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. Romans 13:7
Paul believed—or he at least communicated to the Christians who lived in Rome—that there was “no authority except from God.” Throughout this passage Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to respect those who governed them, for the rulers of the world have been given their authority by God. This teaching is deeply disturbing to those of us who understand that power can, and has, been abused. Should we believe that Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung were authorities endorsed and placed in their position by God? Given our knowledge of history, we are more likely to be wary of governmental leaders than to freely give ourselves over to their leading.
What prompted and sustained Paul’s belief in the divine nature of authority? It is possible that there was greater civility and character among the Roman leaders of Paul’s time. Paul might have been unaware of abuses of power in hidden corners of the world. Or perhaps Paul was just being overly cautious and mindful of the unique demands placed upon Christians who had to live out their faith in the very heart of the empire that seemed to rule the world. Whatever we make of Paul’s understanding of authority, perhaps we should not be too quick to condemn it as overly naïve. Respect and obedience to authority might not be a bad first instinct for those of us who so readily choose to be our own masters. In fact, being subject to the rulers of our world might not be bad practice for learning how to be obedient to the ultimate ruler of the world—God. If we can obey human authority, perhaps we will develop a greater competency to respect and obey divine authority.
To whom do you give respect, and whom do you choose to disobey?
Lord, I worry about the abuse of power. History had shown us that power corrupts, and we feel the need to be always vigilant for signs of overstepping by those who are given charge of us. In fact, we feel not only free but also empowered to belittle and bemoan those who rule over us. Why is that, Lord? As a Christian, should my response to those in public office be provocative or prayerful? Should I treat them as if they are my servants or Yours? Help me to know how to offer respect and honor, even when I am reluctant to do so. In Jesus’ name, I pray. AMEN.