Does This Sound Familiar?
I was recently part of a deeply unpleasant conversation regarding political figures.
One of the participants, in a manner I’m all too familiar with, became very upset, very quickly, and began to make the most shocking statements regarding a particular political leader (call him “Mr. X”). ”Evil,” “narcissistic,” and “demon spawn” were among the insults heaped upon Mr. X.
In other circumstances, I would shrug such bombast off as a sign of our uncivil political times. In this case, though, I could not, because the participant claimed the name of Christ.
Guidance From the Scriptures
As I tend to do in such circumstances, I simply referenced Romans 13:1-7:
1 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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;4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authoritya does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 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.
Yeah, But How Does it Apply?
The trouble is that although most Christians would acknowledge that we need to submit to and obey our governing authorities, our political passions sometimes get the better of us, and we wind up with unsubmissive attitudes toward them.
I have heard all manner of ugly statements made about governing authorities, and though we Americans may have a First Amendment right to say any awful thing we like, we Christians are called to a higher standard of conduct in this area, as in so many others.
As I think about it, there seem to be two potential problem areas with this kind of ugly talk about governing authorities.
In the first place…
Such talk might qualify as resisting authority, which Paul strongly warns against in v. 2. ”Resist” translates a Greek word which means “be hostile toward, oppose, resist, rebel” (from A Dictionary of Biblical Languages – Greek).
Ugly talk about our governing authorities might not be openly rebellious, but it is certainly resistant in the sense of being opposed to them, or hostile toward them. We should be very careful, then, not to allow our attitudes and our speech become resistant in this way.
But in the second place…
Ugly talk about governing authorities reflects a basic lack of respect and honor toward those authorities. In v. 7 above, Paul commands that to each should be paid what is due: “taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.”
When we engage in ugly talk toward governing authorities, we are certainly violating this aspect of the apostles command: when we call someone an “evil, narcissistic demon spawn” we are most certainly not extending respect and honor to them.
An Authority From God
The objection might be raised that Paul is using the term “due” here, and that, therefore, the command has to do with what is owed. And, the argument goes, although we certainly owe the government taxes and revenue, we owe governing authorities respect and honor only insofar as they deserve it.In our culture, we think that respect and honor have to do with deservingness. #nope Click To Tweet
In our culture, we think that respect and honor have to do with deservingness: we think that we owe others respect and honor insofar as they deserve those things.
This is attractive, of course, because it means that the moment we are offended, put out, or angered in any way, we can easily justify withdrawing honor and respect. But Paul is arguing that we ought to respect and honor governing authorities not because they deserve it, but because of what they are: authorities appointed by God.
Hence the military maxim applies: you salute the rank, not the man.
That this is so is evident in the very nature of governing authority itself: “there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (13.1).
Respect and honor are owed to governing authorities, not because they are deserving in our eyes, but because they are appointed by God.We owe governing officials respect and honor, in our speech and in our actions. Click To Tweet
Obviously, this does not mean that there will never be any occasion in which we Christians must stand up and proclaim that our first allegiance is to Christ, the world’s true sovereign.
But it does mean that as long as we are under the authority of earthly governing powers, we owe them respect and honor, in our speech and in our actions, because they are duly appointed by God.