Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. Our text for this morning is the Epistle Reading from Romans chapter 13. Romans chapter 13 is in the middle of a section of exhortation which Paul begins in chapter 12. Paul begins this section in Romans 12:1 by saying, I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:1-2). The mercy of God toward us in Jesus is the foundation of the transformed, renewed mind and life that we are called to have. It’s in this context that Paul now instructs his readers how their minds ought to be renewed, specifically in relation to the civil realm. So, if I had to sum up our reading from chapter 13, I would do it in this way: In His mercy, God invites us to submit to authority for our good. And, whenever God does something in His mercy and for our good, we better stop and listen, right? So, if in His mercy, God invites us to submit to authority for our good, the question is, how do Christians submit to authority? Or, to put it differently, what is submission to authority? Well, according to Paul, Submission to authority is willingly and lovingly giving what is owed because authority is from God. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s break it down by starting with the first part.
2. Submission to authority involves a willing and loving attitude. Why is attitude so important? Remember when you were a kid and you had to submit to the authority of your parents? For me, the worst moments were when my parents would tell me to clean my room. I really did not like cleaning my room as a kid…maybe that had something to do with the mess I always made in my room…who knows! But, I did not like cleaning my room. Can anyone else relate? Cleaning my room was awful! But, let’s be honest, it was awful because my attitude made it awful. I would poke around and not really do much. I would get myself worked up because I didn’t want to clean. I might even pretend to clean by shoving my mess underneath my bed. And when my mom would come to check on me, she must have been frustrated beyond belief! Why? Because my attitude was awful! Parents and other authorities don’t want begrudging submission! It’s miserable for everyone involved! Parents want what’s best for us, and they know that fulness of life can’t be found in begrudging submission. And the same is true of our God. God does not want your begrudging submission either! Fulness of life can’t be found that way. He wants you to submit willingly and lovingly—not just to him, but to all authority in your life. That’s why Paul says in verse 5, Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. And in verse 10, Love is the fulfilling of the law. Or, to use the words of St. Augustine, “You [believers] should not submit simply to avoid the authority’s anger, which can be done by pretense, but so that you might be assured in your conscience that you are doing this out of love for him. For you submit at your Lord’s command.” Attitude is important, especially when we submit to authority. So, my friends, don’t complain when you’re told by authorities to do something you don’t want to—be positive. Don’t selfishly choose to ignore those in authority over you—selflessly and willingly submit. And, maybe most importantly, (because this is so difficult for many of us, especially including myself) don’t criticize others because they don’t submit to authority in the way that you think they should—give the benefit of the doubt and love your neighbor as yourself because submission to authority involves a willing and loving attitude.
3. But submission to authority isn’t just about an attitude. Submission to authority is willingly and lovingly giving what is owed. What do I mean by that? Well, maybe a better question is, what does Paul mean by that? Paul writes in verses 6 & 7: For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. The first part of this is really interesting because Paul calls authorities ministers of God. That term “ministers” is normally reserved for priests or prophets of God. But Paul effectively equates the two. Authorities do what they do because God has placed them there. Their vocation is a holy vocation. And so, Paul says we get to support them (not “we have to” but “we get to”). And so, Paul says that we get to give to all authority what is owed to them: if they are owed taxes, we get to pay taxes. If they’re owed revenue, we give revenue. If they’re owed respect, we give respect. If they’re owed honor, we give honor. Paul isn’t giving us a way around this. It’s pretty simple—unless the authority commands us to do something which is blatantly contrary to the Word of God, we’re bound to give what is owed. And even if they do command something contrary to the Word of God, we still must submit to authority even if we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). That’s what Jesus did, is it not? He paid taxes. He honored authority. And he submitted to authority by willingly and lovingly allowing corrupt authorities to put him to death without cause.
4. See, Submission to authority is willingly and lovingly giving what is owed because authority is from God. Paul makes it very clear that authority is from God when he says, Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1). Now, before you start making excuses like, “Paul didn’t know what he was talking about!” “Paul’s not talking about corrupt authorities, like we see in our country!” Let me remind you of something: the chief civil authority when Paul wrote this letter was the Emperor of the Roman Empire—a certain man named Nero, who was one of the most corrupt rulers ever recorded by history. A man who would later put Paul to death. Paul knew all about corrupt authorities, but he still calls us to submit to them because authority is from God. We need not look any further than Jesus as the ultimate illustration of this. Jesus submitted to corrupt authorities to the point of allowing himself to be put to death. But Jesus knew that their authority was from God (look no further than Jesus’ response to Pontius Pilate in John 19:11). But Jesus knew that his father was at work even through the corrupt authorities of his day—see, Jesus’ suffering and death means life and salvation for you and me. His submission fulfilled what you and I are incapable of on our own. His submission won for us life and salvation. And now, by the power of the Spirit of Jesus within us, we too are called to willingly submit to authorities. We’re called to lovingly be considerate of our neighbor. And so, brothers and sisters, I appeal to you…by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:1-2). Submit to authority by willingly and lovingly giving what is owed because authority is from God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.