Worldly Authority & Doing Good!

maxresdefaultLet everyone be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who will resist will incur judgment. For the rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 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. – Romans 13:1-7

Paul wrote these verses through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Conveniently couched between his petition to live as true Christians in chapter 12, and encouragement to fulfill the law of love in the rest of chapter 13, Paul gives us this gem to help us understand governing authorities and how we are to live out our Christian faith regardless of the governmental system we find ourselves. The seven verses are not communicating salvific methods but methods of submissive service to one’s country or one we may be visiting and specifically in our case to the military method of government we serve when we deploy. It serves as a strong reminder that we all submit to authority if not in the past or now but certainly in the future.

authority-1Can you think of anyone who is NOT subject to a governing authority of some kind or another? Even if we could, it may only be one or two people who came close throughout history. Even Jesus is quoted as saying, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” God alone stands outside of and above governing authorities and has demonstrated His ability and desire to transcend all of them. So regardless of the form of government, it is God that created and allowed for men and women to be in positions of authority in a governing capacity. One of the great psychologist Carl Jung, hit on this same subject in his writings about Archetypes which can be found in every society throughout known human history.

The precepts found in the verses above apply to all forms of government. Those of us in the military, know and experience these truths every day. As a military in the United States form of government, we are sometimes referred to as a subculture, micro-society, or government within government. Our calling or our service (if calling is too strong a word for you), is even more subjugated than that of civilians. All such sub systems fight a form of recidivism because we become dependent upon the system we find ourselves within. Just like the recidivism experienced by prisoners, foster children, and war children.

Furthermore, these verses are easily tested and many have tried to resist but often with negative results. In order to prevent recidivism on a larger scale, we soldiers must apply a concept to the precepts. The concept is like that of changing subjects in school or changing classes. The most successful students are not those who are book smart, necessarily. Whether in preschool, elementary, middle, high, or college, the most successful students are those who learn what each individual teacher wants for their subject and then submits the required material in a timely manner. These are your straight “A” students, these are the ones we call teacher’s pet. In reality, they are brilliant because they have figured out how to survive the system with the least amount of grief and resistance.

The verses above go so far as to suggest that those in the positions of authority are there because God has placed them there. Two strong and obvious points God is making with these verses is: 1. He created all forms of government, 2. He places the leaders in positions of authority over said governments. Both of these point back to an earlier observation I have made in a previous blog entry, “All things are moving toward God.” Everything was created to achieve and fulfill His purposes.

Thankfully, we can look at many of the governments that have formed and understand all the inner workings of them. We can see how decisions were made, laws passed and enforced, and taxes collected. Even more interesting is looking for the early seeds of our form of government. So here is a question, if the precepts introduced above are NOT true can you think of a governmental example where they do not apply? Now I am no historian but I do enjoy reading about history. As far as I can tell the answer is NO! All governments, good bad, or indifferent are covered by the Romans passage.

To be sure let us look at each sentence separately and discuss them:

  1. Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities. Can you think of anyone who is not?
  2. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. There are those who would argue this verse by saying, “how can one know for sure?” God being real, the creator, His word being infallible and Him being the author and finisher of our faith are all assumed in these verses. Insert Pascal’s Wager, here!
  3. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who will resist will incur judgment. I have never seen a person not incur judgment for resisting, have you?
  4. For the rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Here conduct is tethered to the person in authority-God-you/me, like the school teacher analogy above. If you are good according to their understanding of good then you are good, if you are not then you are bad. Doing good is often seen as “do as I say.” Due to the corruption of sin, leaders must realize they are not the supreme authority and call upon that which is higher than themselves, namely God.
  5. Would you have no fear of one who is in authority? How then do we live without fear of those in authority? See next verse…
  6. Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. Here we see three versions of “good” present. The leader’s version, God’s and yours/mine. The best course of action every time is do God’s version of good even if it leads to persecution. Hence the verse, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay.”
  7. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. There can also be three versions of “wrong”, the leader’s version, God’s and yours/mine. Avoid doing what God calls wrong over what the leader calls wrong. This too may lead to persecution. But, Peter had it right when he said, “I must obey God rather than man.” On a side note, the “sword” also allows the leader to declare both civil judgment (local laws) and national judgment (protecting the sovereignty of the nation in times of war). Supported again by the next verse.
  8. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Whether a good representative of this service or a bad one he or she are still in that position because God placed them there and you have to know that God is not prohibited from performing His will by anyone who is in a position of authority. In fact, God can, has and will continue to use even the most vile governmental leaders to achieve His will and equally so with the most faithful or dedicated to Him.
  9. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. When in doubt or confused, subject to authority. Here is a place where I see God’s Grace. Meaning, for example, is Saddam Hussein’s brother who was a strong Christian but sat on Saddam’s governmental council any less in the presence of God now that both men have died? Saddam’s brother subjugated himself to his brother’s authority. The reasons why, we do not know but we also do not know why Obadiah subjugated to Ahab or Nehemiah subjugated to King Cyrus. All we know is they were no less called by God than the other prophets. An interesting contrast is to see how Elijah and Obadiah practiced these things. Elijah resisted governing authority and was in a superior position as prophet than Obadiah. He was taken up by God to be with God. Therefore, God informed and protected Elijah. Obadiah, did not resist governing authority and saved 100 prophets of the Lord from Ahab’s wife Jezebel. Therefore, God blessed the fruit of Obadiah’s obeisance. (I Kings 18)
  10. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Have you ever thought of a person in governmental authority as “ministers of God”? Me neither! But God does.
  11. 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. Finally, this verse captures both the person in authority and the person subjugated. From this verse both must exist. They are organic and part of God’s building blocks for proper government.

downloadWhen applied to today in the United States, America seems like a country that is about to be taken over by a more powerful government or by a country that God raises up to use for His purposes. It appears this way because when nations in the Bible arrived where we are through their form of government, God either intervened directly transcending all governments or He used outside governments to subjugate the one/two nations not doing His will or the nation repented and started doing God’s will again and all was well in the universe. As confusing as it may have been to read all of this, the basic takeaway is DO GOOD! The best and most effective way to “do good” is by accepting the ultimate good, namely Jesus Christ. Follow his example given through the word of God of how to live out life in this world and you will not go wrong or be wrong!

Mijikai Mason
Disclaimer: The thoughts and views published on the Veterans to Christ blog are those of Mijikai Mason and in no way are meant to represent the United States Army or the Armed Forces.

Bio: Mijikai Mason is an Ordained Southern Baptist minister and Chaplain in the United States Army. He has been in the Army for 26 years both as an enlisted Soldier and now as an Officer. He has been stationed at various bases in the United States and in United States Army Garrison Schweinfurt, Germany. He holds an undergraduate degree in Religion from the University of Mobile, a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in Theology and Evangelism and a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Webster University. Chaplain (MAJ) Mijikai Mason was selected by the Army in 2013, to become a Family Life Chaplain and began his service in this field starting 15 May 2015. He is the Deputy ESC Chaplain and Family Life Chaplain for the 593 Expeditionary Support Command at Joint Base Lewis McCord. He has deployed four times: Desert Storm (1991), Iraq twice (2005-2006; 2007-2008), and Afghanistan (2012-2013). He has a total of 42 months deployed in combat and logistics operations. Mijikai and his wife, Ashley, have been married for 17 years this May and live near Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington with their four daughters.