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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Romans 13 - Obeying Authority In the First Century

This week I am teaching about obeying governing authorities in Romans 13 (which is fitting since we had an election last month). I have been thinking about this chapter all week, and one of the things I have learned from my studies was the different perspectives of authority in the first century. Jews viewed the Roman government differently than Christians. And Christians in general, viewed the oppressive governing authorities as immoral and unjust in many cases. Many early believers were associated with zealots and rebels who would confront the Roman authorities. Thus, their "image" was of a rebellious one who did not submit to the authorities. This created a cultural issue among different groups, which did not present Jews and Christians as good citizens in the ancient world (e.g. specifically under the rule of Caesar Nero and Domitian). Paul wanted to address the issue of their image when he wrote this chapter. He wanted his readers to know they were commanded by God to submit to the governing authorities because of two reasons: First, it is biblical (Jeremiah 29:7, "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." ). Secondly, it casts the right image of obedience to rulers and preserves life (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-2; Titus 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-14, since God instituted authority on earth to regulate justice, those who violate justice will face proper judgment).

Also, he wanted to teach his readers this right image of obedience stems from loving your neighbor as yourself, known as the "one-another principle." Paul is echoing his Lord and Savior by quoting the second greatest commandment while connecting the principle to biblical citizenship. Therefore, Romans 13 is not necessarily about who you should or should not obey, but rather a commandment to be obedient to all governing authorities regardless of their policies, because it casts the right image of obedience fulfilled in the one-another principle. Jesus displayed this attitude during his crucifixion.

In Rome, some obeyed out of fear, other rebelled, but the majority submitted to the authority. It was interesting to find out that there was three main perspectives on authority among Christians and non-Christians (i.e. the Roman government):

1. The pro-Roman State attitude was in favor of the authorities, where one was Roman, non-Christian Jewish, or Christian. These groups obeyed the laws and had no problem with the authorities ruling over them.

2. The anti-Roman State attitude was not in favor of the authorities among some non-Christian Jews, and Christians. These groups disobeyed the laws and rebelled frequently because they had religious and sociological problems with the authorities ruling over them. This existed because of historical prejudice.

3. The neutral-Roman State attitude was both positive and negative, where one was primarily Jewish or Gentile Christians. These groups obeyed the laws and had no problem with the authorities ruling over them even if the law caused them to lay down their life for their religion (i.e. would rather die for righteousness than live for unrighteousness. This is a major theme that is symbolic in the book of Revelation).

Although Scripture presents a pro-Roman State attitude in many conditional instructions to the early church (i.e. obey rulers, pray for kings, submit to authorities, etc.), the overarching NT perspective is grounded in submission and non-retaliation of the neutral-Roman State attitude. This attitude focuses on the glory of God in all things, whether good or bad. In Luke & Acts, there is a positive and negative attitude of the governing authorities. In Luke 2:1-5, Jesus' parents obey the authorities by obeying the census. Luke 20:25 says, "He said to them, 'Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'" Jesus correctly responds to give to the government what is required, but more important give to God what is required. Paul used his Roman citizenship to protect him on his missionary trips (Acts 16:37-39; 18:12-17; 22:24-29). However, the early church said it is more important to obey God, the ultimate authority in Acts 5:29, "But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'" The balance presents the political realm as a legitimate worldview where one must pay taxes and acknowledge government rule; nevertheless, the priority of God is self evident and disarms all pretensions to divine rights of secular structures and authorities.

Mark 12:17 (same as Luke 20:25) was written to a Roman audience which provided a non-revolutionary or rebellious perspective towards authorities. This was the ideal option to obeying authority in the first century. Therefore, Paul suggests the main way we obey authority is by obeying God and giving our due diligence to the requirements of the law of the land. In this, we glorify God. Yet at the same time, the way we should give our due diligence to pay taxes and revenue, and give respect and honor to whoever it is owed, is through the one-another principle because love does nothing wrong but rather fulfills the law of the Lord. For this reason, Paul wanted his followers not to just be mere obedient citizens, but to be obedient Christians who lived for the Lord and trusted in him for everything so they would cast the right image of obedience that was taught by Jesus Christ. Therefore, our times call for the same type of obedience; conformity to the authorities' laws, but allegiance to God in all things. Amen!

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