What did Paul of Tarsus mean when he told Christians living in Rome to be subject to the government? How can we apply Paul’s advise to modern Christians living under both post-Christian and non-Christian nations?
Answering the first question, Stephen Charles Mott contended, and I agree, that Paul asked Christians in Rome to put their “ interest below what is required for relationships with the civil authorities”(Mott 1993:142) He expounded,
“[s]ubordination to civil government, particularly in the symbolic act of paying taxes, is an aspect of the call to spiritual worship in the everyday life of the world[…] Their service to God is at the same time for the people, restraining evil and promoting their good (Rom 13:4).”(ibid)
As a Jew believing that God has ordained all civil authorities, Paul undoubtedly held Judaic understanding of submission to civil authorities, “which is a matter of nonresistance or nonviolence, not always of obedience.” explained Craig Keener, “unless it involved a conflict with obeying God’s law.”(Keener 1993: n.p)
When the government is in conflict with God’s law, Christians are called to join Peter and the apostles’ position, “We must obey God rather than men.”(Acts 5:29) but at the same time if possible, so far as it depends on them, they are called to live peaceably with all, never to avenge for themselves, but trust that God will avenge for them. Christian ought not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Rom. 12:18-21)
“The Christians” wrote N. T. Wright, “ are called to believe, though, that the civic authorities, great and small, are there because the one true God wants his world to be ordered, not chaotic.”(Wright 2004: 86) Wright pointed out that “[t]his does not validate particular actions of particular governments”(ibid) but it is to show that some civilly authorities are necessary in a fallen world were evil may flourish if undealt with.
Brooks correctly remarked that “[o]bedience to civil magistrates is one of the laws of Christ whose religion makes people good subjects.”(Brooks 2009: 46) Christian ought to be subject to the government knowing that God works through it for His praise and glory.
Question To Theologians: Do you agree with Stephen Charles Mott position on Christians relation to civil authorities?
Brooks, K. (2009). Summarized Bible: Complete Summary of the New Testament. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Ro 13:1–2). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Mott, Stephen Charles(1993) “Civil Authority” in Dictionary of Paul and his letters. Hawthorne, G. F., Martin, R. P., & Reid, D. G. ed. et. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 2: Chapters 9-16. Both volumes include glossaries. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.