We continue to consider the increasingly relevant subject of Christian resistance to tyranny. But as we look to the Scriptures, beware of the danger of excitement over “right- wing red meat.” If ever a conflict with the magistrate comes, it must be a plain matter of submission to divine authority, and not an obvious example of a scofflaw who has just recently discovered a few Bible verses. It must be a matter of an upright man standing before a lawless throne, and not two dogs fighting over a piece of meat.
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 12:18–13:10).
Milestone’s in Paul’s Argument
Not only is general context important in understanding “Romans 13,” but it is also crucial to grasp the much-neglected immediate context.
Lovers of Peace: effective resistance will never be accomplished through those who love rabble-rousing (v. 18).
Give Place to Wrath: Paul opposes the spirit of vigilantism. Do not avenge yourselves, but return good for evil (vv. 20- 21). This is not inconsistent with calling the cops. In fact, it requires calling the cops. God is the one who executes wrath and vengeance (v. 19), and He does it through His deacons, discussed in the next few verses. God says “vengeance is mine,” not “vengeance is bad.” Note here that we are talking about vengeance, and not emergency self-defense. It has been rightly observed that when every second counts, the police are only minutes away.
Subject to Authority: we must not even think about resistance until we have learned this demeanor. Where must we learn it? First, we learn in godly families and churches. Learn the basic tune before you attempt the part with the difficult harmonies and complicated words.
Do Right: the existing authorities are the ordinance of God (v. 2), established to reward righteousness and punish evil. Therefore do what is right—the Christian is to be a model citizen. Too often resisters say they hate the tyranny, but what they really hate is the very idea of authority. But if we love God, we must hate all evil (Ps. 97:10), and we must also love and honor true authority (1 Pet. 2:13-17).
Love through the Law: nevertheless, Paul’s conclusion is not “do whatever they say.” His conclusion is that we are to give ourselves over to loving one another, and this is measured by means of the holy law of God. We keep the Ten Commandments, and whatever other commandment there might be,as we love. This is the requirement of God. We are to obey the magistrates to the extent it is consistent with this charge. This boundary is not just limited to major issues like “preaching the gospel.” It applies to anything that is covered by the revealed will of God.
The Deacons of God
Now remember the broad context of the Bible as we consider this. The authorities established by God are men, and therefore cannot be treated as an absolute authority. Nor does Paul require this of us in the context of this passage.
First consider the word diakonos. The civil authorities are called God’s deacons three times in this section (twice in v. 4, and once again in v. 6.). In other words, they have an authority above them, and that authority has expressly charged them with a specific task. That task is the administration of justice as defined by God. Paul assumes throughout this particular discussion that the assigned task is being faithfully discharged.
Put another way, he is not talking about a situation when the civil authority is penalizing the righteous and mandating celebration of iniquity. A deacon is a steward. He is entrusted with something, and is not the inventor of that something.
Second, consider the reason for taxes. The reason we pay taxes is that the recipients of these taxes are God’s deacons, attending continually to the administration of justice. Third, we obey for conscience sake. We submit for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet. 2:13). We are directed by conscience, and not because we granted any final authority to our earthly rulers. We obey because God says to, to the extent God says to.
When to Just Say No
To the extent a regime is in high revolt against Heaven they forfeit the investiture of the Lord. Nevertheless, because of the deceitfulness of our own hearts, even when we have determined the general right of resistance, we must take care to pick our battles carefully. A refusal to resist can be as principled before God as drawing a line. Do not accept the privilege and then make a “flaming battle for liberty” out of your reluctance to pay the bill. If you did a lot of dancing, then don’t do a lot of objecting when it comes to the piper-paying.
So Then . . .
Focus on the meaning of marriage. Sodomy is not what a federal judge says it is. Sodomy is what the Lord who rained fire from heaven on the Cities of the Plain says it is. It has been the good pleasure of God to send us this particular challenge in the “glorifying” professions—photography, floral decorations, cake baking.
Remember the politics of child-bearing. We have many duties with regard to our children are given directly to us, without any civil middle man. This includes all questions of spanking, nurture, conscription, education, and, on their side, suicidal birth control and abortion. “In a multitude of people is the glory of a king, but without people a prince is ruined.” (Proverbs 14:28, ESV)
Be jealous for the liberties of the church. The church answers to her Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has said we are to preach the gospel to every creature, baptize the nations, and teach them all. He did not say to ask permission from others, or to make sure we got a license.