“You can’t be serious!”
You may be too young to remember these petulant words of John McInroe but they have become a stock reply of many to perceived injustices or impossible demands. Alas, they are hurled in the face of Paul, the apostle, when he says: “Everyone must submit to governing authorities; anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted; so you must submit to them.” Rom. 13:1,2&5. Really, Paul, you can’t be serious!
First, let us be perfectly clear about what we mean by the verbal inspiration of the scriptures. Paul writes in 2Tim. 3:16; “All Scripture is God-breathed” and Peter writes in 2Pet. 3:15&16; “Paul wrote with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters … which contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So let us take Gamaliel’s warning to heart; “If their purpose or activity (including writing) is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is of God ... you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38&39. What Paul says in Romans is what God says. God is Love and He is serious.
Do you perhaps wonder if Paul would say the same if he was speaking at a time when the State and its authority was immoral, violent and anti-Christian? Well that’s exactly what it was and he had already experienced persecution and would yet suffer much worse, possibly execution by the very Emperor Nero who reigned at the time he wrote this letter. The message of Scripture is not only true for the time of writing but for all time and situations. Paul had first hand knowledge through his long association with Aquila and Priscilla of the persecution of Jewish believers in Rome. Acts 18:1-3. Yet he makes an appeal to Caesar for justice when it is now Nero, no longer Claudius, in power. Take time to read Acts 25&26. He believes so strongly that God is in control, supreme in authority over all the “authorities” that He establishes, that he (Paul) will accept Caesar’s verdict. Notice the final verse 32: “This man could have been set free if he had NOT appealed to Caesar.”
Perhaps you think that Paul would change or at least qualify his words when he was effectively on death row. Read some of his final words to Titus. In 3:1&2 he writes; “Remind the people to be subject (to submit) to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do good, to slander no-one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility towards all men.” It sounds to me very much like Rom. 12-14.
Last words to Jesus; “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Mat. 22:21. Not either/or, but in doing the former, we also do the latter. The only gift we reserve from Caesar is the glory that belongs to God alone. We refuse to submit only when Caesar’s demands clearly conflict with God’s moral law. See Daniel 3.
Comments on this “serious” issue below.