About Jesus    Steve Sweetman

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Chapter 13:1 - 7

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Submission To Authorities  (ch. 13:1 – 7)


Before we go into the body of chapter 13, imagine that you are a Christian in the city of Rome in and around 57 AD when Paul penned this letter.  Nero is the Emperor of the Roman Empire .  At times he is a mad man.  Before his death, he would have had sex with his own mother and eventually killed her.  He persecuted Christians, even unto death.  Nero was a brutal dictator who allowed no one to get in his way of supremacy. 


If you were a Christian living under these conditions you would never really know when your day of execution would come.  It could easily come as Paul's letter was being read to you by an elder in your local community of Christ.  Understanding the times in which the Christians in Rome lived in 57 AD and the years beyond is helpful in your understanding of the first seven verses of chapter 13.      


In chapter 13 Paul continues on with the practical outworking of our faith in the world in which we live.  In verse 1 he says to submit” yourselves to the governing authorities.  The Greek word "hupotasso" is translated as "submit" here in verse 1.  This is a military word that means to "rank under", thus to submit or subject one's self to another.  


For interest sake, in Ephesians 5:21 Paul says to submit to one another.  Then, in Ephesians 5:22 he says that wives should submit to their own husbands.  In both of these verses the Greek word "hupotasso", meaning, "to rank under", is translated into English as "submit".  Understanding "hupotasso" to be a rigid military style word, as it was used in everyday Roman and Greek circles, might present you with a question.  Is a wife supposed to rank under her husband as if he is her general?  That doesn't sound like a loving relationship, does it?    


One hermeneutical principle that needs to be applied to Biblical study is how a Greek word should be understood in its Biblical context.  By that I mean just because the common usage of a Greek word might mean one thing, the Bible might well put its own meaning to the word.  This is the case with the Greek word "hupotasso".  A careful study of this word in its New Testament context tells us that the Bible doesn't use it in a dictatorial or military way.  Hupotasso, and thus the word submit, in New Testament terms is simply a yielding to another based on a mutual love, care, and respect for one another.  Submission to another has nothing to do with imposing one's will over another  It has everything to do with yielding to one another, or, putting the other first in your relationship.  So, when Paul in Ephesians 5 tells wives to submit to their own husbands, he's telling them to yield to the direction of their husbands that is based on a mutual love and respect for each other, knowing that her Christian husband wants the utmost best for her.               


Let us review some history around the time Paul wrote these words in and around 57 AD.  Around 49 AD, Claudius, Emperor of the Roman Empire, began to expel Jews from Rome.  It didn't matter if they were Christian Jews or non-Christian Jews.  He just kicked them out of the city.  Some non-Christian Jews were trying to mount an insurrection against Rome. This is one reason why Claudius wanted the Jews out of Rome.


The raging debate between Christian and non-Christian Jews over the resurrection of Jesus bothered Claudius.  He was so bothered that he passed a law saying that no one could tamper with a grave.  He did this because of the non-Christian Jews who were spreading the erroneous news that the disciples took Jesus’ body from the grave and then claimed that He rose from the dead.  Claudius was concerned about grave tampering, thus he made it a crime. 


There was also some false teaching being spread within the Christian community that stated that Christians did not have to submit themselves to the civil authority since they had already submitted themselves to Jesus, the King of all authority, including the emperor.  This also was displeasing to Claudius.


You can see that both Christian and non-Christian Jews were under great stress from the Roman authorities, giving them good reason in their eyes to rebel against Claudius and his government. 


As I've already stated, when Paul wrote these words Nero was Emperor of the Roman Empire .  He was a very mean and vicious person, which makes what Paul says here hard to figure out.  Paul was telling these Roman Christians to submit themselves to the tyranny of Nero and his regime. 


In Greek, the verb "submit" is a present passive imperative verb.  Present means that one must submit right now, in present time, even if the governing authorities oppose our every move.  Passive includes the idea that we are to allow the government to rule over us.  Imperative simply means this is a command.  It's not a suggestion.  There is really no way around trying to soften what Paul is saying here.  The Roman believers were to submit to the rule of Nero and allow him to have his way with them.         


It may be hard for us to get our heads around this but Paul was commanding the Roman Christians to submit to the same ungodly government that imprisoned him, and would eventually execute him. 


The reason why Paul gives this command is also seen in verse 1.  He says that it is God who has established government.  The NIV uses the word "establish" in verse 1.  The Greek word that is translated as "established" means, "to appoint, set in order, place in order …"   Paul says that there is no authority other than what God has appointed or set into place.  Paul's belief in the sovereignty of God is so strong that he believes that God has set dictators in places of authority.  This is important to know when Christians complain about their government these days.   We can only conclude that it was God who caused the Roman Empire to rise to prominence, who in only 13 short years after Paul penned these words sacked God's city of Jerusalem and burned it to the ground.  It is God who placed Nero on the Roman throne, who 6 to 8 years later had Paul beheaded.         


In verse 2 Paul goes on to say, "If you rebel against the authorities, then you are rebelling against that which God has set up and therefore you will duly receive your punishment."  Therefore, from what Paul says here, government is an earthly entity authorized by God Himself to keep justice and peace on earth.  Now this does not mean that government is always right.  God also gave Adam dominion over the earth to rule, and he did not use his authority properly.  So, just because certain men have authority, does not mean all they do is godly. 


If you read Old Testament Jewish history, one thing you will notice is that God sets up kingdoms for a specific reason and He cuts them down for specific reasons.  For example, God caused Babylon to rise to power so that she could overcome Israel and take Israel captive as an act of divine judgment against Israel .  Later God punished Babylon for attacking Israel , even though it was by His design.  God allowed the Medes and the Persians to overcome Babylon as an act of divine judgment against Babylon . 


The Roman government in Paul's day was clearly 
an empire like Babylon and Persia.  As I've already said,
not too many years later as another act of judgment,
God used the Roman Empire to sack and burn Jerusalem that would spread the Jews across the known world.  Many of these Jews ended up in Rome and were either executed or driven out of the city by both Claudius and Nero.  


In verse 2 Paul states that the one who rebels will receive due judgment.  I think the judgment spoken of here is from the government, not from God.  That only makes contextual sense.  If you disobey the government, that same government will judge you and punish you for your disobedience. 


In verse 3 Paul says that if you do right, then you won't have to worry about the government judging or punishing you.  You will not have to live in fear of the government.  He then says that if you do wrong, then you will have to live in fear of the government's punishment.  Although Paul's intent here is not to give an exhaustive explanation of the roll of government in society, there is one thing I think we can conclude.  According to verse 3, the roll of government is to keep the peace within the jurisdiction in which it governs.  If that is Paul's only thinking concerning the roll of government, and that is a big "if", then Nero's government had well surpassed its godly roll in society. 


Paul ends verse 3 by telling his readers to just do what is right in the eyes of government and you won't have to worry about government.  I will get to it later, but we all know that Christians did have to worry about their government in Paul's day.     


The authorities, as Paul puts it in verse 4, are there to punish those who do wrong.  Again, that appears, according to Paul, to be government's job in society.  Therefore if you do good, then you should not fear them.  The authorities are "God’s agents" on earth to punish the wrongdoer.  Again, these words are hard to get our heads around with out understanding of the Roman government.  Paul simply says that even a dictatorial government is God's agent of cultural discipline.  God uses both good and bad governments to punish blatant wrong doers. 


The Greek word "diakonos" is translated as "servant" and "agent" in verse 4.  "Diakonos" means a servant or slave.  In its purist and simplest form, government is meant to be a servant of God, but, we all know that for the most part it never does serve God.  I will speak about that later.   


Paul adds another reason in verse 5 as to why we should submit to government authorities.  He says we should submit for the sake of our conscience.  I believe this means that we should submit to the government as if we are submitting to God Himself, and in so doing, our consciences will be clean before the Lord.  If government is indeed God's servant, by the transitive law, if we submit to government, we submit to God, and thus our conscience is free from any feelings associated with guilt.  


In verse 6 Paul speaks to the issue of paying taxes to the government, a topic that is always relevant no matter where or when you live.  Our tax dollars go to government officials whose full time job is to serve God by keeping the peace and acting on behalf of God. 


In verse 7 Paul closes this section by saying that we should pay our taxes, give honour, respect, and whatever else, that is due to anyone, and in this case, anyone is the governing officials. 


I'm sure these instructions would have been somewhat tough for the Roman Christians to hear.  Paul told them that Nero and his dictatorial rule was actually the servant of God.  He told his readers to pay Nero the taxes he required of them and in the process honour him.  That' would be hard to swallow when Nero is killing Christians.  There must be more to Paul's teaching that meets the eye and is seen here.


First of all, Paul says that government has been established by God.  This is the question.  Is Paul saying that government in general, that is, the concept of government, has been established by God, or, is he saying each and every government that exists has been set in place by God?  I think he is saying both.


I believe the concept of government being established by God goes back to Genesis 1:26 where God told Adam to take dominion (KVJ) rule (NIV and HCSF) over all the earth.  Beyond that I believe God places men and empires into place and I believe he takes them out of there place as Daniel 2;21 clearly states.  So, I believe God had placed both Nero and the Roman Empire into their place of world dominance for His own specific reasons.  I believe that God works behind the scene when it comes to the affairs of men and their nations to establish His will.  That does not mean there will always be godly government. Also as a matter of fact, due to the fallen nature of man that is impossible.  As a matter of fact, it is God working behind the scenes of the affairs of men and nations that will bring the anti-Christ to power in the last days to accomplish His purpose in judgment.      


We must conclude that not only Nero was God's man for that day, our governments, whether liberal, conservative, socialist, communist, or whatever, is God's will.  With that in mind, we thus ask, "Are we to obey God's choice for government if that government demands us to do something ungodly?"  A careful study of the book of Acts actually answers that question for us.


In this section of Romans Paul says that government is in place to do God's will, but, history tells us that government, more often than not, oversteps its God given boundaries and not only does its own will but in the process actually disobeys God's will.  If we take Paul's reasoning in this section that if we disobey government we will be punished, I thus say, if government disobeys God, government will be punished.  Remember, both the concept of government and any specific government has been set into place by God.  Thus, government is subject to God.  As we are to submit to government, government is to submit to God because God is government's government.  It's only logical to conclude that if government asks us to do something that defies God's government, then we obey the higher government, that being God. 


The apostles Peter and John found themselves before their Jewish authorities who were demanding them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.  Obviously, they could not obey that command because a higher authority, that being Jesus, commanded them to preach in His name.  They just told the authorities that they would obey God rather than them.  I believe Peter and John were not boastful or proud when they made this statement.  I believe they spoke in a humble manor, willing to accept the consequences for their civil disobedience.


Stephen, in Acts 7 was in the same position.  He defended his position to disobey the authorities with a lengthy defense.  The authorities refused to accept his defense and he graciously and humbly accepted the consequences as the stones were hurled at his head.  As he died in their presence He saw the doorway of Heaven open and Jesus welcoming him into his new home. 


Stephen's stance was the stance of most if not all first century Christians.  They obeyed the government as much as was possible.  When government disobeyed God and forced them to disobey God, they refused to comply with government.  They graciously and humbly accepted the consequences that often meant death, as was the case with Paul Himself. 


Paul defended himself before Nero but when Nero demanded full obedience from Paul, Paul had no other choice but to decline.  Paul, in his supreme act of witnessing for Jesus, without a fight, placed himself on the chopping block and was beheaded. 


As I said, Paul's intent here was to tell believers to submit to government.  His intent was not to give an exhaustive explanation of government's roll in culture.  That being said, Paul gave just one reason why government should exist in this passage.  That reason was to act on God's behalf to keep civil order in a nation.  I can't say for sure, but that might well have been Paul's only reason for the existence of government.  If that is so, then, most all governments, our western world governments today included, are overstepping their God given boundaries to rule by implementing so many laws that go way beyond merely keeping the peace within the nation.        


The meaning of Romans 13:1 to 7 must be understood by us all as the western world becomes more anti-Christ in nature.  We must understand ahead of time how we should respond to an anti-Christian government, and, we must have the Holy Spirit led guts to do as the Apostle Paul and others did in the firs generation church.  We will submit to government, but when government demands us to disobey God, we will submit to God and graciously and humbly accept the consequences.                       


It's important to understand that God is in control, and has final authority over the nations.  Daniel 2:21, along wit Daniel 4:34 and 35 make it clear that in the long run, it is God who causes nations and its leaders to both rise and fall.  This does not only apply in Old Testament times, it applies to all times in all ages.  God is sovereign, and although we do not fully understand that, we do know He has the final say in all things.                                   



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