1 Obey the rulers who have authority over you. Only God can give authority to anyone, and he puts these rulers in their places of power. 2People who oppose the authorities are opposing what God has done, and they will be punished. 3Rulers are a threat to evil people, not to good people. There is no need to be afraid of the authorities. Just do right, and they will praise you for it. 4After all, they are God's servants, and it is their duty to help you.
If you do something wrong, you ought to be afraid, because these rulers have the right to punish you. They are God's servants who punish criminals to show how angry God is. 5But you should obey the rulers because you know it is the right thing to do, and not just because of God's anger.
6 You must also pay your taxes. The authorities are God's servants, and it is their duty to take care of these matters. 7Pay all that you owe, whether it is taxes and fees or respect and honor.
Followers of Jesus will have a reputation for being peaceful, good citizens, good neighbours, and respected in their community. It is not disrespectful or unnecessarily disruptive to live within the parameters of the law. For instance, in my country a good citizen is free to: protest peacefully, vote, write editorials, run for government, etc. A follower of Jesus will be a good citizen.
Does this passage say that an early twentieth century German follower of Jesus would be Biblically required to accept Nazi policy and show “respect and honour” to Hitler? No. Paul writes in this passage that “Rulers are a threat to evil people, not to good people.” A God-appointed leader has the same definition of “good” and “evil” that God does. When a leader has a different worldview than God’s then he is not God’s servant and this passage does not apply. Otherwise, two principles are noteworthy:
- followers of Jesus are good citizens
- good leaders pursue God’s understanding of right and wrong, and are servants for their people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a good citizen. He loved his homeland and her people. He could not honour Hitler as clearly the Furor did not subscribe to God’s definition of “good”, nor did he see himself as a “servant” to his people. As a follower of Jesus, concerned with God’s good, and in light of Romans 13:1-7 (which he did wrestle with), Bonhoeffer participated in the German Resistance movement.
Bonhoeffer’s example invites us to be politically and culturally aware. He inspires us not just to be aware but active in praying and participating in God’s will being “done on earth as it is in heaven.” We are called to be cultural change agents: from prevailing culture to the Kingdom of God.
Almighty God, you are sovereign and can appoint or dispose of any leader. You know the whole international and eternal story. You know what’s best always, and I trust You. Help me to be a “good citizen”. When I lead, please help me to serve your people.