What Oppressive Governments Cannot Do
Pastor John, in the last podcast, we talked about civil disobedience, and there you suggest that the Apostle Paul wrote the early verses of Romans 13 under the assumption that Caesar himself would read the letter. The statements are really strongly put by Paul for obedience to government in those verses. Explain this point further and the implications of your interpretation.
When Paul says here “rulers,” he is looking Caesar in the face, and he is saying, “You, Caesar, you are a terror to what is bad, not a terror to what is good. Do you understand that? That is what you are. That is what God made you to be.” He is not saying it always works that way. He is saying that is what it ought to be. I think he is using “is” statements to imply “ought” statements in order to communicate to the Caesar.
Why Did Paul Write So Strongly?
I think if you were to ask me, “Why did he write it so absolutely? I mean, you have said, John, that he doesn’t mean it absolutely. Why did he write it absolutely?” My two answers are, number one, he knows writing to Rome, this is going to be read by the authorities, and he wants to make sure the authorities hear his belief in them and deliver a subtle message to them with not a waving finger in their face but, “This is what you are to do. You are to reward the good and punish the bad.”
“Christians are in much greater danger of hell by our own pride and rebellion than by being abused by a government.”
And the second reason, I think, is because we Christians are in much greater danger of hell by our own sinful pride and rebellion than we are by being abused by a government. A lot of people don’t feel that. They feel like, “Wow, I think an oppressive government is more dangerous to me than my own sinfulness.” I don’t think so. An oppressive government will make your life miserable, but it cannot damn you. Your own sin and rebellion and anger and bitterness cannot only make your life miserable, it can send you to hell.
And, therefore, Paul, I think is writing these verses in Romans 13 in the way he does to cut in both directions. He has to protect himself against insurrection against the Romans, and he wants to guard Christians against getting their back up and being proud and arrogant. I think he writes it the way he does in the wider context of what he says to be understood as not absolute.