“Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
This verse comes at the end of a segment of Paul’s letter to the Romans about submission to authorities. What we must understand about this letter is that in the early church, especially in Rome, Christians were persecuted and killed for their beliefs. Some of the horrors and atrocities that early Christians faced are too gruesome to even write about here. The threat of suffering was very real to the readers of Paul’s original letter to the Romans.
Regardless, Paul offers this instruction. Submit to the authorities who you are under. Do what is right. Trust that God has placed all rulers in their positions for a reason and that God will ensure that justice is carried out. What’s difficult about this is that sometimes it’s hard to see God’s plan with particularly bad rulers. Take Nero, the Roman emperor for example. He was infamous for his cruelty to Christians. It certainly must have been hard for the church to respect him, honor him, or even to pay their taxes to him.
Paul, in step with Jesus’ own tendency toward countercultural ideas, tells them that despite this natural inclination to oppose or even hate the authorities, we must do what is right. We must follow the law. We must show honor and respect. Why? So that the name of the Lord will be praised.
If Christians evade their taxes, it reflects poorly on the name of Christ. If Christians speak hatefully about authorities, it reflects poorly on the name of Christ. If Christians are disrespectful, refusing to show honor to those in power, it reflects poorly on the name of Christ.
Don’t be confused: this doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your authorities say or do. This simply means that as Christians, we must live above reproach, never giving anyone a reason to say anything bad about us – so that upon investigation they will always be proven wrong if they do. We live this way so as never to bring any cause for reproach to the name of Jesus.
If you think about it, Paul is really just describing to us the way that Jesus himself lived. Even in the face of his brutal, painful, and unjust death, he submitted to the authorities that God had put in place. Why? Because he knew that it was all a part of God’s plan for redemption.
Have that same faith. Live that same peaceful and respectable life. Show honor where it is due, give respect where it is due, and live within the law that has been given to you. Honor God, and give no one a reason to speak against you or against him.
It can be hard to submit to leadership that seems corrupt or evil. It can be hard not to be hateful or disrespectful to those in authority positions. I pray that you’d help me to overcome that temptation and instead live peacefully and respectfully, showing honor to all and bringing honor to your name.
In Jesus’ Name,