A Study of the Epistle to the Romans
The Christian Life as One in Subjection to the State
The Christian's Duty to the State
Verse 5 unveils the external and internal coercion to submission. We submit to avoid God's wrath, and in reality it is God's wrath, because He executes it through the government. That is the external pressure. But there is an internal reason why the Christian should obey, namely, "for conscience sake." This becomes valid because God, here in His Word, has told us to do that. That last phrase, "For conscience sake," limits us in our obedience to the state. Someone may ask, "Is there no limit to my subjection to the state?" Of course there is a limit. If the state asks you to steal, would you steal? Certainly you would not. If the state asks you to bear false witness, would you do it? Of course you would not. If the state asks you to commit some immorality, would you do it? If the state asks you to kill another man, would you do it? The state is limited to the extent that the commands of the state agree with the duty that God lays down for you as an individual. There are several instances in the book of Acts. The apostles were arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus, beaten and released with the charge that they should speak no more in that name. They answered, "We must obey God rather than man" (Acts 5:29). It was the regular constituted authorities that spoke, but Peter did not allow any man to stop him from preaching. God has the prior right over the soul, and this was recognized by Paul. Who is over the state? God is! God will not contradict Himself in the expectations He reveals. If He has laid down something for me, and the state tells me to do something else, there is a conflict between God and the state. In a situation sch as this there is no question as to what the choice should be for the Christian.
Verse 6 brings us to a practical reminder. Tribute is the word meaning "taxes." Believers are to pay taxes, "for they [the government] are ministers of God's service." Remember that. It is supposed to be a fine indoor sport to beat the government, but "putting one over" on the tax collector. When the tax collector comes, he is a minister of God. The state cannot exist without taxes. When we turn in our income tax, we are not to take away anything that belongs to the government.
Paul outlines the different angles of the situation. Tribute has to do with personal tax and property tax. Render your personal and property taxes when they are due. Custom means the tax that is put on imports and export. Often people come into the country and try to smuggle something across the boundary. They think they have accomplished something. "Pay custom to whom custom is due."
"Fear to whom fear," as a phrase, has to do with our attitude toward the high officials of the land. Fear means respect, the recognition of position and the honor that should be paid to it.
"Honor to whom honor" means it is never right for a Christian to speak in a disrespectful way about any officer of the state. One day I heard a man standing on a soap box berating the President. He referred to him as "that old stiff." Everybody laughed, and I laughed too because I was not in sympathy with the administration. Yet that is forbidden here. No matter what the character of a man may be, we are to respect his office because he holds that office by divine commission, and we are to uphold the regular, divinely constituted authorities and not to help the world in its chaos of lawlessness. We are to uphold the authorities. There was never such a need for this as now. The utter disrespect that men have today for the voice of the law and of the government is appalling. It is the Christian's business to be the salt of the earth in everything.
The Christian's Duty to the Citizens of the State
Mere submission to the government is not the best way to discharge our duty to the citizens of the state. There is a better way which is described by the little word "love". It is not enough to be simply subject. We are to perform our duty in love.
Verse 9 exhorts believers to "owe no man anything." That almost sounds as if we are not to borrow money. Some people hold it to be so. There are some saints who never permit themselves or their mission to borrow a cent. There is a great deal of wisdom in this attitude, for there has been more trouble through the borrowing of money than almost anything else in the world. Someone has said if you have a friend and want to get rid of him, lend him some money.
Perhaps we should not take Paul's statement so strictly, but rather in this sense: we ought to owe nothing that we cannot pay upon demand. A man should never assume an obligation that he cannot be reasonably sure he can pay. There are exceptions, and these must be handled on their own merits. But relations between men would be much sweeter and kinder if this were the principle that prevailed universally in the business world.
The previous statement provides Paul with a basis for a greater responsibility. There is one debt that you can never pay, and that is the debt of love. The more you pay that debt, the more you owe.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 81)