judgment. 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 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. Romans 13:1-7


The letter to the Romans is for the Apostle Paul what Charlotte’s web was to the spider, his magnum opus.  His last and greatest letter and perhaps the single most influential book in the New Testament in guiding the development of Christian thought since the beginning.


So let’s ask a simple question:  Did he really mean this stuff about being subject to governing authorities, about such authorities being instituted by God?  Was he serious in suggesting that Caesar – bloodthirsty, egocentric, self proclaimed “divine son of god” – was God’s servant for good?


Or did Paul just write that to make sure and keep the authorities off his back so he could do the “building the church” thing without undue pressure?


Paul meant it.  Paul meant every word.


Paul understood that God cares about our lives, that God cares about human community.  The law, represented and upheld by earthly rulers, establishes boundaries to behavior that enables community life to flourish. 


Later Augustine would further develop those ideas in “The City of God”, arguing that God had always worked through earthly authorities, even through pagan Rome, in developing the very virtues which held Rome together.  Luther would further develop this idea in the doctrine of the two kingdoms – God’s rule of justice through the work of earthly authorities and God’s rule of righteousness through the work of the church.


Nothing human is perfect.  No human power is perfect, no church is perfect.  There is and will always be tension and the difficult dynamics of doing life, working out what it means to live in both “separateness” and “togetherness”.  But the far greater damage is done when the tension gives way to the crumbling of one way of being into the other.  Whether it is communistic “state without religion” or theocratic “religion without state”, either will diminish life.


When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota we were taught about civic virtues.  We were taught to honor our authorities.  Like him or not, once Richard Nixon became president, he became OUR president.  But such honor is always a two way street and thus the tension.  For those in honored positions are set aside to act in honorable ways.


There is a reason why the most first stories we learned about George Washington was his honesty in admitting to chopping down a cherry tree, or Abe Lincoln going out of his way to return a few pennies to a woman he accidentally overcharged while working as a clerk.  Those stories carry corporate values, civic values, the undergird our common life.


Are such ideas, even Paul’s ideas, too quaint and old-fashioned for the 24 hour news cycle?  Or are “we the people” drifting horribly off course?


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, thank you for drawing us together in human communities that allow life to happen.  Thank you for roads and bridges and rules that govern our common life.  Thank you for people willing to serve the common good in elected office.  There is so much we take for granted, and there is so much personal responsibility that we avoid by blaming others.  Forgive us for that and fill us with resolve to do our part in making whole the fabric of life.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


4 Responses to “Thursday, October 20 Romans 13:1-7”

  1. Charles North Says:

    Very difficult to reconcile that with rulers such as Stalin ,Hitler, Gadafi, and a nearly endless list of truly evil leaders. Much easier in our own or other democratic societies.

  2. Leila Says:

    These words are so often used to justify spiritual abuse, and other forms of abuse of authority.

  3. Karen Elsen Says:

    It is ironic that you should have chosen this text for reflection on the day that Muamar Ghadafi was captured and that all of the news media were airing footage of his apparent execution by a mob.

  4. Dost Says:

    Quite a post here Lars. I did like the information on using the Design Binder. It is soetihmng that I tend to pass over just like the design library. I am going to request that our IT department Whitelist your blog so I can your blog at work. Now time to cut and paste your post of wisdom into my TiddlyWiki for reference. Thanks Lars, JRU_1962

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