Some have suggested that this section of Scripture doesn’t flow with the book of Romans. It seems detached or viewed as written later according to some. However, it is more likely an expansion and special application of the teaching about:
1. good and evil (12:17, 21)
2. the challenge to live at peace with everyone (12:18)
Moreover, as Paul is writing to Christians under a government that is corrupt. Therefore, 12:1-2 is very much applicable to how we respond in all situations, especially relevant to those at Rome. It is likely that Paul was aware of the teachings of Jesus. He is reflecting Christian civic responsibility in the context of Rome in AD 57 and today in 2013.
Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (Matt 22:21).
Paul is writing to the church at Rome around AD 56-7 from Corinth (cf. Acts 18:2ff). His comments about our responsibility to governing authorities are significant in light of the injustice portrayed by those instituted to do good. For example,
I. Claudius ordered Jews to leave Rome around AD 49. Why?
A. Expulsion of the Jews and Christians from Rome under Claudius was not necessarily for faith, hope, and love, or even the proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah.
B. The reason was a false perception by Claudius that Rome was being threatened by those who had faith in God. Harrison(1976) quotes Stifler, “because of…the mistaken notion that the peace and safety of the state were imperiled by the Christians’ refusal to honor the gods.”
II. Nero reputed as an evil ruler who tortured and killed Christians, etc., AD 54-68
III. Given the history and context of the day, it seems that Paul is writing to tell the Roman Christians not to get involved in the revolutionary movement advocating rebellion against Rome.
IV. Governmental authorities aren’t good all the time and sometimes overtly evil, even today.
v. 1 Does submission mean to obey? Believers may find it hard to comply with all governmental mandates (cf. Acts 5:28-29).
Are we called to accept the consequences of our refusal to comply with governmental demands? Does this reflect submission?
v. 1b Paul makes it clear that God has placed governmental authorities in place. This is true for the “god of this age” too. Satan only has authority because God gave it (Lk. 4:6).
There is tension between authority and submission. Harrison (1976) quotes Kasemann,
“God has so arranged the world from the beginning–at the creation, by all means, if you like–as to make it possible to render him service within it; and this is why he created superiors and subordinates.”
Our citizenship is not of this world (Phil 3:20; Jn 17:14). Therefore, aren’t we excused from responsibility to acknowledge “worldly government” as possessing authority from God to govern us?
No! We have dual citizenship according to God’s sovereign plan in this life.
v. 2 What happens if we refuse to submit to the governing authority?
Is there a distinction in indentifying the government as:
what God has instituted, (an institution) vs. an anti-God attitude (depraved humankind)?
Harrison (1976) said, “The world can be set over against God (1 John 2:16) but this is not true of the state as an institution, despite the fact that individual governments may at times be anti-God in their stance.”
Is the “judgment on themselves” a judgment from God? Even though judgment comes through human affairs, it bears God’s approval (cf. Matt 26:52). This is a “normative truth.”
v. 3-4 What about tyrannical governments? Throughout church history and all around the world today.
I. Paul is presenting the norm of government
A. punishing evil and rewarding good
B. Revolt is unnecessary
II. What about when government’s represent evil?
A. No longer fulfilling God’s appointed function
B. Christians voice criticism
C. Submission does not mean blind conformity to evil or agreeing to unjust practices conducted by the government.
Principle of Romans 8:28
A. God finds a way to bring good out of apparent evil.
Harrison (1976) quotes Kasemann, “Sometimes the Lord of the world speaks more audibly out of prison cells and graves than out of the life of churches which congratulate themselves on their concordat with the State” (p. 138).
Further considerations: The government is:
1. instituted as God’s servant.
2. is not God
3. fallible in decision making however, we are called to avoid attitudes of disdain, contempt, or disregard, especially for a normative government.
Sword- for 200 years this term referred only to the power given to provincial governors who had Roman citizen troops under their command to enable them to maintain military discipline without being hampered by the provisions of the laws of provocatio (Harrison, p. 138).
Therefore, it appears that Paul is warning Christians against becoming involved in activity that could be construed by the Roman government as encouraging revolution or injuring the state.
v. 5 According to Christian Maurer, the Greek word for conscience, “Syneidesis is responsible awareness that the ultimate foundations both of one’s own being and also of the state are in God. Members of the community are to have neither a higher nor a lower estimation of the state than as a specific servant of God” (Harrison, p. 139). cf. 1 Peter 2:19
v. 6 Does this view of the government as “servant of God” make it easier to pay taxes?
The full meaning according to Harrison is to “give back.” When Jesus was interrogated in Mark 12:14-17 “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The word used by the Pharisees was “give” and Jesus responded with the word meaning “give back.”
This presupposes that we have received or will receive from the government and should be okay with “giving back” in the form of taxes.
v. 7 Lord help us to always have a willing heart to give, especially honor and respect as the Spirit leads.
Expositor’s Bible Commentary (1976) F.E. Gaebelein (ed)