Romans 13:1-5, and How to Correctly Interpret the Scriptures
First of all, I find it interesting how out of context people take Biblical quotes and concepts. It's been rather amazing, and rather disappointing, to see the far out interpretations that I've seen given to some of the passages of Scripture I've quoted in the past. Or to see how Biblical concepts, clearly understood by most individuals with a spiritual background, have been so badly twisted to fit into a preconceived narrative that some people have in their minds. So, let me clear a few things up for everyone, starting out with the passage I posted nearly 10 months ago...
"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake." Romans 13:1-5, NKJVThere have been some pretty interesting contortions performed with this one. While I thought it was pretty clear, it's now become obvious to me that Biblical concepts are no longer well understood in today's society. It was thought by some, though I don't know how they managed it, that I was quoting this verse to say that I could justify anything and everything because, well, "God told me to".
Wow. That's quite a theological pretzel to contort oneself into, but that's pretty much a quote that I've seen over a dozen times now. Of course, it's a completely incorrect one. But after thinking about it for a while, I thought that it might be profitable, instead of just sitting idly by, to take a moment to break that passage down for everyone.
Firstly, the Apostle Paul starts out by commanding us, those of us who are believers in Christ, to subject ourselves to the "governing authorities". In our case, for those of us who are Christians, he's referring to the Governments of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and in my case at the time, the municipality of Guelph... including all the various laws and government agencies that apply. To subject oneself, accordingly, means to place ourselves under their authority, and therefore follow all of the prescribed rules and regulations that may be in place where we are.
Secondly, Paul tells us WHY we are to do this... because the current governments are in their present positions of power because God has allowed them to be. Now while we could go to various passages of Scripture to expound on this point, I'm choosing to go to the Book of Daniel, where we see this principle clearly when he is praising the LORD God for revealing the meaning of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, in Daniel 2:20-21:
We see this idea repeated by the LORD God Himself, as recounted by King Nebuchadnezzar in his letter to his people in Daniel 4:31-32:Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, For wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.
While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”That last part (in BOLD) is the key part in each of those verses... the fact that it is the LORD God who allows kingdoms to both rise and fall. Interesting aside, every election I go in to, my prayer is never, "LORD, let my guy win!" but is, in fact, "LORD, may Your will be done... even if I don't understand it." (and my apologies to all the great candidates that this hasn't worked out so great for!)
So, a basic concept in the study of the Scriptures that I hold to is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. It is simply wrong for someone to try and take a single verse, and quote it for their own purposes, without examining it in the light of all other Scripture, because the Scripture does not contradict itself. As such, for someone to take Romans 3:1-5, and assume that I was using it to justify illegal activity, would be an incorrect interpretation of Scripture, and an interpretation that I most certainly DO NOT hold to. So now, let's go back to our original passage, and see how that relates in the context of governing authorities.
Based on a correct interpretation of Scripture, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see that in order to be obedient to the LORD God, we must be subject to our Governments, and to all their respective laws. This, of course, has it's limits, such as with Saints in Communist countries who are banned from worshiping together, or where laws are in direct conflict with the Scriptures.
So how is that reflected in my life? And I'm talking about my life in general, not just any one point in time... although of course, these principles would indeed apply to any point of time that you choose to examine in my life.
What these verses mean, based on a correct interpretation of Scriptures, is that the LORD God expects Christians to hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to obeying the laws of our nations. So not only am I to subject myself to Him, but in obedience to Him, I am to be subject to the laws of the land in which I reside. Moreover, not only am I to be subject to them, but I should be the one who goes above and beyond, who goes out of my way not only to live by the letter of the law, but to live by the spirit of the law, better than everyone else around me.
So now, the big question that many people are asking, of course, is how this is reflected in everyday law, in I don't know, let's pick an example... say Election law, for instance. Well, what it means is that in order to live a truly godly and Christ honouring life, I should be the one to set an example for everyone else, and to ensure that I am in fact living by both the letter and the spirit of the law. And this has been my practice for many, many years now.
In fact, were you to ask anyone that I've ever worked with on a campaign, I think some of the names they might give me is Mr. Ethical, the Goody-Goody, or as my family jokingly refers to me, "Captain By-law". (yes, you could say that I'm known as a bit of a rule follower) So you see, I've actually read large portions of both the federal Elections Act, the Ontario Elections Act, and parts of various municipal acts as they apply to the various campaigns I've worked on. (ie - sign by-laws, etc.) I'm always the one quoting the rules to people... and if people have questions, they often come to me. And more often than not, I'll have an answer for them, or know where to find them their answer.
Moreover, when it comes to things like signs, people sometimes laugh at me for the lengths I'll go to make sure I'm sticking to the rules. ("Captain By-law", remember?) Just as an example, I'll never even go near a Liberal sign, for pretty much any reason. It would be just my luck, were I to stop to repair a damaged one (as I do regularly for NDP and Green signs, for the record...) that a Liberal supporter would drive by, and snap a picture of me touching a damaged sign... and the headline would be "Conservative caught destroying Opposition signs". So, just to play it safe, I don't touch them.
Funny story, one time when I was installing lawn signs for a candidate, I was dropping off one of ours to a house that I had on my list, which had a Liberal sign already on the lawn. I spoke to the owner to make sure I had the right house, and he said I did have the right house... and that the Liberal sign had just suddenly appeared there, even though he hadn't requested one. So, he asked me to do him a favour, an pull the Liberal sign out and chuck it. Well... we actually had quite a bit of a debate over it, cause there was no way I wanted to mess with their sign! (Because, while I may not respect their positions, I most certainly respect their right to a free and fair election!) Ultimately, he convinced me to pull it out, but I think I convinced him to let me put it up against the side of his house, and then he could do with it whatever he wanted.
So to make a long story short, that's how I interpret the opening of this passage. That not only should we who are Christians obey the law, but we should go above and beyond, keeping the law not only the letter, but also the spirit of the law. Because in so doing, not only are we obeying our governing authorities, but ultimately, we're obeying the LORD God Himself. So there is no way that one can say I could use this passage to justify breaking the law. In actual fact, what I means is that not only do I seek to obey those in governing authority over me, I answer to yet another level of Authority above and beyond that... so in fact there's a greater emphasis on keeping the law than for the average person. There is most definitely not an excuse to ignore and justify the breaking of the law contained within those verses, and I don't believe there's any possible way for anyone to make such an absurd case otherwise.
The rest of the passage continues on with this same theme. Ultimately, those who are in authority should be honoured and obeyed, as unto the LORD God Himself. And this is how I have consistently lived my life, as anyone who actually knows me can and have attested to.
It's been interesting to see the number of prominent Liberals, in fact, who have reached out to me and given me their assurances that they know who I am, and what sort of character I possess. It was very interesting locally to have a number of prominent Liberals, who's family members or friends would talk to them in anger about the various stories swirling about, and these folks I know actively sought to defend me and correct the record. I am ever grateful to these individuals, who have known me for many years, who have gone out of their way to correct the record. They who know who I really am, know what I stand for, and know that there is no way on earth that I would ever dishonour my Lord and Saviour by violating the very laws that I in fact hold dear.
Ultimately, yes, I do answer to a Higher Power... but that makes me more vigilant about obeying the law, not less. My obedience to the Lord does not absolve me from obeying the laws of the land... it in fact enhances my obedience to the laws of the land. And anyone who says otherwise, well, has likely never met me, and they are interpreting the things they read and hear through the lens of their own biases, rather than looking at the man, looking at his beliefs, and then interpreting the facts through that lens. And that is, thankfully, the lens through which many more members of the media are now looking at the events of the day. I am eternally thankful to those who have taken the time, and who have the journalistic integrity, to get to know the "subject", and to then write their stories. There are those who have still not yet made a real effort to get to know who I am before they examine the facts, but thankfully, there are fewer and fewer of them every day.
The Lord Jesus said something in John 14:15 that summarizes how I seek to live my life. He said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." By subjecting myself to the laws of the land, as Paul admonishes us to do in Romans 13, I seek to walk in obedience to, and love for, my Lord.