Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Rom. 13:5 (Holman) “Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience.”
Christians obey law not only due to fear of punishment, but also because it is right. Good citizenship is a case of conviction. We need higher motives than only seeking to escape punishment. Civil obedience is a religious duty, service to God.
Rom. 13:6 “And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks.”
Conscience has a positive, as well as a negative, side. It keeps us from law-breaking, and urges us to pay taxes. When we cheat government, we rob an institution ordained of God. Paying taxes is as spiritual as going to prayer meeting. Our obligation to government is as binding as our duty to tithe to church.
Historically, Christians have been noted for faithfully paying taxes. Even when persecuted, believers have paid taxes. In one severe time, Tertullian tried to convince Rome that whatever they lost by Christians refusing to give gifts to temples, was more than made up for by their conscientious payment of taxes.
Government costs money. Since we enjoy a state’s benefit and protection, we should help pay the bills. Even if things are a bureaucratic mess, pay. Israel levied a temple tax. Rome levied a land tax, income tax, and a personal tax on every Jew twenty and older. In addition to these, there were customs, indirect taxes, sales tax, and use-tax on such things as roads, markets, vehicles, etc.
Even if the government is corrupt, pay taxes. The Jewish priesthood was totally corrupt in Jesus’ day, but He nevertheless paid the temple tax.
When Paul wrote the admonition in our text, Nero was Caesar. Nero assassinated his own mother and had public wedding ceremonies in which he married young boys. Nevertheless, Paul said pay your taxes.
I pay taxes, thankful for roads to drive on, for schools my children attend, for national parks I cherish, for men and women committed to guarding our coasts and defending our skies, for a space program providing technologies which help us every day, for a government which tries to help the poor at home and abroad.
Rom. 13:7 “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.”
Simply paying taxes is not enough. Most lost people do the same. Christians must always do those extra acts that can never be legislated. Believers should never be content doing the minimum legal requirement.
We must not only pay for the government, we must also have the right attitude toward its leaders, an attitude of respect. Teach children to respect policemen, firemen, servicemen, and school teachers. To honor means to commend them when they do well. Anyone who works with the public knows this is something much needed.
Rom. 13:8a “Do not owe anyone anything, . . .”
This statement amplifies the phrase in verse seven, “Pay your obligations to everyone.” The Christian is under obligation to pay taxes, tolls, respect, and honor to those in authority. Verse eight expands this principle to include all people.
This phrase is usually interpreted as insisting on the conscientious, punctual payment of debts. Christians must never borrow anything they cannot repay.
Some say Paul meant we should never go into debt for any reason. I disagree. Credit is merely a means whereby we pay rent on using money. Nothing is inherently wrong in this. There is no sin in borrowing, just in over-borrowing.
Let me hasten to say, though, the best way to handle business is to pay cash. Most of us have to finance our house and car. Other than this, it is best to deal in cash. Credit is like a homing pigeon; it always comes home to roost. Many marriages would be a lot better off if credit cards could be destroyed.
Overly much debt robs a debtor of independence. The extreme burden can force one to compromise morals. Some even dip into God’s tithe to pay their own bills. Keep credit use at a minimum, and whatever we borrow, pay bills promptly.
Even unbelievers have a keen sense of paying one’s bills. Under Roman law, a person who refused to pay debts was cut into pieces. Creditors received pieces of the debtor, the size of each piece determined according to each individual’s loss.
If the heathen can make such a big fuss over this matter, believers must be extra careful. A Christian behind on a debt once prayed aloud, “Lord, give us faith, give us Devil-driving faith.” The Christian brother to whom the money was owed heard the prayer and whispered, “Amen, Lord, and give us debt-paying faith.”
Pay your bills, brothers and sisters, pay your bills. Remember, “The wicked man borrows, and does not repay” (Psalm 37:21).
Rom. 13:8b “. . . except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Do keep our financial house in order, but never get overly proud of our independence. There is a debt we must always pay, but will never fully pay. This debt is love. “Love” is our duty. “One another” points to the extent of our obligation. We owe love to every human being.
For the Christian, love is not an option. It is our duty. One’s obligation to the State can be discharged, but the duty of love is an undying debt.
We have many creditors. Human need is great. We owe others our help. We must pay and pay. Only a Cain mumbles, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Christians must never ask this question. Pay love as long as we live and never begrudge it.
Why can this debt never be cancelled? Because it is our way of trying to partially repay God’s love to us. God showers innumerable benefits on us day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.
There is no way we could ever begin to do enough to fully repay what He has done for us. Yet we know we must do something to show our gratitude.
We must respond, but have no way of directly returning God’s favors to Him. We have nothing tangible He needs. Therefore, the Lord has ordained that payment on His love shall be made in the form of loving others.
God shows His love by showering it on those in need. Since we are to be imitators of God, we must do the same. In doing this we make an effort at repaying the love freely shown to us.
The strong owe their strength to the weak. We must say to those in need, “Draw on me; as long as I have breath, let me help you.” The wealthy must view themselves as trustees for the poor. We must always help carry the burden of the person who is overloaded.
Rom. 13:9-10 “The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment—all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
All the “social” commandments can be summarized in “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” The phrase, by saying a lot in a few words, compresses our huge debt.
The purpose of Law is to protect and aid people. The same can be said of love. It scrupulously abstains from doing anything that might hurt someone else. Love refuses to wrong anyone.
Our obligation as Christians is not only to fellow believers, but also to our “neighbor”. The word refers to anyone with whom we have any dealings. Christ forever answered the question “Who is my neighbor?” in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but rather, “To whom can I be neighborly?”