1Let 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. 2Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For 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; 4for 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. 5Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, busy with this very thing. 7Pay 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.
Today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans is hard for us in the 21st century, especially given our political culture today. Here, Paul writes that we need to obey the authority that has been placed over us because all authority exists because God has instituted it. If we resist this authority, we are to incur judgement. However, we have to remember that Paul is not writing about our political climate today. He is writing about the political climate of the 1st century; a time when anyone who didn’t follow the gods of the Roman Empire were persecuted. Paul tells them that while they are following the religious laws they also need to follow the political laws. Why do they need to do this? Paul tells them because God’s judgement will fall on those who don’t.
So the question becomes, “What about us?” How do we take Paul’s teachings and apply them to our country today? For me, it comes down to the last verse when Paul says “pay respect to whom respect is due.” I believe that we all need to respect one another better than what we are currently doing. And, it’s not just in Washington or on the cable news channels. God calls us to care for one another, just as Jesus taught us to do. And part of caring for one another is giving them the respect that they deserve. It is having conversations instead of arguments, listening to comprehend rather than listening to respond, treating all people as humans instead of as us versus them. And it’s hard for us to do. However, we have to remember that when we are able to get past the barriers and truly love one another as Jesus tells us, we are fulfilling God’s Law and bringing about the Kingdom of God. God didn’t institute authorities to hold us captive to them and their rule. God instituted these authorities in order that we might grow in relationship with one another and uphold all of God’s creation.
Although Paul was writing for a culture 2000 years ago, I believe his words are still very viable and crucial for us this day.
Almighty God, you have called us into community with one another. Remind us that it is through your power that we have been blessed to live out your command to love one another. Give us and all elected leaders the wisdom to make decisions that bring about your kingdom on earth and help us to take care of all creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Written by Pastor Adam Connolly
Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship