|Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
When I was in Ethiopia, under the Marxists, some of our young people were leaving the church and espousing Marxism. We were concerned. How could we restore these young people? So I felt the only way was to read what Karl Marx had to say, because all I had heard about communism was from people who opposed it. So I sat down and read The Communist Manifesto, co-authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engles, and I was quite amazed that they had some very good things to say:
I realized, number one, that this was not a scientific solution for a scientific world. I realized that there were a lot of ideas that were theories but not proven. For example, Karl Marx believed that man was simply moving matter and that, basically, man was good. I felt that was one of his primary mistakes. He said: Man is good. The reason why he is selfish is because of his environment, i.e., capitalism. So his gospel was: Change the environment, the political and economical environment, and you will redeem man.
So I looked at these weaknesses and I began having studies with these young people. Gradually, the other churches heard of it and so I was being invited to all kinds of places. One day, the Norwegian Mission, a Lutheran movement, asked me to come and speak in their area. So they rented a huge auditorium and it was packed. When I stepped in there, the Norwegian missionary spoke to me. He pointed out a man in the middle of the auditorium and asked, Do you know who he is?
No, I said.
He said, Hes a diehard Marxist, so be very careful what you say. In a Marxist country, you dont have the freedom to say what you want.
I told him, Ill do my best.
I gave them a talk and, after it was finished, I gave them time for questions. I noticed that this man wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to a young kid about 13 or 14 years old in front of him. The kid read the note and put it down and stood up and said, I have a question.
I asked, Whats the question?
Please explain Romans 13:1, he said.
Well, I was not happy to see this Marxist using a kid to do his dirty work. So I thought, Ill teach this young fellow a lesson. Even though I had my Bible with me, I said to him, What does Romans 13:1 say?
He didnt know what it said, because he just read the note: Please ask this pastor to explain Romans 13:1. He paused and he was embarrassed and finally said, Well, I cant remember.
I said, If you cant remember what it says, then how can you ask me to explain it? It doesnt make sense. At that, everybody laughed and he got more embarrassed. So I said, Let me help you. Does anyone have a Bible and will you lend him your Bible? So one young man took his English Bible and gave it to this young man. I said, Would you please read for me Romans 13:1?
Apparently, I had guessed correctly; this kid had never seen a Bible before. He turned to the beginning of the Bible and looked at the contents to find where Romans was. Many Bibles have at the beginning the contents of the Old Testament and the contents of the New Testament at the beginning of the New Testament. He looked in the Old Testament contents for Romans and couldnt find it. He looked and looked. I said to him, Are you having difficulty finding Romans?
Yes, he said, it is not here.
I said, Its there all right, but you dont know where to find it, do you?
No, he said.
I said, Im sorry to embarrass you, young man, but next time if somebody wants to use you to do their dirty work, tell him to do it himself. Why dont you hand that paper to the one who gave it to you? Of course, he gave it to the man behind him and this man was mad because his secret ways were exposed. Then I read the the beginning of Romans 13:1:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities....
I said, Obviously you believe in this statement.
Yes, he said, by all means.
In that case, I said, you also believe in the second half of the verse:
...for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
To a communist who is an atheist, that is not acceptable. He said, In no way do I accept the last half of the verse.
I said, You cant do that. If you accept the first half, then you have to accept the second half. He was taking a portion of scripture and using it to get the Christians to obey an atheistic government and to do what they were saying to do. At that time, they were saying that we should not go to church and that we should not have Bibles and that we should reject Christ.
This is not something new. All through the history of the Christian Church we have faced this problem. In the Reformation, there were many who felt that now that they had been liberated from the authorities of the government, they could do what they liked. Luther had a hard time trying to get them to toe the line.
In World War II, there was a movement in Germany during Hitlers time called The German Christians. Thats what they called themselves. They taught and insisted that every Christian must give absolute obedience to the governing authority. Of course, there were other Christians who fought against that idea. But these German Christians even quoted from Martin Luther. This is what Luther said (and he was trying to counteract the other camp): Christians should not refuse under the pretext of religion to obey men, especially evil ones.
So here comes the question: Is Paul teaching in Romans 13 that a Christian must give absolute obedience to the governing authority? This is an important question because one day this country is going to make Sunday laws and enforce them. I have a suspicion that they will use Romans 13:1 to hammer you on the head. So it is important that we understand what Paul is saying.
Lets look, first of all, at the context of this passage. Please remember that, when Paul wrote that statement to the Roman Christians, he was writing to Christians whose government was anti-Christian. In fact, persecution had not yet really begun, but later on it was this government that martyred the Christians. But why then did Paul make this statement? Why did he say, You Christians must be subject to the governing authority?
He made a statement in Romans 12:2 which he knew could be misunderstood. The statement is that, We must not be conformed to the world:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Gods will is his good, pleasing, and perfect will.
Paul realized that statement could be misunderstood. He realized that the Christians in Rome would say, Since we dont belong to the world and we are not to conform to the world, we dont have to obey the governments of this world. And we dont have to pay tax.
Wouldnt that be wonderful? So Paul is trying to make it clear. But I want you to know in which context he makes that statement because we need to read that admonition in the context in which he is saying it.
Paul is not discussing the Christian attitude towards governors and governments in every aspect, in this passage, but in a specific area, the area of law and order. What Paul is saying here is that, because of the sinful human world in which we live, it is essential that God puts restrictions and begins to curb evil. Because if God did not put restrictions, we would have wiped ourselves out long ago. Let me give you an example.
Over the period of just a few months, we in America faced two major disasters: Hurricane Hugo and an earthquake in San Francisco [California]. In both cases, the government sent in soldiers and the police force was increased. Why? Because of what people would do. They would take advantage of the situation and there would be looting. That is sinful nature in man. What Paul is saying here is that God had ordained civil authorities to keep this world in law and order. In other words, to curb crime. Can you imagine what would happen to a country without civil authority? We faced that in Uganda for a while and, Ill tell you, it was anarchy. Even the worst government is better than no government at all. But what Paul is saying is in verse two onward. Romans 13:2-4:
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. [Then he explains what he meant.] For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is Gods servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is Gods servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
In other words, as soon as this world became sinful, God ordained governments. He ordained civil authorities to restrict the evil practices of sinful man.
We know that communism is an atheistic system, but do you know that in China today there is no stealing, there is no prostitution? Do you know why? Because the government has put a stop to that. The method they used was brutal, but they have put a stop to it. What God is saying here, through Paul, is that He has not only ordained civil authorities but He has also given them the right to execute judgment when people disobey the rules of the country.
I go to the prison ministry once a month and I go to the area where most of the prisoners are hard-core criminals. Most of them are there for life. Three of them have told me that there is no way that they can even have a parole. The tragedy is that they are all young fellows. They will spend the rest of their lives in a penitentiary. One of them came to me and asked, Do you believe in capital punishment?
Of course, I did not know what crime he had committed and I didnt know if he was sentenced to some kind of electric chair or something but he asked me this question. He was very sincere. I asked him, What does the Bible say?
He said, The Bible says, Thou shalt not kill.
You are right, I said, but remember, that God has given the government, the civil authority the power to execute capital punishment.
Show it to me, he said.
Sure, I said. So I took him to Leviticus 24 when Israel was a theocracy and I read to him Leviticus 24:17:
If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.
I didnt write that, I said. Moses wrote it and it was given to him by God. Leviticus 24:18-20:
Anyone who takes the life of someones animal must make restitution life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.
That was Gods instruction to the civil authorities. That is what Paul is saying:
He is Gods servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
So when the government practices capital punishment, God has given it this authority. This prisoner did not like that. He said No. I said, Then, you are going against the word of God. I told him, Maybe if this country practised more punishment as the Bible says, maybe we would have less crime.
I said, You know, I cant understand this place. You can watch T.V. You have books to read. They pay you for the work you do and they give you excellent food. This, to me, is not punishment. This is enjoying life at the expense of my tax money. I said, I wish you were in Africa. They would put sense into your head. You wouldnt need all these years.
Paul is saying here that Christians should be good, loyal citizens. He gives the reason why in verse five:
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
In other words, a Christian must do what is right because he wants to do what is right, not because hes scared of the policeman. He must pay his taxes because he believes that these men, even though some of them do evil things, are agents of God.
But now comes the real question: Should we obey the government in every respect? Paul is not discussing that. Paul, himself, did not obey the government in every respect. The early Christians did not obey in all respects. Write these two texts next to Romans 13:1 because you need to realize that there is a fundamental principle taught in the New Testament. First, listen to the words of Jesus Christ in Mark 12. Here is a group of pharisees who came to Jesus. They are not sincere, but I want you to notice how Jesus responded. Mark 12:13-17:
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You arent swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldnt we? But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. Why are you trying to trap me? he asked. Bring me a denarius and let me look at it. They brought the coin, and he asked them, Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription? Caesars, they replied. Then Jesus said to them, Give to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what is Gods.
Should we pay taxes? That was the question. Of course, Jesus saw through it and realized that they were trying to trap Him.
There are two kingdoms in this world: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. We have to be subject to both. But here comes the problem. Which is superior, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of man? Thats the number one question that we must have fully in our mind. Obviously, the New Testament is clear. Question number two: What happens when the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world clash in their demands?
Look at Acts 5:28 and onward. The Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jewish nation. This is what the Sanhedrin said to the disciples.
We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, he said. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this mans blood.
Thats a command that came from the highest authority. Did the disciples obey them? Verse 29:
Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than men!
When there is a clash between Gods ways and mens ways, then you must put God first. They had a committee meeting and then Gamaliel spoke to them and, in verse 40 of chapter five we read:
His speech [Gamaliels] persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And did the disciples say, Yes, council, we will obey you and never preach Christ again? Did they do that? No! Verse 41:
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Not only should we put God first, but, if it involves punishment, if it involves imprisonment, we should be happy to suffer for His sake. Paul, himself, was flogged. He was imprisoned because he preached Christ and because he disobeyed the government in that area. But they were not only rejoicing. Look at verse 42:
Day after day, in the temple courts [not in some hidden place but in the temple] and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Paul is saying here that God has ordained the civil authorities to keep law and order in every country and every state. How should Christians relate to those rules and regulations which keep law and order? We should obey them, not out of fear only but because we Christians believe in good and not in evil.
But when the time comes when the government goes beyond that authority and makes laws that oppose the God of heaven, then we have to do what Daniel did and what the apostles did and what Paul himself did: we have to obey God rather than men, no matter what it costs us.
On the one hand, Christians should be loyal citizens but they should be loyal citizens as long as their loyalty does not infringe on their loyalty to God. That is what Paul is saying in Romans 13. On the one hand, let us be looked upon as loyal citizens of America and, on the other hand, when the blue laws do come and the government says to us that we have to work on the Sabbath, then we should say, We have to obey God rather than man.
Paul is not saying here that we ought to give implicit obedience, unquestioning obedience but only obedience in terms of right and wrong. So may God bless us that we as Christians are recognized in this country not only as loyal citizens but genuine Christians. Thats my prayer in Jesus name.