Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 13.1-7 

As you know, our government began bombing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan today, with B-52 and B-1 bombers flying from Diego Garcia and B-2 bombers flying from Missouri to strike numerous targets, while attempting to avoid civilians. I understand that as many as 50 sea launched cruise missiles were also used. In response to the September 11th plane hijackings and attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and in light of the beginning of the United States military response today, and also in light of the very short time I have had to respond to today’s crisis, I want to review for you this evening the Christian’s relationship with our government.

Please turn in your Bible to Romans 13.1-7, and stand for the reading of God’s Word: 

1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 

Christians have always needed Scriptural guidance to enable us to know how properly to relate to the various governments we have lived under. As long ago as the Apostle Paul’s day Christians needed such guidance in this area of life.

Let me tell you what it was like in Rome. Some years before Paul wrote to the Romans an emperor had to address some of the social ills of that largest city in the world. Graft and corruption were everywhere. But that’s only because graft and corruption were the law of the land in the Roman Empire. Though graft and corruption were just another part of life the Romans, that is the Gentile Romans who comprised the vast majority of the populace, became extremely dissatisfied with the special privileges that the Jewish segment of the city enjoyed. It seems that the Jews, very resistant to any attempts to blend in with the rest of the different ethnic groups in the city, and totally unwilling to adhere to certain requirements the Romans placed upon all her citizens, such as serving in the army, had somehow won concessions and special privileges that others in the community considered unfair.

Well, guess what? What happens to any ethnic minority which is perceived to be receiving special treatment from the government when economic times get very rough? Riots broke out against the Jews. And the emperor responded to the rioting by ordering every last Jew expelled from the city. After a couple of years, the Jews were allowed to come back into Rome. And as the Jewish Christians returned to Rome they found their Churches moved from synagogues to houses, and the positions of leadership in the Churches taken over by pastors of Gentile heritage. That was a tough adjustment for the Christian community, but they made the transition.

What was just as difficult, however, was a problem that arose from the tendency of the Roman government to lump all Christians in with Jews. Since Christians had originally been overwhelmingly Jewish, the Roman government allowed Christians to have special privileges that were originally granted to Jews. As time passed, however, the Christian community became far more ethnically diverse as more Gentiles became believers. But even the Gentile Christians grew used to and developed a desire to hold on to the special relationship congregations had with the Roman government because all Christians were considered by the authorities to be just another peculiar sect of Judaism. But along comes this letter from Paul defining the relationship that the Christians ought to have with the Roman government, with any government, based upon the fact that you are supposed to be a child of God now, and based on the fact that you are no longer supposed to want anything from government except to be left alone so you can serve God and work for your food.

Christians, one of the biggest problems I face as a pastor is the weaning of new Christians off of dependence upon government and government-sponsored programs, which get in the way of God’s methods of working in the lives of His people to build Christian character and to bless who He will bless and withhold blessings according to His will. That’s an entire sermon in itself. But with a more Scriptural view of the proper role of government in the life of a Christian and the proper role of the Christian in the life of the government, a good first step will have been made toward knowing how to relate to our government during the upcoming times of crisis.

In Romans 13.1-7 we are taught how to behave as citizens in the country in which we live, showing us what we are to do and what our government is to do for us in response to the September 11th attack against our country. There are three parts to our instruction: 


Romans 13.1: 

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” 

If we understand that human governments were not created by God, the nation of Israel being the only exception to this generality, but through the scheming sinful and rebellious men, certain things about government become far more simple and straightforward.[1] Two things about the requirement laid upon Christians relative to human government.

First, the requirement is described: 

“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers.” 

Though some Bible teachers are of the opinion that “higher powers” here refers to angelic beings, we can comfortably rest in the fact that what the Bible obviously says it almost always obviously means.[2]

Throughout this entire section of Romans, Paul has dealt with Christian responsibility toward men and the institutions of men. So, there is no real reason to suspect that this statement refers to anything other than what it apparently means. Though you can probably think of certain times when there are notable exceptions to this requirement, such as when Simon Peter refused to stop preaching about the Lord Jesus by saying “we ought to obey God rather than men,” or such as when Daniel refused to bow down and worship a graven image instead of the invisible God at the risk of his life, the will of God is for His children to be in subjection to governmental authority.

“But pastor, you’ve indicated that governments were not created by God. And you have told us at other times that governmental authority is usurped authority, authority originally granted by God but taken and used to achieve perverse and improper goals.” That is for the most part true. But God still wants you to be in subjection to the government if you can do so without sinning against God. “But pastor, how can I, in good conscience, humble myself to a government whose policies I may disagree with?” My friend, Paul did not command you to humble yourself to the “higher powers,” but only to “be subject” to them.[3] To “be subject” means to arrange yourself under the authority of government. It does not mean mindless obedience. It’s what a soldier does when he yields to the authority of his sergeant. He follows his sergeant’s orders, but he doesn’t always give the man his heart or mind. A good understanding of Paul’s description of what’s required of the Christian usually clears up most of the concern the sincere Christian has about giving to the government more than God wants to be given. Your heart and your mind belong to God, never to the government.

Then, the requirement to be in subjection is defended. Remember, back in Palestine, during this time; there were Zealots who rebelled against Roman rule. They were also around during the Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, and they didn’t like what He said when He advised folks to “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s,” and then paid His taxes to the representative of the Roman government.[4] And why did He pay taxes to a Roman government that He did not create and which would soon authorize His crucifixion? Two reasons are given by Paul why the Lord Jesus, and why we, should obey where we can, when we can, without disobedience to God:

First reason, as to agent. Paul continues, “For there is no power but of God.” Surprisingly, some people who advocate civil disobedience, when it is unscriptural to disobey the law, use this phrase to support their claim that God has created government. But this statement, far from stating that God created government, actually shows that God uses government as His agent. So, the Christian is required to be in subjection to government, not because God authored this organized rebellion against His plan and purpose, but because He has exercised His limitless authority in a limited way to use government as His agent for accomplishing His will. Much of God’s use of government in this way used to be referred to by Bible scholars of old as God’s providence.

As to arrangement. This is the second reason why we are commanded to be in subjection to the “higher powers.” Paul concludes verse 1 by writing, “the powers that be are ordained of God.” Boy does this statement gives rise to confusion in the ranks. All because some guy fails to look up the word “ordain” in his concordance. This particular word means “to place or rank under, to subject, to obey.”[5] Think about what God has done, remember that He is not the author of confusion, First Corinthians 14.33. God has entered the governmental situation, with governments exercising usurped authority over men, and He has brought order where there was before great confusion. Not a great deal of order, mind you, but enough. Enough for what? Enough so that we can make our way through life and render service to our God. Notice how First Timothy 2.1-2 speaks to this issue: 

1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 

Christians ought to be the best citizens any government ever had, so long as they don’t try to compel us to commit sin against God or prevent us from serving God according to the dictates of His Word. Why? Because God invented government? No. Because God is the Author of the United States? No.[6] No more than the Roman Empire. Because God has intervened in government to use government as His agent, and because of God’s arrangement of government to allow us to serve Him, benefiting from some of the practices of government. God’s use of our government as His agent and His apparent arrangement of the American system seems to us to be far more obvious than other governments and nations. But I would suggest that this due to the intensity of God’s involvement, not necessarily because the nature of His involvement in our country is different than other nations from what can be seen in God’s Word. 


2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.

6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 

In these five verses, Paul goes into greater detail, explaining for us some of the considerations related to our subjection unto “higher powers” and how it’s related to certain things.

First, how it’s related to resistance, verse 2. Remembering that God wants Christians to behave in a radically different fashion than Jewish people in the city of Rome had behaved for generations, fussing and striking and opposing government when they didn’t get their way, and even different than unsaved Romans, two considerations relate to resistance. First, recognize that resisting an authority structure, such as government, which is an agent of and which is arranged by God, is tantamount to resisting the ordinance of God. 

“Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.” 

Do you find it amazing when Christians spend so much time and energy justifying civil disobedience using passages that urge civil obedience? Christian, except when to do so is obviously sin; it’s a sin not to obey the law and rule of government. Second, when you consider resisting, think about the fact that you are bringing upon yourself damnation. 

“And they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” 

Even though this surely is not an eternal damnation of the soul for breaking the law, it is the condemnation that comes from the “power,” as well as God. Doesn’t anyone fear the judgment of God for breaking the law? When you contemplate resisting the authority of government, you better make sure you are on solid Scriptural ground, lest you bring on your head more than you’ve bargained for.

Second, how the requirement to be subject is related to rulers. Let’s take note of the description of rulers in verses 3-4. First, recognize who Paul was writing to. These were Romans, living under the most effective and longest surviving tyranny the world had ever seen. Note how the rulers are described: 

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 

Is Paul describing rulers as they ought to be, as some have maintained? No. He was describing the Roman rulers as they were at the time. They were, and our rulers are, not a terror to good works, the ministers of God to us for good, and worthy of our fear if we do wrong. Does it seem a bit confusing? Let’s read what Peter had to say along the same line in First Peter 2.11-20: 

11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul;

12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:

16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 

When you get it from the authorities for doing wrong, you deserve what you’re getting, so quit complaining. But if you get it from them for doing nothing wrong, for your Christian testimony, it’s thank worthy. God has counted you worthy to suffer for His name’s sake. There should be no complaints here either. You’ve been blessed to suffer so, according to Scripture. As well, let us be careful to note that this 4th verse is the Scriptural authorization our government rightly has for taking punitive action against those who have attacked her citizens, for though no individual has any right to seek vengeance for wrongdoing government most certainly is authorized by God to seek vengeance against wrongdoers. And such vengeance is being sought in Afghanistan as I speak.

So, your duty in light of our ruler’s descriptions is clear, verse 5: 

“Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.” 

If you do wrong, the government will get you, and you will suffer at the hand of government, but also at the hand of God for violating His ordinance. So, do right. The Taliban and Osama bin Laban have done wrong, and for that, they will suffer. But if you do right and government hammers on you, having a conscience clear of any wrongdoing, you know that you’ve been counted worthy to suffer for His name’s sake, you know that you’ve been granted the grace to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. So, regardless of the perspective, the clear line of Paul’s argument is that subjection to the “higher powers” is your only reasonable of course action, as a general rule or principle.

The requirement to be subject to higher powers is related to a discussion of resistance, is related to a description of rulers, and is related to the demand for revenue, verse 6: 

“For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” 

Three things, here, related to paying taxes. And may I say, here, that the Bible speaks not at all about whether the taxes are fairly or unfairly levied, whether there is or is not some ancient covenant that has been violated? God doesn’t waste space in the Bible dealing with legal theory. He deals with what is and what will be.

First, “For this cause pay ye tribute also.” Why do you pay taxes? Forget the altruistic motives. You pay taxes because of the antecedent of the phrase “this cause,” because if you don’t, you’ll go to jail, verse 5. Jail is an inconvenient place from which to serve God and support your family. You don’t need any other reason than that to pay taxes. And you’d better have good Scriptural reasons for not paying taxes. Reasons good enough to comfort you in jail.

Second, “for they are God’s ministers.” I know that the word for “ministers” here comes from the word we get liturgy from. But the meaning of that Greek word was so broad that what Paul means here, from the context, clearly refers to governmental officials. That is, these guys that work for the government, they are on God’s payroll insofar as He uses them from time to time to fine tune and adjusts the course of human history and to accomplish specific goals in the lives of His children. So, pay your taxes because God wants the guys He uses taken care of, even if they are lost and wicked men otherwise.

Third, pay your taxes because these guys “are attending continually upon this very thing.” I usually say that government does nothing well. But that’s not entirely correct. What government does reasonably well is accumulate money to support itself. And government guys are diligent in collecting taxes from the citizenry, even if they have trouble keeping track of who has given what and when. So, pay your taxes, or you’ll get into deep trouble. 


Verse 7: 

“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.” 

In light of the fact that God uses governmental authority in the lives of His people, as well as to provide an organized enough framework within which we can serve God and win people to Jesus Christ, we are to be subject to “higher powers.” In this verse, Paul restates the requirement in the most practical terms imaginable, money and manners.

First, subjection applied to dues: “Render therefore to all their dues.” This word “dues” translates the same basic word Paul uses in Romans 1.14, the word “debtor.” In other words, pay what you owe. And should you quibble about it when you think you don’t owe it and the government thinks you do? Weigh the matter out. But don’t be foolish. Don’t be hard-headed. Be subject to government wherever and whenever you can.

Second, subjection applied to tribute: “Tribute to whom tribute is due.” “Tribute” refers to a toll or a tax. Pay your taxes, Christian. It certainly is a sin to pay more than you have to pay. But it is a sin against God to pay less than the law calls for.

Third, subjection applied to custom: “Custom to whom custom is due.” This word “custom” translates the Greek word telos for perfect. It refers to the levy, the final tax.[7] We might think of it as the sales tax, government’s final grasp for your money until the value added tax becomes law. Notice that these first three applications had to do with money. Do you suppose Paul imagined a tax revolt movement among Christians, using whatever rationale imaginable to justify their desire to avoid paying taxes?

Fourth, subjection applied to fear: “Fear to whom fear.” Nothing intelligent about acting like you’re not nervous in the presence of a uniformed, protected by body armor, armed, soldier-like police officer. Does this guy, whose eyes are hidden behind reflective mirror shades and whose head is protected by a helmet, send a chill up and down your spine? That’s supposed to happen. Only a fool pretends that the officer should be afraid of him. Give the minister of God what makes him feel comfortable and a little safer performing his dangerous job. Show a little fear. Display some respect. Police officers get a little edgy when civilians have no fear of them. It makes them think you’ve had a great deal of contact with the police, which causes the officer to think further that you are a bad guy.

Finally, subjection applied to honor: “Honor to whom honor.” Show proper respect, Christian. That man or woman is someone God uses. And anyone God uses should be shown honor. Amen? 

You won’t find any Scripture that shows that God created a government. Scripture shows that government was originally, at least in the human realm, devised by a man named Nimrod to oppose the plan and purpose of God. He used government, as well as idolatry, to give him leverage to control a population and bend them to his will and to do his bidding.

So, though the government is presently in the hands of the prince of the power of the air, the god of this world, God does exercise His authority when it pleases Him to use government and individuals within government to accomplish His purposes. And we know that God will intervene far more in response to our prayers than He might otherwise have planned, from First Timothy chapter 2. And to that end, we should continually pray.

But for now, by and large, until our Lord Jesus Christ returns to this earth in power and great glory, God would have us to subject ourselves to government, much as the Lord Jesus did prior to His crucifixion, minding ourselves to make sure that when we suffer it’s for right doing and not wrongdoing.

Take heed to what we’ve studied. We want nothing from government but to be left alone and given some modicum of protection. And we certainly don’t want to be so distracted by rebellion against a government that we lose our focus and become diverted from our goal of serving God and winning folks to Christ.

Let’s subject ourselves to the “higher powers” whenever we possibly can and resist only when we have no other choice. Is patriotism wrong at a time like this? Not at all. But understand that patriotism is no substitute for a real relationship with Jesus Christ. And understand that no Christian man or woman needs to be patriotic to this country to be your brother or sister in Christ. Your relationship to a believer in another country is much more meaningful than any patriotic kinship you think you have with a fellow American. Pray for our country.


[1] Not all Christians agree, maintaining that Genesis 9.6 authorizes human government.

[2]Fritz Reinecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 377.


[4] Matthew 17.24-27; Mark 12.13-17

[5] Rienecker, page 377.

[6] This is not to deny that the United States of America is unique among nations that have existed, or that American exceptionalism is not valid.

[7] Bauer, pages 998-999.

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